Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

 Conclusion of the Aesthetic Realism class
"It Is, As It's Elsewhere" 

     Mr. Siegel put Carlyle's sentences into poetic lines.   One poem, that he titled, "The Oak Fell," begins: 

The oak grows silently, 
In the forest, 
A thousand years; 
Only in the thousandth year, 
When the woodman arrives with his
     axe, 
Is there heard an echoing through the
     solitudes; 
And the oak announces itself when, 
With far-sounding crash, 
It falls.
     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 Iowa Review: "Notations: Nine of Them." This is: 
      9. Mincing Steps
With mincing steps she walked
God knows where.
     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: 
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: 
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
     door, 
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and
     roar, 
Telling the battle was on once more, 
     And Sheridan twenty miles away.
     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": 
        Still sprang from those swift hoofs, thundering south, 
        The dust, like smoke from the cannon's mouth, 
        Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster, 
        Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster. 
        The heart of the steed and the heart of the master 
        Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls, 
        Impatient to be where the battle-field calls; 
        Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play, 
             With Sheridan only ten miles away.
     "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." 

     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: 

                                     I listen long 
To his domestic hum, and think I hear 
The sound of that advancing multitude 
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From
     the ground 
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft
     voice 
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn 
     hymn 
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of 
     herds 
Blends with the rustling of the heavy
     grain 
Over the dark brown furrows. All at
     once 
A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks
     my dream, 
And I am in the wilderness alone.
"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?" 

     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!

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