Poetry and the American; Nineteenth century poetry
This is poetry and the American produced and recorded by station KPFA in Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. In this program Robert Bellew from Don Geiger of the University of California at Berkeley read and discuss American poetry of the 19th century. Here is Mr. Bellew. Here we are Don ready to consider some 19th century American poetry in a culture such as ours where social reorganizations are constantly occurring. It's always an effort of the imagination it seems to me to read the poetry of a previous generation. Perhaps it takes a bit more of Coleridge's willing suspension of disbelief to accept their attitudes than it does those of our contemporaries at least. But I think we might profitably take a cue from Emerson's poem fable don't you Don. Yes this is a very good democratic fable of one at least in which most of us
squirrels are glad to leave fable of the mountain and the squirrel had a quarrel and the former called The latter little praying button replied. You are doubtless very big but all sorts of things and weather must be taken in together to make up a year and a sphere. And I think it's no disgrace to occupy my place if I'm not so large as you. You are not so small as I and not half so spry. I'll not deny you make a very pretty squirrel track talents defy all is well and wisely put if I cannot carry forests on my back. Neither can you crack a nut. I said that we must believe in that fable its morality at the same dime I think. Perhaps today we could occasionally use a hand of still another fable
which would illustrate perhaps that it sometimes foolish for the mountain to be put cracking nuts and somewhat presumptious for the squirrel to put in for a start it's back in a democracy everything's got to work to its appropriate end. While in any case it's an amusing piece from which we can all take comfort. However we have another poem here by Ralph Waldo Emerson that another one that seems to me to bring rather more argumentative themes to the fore. Yes I like this next poem days particularly because it contradicts or at least qualifies the two widely held view that Emerson is simply perpetually and somewhat wrongly optimistic. Well I I think that the pessimism comes in the notion that though Time seems to offer us important gifts humanity is never or never can seem to be ever strong enough or wise enough to demand the gift of greatness. Do you feel that's involved Yes that's right. Let's hear that poem days.
The days are seen as the daughters of time. And the poem begins. Daughters of time the hypocritic days muffled and like bear a foot dervish shoes and marching single in an endless file bring diadem and faggots in their hands. To each they offer gifts after his will bread kingdoms stars and sky that holds them all. I and my garden watch the palm forgot my morning wishes he still a took a few herbs and apples and the day turned and departed silent.
I too lay under her this solemn fella saw the US go on our own. As Emerson said talents differ. You mentioned Don while we were preparing this program how some of these poets seem a little too certain in their moral certainties and yet as you went on to point out they sometimes have rather powerful gifts of another sort. Well certainly this is true of John Greenleaf Whittier in his descriptive passages in the prelude of his poem among the hills. I think an interesting thing about the description in this poem is that the calm Ponette of morality which it contains is rather unlike the official morality that attributed to Whittier and our other grand old man. That is to say there is a kind of laxness and indolence in the imagery even of quality of the exotic in such phrases. Tawney
because in the cardinal flowers and that desire for the exotic which we conventionally and traditionally attribute to the poet and the poetic temperament. It is certainly evident in Whittier in the description here. Yes it certainly is I've noticed however that Whittier allows himself this kind of richness only where he can pretend that it's not meaningful that is where it's strictly descriptive. When he wants to tell a moral his poetry gets very bare of all this kind of Regina's I just think that's really quite true it's almost as if the man has the morality of Whittier but the poet in a way he has the morality of his poetry and that will burst for him. Well why don't you read it Don. Yes from among the hills by Whittier. Along the roadside like the flowers of gold that Tawny because for their gardens were often heavy with sunshine droops the golden rod and the red
pennants of the cardinal flowers hanging motionless upon their upright staves. The sky is hot and hazy and the wind waning we are a with its long flight from the solid unfelt yet closely scanned yon maple leaves with faintest motion as one stirs in dreams confesses the locust by the wall stays the noon silence with a shock by alarm. A single car down the dusty road creak slowly with its driver fast asleep on the lodestar against the neighboring hill huddled along the stone walls Shadyside the
sheep show white as if a snowdrift still live by the Dog Star. There's a poem which is quite different from that of the passage of the poem we have just quoted from Whittier which I would like to read with only the comment that it's surprisingly a metaphysical poem in the tradition of Don and Herbert. Surprisingly because we remember that the poet the author of this piece is someone who lived roughly at the time of Dryden and pope yet we have a poem which is interesting lay and quite another tradition from there. Well I would agree with you that Edward Taylor's poetry is metaphysical. It's certainly not however imitation Dunn or Herbert or indeed anybody else. It's definitely a new tone and metaphysical tradition has is it seems to me perhaps a more
