Engl 549 reReading Journal #2 Eliot, Keats, Yeats, Thomas
the last assignment I did for the class.
2004-05-11 Engl 549 Farber Poetry reReading Journal #2 1200 - 2000 words
George Eliot's "In a London Drawingroom" expresses aspects of the urban wasteland. By the way, in line 8 there is a typo, "For all its shadow" should be "For all is shadow." The poem is 19 decasyllabic lines. Only a few lines can be comfortably scanned as regular iambic pentameter--most lines are very or at least somewhat irregular. Lines are unrhyming and often run on. Some sound effects that relate to imagery include "Cutting the sky" (a trochaic inversion, line 3); "one long line of wall / Like solid fog" (alliteration supports the "long line of wall" image. "Far as the eye can stretch / Monotony of surface and of form" captures the essence of the modern urban landscape, and the next line, "Without a break to hang a guess upon," gets at an aspect of the older more organic cityscapes that make them more appealing to most people than what Americans live with now. In San Diego, one can compare the regular street grid and blocky skyscrapers with the fairly successful attempt in Horton Plaza to create an urban form that gives us many, many of those "breaks to hang a guess upon." The poem isn't just about this aspect of urban form, however, it is also a comment on the quite possibly pollution-induced London haze. It is a shadowless grayscape--perhaps of the kind that the British(?) movie "Fahrenheit 451" shows so well. The imagery Eliot uses to express this gauntness of color--a bird flying that does not cast a shadow, as if it were flying in street arcades sheltered from the sun with cloth--seems to be a way of contrasting the London scene to something one might find in a sunnier clime, where there are more irregular streets, street markets, and people not simply hurrying back and forth. "Figure lingering" has a sound and feel consistent with its imagery. "Pauses to feed the hunger of the eye / Or rest a little on the lap of life" is a more complex phraseology… again (as with "hang a guess upon") she has gone from visual imagery to describing an internal state. "Lap of life" sounds like someplace nice to rest in. "Glance unmarking" seems a particularly cold way to describe the city-pedestrian gaze. Eliot doesn't have cars to gripe about, but the conveyances of the day have some of the same features "The wheels are hurrying, too… All closed." And "in multiplied identity" she is getting again at an internal effect of the scene. I'm not sure whether this means many of the carriages look the same or that because the people in them cannot be seen that she does not know who is in them--or something else. In the last three lines, Eliot concludes and ties together her poem--she's making a point which has been made hundreds of times since, though her poem goes further than most expressions of the wasteland to help the reader feel the scene. "At the slightest cost" may be suggesting that this is what we get when seek to do the simplest, easiest, most economical, most mindless thing, e.g., houses that look like one long line of wall; no figure lingering, and so on.
Keats' "To Autumn": what is he doing here? It is one of his odes. It has three stanzas consisting of a quatrain followed by a septet. The quatrain rhymes ABAB, while the septet rhyme structure varies, but like-rhymed lines are indented the same. And it seems to be entirely composed of decasyllabic lines with an iambic pentameter base rhythm. In this ode, Autumn is personified. In the first stanza we learn of Autumn by what s/he conspires to do with the sun; in the second we learn where Autumn can be found; and in the third, we hear Autumn's song. Some of the striking imagery includes: "mossed cottage-trees" … "fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;" and the bees who think warm days will never cease, and their "clammy cells." Keats either has a powerful imagination or he knows his country and where is food comes from… probably both.
The preciseness / specificity of his imagery is impressive-- he presents such rich pictures in few words. One example among many is "Thy hair soft-lifted…" only some kinds of hair is soft-lifted--a special, thin, wispy kind. "Oozings hours by hours" has a sound effect that reinforces the imagery. The part most memorable to me of the song stanza is "Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn … borne aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;" and this occurs "while the barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;" The gnats and their drifting, which I most often notice and encounter in the twilight of day seems a special thing, and is connected to peaceful times--one almost must be relaxed, and on one's back to see them, the black specks against the deepening blue of the sky, yet I've not really noticed their song.
