Between November 8, 1838 and February 13, 1839, Frederic Chopin accompanied George Sand and her two children Solange and Maurice to Majorca to restore his failing health. Met with a growing animosity by the Majorcan natives who soon realized this couple was not married, Chopin and Sand were forced to take up residence in an abandoned Carthusian monastery on the island outside the town of Valldemossa. Considered one of his most productive periods of composition, these three months on Majorca yielded some of Chopin’s most exquisite compositions—including his best preludes, ballades, and polonaises.
Where monks had once intoned their Easter Mass With bells, Majorca’s foggy winter Now counsels death in secret briefs with night Against my living. Summer’s losing bloom Has rest and music crossed on purpose— An irony of island dreams in sand: She comes . . . she goes—it’s all that’s blowing Through dark and dampened corners of my soul. Too young to grow so old . . . I learned to please My mother first, then Pater, Sister (Dear Sister!), teachers… one by one, at last Until my mistress music mastered The heart: prelude, ballade, and polonaise— So adulation served as mentor, But even praises faded . . . . Warsaw’s fight Had failed to wake the world; with throaty doom The cannonade had sung cacophonous Sonatas. Fate had raped our motherland; Again—her children’s blood was flowing As Europe shoved her into history’s hole. Now all I feel is waste, decay, disease— In falling rain, the themes will fester And burst at last—I break into the past With keys both black and white, sequestered Upon Majorcan shores. The natives pass My window, trading rumor’s banter In sharpened tones. The beaches’ major white Dissolves in minor grey and clocks presume Their price upon the daily purchase Of time. I watch the waves beyond the strand, The force of bloodless rhythm’s slowing. The built momentum crashes like the bell That once had rung to tell the Angelus— Such tolling faith, not mine to foster, Bespoke the grace Carthusians had amassed And Majorcan flocks had pastured. The only faith I have is that which loss Can save. The past and future splinter My heart, now martyr red, now ghostly white . . . Polonia! What you and I’ve become! Our exiled souls forever trespass No matter where we go! I make no stand Except for music’s honor, owing My pledge to eight and eighty* muses who’ll Invite my touch while pledging bond’s release By perfect fifths. I’ve often missed there By eighths, by flats, a second slow, a quarter fast . . . Ill-timed too, all this talk of bastard And mistress . . . Gossip, Valldemossa! Crass Invidiousness, prying slander Well suit your vatic ruins. Pallid white These bones your dusty tongues with lies exhume. With Amandine, Solange and Maurice (Your children, inmates with us), you hand To me the Christmas flowers growing In summer rebellion against our cruel And tragic winter. Florid fantasies, Would come to me that way too, cluster Like fingers playing on the wind and blessed With tunes of azure, crimson, mustard . . . . Arriving in November, making less Of doctor’s orders, more for splendor, We picnicked on the shingle. Nights we’d fight, Then love at dawn—or flee the breakfast room To watch the terns dissect a porpoise That beached the night before. I understand How life is gone when love is going . . . Such suns are brief that shadows can console— Such burdens end when lashing out with keys Can turn the dexterous by sinister Conveyance. Cast as life’s iconoclast, Romance remains a craft that’s mastered The same as any art: Our last embrace, I kissed your hands. “The hands of an enchanter,” I said. Such little ironies excite Your heart beyond the tethered metronome— Your heart, so wry, sublime and heartless . . . As if my fingertips caressed but sand— My heart would seek amendment, knowing Its constitution broke in Paris, full Of grief and emptying spleen with restless cause Upon the parchment’s alabaster: The marshaled clefs and staffs became the grist Of detonating strings that roistered For revolution! Flashing bolts caress The strike! As I grow frail and gaunter, These keys will seek a grave and final note, Unlocking sound against—beyond—the tomb.
*Poetic license invoked: Chopin’s beloved Pleyel which he had with him on Majorca had only 85 keys (missing the bottom A, A-minor, and B keys found on most grand pianos).