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2004-03-09 Engl 549 Farber Poetry Reading Journal #2 (Gray - Shelley) 1500 words

The second reading journal for the class.

Added by colin #442 on 2004-06-15. Last modified 2008-03-05 08:06. Originally created 2004-06-15. F0 License: Attribution
Location: World, United States, California, San Diego, College Heights
Topics: personal
: engl549

2004-03-09 Engl 549 Farber Poetry Reading Journal #2 (Gray - Shelley) 1500 words

Wordsworth is the closest I've found in a long time to what reading Thoreau's Walden is like for me. It fascinates me that I can jump anywhere in a computer file I have of Walden , read a while, and it is not long before ... I'm amazed that I find beauty throughout.

Gray's Elegy first struck me as something new: he has a rhythm and a use of words not like another poet I've read. The opening imagery held me. Regarding lines 45 - 52 ending "But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page / Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll; / Chill Penury repressed their noble rage, / And froze the genial current of the soul." ... :

There is an aspect of Walden, and Wordsworth, and those eight lines...

In my thoughts about this commentary there are now two things I wish to reference that I cannot remember where I read about them! One is a sonnet about writing a sonnet, brought to mind by Wordsworth's Nuns Fret Not... I think I recall the author as being a woman, possibly in the Victorian era. The sonnet in my memory expresses an image of putting black marks on a white plain--something about her words being beached like a whale to be played with/examined? The other is how Emily Dickinson knows when she is reading great poetry: something about she cries, or her hair stands up...

(Do you know where I might have read those things?)

Those last four lines (49-52) you noted as being not so graceful as others. I can see that aspect. For me there is a kind of philosophic resonance... like Pope mentions, "what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed." In the case with Thoreau, Wordsworth, and those lines, and many other things I can think of, it is not a case though of something being oft thought but ne'er so well expressed. What is occurring is that these guys are saying something about something that I have addressed in my mind but not progressed far on. It is as if I had been trying, in relative isolation in a small tribe in a jungle, to develop a new dance about butterflies, and then someone picks me up and takes me to NYC where I learn about the whole dance vocabularies of ballet and of Martha Graham modern, and on and on... I wander about in ecstasy and amazement.

That experience in Piaget-ian terms is one of assimilation. There was already a space in my mind for that way of seeing the world, but that space has now been broadened exponentially by an awareness of the larger dance world. And the reason I found and appreciated so intensely the larger dance world was because I had already started to try to create it for myself.

Now, Blake's The sick rose did not have that immediate effect on me. Yet I have a sense that if I change, The sick rose would become as or more meaningful to me than Gray's eight lines. To appreciate The sick rose would require accommodation--thinking something or becoming something I have not thought or been before. I feel the same way about Shakespeare's sonnets. In a way, The sick rose is already more meaningful, because it is about something I could become, where Gray's eight lines are about something I already am. And yet, I've had the experience of finding things I have written so moving, years later, read over for the 50th time, because the writing reminds me who I was, in full feeling and color, and it is who I still am. That is what Walden is like.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

This crystallizes and deepens in imagery that feeling of sadness for what I and my society could have and could still become. Looking about I see people dying and killing themselves (the genial current of their souls) indirectly, and I doing the same, and many I respect (Ken Wilber, George Leonard, Michael Murphy) ask this same question, and I think you do too: It and the rest of the poem is about, in part, how do we make great and beautiful minds and places?

On the other hand, I was so struck with the newness in sound and use of sound I found in Gray's Elegy, that I went to look at his other poems, and I found that they did not maintain their newness for me. It was like hearing a musician's song that is strikingly new (say Bjork), and then finding her other songs are shadows or perhaps precursors of her great one.

My awe at a great poem also diminishes when I feel the poem is rehashing imagery of older and greater poets without adding anything essentially new.

In line 17 of Gray's Elegy, "The breezy call of incense-breathing morn," recalls the part of Paradise Lost I looked at closely in my last journal, but not in a way that I liked. The mental groan I utter when Wordsworth or Byron says something like "These our days..." is a more extreme version of that same feeling. I don't have a fear of this occurring with Shakespeare or Blake. (cf. also "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air" (line 55) and "There kept my charms concealed from mortal eye, / Like roses that in deserts bloom and die." line 158 Pope's Rape... )

In summary, Gray's Elegy, while distinctly new to me, has a newness, a pattern that is more easily worn familiar than the work of Wordsworth or Shakespeare, or Walden , or even some of my own!

