Loved not for themselves those tenors who sing
arias from 'Aida' on horned, tinny
gramophones-but because they take a man back
to a half forgotten thing.
We, transported by this evening loaded
with a song recorded by Caruso,
recall some other place, another time,
now charmingly outmoded.
What, for wrong motives, too often is approved
proves we once existed, becomes mere flattery
-then it's ourselves whom we are listening to,
and, by hearing, we are moved.
To know, haunted, this echo too will fade
with fresh alliteration of the leaves,
as more rain, indistinct, drags down the sky
like a sense of gloom mislaid.
Dear classic, melodic absences
how stringently debarred, kept out of mind,
till some genius on a gramophone
holes defences, breaks all fences.
What lives in a man and calls him back
and back through desolate Sunday evenings?
Indescribable, oh faint generic name:
sweet taste, bitter lack.
by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Additional information: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.