music poem

Today, like Hamlet, Prince of Denmark…

A particular speech by “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”, often runs through my mind, and usually, I am singing the words. Hamlet’s speech in Act II, scene ii of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is famous in itself, but also because it was made into a song for the 1960s musical Hair. So it’s easy to remember. But “lately,” as Hamlet said, I have “lost all my mirth”. This poem is my version of Hamlet’s lament, not so much late middle ages Elsinore, Denmark, as present day Vancouver, Canada. (Sorry, Shakespeare, no iambic pentameter this time.)

I Have Lately Lost My Verve

What a piece of work am I?
How pedestrian in nature,
How limited in faculty.
In form and moving
How slow and fat.
In action, how clumsy.
In comprehension of it all,
How like an average sheeple.
I have, of late,
And why I do not know,
Lost all my verve.
This frame in which we live,
The earth, our world,
Has become ugly and alien.
This space above us, the air,  
This overhanging sky,
Filled with colours, clouds and circling planets –
It appears to me no other than
A canvas for countless invisible
EM-IR-X waves,
Contrails from transcontinental flights,
The cacophony of communication,
Transportation, consumption, coexistence.
What is the meaning of
This quintessence of dust?
How do I function in  it?
I don’t want to talk with you –
The only one who matters –
About anything, other than
The only things that matter to me –
The things that I have made.
What a piece of work am I,
But a small voice that you might hear?
Though from your smile I can tell that
You seem to find my silence
Meaningful enough.

What do I mean by this? Well, after a lot of wondering and agonizing about why I am like I am, I finally got an explanation in David Byrne’s book, How Music Works. This quote, below, is printed out big, and stuck on the wall of my study. Whenever I think I’m losing my marbles, I look at it and realize I’m not the only one who is like this.

“I was incredibly shy at the time and remained so for many years, so one might ask (and people did) what in the world a withdrawn introvert was doing making a spectacle of himself onstage. (I didn’t ask myself such questions at the time.) In retrospect, I guess that like many others, I decided that making my art in public (even if that meant playing other people’s songs at that point) was a way of reaching out and communicating when ordinary chitchat was not comfortable for me. It seemed not only a way to ‘speak’ in another language, but also a means of entry into conversation – […]
Years later I diagnosed myself as having a very mild (I think) form of Asperger’s syndrome. Leaping up in public to do something wildly expressive and then quickly retreating back into my shell seemed, well, sort of normal to me.”

David Byrne, in How Music Works, by David Byrne, pp. 36 – 37

The original quote:

Hamlet: Act II, Scene ii
Hamlet.         Act 2, Scene 2.      Hamlet

This text is used in our interview with Michael Urie

318   I have of late–but
319   wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all
320   custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
321   with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
322   earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
323   excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
324   o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
325   with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
326   me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
327   What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
328   how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
329   express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
330   in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
331   world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
332   what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
333   me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
334   you seem to say so.
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