Two excerpts from "The Wanderings of Oisin, Book One": I've noticed a tendency for me to confuse Yeats and Tennyson… This does seem somewhat reasonable with Yeats' earlier poetry, like this, though even here Yeats' use of sound is less in-your-face than Tennysons'. The sweetness of this poem, it's otherworldliness, and its sound is what draws me back, and because it still does not cross over into an almost nursery-rhyme style. The lines often rhyme, but rarely with the adjacent line, and some lines may have rhymes only in far off places ("…high-born lady, who rode"). Furthermore, there is not a regular syllable count either, and there doesn't seem to be anything like a pattern of four-beat lines.
The first part of the excerpt seems to be shorthand for memories of a wonderful far-off time (nice to escape to for me). In the second poem paragraph, there are some cool names—more akin to Tolkien than the present-day US. And a word, “findrinny” not in any dictionary I’ve checked. And “Firbolgs”! “And like a sunset were her lips, / A stormy sunset on doomed ships.” I don’t know what that means (maybe the redness on the horizon surrounded by the pale darkening blue (wow.)—probably not with black teeth—though there is a black space there—, but maybe the symbolism that Oisin is doomed to follow this siren? And also echoes of “Rime of the ancient mariner.”), but it sounds cool, as does, “A citron colour gloomed in her hair,” This all reminds me of that part of “Portrait of the artist as a young man” that I quoted in an earlier journal—where Stephen sees the girl on the beach.
In the second excerpt, the character of Niamh is an impressive person who seems to know what she wants, and has a biblical-sounding offer for Oisin. There is something hugely poetic and provoking about this and about this situation, and that Oisin decides to return to his own land…suddenly growing old, choosing to join his friends in hell rather than convert to Christianity. In the first line of the second excerpt I feel echoes of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian urn.”: “Where broken faith has never been known/ And the blushes of first love never have flown.” And “A hundred ladies, merry as birds, Who…have a speed like the speed of salmon herds.” Whenever there is such a frame-changing way of giving a metaphor, like this, that says so much about who those people are and how they live. Since few of us see salmon today except dead, on ice, the metaphor for our time would be different… And the concluding four lines give me so much about Niamh’s character: “Then she sighed gently, “It grows late. Music and love and sleep await, / Where I would be when the white moon climbs,/ The red sun falls and the world grows dim.” She knows what she wants, and she speaks with the poetic beauty of a goddess…
And this is what Yeats says in “The circus animals’ desertion”: “First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose / Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams, Vain gaiety, Vain battle, vain repose, Themes of embittered heart, or so it seems, that might adorn old songs or courtly shows; But what cared I that set him on to ride, I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride?”
Dylan Thomas “Fern Hill”: In some ways it seems like I wrote this poem. There are 9-line stanzas, six of them, with 14 syllables in the first two lines, then 9, 6, 9, 15, 14, 7, 9, but this pattern seems to be only roughly followed in the following stanzas—at the least, they all get narrower and wider at the same places.
His language does have a dreaming feel—a sort of word salad, like he was in a trance. “Now I was young and easy,” and “And once below a time I lordly had the…” well a lot of the poem gives me that trance feel. For my interest, I’ve included one of my trance-like writings (from 1997 or so) at the end…what Thomas is doing is way different, but there seems to be a common element? I guess it is the use of actual phrases…I say, “that time, that all of time,” “I saw two only,” “Time was riot.” Thomas says, “And once below a time…” “young once only,” “Time let me play and be.” There are also things like “All the sun long” (Thomas), and “your first eyes” (me)… both which aren’t, at least today, something someone would say outside of a poem, and which also seem distinct from anything Keats or Shakespeare might do. Enough of that.
