Aesthetic Realism Class in Poetry by Eli Siegel

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Lynette Abel


Part 2 of "People Leave Each Other in Poetry" 

     This slowness and swiftness can be heard in the first line, "O What can ail thee Knight at arms."  The word "ail," is lingering, yet there is suddenness in "Knight at arms."  The second line, "Alone and palely loitering?" "has poignancy and staccato," Mr. Siegel pointed out.  The uncertainty, doubt of man, wandering about, is here.  It is romantic in the best sense--where a person feels reality as strange, subtle, unknown and the strangeness is lovely."  Later in the poem is this famous stanza: 

She took me to her elfin grot 
     And there she wept and sigh'd full sore, 
And there I shut her wild wild eyes 
     With kisses four.
     We learned that Keats, upon sending this poem out for the first time, was afraid of how it would be met--and very much this last line--and so he attached these comments:  Why four kisses--you will say--why four, because I wish to restrain the headlong impetuosity of my Muse--she would fain have said "score" without hurting the rhyme--but we must temper the imagination, as the Critics say, with Judgment.  I was obliged to choose an even number that both eyes might have fair play, and to speak truly I think two a piece quite sufficient.      Later, Keats wrote another version of this poem, which Mr. Siegel also read.  In this version he changes "With kisses four," to, "So kiss'd to sleep." Said Mr. Siegel:  The contest between the comparative swiftness of "With kisses four," and the lingeringness of "So kiss'd to sleep," is another form of the question Keats had about coldness and warmth. The first form is grander.  The second form, "So kiss'd to sleep" works too hard.      And, with deep comprehension of John Keats, Mr. Siegel continued:  There was a cleavage in Keats' mind between seeing things in a hilarious fashion...and seeing seriously. There was a make fun of his feelings. And people will make fun of their feelings because they don't know all that they are, all that they mean....      At the end of the poem, the knight awakens and finds the lady is gone.  The poem concludes with the knight saying: 
'And this is why I sojourn here 
     Alone and palely loitering; 
Though the sedge is withered from the Lake 
     And no birds sing.'
So there is a change, Mr. Siegel said, "from a sad individual happening to something like the human condition." And then he explained:  It can be said that every person who has ever lived has felt he or she wasn't cared for enough.  But that which is looked also feared....We want to be loved by something outside ourselves and we are also afraid of the care lessening ourselves. I was moved by Mr. Siegel's deep understanding of John Keats, and also by his explanation of a question every person has about love: the desire for and also the fear of it.  It made me have so much more respect for humanity. 

Conclusion of "People Leave Each Other in Poetry"