Ceri Richards – Arrangement for a Piano – 1949 – Lithograph on paper
I’ve loved Alastair Reid’s poem To a Child at the Piano since I was introduced to it by my friend Catriona Urquhart, herself a poet. Back in 2004 I wondered about including it in a catalogue we were preparing for my first exhibition at MoMA Wales. (We decided instead on Seamus Heaney’s Saint Kevin and the Blackbird, a poem that has since inspired many of my paintings on the subject.) I’ve often said that anyone dropping by the studio while I’m painting, will be more likely to find a poem pinned to my easel than any postcard of an artwork. Words provide the inspirations I more readily respond to. A turn of phrase can carry me more rapidly into producing a painting than anything else. Faster than a reproduction of a much-admired artist’s work, faster even than music played to soothe or get the blood coursing faster. I use music to get my energy levels up at the easel, but it’s poetry that sets my imagination afire.
The image at the top of this post is by the Welsh artist Ceri Richards, who himself played the piano and so beautifully captured abstract images of music-making and keyboards.
To a Child at the Piano
by Alastair Reid
Play the tune again; but this time
with more regard for the movement at the source of it,
and less attention to time. Time falls
curiously in the course of it.
Play the tune again; not watching
your fingering, but forgetting, letting flow
the sound till it surrounds you. Do not count
or even think. Let go.
Play the tune again; but try to be
nobody, nothing, as though the pace
of the sound were your heart beating, as though
the music were your face.
Play the tune again. It should be easier
to think less every time of the notes, of the measure.
It is all an arrangement of silence. Be silent, and then
play it for your pleasure.
Play the tune again; and this time when it ends,
do not ask me what I think. Feel what is happening
strangely in the room as the sound glooms over
you, me , everything.
play the tune again.