Down around line 15 I’m reminded of the sections from Wordsworth’s Prelude that we read: “the fox on the hills barked clear and cold.” “And the Sabbath rang slowly / in the pebbles of the holy streams.” “All the moon long” …this is reminiscent of myth-speak, like how the “Indians” talk, yet I wonder—it seems we don’t see this, only personifications, in less aged attempts at legend in English (like Oisin). “Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, / Time held me green and dying/ Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”
Were I to continue, I’d just go back to Keats, and spend more time in the flow of his language and imagery. For some reason, even more than Shakespeare, he seems to really have understood what poetry can become…Or it may be just that his language is just that much more accessible. The contrast, in sentimentality / emotionality between him and the modernists is clear. There seems to be a muckiness, a basic ugliness in so much of the new stuff…especially in how much is demanded of the reader. Where has beauty gone in the modern age? On the other hand, Keats brings with him a noticeable frilliness…Yeats seems to retain Keats’ awareness of dreamy beauty, with less frill, until he moves into the muck of his symbol system. Keats’ goal of creating "a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject" seems to have been left behind by the poems we’ve read dated post 1900, and in Hopkins. My poem too is an example. With Keats we might say: oh the frill! With the others, “what is this mess?” And I also think of William Carlos Williams… the new stuff is expanding on how language can be used but it all seems to relate so sadly to all aspects of the modern landscape.
It seems conceivable that a new way is out there—sort of like the Horton Plaza, and the coming “Paseo at SDSU” new urbanist development… Horton Plaza is a caricature, an early attempt… but the direction of the move can be seen… the audience of the urban form is considered… the audience is the everyday people who live and work there. Not a caltrans engineer. Not a Le Corbusian minimalist modernist… Not only one’s fellow architects and planners in an alienated profession. As Ken Wilber suggests, Modernism was about separating art (“the beautiful”) from “the good” and “the true,” unleashing an era of experimentation and wild diversity. The newer task is developing an “integral” synthesis of these again. Perhaps part of that synthesis will be making art and places, and everything that “enter into one’s soul, without startling or amazing” except by contrast to the ugliness we’re leaving behind? Or something along those lines.
Well, good. I was getting worried I’d lost my ability to ramble philosophically…
Thanks for this class!
My old poem which Dylan Thomas sort of reminds me of:
I love you I love
there so do I
and I am with out mind
so am I and I love you
you saw the other day
what went on they said
It now there is love
where did you leave the
place when your first eyes
were grey brown light brown
of value dark center and
a shine we will live out our lives
In the most beautiful town we have seen
I know you you are that person waiting. I've
seen you there before, sometimes you look awhile there under that tree. Your coat is lighter than the bark and your hair darker than the shade of needles and your eyes dark black and you are pale white then a nicely brown pale white. From your pockets your hands and you stand leaning and waiting and it gets dark. I have seen you and know you...Your mind is not here, there in that fall in that country on that mountainside near the rock you saw that day. You fall down there and sleep alone and at home. The leaves fall and you watch them slipping down spinning slowly, scratching on the ground.
You see there a wind. The cloud, the sky, a lake down there and
that rock and where you sit that is all, that is all. I was there once, but I did not know. What alone there what alone. what alone.
you sleep now close your eyes your head back against the trunk and your chin up. Sleep and laugh you smile then fade.
fade Once blue then red sure where went green yellow so I
lose and see so you go and hear.
"What do you think?"
"I no longer think" as she slid down the bark to sit at the roots.
"You know what was there?"
"I know what is there"
she put her hand on the ground "It is cool"
I stayed for a while, "stay for a while"
"sit down" sat down cross those legs there
close your eyes I went to sleep in the cold and she smiles
"who did you know?" I knew jill and sarah
"I saw two only"
"and did they have these,?" I am not sure
"I did not see...." "You know them now, they have two friends, they are loving and their eyes blew, their eyes blue the flames red."
"I did not see their eyes."
neither did you "I did not"
"I miss you sarah" "I miss you friend"
"I missed you that time, that all of time"
"time was riot what I saw. I saw you"
"I am afraid I am alone I am alive"
"I don't know any more"
"I have known always" "I have always loved" I want to see you there. I want to be you. you are
Did you see that accordian?
it. . .
"I love you" "I did" "I am"
I love you
DID you see that