The following poem, written and redrafted over many years, had its origins in the mid-1980s, when I was a cinema usher at Hoyts Mid-City in Melbourne. One of the perks of the job was being able to watch movies as I worked, of course; another was seeing films for free when not on duty. Amadeus, based on the life of Mozart, directed by Milos Forman, was – and remains – an all-time favourite.
I have a vivid memory from that time of watching this wonderful film near the end of its run in Mid-City’s main cinema, which seated close to a thousand people, with only a couple of others in attendance. I felt as if I had the whole film to myself. Mozart’s sublime music provided most of the soundtrack. An especially vivid part of the filmic narrative was the section which dealt with (in a fictitious way) the writing of his Requiem Mass in D Minor, of which the Lacrimosa section is a particularly evocative part.
Mozart died in December 1791, before finishing the Requiem, and the best-known version was completed by Franz Xavier Sussmayr the following year. Constanze, Mozart’s wife, stated that Wolfgang came to believe he was composing the work for his own funeral.
Verging on tears.
Can hear strains from Mozart’s Requiem
… Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus …
I see the prematurely grey
composer on his death-bed,
his funeral at St. Stephen’s,
attended by very few,
the little coffin on a dray
drawn through the city gates,
burial in a pauper’s grave,
gravediggers tossing quicklime,
then walking away in bitter rain.
Note: a translation of the Latin lines in the poem, which come from a traditional text of the Catholic Requiem Mass:
… Full of tears will be that day
When from the ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged …