Poems and Letters

Life is Juicy: A Poem by Leonard Bernstein, 1947 (Audio exclusive)

Actor Jeremy Irons reads “Life is Juicy,” written by Leonard Bernstein in 1947 “on the mucky shore” of a lake in western Massachusetts —  now known as the Stockbridge Bowl.

Summers in Western Massachusetts are overwhelmingly green, with startlingly beautiful vistas at every turn; the air is sticky, and the constant swelling hum of insects accompanies it all. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic place to spend the summer.

In 1947, Leonard Bernstein once again joined Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Berkshires for a season of conducting at Tanglewood Music School. It was a summer of firsts for him: he would perform music from his ballet Facsimile, at a Composer’s Showcase concert on July 6, and on July 27, he would conduct the Boston Symphony for the very first time, leading a program featuring music by Mozart, Stravinsky, and Schubert.

But on July 2, 1947, Bernstein installed himself in a cottage by a lake in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and wrote a poem.

Hear Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons read “Life is Juicy,” by Leonard Bernstein:

Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons. (Courtesy of Irons)
Jeremy Irons (Courtesy of Irons)

Life is Juicy

(Written in a cottage
on the mucky shore of
Lake Mah-kee-nak
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
2 July 1947)

Life begins in the waters—
Not the deep, but the borders of land:
The stagnants that nourish the sterile earth
Like a juicy gland.

Life is the seed of the marriage
Of liquid and solid events.
In the coves, in the swamps, in mysterious pools,
Our heartaches commence.

Life is the pulp and the slime,
The marshmallow bellies of frogs,
Their thyroided eyes, their eggjellies caught
On the rotting logs.

Life is the algae, the roe;
The army of maggoty breeds
Devouring the corpse of a very old perch
Adrift in the weeds.

Life is the plasm, the cells,
The fat symbiotics in pairs;
The ankledeep fungoids which darkly provide
The crawfish with lairs.

Life is the scaly and scummy,
The poisonous green without breath;
The marinal maze whose only solution
Is ultimate death.

For Death is the crisp and the clean,
The fine oxidation, the rust,
The spermless, the painless, the classic, the lean,
The dry, dry dust.

The Stockbridge Bowl, October 27, 2004. (Courtesy of the Stockbridge Bowl Association)
The Stockbridge Bowl, October 27, 2004. (Courtesy of the Stockbridge Bowl Association)
About this content

“Life is Juicy” used by permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. All rights reserved. The poem first appears in Findings (Simon and Schuster).

Audio of Jeremy Irons recorded for The Bernstein Experience on Classical.org/WGBH Educational Foundation by Mark Travis, Associate Director of Media, Production, for the New York Philharmonic. Special thanks to Irons, Travis, Jamie Bernstein, author of Famous Father Girl; and Barbara Haws, archivist of the New York Philharmonic Archives.

More Bernstein at 100
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