I am guilty in this journal of not staying close to the medium. The type of resonance I'm going after here is not unique to poetry. What is more unique to poetry is the combination of philosophic resonance with densely symbolic language. Wilber's work is philosophically resonant, but I would never carry around a copy of Wilber as I would a copy of Walden , or, perhaps, Wordsworth's The Prelude . I'm considering poetry as being an arbitrary division of a spectrum.

What can I say about The Prelude ? I am intending to read the whole thing. It falls within my main interest of Bildungsroman-like things (along with Aurora Leigh , Augustine's Confessions , Sartor Resartus , etcetera), and has a story of a "mental crisis" (Like J.S. Mill's Autobiography , Sartor Resartus , etcetera). But holy ****! To read it is to have another childhood and a wonderful one! No longer do I just have my own memories but his, I am now me, and to the extent I internalize, visualize, remember Wordsworth's Prelude, I am myself plus my memories of his expression of his memories. It is as close to being able to live more lives than my own that I may ever get--a dream of mine.

Why is The Prelude so memorable? Why are some moments of my own life so memorable? Wordsworth has packed chill-sending observations in so few lines: It almost doesn't matter which lines I choose, and yet to choose a few leaves out parts of the experience that make the whole so memorable. Beginning line 447:

Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,
To cut across the reflex of a star
That fled, and, flying still before me, gleamed
Upon the glassy plain; ...

Now, why am I reading this and not going out and experiencing such beauty for myself? And writing my own poetry? There are different times for different things- And, partly, it may be my failure to see, but the beauty of Wordsworth's childhood landscape is more than the beauty of much of College Hights, San Diego & he would agree. (though I have found some beauty here)

The less descriptive, more philosophic parts of The Prelude, can be seen as slower, but I am more like Wordsworth than like Byron or Keats (who have complained of this aspect of Wordsworth for different reasons), and I value these parts.

I want to spend time with Intimations of Immortality ... (a mix:)

The fullness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.
I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound!

The variety of rhythms and line lengths and rhyme schemes keeps this incantation new, and reminds me of Blake-- Blake's The Ecchoing Green, for one: e.g., line 7 "The birds of the bush, / Sing louder around, / To the bells' chearful sound."

I want to spend time with Shelly's Ode to the West Wind ... He rocks. I could write pages.

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

I need to read it many more times. It is a sort of grand invocation of a muse.

Things cut from reading journal:

There is an aspect of Walden, and Wordsworth, and those eight lines (of Gray's elegy)--I'm avoiding using resonance, because I don't think I want to mean what I think you mean by it--I think it was your emphasis on the resonance being somehow dependent on one's past experience. I don't buy that, and I have no desire or need to differentiate between aesthetic (your aesthetic) experience and all other good experience.

http://purl.oclc.org/net/ea/cleath/docs/asexp113.htm is my The aesthetic experience paper. Let's review some of my notions:

****begin review***

The positive aesthetic experience is concentration on an experience in which there is no desire for greater control of the experience. I support this idea by discussing the negative aesthetic experience, then I give examples of the positive aesthetic experience.

Briefly let us consider the negative aesthetic experience. In the most depressed or terrifying times of our life we are not content with our situation. We desire an ability to change our situation, to find what we are missing, or to escape what is depressing us. We are intensely concentrated on an unpleasurable emotion. The greater our inability to change the experience, and the greater our desire to change the experience, the more concentrated and the more lasting the experience is. Distance from ability to resolve desires, questions, and pain--in other words, lack of control in a situation--has been the cause of much aesthetic expression and experience.

On the other hand, the positive aesthetic experience is characterized by concentration on an experience in which the experiencer is happy with the state of the experience because she is able to control and change the experience in ways that please her, or she has no desire to change the experience at all.


Charles Mauron (1935) describes positive aesthetic experience as a focus on what is being perceived at the moment, without a desire to change the perception; control is exercised only to maintain and encourage the pleasurable perception and to explore the associations or feelings it causes in us:

It is as though we were in a church, and instead of understanding the words a friend has just uttered, that is, instead of forming and releasing immediately the correct response, we listened to the murmur of the echoes they have awakened, rolling confusedly from vault to vault. Thus, before a work of art, we listen to the repercussions within us, passing from one nerve-center to the next. And what a multitude of nerve-centers we possess, all more or less connected with one another!

