Once upon a time, probably in the mid-1930s, R. S. Thomas found himself on the stage at a Fritz Kreisler violin concert in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Twenty-five years later, he included his poetic recollection in a volume titled Tares.
Just as a composer may prepare us for a major transition by making slight modulations leading up to it, so Thomas moves in his poem from a description of a violin concert to a meditation on Jesus dying on the cross. Which mirrors many Christian worship services today, Palm Sunday.
The services may begin with children dancing down the aisle waving palm branches, then gradually move on to the recognition that the cries of “Hosanna, Hosanna!” on the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem gave way a few days later to shouts of “Crucify, Crucify!”
No matter how you understand Jesus – whether as a man who ran afoul of the arrogance of human power, or as ‘God’ interpreted either metaphorically or metaphysically– you can, I suggest, find meaning in Thomas’s poem:
A memory of Kreisler once:
At some recital in this same city,
The seats all taken, I found myself pushed
On to the stage with a few others,
So near that I could see the toil
Of his face muscles, a pulse like a moth
Fluttering under the fine skin,
And the indelible veins of his smooth brow.
I could see, too, the twitching of the fingers,
Caught temporarily in art’s neurosis,
As we sat there or warmly applauded
This player who so beautifully suffered
For each of us upon his instrument.
So it must have been on Calvary
In the fiercer light of the thorns’ halo:
The men standing by and the one figure,
The hands bleeding, the mind bruised but calm,
Making such music as lives still.
And no one daring to interrupt
Because it was himself that he played
And closer than all of them the God listened.
Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:
“A memory of Kreisler once” – “The Musician,” Tares, (1961), 19.