domestic husband Munns or a simpler New Englanders voice. Yes that seems to me a fine summary sense of what we do get in this poem. The poem is housewifery. Make me oh Lord by spinning wheel complete by holy word my distaff make for me. Make mine affection's lice with flyers and meet and make my soul by holies fools to be my conversation make to be the real and real that you are ne'er on Spawn of thy wheel make me thy man net there in this why and make by a Holy Spirit Lord the wind will rise then weave the web I sell the yarn is fine dine ordinances make my filling mills then die the
same in heavenly colors joys all paying with varnished flowers of paradise then clothed there with mine understanding will affections judgment conscience memory my words and actions that there shine may fill my ways with glory and be glorified then mine up our all shall display before ye that I am close to you and the holy road is for glory. You read that beautifully done and well it's OK there is a great deal in that poem for any reader to work with. Yes there is a real passion running through the poem is there. One senses in our next poet Edgar Allan Poe a certain decadence it seems to me that's especially visible following such a
straightforward spirituality as we find in this poem of Taylor's or even the kind of straightforward romantic description of what hear you feel that in POA weaker emotions something like nostalgia has substituted for these strikes that I've mentioned. The poem of Poe's that we have chosen today is to hauen. Helen thy beauty is to me. Like those nice e n box of yours that gently they are a power feel. See the weary way worn wanderer to his own native. She was desperate to see his long want to roam lie Hyacinthe hair like classic face. I know I had heirs have brought me home to the glory that was Greece and the
grand that was Rome. Lo in yon brilliant window damage how statue life I see the stand the agate lamp within by hand. Ah psyche from the regions who had such a holy life. If some of the excitement we feel for polo is the excitement of all the associations that our childhood reading of him attaches to his poetry our excitement in reading this next poem by Herman Melville is doubtless that of discovering a really fine poem which is little read. Even though Melville him self as begun to be a very famous literary figure. Yes I think that's true. What we see in many of those far off show are I think is the Menounos of Man and Nature and Nature's overwhelming persistence.
Yes and I'm impressed particularly by what he makes of a dead man in this poem. That is we see here how little a thing man he is. We don't see in the poem a live man dying worse than that. We see nothing of man not even his corpse see. He's altogether disappeared from the scene. And what we have to remind us of man on Melville is ocean is merely a bit of wood a little piece of rock you know there's a second poem that we might as well read with it. I think in which time serves as very much the same destructive agency as oh yes this poem the ravaged Villa that's the one and I think it's much the same power as nature no doubt. In a final sense this destructive element whatever it is is the same thing and we get in the ocean waves certainly in far off shore much the same sense as we get in Emerson's endless file of days.
Melville far off shore. Look the raft a signal flying in a shred not up on the lash Spaza lying quick or dead. Cries the sea fowl hovering over the coral and the bellow reckless Rover sweeps on you. Before you go on to the ravaged villa I think it is interesting to note how subtly and yet strongly novel creates in the conclusion of that last poem The notion of the below is reckless and a row over something of the quality of the pirate. That is what will be described as both reckless in a rover and on the sea something amoral like.
Yes so that this kind of buccaneering quality of nature is given in that poem and in a different way in Melville's next poem the ravaged villa. In the shards the so vun vases lie their links of dance undone and brambles with or by the hybrid him choke fountain of the sun. The spider in the laurel spin is the weed exile's the flour and flung to kill him. Apollos bust makes a line for mammon tollar. You know Don one of the things that pleases me about that. There is one of the things you seldom get in novels poetry for whatever various strengths it usually has is you don't very often get a sense of Liquidnet felicity of these
and it seems to me in this poem especially in a phrase like there are links of dance andan there's a kind of marvelous musicality. Yes it's really excellent metrically and more grandly in your own terms musically. Yes. The sense that we get from these two poems of Melville's the of the inscrutable nature of the universe and of man's smallness in it may be the worldview that led to some of Melville's deep doubts about the American experiment in constitutional democracy. Yes he has a little poem Well a little quatrain in fact on this point specifically you might imagine it perhaps is a piece of a poem or the idea of a poem the poetry we just read is that which gives imaginative beauty to the idea of these lines. This one is called a reasonable Constitution and it's a little joke rather typically from Melville a bitter joke but a true joke for all of that. And this is his poem a reasonable Constitution.