In ordinary life we sometimes pause in this way before a tree, a landscape, a piece of furniture, a sentence, or the face of a friend--or at a table even, with a mouthful of wine, our attention concentrated wholly on the delicate black savour which we are rolling between the palate and the tongue. In such moments, I think, we are all like artists, because instead of putting an end to the stimulus by a prompt reaction, we keep it in suspense. (p. 31)

Often this is what an artist is doing when painting a picture, writing a poem, or composing a song. Andrew Wyeth describes his activity in this way: "My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash, like something you caught out of the corner of your eye, but in the picture you can look at it directly."

In this instance, Wyeth is working with a past experience, but one also can experience positive aesthetic experience without direct reference to past experience. In circumstances when thoughts of the past or future serve no purpose, it is easy to stop and play with sense-experience. One can sing, not a song heard before, but a sequence of notes varied in just the way you might feel like playing with the sound to see the effect it produces in yourself. One can dance, in a sense, by moving in ways you have not thought of moving before, and experience the sense of this new and unconforming, personally expressive movement. Or one may sit down to write or draw with a certain tension, and focus on that tension in the dark ink, forming images in the mind and on the paper. Or one might just sit and savor being for a time.

This kind of active, intrinsically-motivated focus on an aspect of experience is very common, but so often it is only the artists, and then only a few of them, who pursue this experience with the integrity to think of it as something more than a daydream. It is however very often the case that such a playing with sense-experience results in nothing more than an ephemeral one-time song, dance, or savoring and playing of associations; an echoing in the brain which fades in time. The artists, as we recognize them, are those, who, like Wyeth, use the manipulation of an outside medium to explore what causes certain feelings in themselves.

The traditional artists we love the most are those whose manipulations of the external medium to stimulate themselves are also successful at stimulating our own self. It is not unlikely that a person who concentrates on the effect of a certain form on their own self might construct a form that also has a similar effect on another member of the same species and culture. But I digress in discussing aesthetic expression.

The positive aesthetic experience is often simply an acceptance of input through the senses, and a savoring of what that input causes in you as it echoes in the brain. It is often an active manipulation of the thoughts and images in your brain or an active manipulation of an external medium like the air, through sound, or your own body, through free movement, while concentrating on its effect upon your feeling, your self. It can be a focusing on past memories or an imaginary playing out of the future.

The most general point here is that positive aesthetic experience is concentration on sense-experience when you are not being made to concentrate out of fear for your survival or any other fear. The more intense and lasting the voluntary concentration is, the more powerfully and lastingly positive the experience.

***** end review *****

Yes, For some reason, Your treatment of aesthetic resonance gives me an indignant feeling. If it is important, you should be able to give us a little paper explaining what you mean by it, for one. Two, a psychology study comes to mind where they asked participants to think about why they loved someone before asking how long they thought they would be together with their lovers and compared that group with a group asked to work from a gut response... And the latter group was more accurate. The Blake example too (The sick rose ): as being a central symbol to diverse circumstances.... You were taking an example from an anthology and assuming it is there because it causes resonance in many people! But that seems totally beside the point (In my paper I try to start with the experience and reach for things that might fit it... The sick rose is not my first choice). Three, saying aesthetic resonance works because it brings together connections from past experience... (this, for some reason is what I like least)... seems like saying nothing. How could I refute that? (1) I could say babies have aesthetic resonance all the time and then lose it (cf. Wordsworth Ode: Intimations of Immortality ). I also think I don't like how you're differentiating between aesthetic experience and aesthetic resonance. If you're going to make distinctions, do it with degree... I can feel an inkling of the resonance with The sick rose , which I believe could be developed more with more time with that poem, but it's nowhere near what hit me with the eight lines of Grey's elegy (45-52).


(I spaced on this partly because I was trying madly & unhealthily to get http://purl.oclc.org/net/cfu/Members/colin/vision000 off my back. In the future I'll check the assignment list and the reading list.)

I'm finding I have a preference for long poetry. Novels are a bit too strong for me--I'll read them all night, compulsively, so I stay away from them. With poems, the long ones, I can lose myself in them, but they're enough work to keep playing in the mind that I'll still go to sleep when I should. The feeling of working on a long poem is one of slowly coming to see the beauty of something, over time, getting to know it better. The way I've read novels feels more like a one-night stand. Recently, I've been tripping on the imagery of moonlight shining through stained glass on a bright clear winter night from Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes.

Colin Leath <>    

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