"Haydn Leaves London"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Dec. 2 2008 8:18 AM

"Haydn Leaves London"

August 1795

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Rita Dove read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

I work too slowly for their appetites.
I am a plow horse, not a steed; and though
the plow horse cultivates the very grain that gilds
their substantial guts, they will thrill to any chase,
lay down a tidy fortune and their good name
on the odds of a new upstart darling.                                                

The first trip, I took up Pleyel's unspoken dare
and promised a new piece every evening
for the length of the concert series. 
Intrigue fuels the coldest ambitions;
the daily newspapers thickened
with judgments on the drummed-up duel
between the maestro and his student of yore. 
What was I thinking?  I am old enough to value,
now and then, an evening spent with starlight—
not one twittering fan or lacy dewlap obscuring
my sidelong glance—yet I came back

to these noisome vapors, this fog-scalded moon,
fat and smoking, in its lonely dominion. 
The black Thames pushes on.  I close my eyes
and feel it, a bass string plucked at intervals,                        
dragging our bilge out to the turgid sea—
a drone that thrums the blood, that agitates
for more and more. …

...............................Well, it is done. 
I bore down for half a dozen occasions,
wrote a four-part canon to a faithful dog,
wheedled a few graceful tunes
from Salomon's orchestra, that bloated fraternity
of whines and whistles—and now I can return
to my drowsy Vienna, wreathed in green
and ever turning, turning just slowly enough
to keep the sun soft on her face.

Former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove received the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Obama. Her latest book publications are Sonata Mulattica and The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry.


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.