What Joe reason forged your screen. Twas reason dream utopias drain his dream to think that reason can govern the reasoning creature man. Oh that's a bitter pill I think Swift would have. Yes it's a boy I could have found something in him of love of forewarning of depth psychology can answer it. You know I wonder if we don't get at least an echo of Melville's pessimism concerning human nature in the Rose poem. Well it doesn't have a title just the first line of the poem among the worst of men that ever lived. Yes indeed this is a pessimistic poem but surely it's pessimism in a different tone isn't it. Well if there is even a difference conceptually in that in this poem Thoreau suggests that though it may not be the heaven we expected or put another way we may not get to it as we expected.
There is a chance for heaven after all but I notice beyond that it's the tone in which the pessimism is expressed a tone. All of that a kind of of real jollity and humorous and is in fact a quality rather like a modern poet. The last line of this I find to be pure frost. There is the wise guy looking at human frailty but not being thrown into total despair about it and finding it rather amusing though quite serious and on the last maybe there is something to this view that New England has a spirit and a quality of its own. Well it has several spirits and qualities I think. For instance Taylor's son it is not. It's knowing one certainly but it's not of this humanistic kind of thing. Henry David Thoreau. Among the worst of man that ever lived.
However we did seriously attack and how little space we let our thoughts so Sam and experienced our religion and confessed was good for us to be there be anyway. Then to a heap of apples we addressed and cleared the top most riders signed it care. But our Icarium thoughts returned to ground and we went on to heaven. The Long Way Round. Here's another piece by Thoreau which while I'm tracing out this relationship between the frost and the row. I must read that he has watched the railroad to me actually apart from whatever little similarity there may be in the tone of this poem with some of those qualities of frost we think of the more central that are to note is that this is a poem which. In which the RO actually criticizes by ignoring American
industrialism he isn't really are you making that relation to Frost said Well I think there is that relationship certainly yes he is and suggesting that really it mustn't go on or how evil it is but one way or another it hasn't much to do with him or the natural things that he loves. It's an affirmation of individual ism in short and in that sense it's well not merely like frost or like New Englanders but like Americans always. Yes and it seems to me we still get a humanistic element in a rather interesting way that while we get the same supremacy of nature over manmade objects that we get unknowable and that would not appear to be humanistic still in the row. He isn't bothered by that supremacy of nature and man seems to take a sort of humanistic place in this whole scheme of things. What's the railroad to me. What's the railroad to me. I never go to see where it ends.
