At the Keyboard in Majorca

Between November 8, 1838 and February 13, 1839, Frederic Chopin accompanied George Sand and her two children Solange and Maurice to Majorca to restore his failing health. Met with a growing animosity by the Majorcan natives who soon realized this couple was not married, Chopin and Sand were forced to take up residence in an abandoned Carthusian monastery on the island outside the town of Valldemossa. Considered one of his most productive periods of composition, these three months on Majorca yielded some of Chopin’s most exquisite compositions – including his best preludes, ballades and polonaises.

Where monks had once intoned their Easter Mass
With bells, Majorca’s foggy winter
Now counsels death in secret briefs with night
Against my living. Summer lost its bloom
As rest and music crossed on purpose
This irony of island dreams in sand:
She comes…she goes – it’s all that’s blowing
Through dark and dampened corners of my soul.
Too young to grow so old… I learned to please
My mother first, then pater, sister,
(Dear sister!) teachers… one by one, at last
Until my mistress music mastered
The heart: prelude, ballade, and polonaise –
So adulation served as mentor,
But even praises faded …. Warsaw’s fight
Had failed to wake the world; with throaty doom
The cannonade would sing cacophonous
Sonatas. Fate had raped our motherland
Again – her children’s blood was flowing
As Europe shoved her into history’s hole.
Now all I feel is waste, decay, disease –
In falling rain, the themes will fester
And burst at last – I break into the past
With keys both black and white, sequestered
Upon Majorcan shores. The natives pass
My window, trading rumor’s banter
In sharpened tones. The beaches’ major white
Dissolves in minor grey and clocks presume
Their price upon the daily purchase
Of time. I watch the waves beyond the strand,
The force of bloodless rhythm’s slowing.
The built momentum crashes like the bell
That once had rung to tell the Angelus –
Such tolling faith, not mine to foster,
Bespoke the grace Carthusians had amassed
And Majorcan flocks had pastured.
The only faith I have is that which loss
Can save. The past and future splinter
My heart, now martyr red, now ghostly white…
Oh, Poland, look what you and I’ve become!
Our exiled souls forever trespass
No matter where we go! I make no stand
Except for music’s honor, owing
My pledge to eight and eighty* muses who’ll
Invite my touch while pledging bond’s release
By perfect fifths. I’ve often missed there
By eighths, by flats, a second slow, a quarter fast…
Ill-timed too, all this talk of bastard
And mistress… Gossip, Valldemossa! Crass
Invidiousness, prying slander
Well suit your vatic ruins. Pallid white
The bones you dust with lies your tongues exhume.
But Amandine, Solange and Maurice
(You, your children, inmates all), you hand
To me the Christmas flowers growing
In summer rebellion against our cruel
And tragic winter. Florid fantasies,
Would come to me that way too, cluster
Like fingers playing on the wind and blessed
With tunes of azure, crimson, mustard….
Arriving in November, making less
Of doctor’s orders, more for splendor,
We picnicked on the shingle. Nights we’d fight,
Then love at dawn– or flee the breakfast room
To watch the terns dissect a porpoise
That beached the night before. I understand
How life is gone when love is going…
Such suns are brief that shadows can console –
Such burdens end when lashing out with keys
Can turn the dexterous by sinister
Conveyance. Cast as life’s iconoclast,
Romance remains a craft that’s mastered
The same as any art: Our last embrace,
I kissed your hands. “The hands of an enchanter,”
I said. Such little ironies excite
Your heart beyond the tethered metronome –
Your heart, so wry, sublime and heartless…
I’d feel my fingertips caressing sand –
My heart would seek amendment, knowing
Its constitution broke in Paris, full
Of grief and emptying spleen with restless cause
Upon the parchment’s alabaster:
The marshaled clefs and staffs became the grist
Of detonating strings that roistered
For revolution! Flashing bolts caress
The strike! As I grow frail and gaunter,
These keys will fit a final iron gate,
Unlocking sound against – beyond – the tomb.


*Chopin’s beloved Pleyel which he had with him on Majorca had only 85 keys (missing the bottom A, A-minor and B keys found on most grand pianos., but please allow for poetic license.


  1. Excellent, JOB. Really like the way white and black are contrasted thoughout – beaches, alabaster, and more than that, the florid colors produced from that contrast (or so it seemed to me, halfway through the poem). And the double meaning of keys at the end. Good stuff.

  2. Yes, I see now. Thanks for the beautiful poem and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  3. Beautiful, Papa! Probably my favorite yet. Of course, that might be because I understood it so well.=)
    I really love that reference to the metronome.

    • Southern Expat says

      Yeah, me, too, and the “caressing sand.” Submit this to publication-type places, please. That would be the best Christmas present you could give me.

  4. Merry Kristmas, Korrektiv!
    (are you allowed to spell Christmas like that)?

  5. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    I’ve never made a ‘Pollock’ joke. And now I never will.

  6. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Is that ‘Old Dog Tray’? That sounds like ‘Old Dog Tray’.

  7. Jonathan Potter says

    Marvelous. You should have it engraved on the keys of a real piano, the one in your living room maybe!

    Coincidentally, it arrived on the same day as a mysterious parcel from Wisconsin camping land. Thanks!

  8. Merry Christmas to you as well. Alas, my Christmas letters are much less literary.

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