Monday, March 12, 2007

Night moths

Last night I fell asleep listening to Words & Music, a new programme in the Sunday schedule of BBC Radio 3. It's a simple idea: "a sequence of classical music, interspersed with well-loved and less familiar poems and prose read by leading actors". And it worked well. You never know what's coming next (unless you check the playlist first). It can be replayed from the archive up until next Sunday night.

This week's theme was night and dreams, getting off to a great start with Schönberg's stirring Verklärte Nacht. But I wasn't so keen on the way the actors read the poetry (Longfellow, Blake, Auden, Larkin, Shakespeare, even Margaret Attwood (sic) among others). They had a tendency to emote, often ending lines with breathy wonder. It's so much more effective to hold back, to read them coolly; something Schönberg seems to have discovered once the Romantic turmoil of Verklärte Nacht had passed.

Offhand, I can't think of any poems from my favourites that would have suited the programme. But I did think of Kafka's line We live in the stillness of midnight, and experience sunrise and sunset by turning towards the east and the west, and then something I read on the company forum recently, written by someone who had lived in Prague: "In the Czech language nightmares are called nocni moucha, night moths". So, I thought, might we say Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis lived the dream?

"It was no dream" says the story. But that's not the same thing. Did Gregor's inner life, with its potential for imaginative release from the binds of his family, manifest in the world as this repulsive and crippling creature from the transfiguring night?

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