It is thrilling when a poet embraces the largest subjects, compressing into a minute or two of human breath issues and feelings that might dominate an opera stage or occupy a thick scholarly book. A related, different principle is undertaking particular subjects, treating in a lyric what might seem the province of journalism or academia.

Frank Bidart has always undertaken that largeness of scope, sometimes in long poems such as "Ellen West" or "The First Hour of the Night" from his earlier books. His new book, Star Dust, begins with this poem, which is about the nature of art and the contribution of technology. Without fuss or wasted gesture, Bidart defies conventional limits of what a poem can undertake, and what a poem should undertake:

For the Twentieth Century

Bound, hungry to pluck again from the thousand

technologies of ecstasy

boundlessness, the world that at a drop of water

rises without boundaries,

I push the PLAY button: --

. . . Callas, Laurel & Hardy, Szigeti

you are alive again, --

the slow movement of K.218

once again no longer

bland, merely pretty, nearly

banal, as it is

in all but Szigeti's hands

Therefore you and I and Mozart

must thank the Twentieth Century, for

it made you pattern, form

whose infinite

repeatability within matter

defies matter --

Malibran. Henry Irving. The young

Joachim. They are lost, a mountain of

newspaper clippings, become words

not their own words. The art of the performer.

The poem is as audacious and cunning as its title. It is about recorded music, in general and particular. It is also about the boundlessness of art, the realm where Laurel and Hardy are as great in their metier as violinist Joseph Szigeti is in his. The poem is also about mortality -- again, in general as part of human life and in particular: The work of performers whose creations preceded recording technologies is mortal, as later work is not. The poem itself is a memorable performance. (Frank Bidart's poem "For the Twentieth Century" is from his book "Star Dust." Farrar Straus Giroux. Copyright © 2005 by Frank Bidart.)