Listening to the Koln Concert by Robert Bly (a Pocket Poem)

Here’s a beloved poem that has helped me in many ways over the years. The poet’s invitation to let go of a demand for perfection that (as far as I can see) we all share has been invaluable, as has his beautiful imagery of love and relationships.

And in case you were wondering, the Koln Concert that the title refers to is a famous solo piano concert that jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performed in Koln (Cologne in English), Germany. You can buy a recording here. Here’s a solo Keith Jarrett concert from Japan on YouTube if you want to get a taste of how completely Jarrett loses himself in his music. It’s the full concert, enjoy!


Listening to the Koln Concert

by Robert Bly

After we had loved each other intently,

we heard notes tumbling together,

in late winter,  and we heard ice

falling from the ends of twigs.


The notes abandon so much as they move.

They are the food not eaten, the comfort

not taken, the lies not spoken.

The music is my attention to you.


And when the music came again,

later in the day, I saw tears in your eyes.

I saw you turn your face away

so that the others would not see.


When men and women come together,

how much they have to abandon! wrens

make their nests of fancy threads

and string ends, animals


abandon all their money each year.

What is it that men and women leave?

Harder than wrens’ doing, they have

to abandon their longing for the perfect.


The inner nest not made by instinct

will never be quite round,

and each has to enter the nest

made by the other imperfect bird.

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