Dearest, note how these two are alike;
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer's twelve-speed bike.
The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell's chords are played away.
So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante's heaven, and melt into the air.
If it doesn't, of course, I've fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsicordists prove
Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.
Michael Donaghy (1954 – 2004) from ‘Dances Learned Last Night’
Pavane – a stately court dance
Ptolemy – An ancient Greek astronomer, who proposed a way of calculating the movements of the planets on the assumption that they, along with the sun and the stars, were embedded in clear spheres that revolved around the Earth.
Schwinn – Ignaz Schwinn’s passion for bicycles led him to produce some of the most iconic designs and significant mechanical innovations in cycling.
Dante – famous Italian poet who wrote ‘The Inferno’
The conceit is to compare the bicycle with the harpsicord. Two very unlike machines and I found it hard to identify the harpsicord as a machine, but both are human built to perform quite different functions. The poem explores the similarities. And at the forefront of the comparison both requite human skill for successful operation. And both require the use of hands and feet.
The key attribute is balance. And unlike the harpsichord if you lose balance on a bike, you can easily fall and injure yourself. When starting to use a bike you start to move and then balance. Perhaps there is a bit of a wobble at first. And, if successful, you continue to balance as you move. Balance in playing a musical instrument is another matter.
But by mentioning Ptolemy the entire world can be considered a machine. His mathematical ideas falsely equated the earth as the center with all other bodies revolving around in concentric circular motion. And the concept is that by the effortless gadgetry of love the machines can be used to create something quite beautiful like Dante’s journey to Heaven in his famous Inferno poem.
For the world to move and evolve with love as the blood force balance is perhaps the key. This is quite difficult of course for- ‘so much is chance, so much agility, desire, and feverish care’. And the world of today is out of balance as we try to correct for the injuries made by humans to the environment.
People love their machines. And on a personal note, as a keen cyclist, I have come to love a racing bike I acquired about eighteen months ago. But it has taken me about that time to really adjust to it including adapting a few accessories to make it exactly as I want it when riding. And after extensive service and new chain and different gear set it is just wonderful to glide along the many cycle paths in Canberra. And I am sure we all have a particular special item we adore. And if we extend the thought from this poem to the world and the life we lead then love is needed as we evolve. Quite a balancing act
Michael Donaghy on Wikipedia Michael Donaghy – Wikipedia