It fills a few hollows and makes banks for the swallows. It sets the sand a blowing and the blackberries are growing. It's a charming ending isn't it. Now you mentioned frost in relation to road on. It seems to me another kind of prefiguring of frost might be found in the poetry of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. I refer here to the use that he makes of natural events in everyday life as symbolic of various moral possibilities. Yes I'm interested particularly in one of these moral possibilities as it relates to the life of poetry and the poet in America. I'm thinking of the poem itself now as the self questioning of a poet a man who loves beauty after hearing a farmer praise a hardworking boy. As you might imagine in fact if the farmer could go on to say all he means to say about this boy he would say is he doesn't this poem that he's a hard worker a good worker
and he'd go on to say something like. And he's a good eater too a no nonsense about him Tuckerman hearing this kind of praise as almost a feeling of guilt. And you'll notice that he is guilt doesn't really derive from the fact that the boy is ill treated or anything of that sort but simply that the poet in some way or another feels that he that he himself is perhaps morally wrong not to be working hard. You know I've It struck me that it would be interesting to compare this poem with that. Poem by Markham that we might have read for the program but didn't you know his famous one the man with the hoe. Oh yeah in which we get the type of the of that of the underprivileged exploited man who is reduced to the best deal. This is I think talking almost turns that inside out inside out the Tuckerman poem doesn't imply at all that the boy is made vast deal by his labor. It simply implies that because he has to labor
so hard there are many flowers that he doesn't get to pay. Yeah and. And the moral problem to the pull out as you said is is this simply sentimentality on his part. Is he doing what Gray did looking at the grave of the simple yeoman and saying is that the grave of a great poet. Well that kind of thing is sentimentality but Tuckerman doesn't go that far he knows this is likely to be a false passion and I think you get that in the image of the floor not the last recognised that is used as perhaps we could have that it's a sonnet and it isn't a title that boy the Farmer said with hazel wand pointing him out half by the haycock haired though bare sixteen can work out what he's bared from some tool set to cradle rape or banged. I heard the words but scarce could understand whether they claimed a
smile or gave me pain. Or was it ought to me in that green lane that all day yesterday the beers a med he held the plow against the jarring lands steady or kept his place among the mowers whilst other fingers sweeping for the flowers brought from the forest back a crimson stain. Was it a draw and that touched the flash or dead up Barry's bit purple on my hand. Before we get to our final poem I think it might be well to say that we've not mentioned Whitman and Dickinson since they have been dealt with more fully elsewhere in the series. Well Don we've been concerned here with man who've since gone to some better reward. We hope and the fragile attention of literary commentators
so DAF and its metaphors might offer an appropriate conclusion to this excursion into some pre 20th Century American Poetry. So I think Don we might end this program with Philip foreknows the Indian burying ground for no. It seems to me by contrast the white man's burial practices with the American Indians touches upon many of the themes that have arisen in our earlier poems don't you think that's true. Yes perhaps for a nose shares some of that nostalgic quality you mention in relation to polo. You'd think one would have to make a contrast here though for wild poses a dreamlike nostalgia. And that's the major thematic element also for an almost poem is really based like the Rosen Whittier's pongs Ani on a sharp observation of his physical environment. Also nostalgia as it exists the
magically it all does so only in a subsidiary way. I think you also may be agreeing with Melville that reason as such is less powerful than something else namely the reality of man in his pursuit of life. And he would certainly agree with Taylor that if our notion of the soul as an abstraction or a nothingness so will our physical life be a nothingness whereas a belief in the reality of the ghostly unconscious will in turn and our what is called this ghostly paradigm of things with meaning and with substance. The Indian burying ground. In spite of all the learned have sad I still my old opinion keep the posture that we give the dad points out the soul's eternal sleep.
Not so the ancients of these lions. The Indian one from life released again is seated with his friends and shares again the joyous feast his image to birds and painted bow and venison for a journey dress. They speak the nature of the saw activity that knows no RAS his bow for action ready bent and arrows with a head of stone can only mean that life is spent and not the old ideas gone. Lao stranger that shout Come this way. No fraud upon the dead man. Observe the swelling turf and say they do not lie. But here they sit here still a lofty rock remains on which the curious I may trace
now wasted half by wearing rains. The finances of a ruder race here are still of the age of the elm aspires beneath whose far projecting shade and which the shepherd still admires the children of the forest play. They're off to wrastle us Indian Queen with her braided hair and many a barbarous form is seen to chide the man that lingers there by midnight moistening in a habit for the chase or raid the hunter. Still the deer pursued the hunter and the deer. I'm a long shot ten minutes Fancy see the painted chief vantage point in space and reason self
shall bow the knee to the shadow and delusion where. You've just heard a discussion of 19th century American poetry by Don Geiger and Robert Bellew poetry in the American was produced and recorded by KPFA in Berkeley under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the ne B Radio Network.
- Poetry and the American
- Nineteenth century poetry
- Producing Organization
- pacifica radio
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Discussion and reading by Robert Beloof and Don Geiger.
- Series Description
- Twenty half-hour programs designed to further the enjoyment of poetry.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Performer: Beloof, Robert, 1923-2005
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Geiger, Don, 1923-
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-12-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Poetry and the American; Nineteenth century poetry,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 23, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rsr4z.
- MLA: “Poetry and the American; Nineteenth century poetry.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 23, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rsr4z>.
- APA: Poetry and the American; Nineteenth century poetry. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rsr4z