Monday, April 20, 2009

I wish for you that you may die on the journey

At a marvelous concert yesterday by Renée Fleming, 2600 of us in Boston's Symphony Hall heard her favorite collection of 20th Century music. One was a piece by André Previn, entitled "The Giraffes Go to Hamburg," based on a text by Isak Dinesen from her book Out of Africa. Excerpts:

In the harbor of Mombasa lay a rusty German cargo steamer, homeward bound. Upon the deck there stood a tall wooden case, and above the edges of the case rose the heads of two Giraffes. They were going to Hamburg to a traveling Menagerie.

The Giraffes turned their delicate heads from one side to the other, as if they were surprised, which they might well be. They had not seen the Sea before. They could only just have room to stand in the narrow case. The world had suddenly shrunk, changed and closed round them.

They could not know or imagine the degradation to which they were sailing. For they were proud and innocent creature, gentle amblers of the great plains; they had not the least knowledge of captivity, cold, stench, smoke, and mange, nor of the terrible boredom in a world in which nothing is ever happening.

Crowds will be coming in from the wind and sleet of the streets to gaze on the Giraffes....

In the long years before them, will the Giraffes sometimes dream of their lost country?

Where are they now, where have they gone to, the grass and the thorn-trees, the rivers and the waterholes and the blue mountains? . . . Where have the other Giraffes gone to, that were side by side with them when they set going, and cantered over the undulating land?

. . . Good-bye, good-bye, I wish for you that you may die on the journey, both of you, so that not one of the little noble heads, that are now raised, surprised, over the edges of the case, against the blue sky of Mombasa, shall be left to turn from one side to the other, all alone, in Hamburg, where no one knows of Africa.

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