The physical ordeal is part of it.
The way it trains us, night after night, to sit still
an hour longer, do with less sleep, the week
it flows beside our lives, say once a decade,
flows beside and sucks us under, even,
as if we were drawn down in Erda’s dream,
where seeing what’s past, and passing, and to come,
in the dark cradle of knowing
the connections, in the tangled roots of the world-ash,
is better than having to live it, step by step,
even if one’s a god. . . .
So, cradled by
our chairs, our neighbors, the repeated sight
of the great pine-cone of the chandelier
in its earthquake-netting, dimming from the top down,
the conductor’s rustle-through to applause, we hear
the long-drawn E, that seems to promise building
not just a world of melodies, but the world. . . .
So back to the god’s steps. Walkure II,
where Wotan faces Fricka, knowing
all her real motives, but no way around her argument,
and the music catches what music, being a release,
should never catch—the shame of powerlessness,
ground down into betrayal of himself
and all he loves, until even a daughter’s touch
only makes it worse. . . .
Twenty-five years ago
beside my wife, but thinking of my beloved,
my life read back to me
both as Siegmund doomed and Wotan dooming,
clenched with his anger and his shame. . . .
Shame I endured another month, before
I made my heart’s wrong choice.
Now, I’m more likely
to see myself in Wotan as Wanderer, found on
the raggedest paths of the forest, examining
the things in himself that made it all go wrong—
not just the scheming and bad faith, but anger
that loves defiance but can’t stand being defied:
Brunnhilde, Siegfried. . . . When he laughs
at Siegfried’s ignorance of his own past,
it’s the tired laugh of the old, that mocks at nothing
other than time, but has to read as mockery
to the young, who don’t have anything if they don’t have
the conviction that they start the world anew.
When Wotan sees his anger
again about to ruin himself and what he loves best,
it’s almost in hope that he gives up the spear.
And then, as it all ebbs back
into the Rhine music, dream before the dream,
atom unsplit, gold unforged—does it want
to teach us anything? That all we build,
shining Valhalla, will fail, because what asks for so much
must be built on a crime?
That love conquers all? It doesn’t, even here,
though love’s rarely been done more beautifully in its terrors
than on Brunnhilde’s rock . . .
Or might the lesson
even be this: that sometimes something made
surprises us by being stronger than we are?
As an injured daughter might prove to be, or an
unrecognized son. . . . We look back on ourselves
as through our own lost eye. And perhaps this rite
we’ve shared is, in different ways for each of us,
a kind of lost eye, as, winding to its end
on a brisk late afternoon in San Francisco,
it sends us out, our whole lives lived over,
into the blind air of every day.