“Romantics” by Lisel Mueller & Question for Readers

Note from Christy: Do you know who read this poem on Garrison Keillor’s audiobook version of Good Poems? Please see questions that follow this post:

  Johannes Brahms and
Clara Schumann

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth-century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.

Lisel Mueller, “Romantics” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.

* Question for my fellow poetry lovers:

Fellow poetry reader Bob S. asked on our post “Garrison Keillor, Good Poems, and “Bear In Mind” by John Martin if anyone had a listing of the readers for the audiobook version of Keillor’s Good Poems. (I found a partial list which I shared with Bob in the comments, but I couldn’t answer his primary question, which was…:) More specifically, does anyone know the female who read Lisel Mueller’s poem “Romantics”?

And a follow-up question: How important is it to you to be able to listen to a poem as you read along? I know many people enjoyed listening to Keillor read his daily poem choices at The Writer’s Almanac. Is that (being able to listen to poems) something that would be valuable to readers here? I sometimes link to YouTube videos of poets reading their material, but not regularly; would you like me to do more of that? Or what if I read a poem for you from time to time?

If you know who reads Mueller’s poem on the audio version of Good Poems, please let us know in the comments. And please feel free to share your thoughts on listening to poems. Thank you, friends, for your help. -Christy

10 thoughts on ““Romantics” by Lisel Mueller & Question for Readers

  1. Georgeanna Tryban

    I do like to hear the poems read…though some readings make me think it sounded better in my head than when done by a reader. One topic of great interest to me would be a discussion of what effective reading of poetry is all about. Can an actor read a poem more effectively than the writer of that poem? Is it some more authentic to have the poet, themselves, read their own work or can others who are professional presenters convey the meanings of the poem more effectively? I’d love a discussion of this.


    1. Hi Georgeanna,
      Thanks much for your thoughts.
      Funny, I was texting with my friend Michelle the other night and what we both landed upon was that “It depends.” And it does, doesn’t it? Depends on who’s reading, what our mood is, what the poem is–if we even like the poem, do we have any history with it, etc.

      I believe that once a poem is written, it’s out there. It’s not the poet’s poem anymore, it belongs to whomever is reading it. Every reader brings their own experiences and feelings and perspective to a poem, and a poem’s meaning can vary or change depending on who is reading it. … A couple of weeks ago I shared a poem that to me captured the grief of losing my mother and how memories hit me out of the blue like sunbeams; reader Mike M. however felt the pain of losing a lover from the poem. I was grateful for the memories, and Mike felt that once we can forget memories then we can move on. (I’m generalizing here for the sake of this comment.) And see, same poem, same words, but totally different life experiences and moods changed the way Mike and I both read the poem.

      My fear is that listening to others read a poem out-loud to you, is that you may be picking up on that reader’s own experiences out of the way they pause or choose different words to inflect or NOT to inflect. And in doing so, you kind of get robbed out of the full-experience of having a poem click with you and your own experiences. That’s why I rarely offer commentary on poems in the posts themselves, and why I don’t always pair the poem with art or music or readings…I don’t want to rob anyone of that feeling. Because that feeling is so amazing. And heaven forbid I pick a bad reading or one that’s flat or dry or too quiet or too loud or too nasaly or too (insert any adjective here), because if that’s the first time you’re “hearing” and reading the poem, then from that moment on, that poem will likely suck for you. (Like seeing a movie of a book before reading the book…. If the movie is awful, you’re not going to read the book, and what a shame because that book could have changed your life.)

      But sometimes, certain readings by certain people can change your life too. I will always remember David Whyte reading Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” and then following it with his own poem and why he wrote it; it just magnified the poem for me, made it that much more real. And some spoken word pieces by Andrea Gibson or Buddy Wakefield….it’s like they take a two-dimensional black and white piece and turn it into a blast of 3-D technicolor.

      So, like I said, it all kinda depends. 😉

      I hope that helps give you some different thoughts and ideas since you were hoping for a bit of discussion. Thanks very much for taking the time to comment! Christy


  2. Dear Christina,
    I do not know who read Lisel Mueller’s poem, but yes, I do enjoy listening to the poetry more than reading (though reading allows me to go back and back again to savor the imagery). I do like when you have an accompanying link to the spoken poetry, or the choicest of images you seem to find. Many thanks for your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Tamara!
      I was just sharing in a previous comment why I was sometimes hesitant to pair poems with recordings or imagery, but knowing that you and others enjoy it, I will certainly try to do more of it. Always nice to hear from you! ❤ c-


  3. I love that poem. I have the book, as mostly I enjoy reading them. Occasionally I enjoy listening to a poem read, but it depends on the reader. I love listening to Keillor, and Billy Collins. Now I’m curious about who read Romantics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t listen to much poetry either, preferring to read first. Once I have a relationship with the poem, I’ll sometimes go and look up a reading or recital. But like a book being made into a movie, that’s sometimes a hit or miss outcome. 🙂


  4. Jean

    Dear Christina,
    I have no idea who read the poem. I hope you find someone who knows and then let us know!

    I love reading poetry and I would love to hear your voice, so if a poem moves you to read it I’ll bet we would all savor it!

    Love your site. Many Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are always so sweet, Jean, thank-you.
      I have a couple of my own poems that I’ve recorded, and I think I have one or two by Andrea Gibson and Dorianne Laux…maybe I’ll work up the nerve to share one of them. Then y’all can decide if you want more. You may not want me to read any more of them! haha! 😉 -c


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