This poem explores a song from
Offenbach's opera, Tales of
Hoffmann. The song can be viewed and heard here.
These are the tales of Hoffmann, who may have
things on his mind, but with a student crowd
calling for something gay, he’ll sing a song
to capture their attention. It’s the tale
of Kleinzach, at the court of Eisenach.
The music swirls toward that rhyme on –ac
of which Kleinzach is prisoner. Clic clac,
his legs go. And the students all attack
this rhyme the tale is subject to – this mad
caprice of Fate that’s caught him up. The song
seems narrowed to a point. And then, a strange
thing happens to it; Hoffmann who has come
in his description to the face begins
describing his beloved. I did warn
you at the start he had things on his mind.
The students are nonplussed: is this Kleinzach?
Kleinzach? he says, I speak of her. The tale
has wrenched its way to freedom of a sort,
though this is still obsession. It’s a lovely
lyrical passage. After some debate –
some back-and-forth, some daylight for the brain –
Kleinzach returns to lie upon the rack
of his name, and the mad swirl follows him:
the way the ocean swirls when something precious
sinks to the bottom, leaving not a track.
If you have any thoughts about this poem, John Isbell would be
pleased to hear them