Painting my reflection in the mirror,
lost in the delicate shadings of my beard,
I only slowly notice that Death
has come to call, and brought his fiddle!
Ah, he wants me to step out
and dance to his merry little tunes,
beguiled into partnering him to my grave,
poor old bonerack
who loves to dance himself
The mirror bounces his notes back to him
as he saws away,
fingertips mellow on the strings
humming seductively through his grin;
preoccupied with the lively red of my cheek
I mistake it for a whisper:
what’s that you say, old death’s-head?
He hums louder
breaking into a buck dance
but begins to droop with pettishness;
my dance card is filled all evening
by that handsome mimic in the mirror
And Death, deflating, backs away
and sits in a corner like a pouting wallflower
desiring me now
but deterred from cutting in.
Poem copyright 2012 by Faire Lewis.
“Self-Portrait with Death as a Fiddler” (1872) by Swiss artist Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901).
Bocklin, a Symbolist painter, harks back to the medieval tradition of the danse macabre, an allegorical rendering from the plague years of the late 14th century of the truism that Death comes for everyone–
although not necessarily playing his own dance tune.
For what it’s worth, Bocklin’s own dance with death was nearly thirty years in the future when he painted this elegant self-portrait/allegory.
As for the humming: I read somewhere once that the great swing fiddler Johnny Gimble said the best piece of advice he ever got was from an older fiddler who told him he would never be able to play any tune he couldn’t hum.