Alexander Scriabin: Poem of Ecstasy

I chose to write about Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, which Michael Dr***, a student of Turkish, Chinese and music composition (and a regular visitor to the French House), introduced me to around the fall of 1975. Scriabin was something of a mystic and was influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche and the theosophists. Nietzsche, you will remember, wrote about the Apollonian (intellectual) and Dionysian (sensual, ecstatic) natures and the need to incorporate both. Well, the Poem of Ecstasy conveys a sense of losing oneself in sensual desire, a continuous sense of building anticipation, and a final climactic release and obliteration of the ego. I get all sweaty just writing about it.

In the fall of 1975, (and after having spent the summer working in a lamp assembly plant), I was happy to return to the French House. I had requested an end room, which was a little larger than the others in the dorm. Unfortunately, being next to the entrance and therefore the stairwell, it turned out to be noisier–with people coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

My end room had a very important perk, though. Often, when I was studying in my room, I would leave the door open. Visitors to the dorm, seeing my light on, would often knock on my door and ask where so-and-do lived. Thus, I became the functional concierge of the French House, which, being somewhat of an extravert, I actually thrived on.

My mother has always shown almost fanatical interest in things related to health, nutrition and fitness. Back in the 1960s she started leading exercise classes at the local YMCA where she worked as a lifeguard. Toward the end of the decade, she became more and more interested in nutrition–which changed our family’s diet as she started buying health foods, using less salt, and growing organic vegetables and herbs in my father’s garden. My father, by the way loved, to see things grow. During the summer, he would work 9 hours a day in a factory and then come home and spend the remaining daylight hours working on his garden. I used to think he was crazy and rebuffed his efforts to get me to help. But eventually I learned to appreciate the near-meditative state into which gardening can lead you. Whenever I left for college in Bloomington after summer break, therefore, my parents would load me up with fresh vegetables and dried herbs, one of which, peppermint, our family had gotten into the habit brewing into an infusion which we would drink instead of coffee or tea.

A number of new people had moved into the French House in the fall of 1975, and I tried to get to know them as well. I had a little hotplate used to heat water and when people would drop in, and I would offer them cups of peppermint tea. This was one of the best things about living in the dorm: you could have a salon where people would pop ‘round to chat, have a deep discussion, get drunk, gossip, listen to music, or just socialize.

One late night, as I was getting ready for bed, someone started pounding on my door. A female voice said, “Kurt!” “Kurt! Open up.” I opened the door and there stood Kristy (name changed to protect the innocent) a woman whom I had met the year before. Kristy lived in the Spanish House, which was connected to the French House by our common lounge, and she was a very intelligent, exuberant and forward person. Whenever we ran into each other in the cafeteria, we exchanged witty remarks, but I never thought she’d be interested in me. This night, Kristy had been drinking, and she was intent on seducing me. I will never forget the excitement I felt when that realization dawned on me (and that I hadn’t even had to go through the whole pursuit and rejection dance). My heart pounded and my stomach filled with a mass of butterflies, and our night spent together was sublime.

I spent the next day walking on clouds. Later that evening, I paid a visit to Kristy at her house off campus into which she had moved with two other women from the Spanish House. We cooked a nice dinner, listened to music, danced, and then Kristy dumped me. I spent the next five years or wondering why.  We did stay friends, and for a long time, she remained the archetypal woman for me. On the down side, it caused me to approach relationships with women with my guard up, for fear of being hurt. My guard consisted of keeping an intellectual and emotional distance from the women I became involved with. I never allowed myself to fall in love and usually found some reason to dump them pre-emptively: they either weren’t as smart as Kristy, or pretty, or didn’t hold the same feminist views as she did. Building this shell, turned out to be my loss, really, because it kept me from really connecting with people who were no doubt quite decent and loving people. Oh well–that’s one of those lessons it takes some people years to learn. Or as Joni Mitchell put it–“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?  From ecstasy to insularity.  Eventually I found ecstasy again many years later.

Scriabin Biography

Buy MP3 or CD Alexander Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy – Valery Gergiev / Kirov Orchestra

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