Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

      Part 3 of "Freedom and Order in Poetry

          Next Mr. Siegel explained what I think Vachel Lindsay would have been grateful to understand.  "This poem," he said, is essentially about fear.":

There are fears one doesn't see.  There is a desire to beat evil.  It is anthropological.  Doing away with fear is a big thing in religion....The idea [he continued,] is to take the ugly things in the world and have them out in the open, known.
Later there are these lines:
 Death is an Elephant,
 Torch-eyed and horrible,
 Foam-flanked and terrible.
 Boom, steal the pygmies,
 Boom, kill the Arabs,
 Boom, kill the white men,
 Hoo, Hoo, Hoo.
 Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost
 Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
 Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
 Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
"Making death an elephant," Mr. Siegel pointed out, "takes away some of the fear."  And he continued "The thing here is to go into territory you are afraid of and get things change fear into something ever so large."  Of the very surprising line "Boom, steal the pygmies," Mr. Siegel gave the logic for it.  If you don't see your relation to things, for instance, pygmies, you can be frightened by them.  He explained "The idea is to have them around so you won't be frightened.  People who are different from one are frightening."  And some of the fearsome evil in history was given swift, rhythmic form in the lines about King Leopold II, a despot who cruelly used forced labor to extract ivory from what was once the Congo Free State.  And horribly the hands of dead Congolese villagers who had objected were severed.   Section one ends with these lines:
"Be careful what you do,
 Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
 And all of the other
 Gods of the Congo,
 Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
 Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
 Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
"Be careful what you do," is a scientific monition" Mr. Siegel said.  "The attempt here is to make science and incantation one. Showing how order and freedom are in these lines, Mr. Siegel explained "Ethics here takes on the quality of a chant.  Your ethics have to be good or something will happen you don't like." 

      At the conclusion of this great talk, Mr. Siegel said "So the meaning of the first section [of "The Congo"] " is: to have rhythm of a strong kind would enable you to see what you are afraid of...through a rhythm that is abandoned and exact....A summary of [it] could be: An abandoned rhythm will teach ethics."   Through this tremendous class, I see in a new way how every person and nation needs to learn from poetry as Aesthetic Realism explains it, that freedom is the same as exactitude and justice.   In the discussion following the lecture, Ellen Reiss, who teaches the course "The Aesthetic Realism Explanation of Poetry," said in relation to Boileau's statement that Malherbe "made one feel in verse a just cadence,"

"People will say this: At last Eli Siegel...showed what poetry is...[and] you felt in life a just cadence....The basis of Aesthetic Realism is that a way of seeing poetry is the way of seeing self....The question is whether what makes freedom and order one in poetry is a certain way of seeing the world that has fulness of justice to it." 
This was a question we were studying and learning more about in this moving class, and the study joyfully continues!

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