Last Robot Song

JAN 11, 2011

A poem by Robert Pinsky, librettist for Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera and former U.S. Poet Laureate.

This poem is not in the script I wrote for Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera, but related to it. In the poem, a little robot, after all the people have departed (as in the opera), is left by himself. Not knowing what else to do, he sings to himself the myths and songs that the people taught him. In particular, he sings about the story of newborn Hermes, the inventive little thief and messenger, younger brother to the god of music.

It was a little newborn god
That made the first instrument:
Sweet vibration of
Mind, mind, mind
Enclosed in its orbit.

He scooped out a turtle’s shell
And strung it with a rabbit’s guts.
O what a stroke to invent
Music from an empty case
Strung with bloody filaments –

The wiry rabbitflesh
Plucked or strummed,
Pulled taut across the gutted
Resonant hull of the turtle:
Music from strings that
Tremble over a hollow-
Sweet conception, sweet
Instrument of
Mind, mind, mind: mind
Itself a capable vibration
Thrumming from here to there
In the cloven brainflesh
Contained in its helmet of bone-
Like an electronic boxfull
Of channels and filaments
Bundled inside its case,
A little musical robot

Dreamed up by the mind
Embedded in the brain
With its blood-warm channels
And its humming network
Of neurons, engendering

The newborn baby god-
As clever and violent
As his own instrument
Of sweet, all-consuming
Imagination, held
By its own vibration,

Mind, mind, mind pulled
Taut in its bony shell,
Dreaming up Heaven and Hell.

Robert Pinsky is a former U.S. Poet Laureate, the author of numerous collections of poetry, and the librettist for Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera. “Last Robot Song” was originally printed in The New Yorker.

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