It is true that I have sketched for their amusement and mine, the idiosyncrasies of fourteen of my friends ... The Enigma I will not explain – its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed ... Through and over the whole set [of variations] another and larger theme ‘goes,’ but is not played ...
– Edward Elgar, 1899
The letter in which he said this is lost
and the fourteen friends are all dead
so they can’t tell us what it meant
even if they knew in the first place.
There remain only the ghost-hunters
tracing spectral counterpoints
which weave in and out of variations,
walk through walls: counterpoints
like Auld Lang Syne, the Dies Irae,
Farewell and Adieu to You,
My Fair Spanish Ladies,
and Elgar’s own Black Knight
with its identical intervals: pairs
of falling thirds divided by rising
fourth as the chorus sings
“He beholds his children die” –
as if shared by all true friendships,
weaving in and out of variations,
is an unheard Elgarian unconscious,
an enigmatic farewell and adieu,
a dark saying of grief.
Jonathan Taylor's books include the novels "Melissa" (Salt, 2015) and "Entertaining Strangers" (Salt, 2012), the memoir "Take Me Home" (Granta, 2007), and the poetry collection "Musicolepsy" (Shoestring, 2013). He is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.
The Ekphrastic Review
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