of the Aesthetic Realism class
Is, As It's Elsewhere"
Mr. Siegel put Carlyle's
sentences into poetic lines. One poem, that he titled, "The
Oak Fell," begins:
These lines say, with
music, that reality is change and being. And Mr. Siegel asked
that persons relate the music of Sandburg and Carlyle to the music of other
poets, including Yeats, Chaucer, Herrick, Spencer, Blake. He also read
couplets he had written which were published in a current issue of the
Review: "Notations: Nine of Them." This is:
The oak grows silently,
In the forest,
A thousand years;
Only in the thousandth year,
When the woodman arrives with his
Is there heard an echoing through the
And the oak announces itself when,
With far-sounding crash,
In the discussion following
the lecture, Ellen Reiss, who teaches the course "The Aesthetic Realism
Explanation of Poetry," described how, in the first line--"With mincing
steps she walked,"--you can hear a mincing step" in the short, confined
sounds. In the next line, she explained:
9. Mincing Steps
With mincing steps she walked
God knows where.
There is a different quality...also
a different rhythm--it just seems to spread out, [wide]: "God knows where."
It's three accented syllables....There's a rhythm that's big.
Mr. Siegel then read
a popular poem of 1864 about the American Civil War--"Sheridan's Ride"
by Thomas Buchanan Read, which dramatizes a decisive battle of Union soldiers
at Cedar Creek, led by General Sheridan, who is brought to the battle just
in time by an undaunted, courageous horse. It begins:
This has been seen as
a showy, meretricious poem, but Mr. Siegel said that "with all its looking
like Cecil B. DeMille" it is a true poem. It has faults--the
English is not elegant or exact enough and sometimes it's too hard-working--but
the chief thing making it poetic is what Mr. Siegel called its "organic
rhythm." "Something is driving Read rhythmically," he said.
The feeling of "a fast horse swelling" is "presented well."
In fact, he observed, there is "a little more emphasis on the steed than
on the general":
Up from the South, at break of day,
Bringing to Wincester fresh dismay,
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
Like a herald in haste, to the chieftain's
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and
Telling the battle was on once more,
And Sheridan twenty
"The refrain is effective,"
Mr. Siegel commented. There was something that came rightly
to Read when he came to that 20 miles and then 15 miles and 10 miles."
The rhythm of this poem, Mr. Siegel said, is honest. "It has
some of the dash, the impetus, the go, the elan, the reality of motion."
Still sprang from those swift hoofs, thundering
The dust, like smoke from the cannon's mouth,
Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster
Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.
The heart of the steed and the heart of the
Were beating like prisoners assaulting their
Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;
Every nerve of the charger was strained to
With Sheridan only
ten miles away.
Then, "for another
kind of rhythm, to see what poetry is," Mr. Siegel read what he said was
"one of the slowest poems in American literature--in any literature: "The
Prairies" by William Cullen Bryant. "The restraint of Bryant
is in this poem," he pointed out, so different from "Sheridan's Ride,"
but this, too, is poetry. Bryant describes the Prairies, devoid
of trees, covered with grasses and weeds, and the mounds built by "a race
which had passed away." The feeling about the land in this
poem is big, and Mr. Siegel said, "I hope there is more interest in the
relation of man to geography." Bryant hears the murmuring of
a bee in the stillness and imagines the thousands of people who will be
coming to these empty prairies:
"That last part is almost mighty good" said Mr.
Siegel "and makes for a strange music. This is an important
point of emotion in American poetry." Mr. Siegel concluded this lecture
by saying "So I've dealt with poetry in various ways. The purpose
is to encourage, instigate pleasure of a certain kind and greater keenness
as to what it is all about." The keenness, Miss Reiss said
in the discussion that followed, would come from looking at the poems Mr.
Siegel took up in this class--which are so different--and asking: "Is what
makes for poetry in each of them fundamentally the same?"
I listen long
To his domestic hum, and think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of
Blends with the rustling of the heavy
Over the dark brown furrows. All at
A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks
And I am in the wilderness alone.
It was Eli Siegel
who, in the 20th century, explained what poetry truly is and its importance
for our lives. Poetry, I'm learning, is the same as honesty,
and the ability to distinguish what is honest from what isn't is crucial
individuals and for nations. It is also, I felt hearing and
studying this lecture, some of the greatest pleasure one can have!