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.