Fritz Delius at Solano Grove

            Fritz Delius at Solano Grove, 1897


Of course, the oranges were a write-off.

He soon saw this the first time he had come,

yet told his father there was business in it:


like the cloth trade, but in exportable fruit.

Now he’d returned, ostensibly to salvage

an investment left to fail twelve years before.


Three weeks at sea, then boats and steamers, down

to the crocs and mangroves. Uncle Theo sent

him extra cash: some of it he’d give to her,


his local “sweetheart”, so he told his friends.

He guessed she was no more the sumptuous

black beauty he had loved, but if he found her


he might see the child he’d learned of two months back.

But now there’s a problem: the stowaway

French mistress that he thought he’d left behind.


She soon appeared once they were well off-shore

to claim a berth alongside his. But how

could he lug her through the backs of Florida


searching for his offspring, no doubt the only

one he’d ever have, without the mother

taking fright? His plan seemed scuppered from the start.


But there was consolation in the music:

to hear again the negroes singing down

the river their rich and shifting harmonies,


the ones that worked their way into his scores.

Pity Ward had gone: consumption took him,

a little while after he’d left, a Jesuit


he’d met in Jacksonville improvising

on the music-shop piano, then brought

him out to the plantation. He’d stayed for days


and taught him more – out here in these unlikely

parts – than all he’d later learn in Leipzig:

harmony, counterpoint, the tiresome things


that he’d resigned himself to do, convinced

that nature and humanity were all

he needed to compose: the high Norwegian


hills, Spring woods, his memories of childhood

on the Yorkshire moors, the great French city,

writings of the poets and philosophers


who seemed to speak with voices that were his,

the women of exotic shape and smell,

sophisticated pleasures of the flesh.


And what could he do but lie his way through life,

let father think he’d seen the light at last,

and given up all thought of composition?


He’d make the old man fund his art by stealth.

Only art mattered. Not fathers, not lovers,

even the son he’d likely never see.

What are you looking for?