Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

    Part 2 of "Freedom and Order in Poetry"

     Very different from H.D., is "Sunrise on Rydal Water" by John Drinkwater, one of the writers of the Georgian literary movement of England, author of an important play about Abraham Lincoln.  Said Mr. Siegel "In this poem we have that polite rapture at what nature can do...[that] vagueness that the
Georgians are somewhat justly noted for."  The second stanza: begins: 

   Moveless the water and the mist,
   Moveless the secret air above,
   Hushed, as upon some happy tryst
   The poised expectancy of love;
       Many readers in America and England, Mr. Siegel commented "would prefer the well-made and ornate stanza we have here to H.D. but I think they would be wrong."  For instance, a reader Mr. Siegel pointed out, could look for "something he didn't wholly understand but which made him think of agreeable things."  Of the phrase "Moveless the water and the mist," he explained, "[It's] lovely but there's something hollow about it."  And he said of the poem as a whole, "The things written about have not been seen by a specific mind with music just to the whole world."  [It is] "a dealing with the world in a well-fashioned, breathless, and tame way."

      As we continued to learn how freedom and order have been in the history of poetry, Mr. Siegel read from the work of the American poet, Vachel Lindsey, including the poems "General William Booth Enters into Heaven," which he said was grand, about the founder of The Salvation Army, and "The Eagle That Is Forgotten," about the courageous governor of Illinois, John Altgeld.  "Vachel Lindsay," Mr. Siegel said "is one of the important persons of poetry of the whole world of any time.  He did something with sound and with things that can be seen and touched, the likes of which hadn't been done before."  Though Vachel Lindsay is famous for what the Reader's Encylopedia describes as "the dramatic and auditory effects of his poetry," it is Eli Siegel, who saw the value of his poetry as art and its meaning for our lives.  I was stirred to my depths as was the entire class to hear Mr. Siegel read Lindsay's poem "The Congo," which he said "is one of the great works of art of the world."  Before reading this poem, which has not been understood, Mr. Siegel explained:

[Vachel Lindsay] is presenting a quality that a waterfall has, a troop of frightened elephants have, a traffic jam, lightening--a quality of abandon and force....These effects are what art looks for.  This is notably just to reality as frenzy and man as frenzy.  It is not about the negro; it is about the desire of man to let go and still feel he knows what he's doing.
As Mr. Siegel read "The Congo" he himself exemplified beautifully a oneness of freedom and order, wild abandon and precision about reality, its qualities--loud and soft, low and shrill, delicate and bold.  It begins with a description of wild frenzy--people "in a wine-barrel room."  Then there are these lines:

 Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,
 Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
 Pounded on the table,
 Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,
 Hard as they were able,
 Boom, boom, Boom,
 With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
 Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, Boom.
 Then I had religion, Then I had a vision.
 I could not turn from their revel in derision.
 Then along that riverbank 
 A thousand miles
 Tattooed cannibals danced in files;
 Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
 And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong.
 And "Blood!" screamed the whistles and the fifes
          of the warriors,
"This Congo is not in the Geography books" Mr. Siegel explained.  It is a Congo Lindsay felt he needed.  With all the frenzy, there is a desire for control."

      We had the thrilling experience of learning what this poem is about as he discussed each of the 51 lines in the first section, and pointed to what they showed about freedom and order.  As Mr. Siegel commented on "Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom," we saw how this line which is wild, and really lets go, has too, a strong orderly rhythm.  He said "These can be called explosive spondees ['Beat an empty barrel']."  There is frenzy there," Mr. Siegel continued.  And referring to what can be in primitive religious rituals, he explained "There's a feeling that in this way you will get to your have anger changing into something of release.  Once you can 'Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,' God is with you."  And he added "Try it sometime."  Showing how order and freedom are in "Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, Boom," Mr. Siegel said "'M' is sound that has repose and 'L" is moving again and 'oo' has space in it.  The commotion of the world has changed into repose."

      Part 3 of "Freedom and Order in Poetry"



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Lynette Abel