‘I just knew I had to do something. I wanted to be there to try and comfort, and offer a sign of hope.’ (Davide Martello)
I think many of us have been in a state of shock after hearing of the events in Paris last Friday. But one piece of news caught my attention. It was about the pianist who towed his portable grand piano (it does have big wheels) with a bicycle through the streets of Paris and played John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ outside the Bataclan hall. ‘I can’t bring people back but I can inspire them with music and when people are inspired they can do anything.’
The incident reminded me of the cellist of Sarajevo, and Pauline Stainer’s poem about him (‘After the Bread Queue Massacre’). It also reminded me of the West Eastern Divan orchestra, made up of young musicians from several countries in the Middle East (including Israel). It was set up originally as ‘a project against ignorance’ (Daniel Barenboim) to enable Palestinian and Israeli musicians to play together. The orchestra’s unusual name is taken from a collection of poems by Goethe, West-östlicher Divan. Goethe’s book is a dialogue with the Persian poet, Ḥāſeẓ. (Divan just means ‘collection’.)
On Saturday I read in The Guardian about Chava Rosenfarb, who was freed from Bergen-Belsen when the camp was liberated by the British Army in 1945. The article was about her lifelong friendship with one of the British soldiers. But it also mentioned that she wrote poetry, even in the hideous environment of the concentration camp: ‘I am lying in the bed and with stiff fingers I am writing my poem. I’m no more in prison, I am no more a girl of a poor, humiliated, insulted nation. I am a victorious free soul. Happy moments!’ In 1948 her first collection of poetry was published. She went on to become one of the most important and renowned Yiddish writers of the second half of the twentieth century.
The Greek poet, Yannis Ritsos, was a political prisoner under the Papadopouos military dictatorship. He was forbidden to write in prison, but he wrote anyway – short poems which he hid in empty tins and buried in the prison compound.
Poetry and music as peaceful resistance, peaceful defiance.