Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Red and Yellow and Hills," by Eli Siegel

It's autumn, and here in the northeast the days and nights are getting cooler. One of the things I love is seeing fallen leaves on the ground, blowing a little in the breeze now and then. This poem by Eli Siegel comes to my mind at this time of year.

The trains I see and hear are NYC subways as they cross the Williamsburg Bridge, and not those suburban or rural trains likely meant in the poem. And hills are not nearby, though they're welcome sights on a weekend drive. All of these are part of an autumn composition, viewed on a clear day, or a brilliantly glowing evening.

Red and Yellow and Hills
Often, you know, when trains in autumn,
Pass near hills full of dead leaves, gone long from trees,
The trains move the leaves, and winds help the trains.
By hills in autumn, in smoky autumn, smoking trains go,
Fast; and leaves drift listlessly down hills near speedy, dashing trains.
The hills are red and yellow; and the speedy, dashing train is black;
      and white smoke comes from the train; and the train whistles wildly,
      piercingly, and leaves, dead, autumn leaves drift listlessly down old hills.
Cry, train, cry, leaves, cry, hills.
Train, dash wildly.
Leaves, die.
Autumn's here and the hills are.
Autumn's here, and haze and smoke in sky, and sultrily, faintly red sun
     goings-down in autumn.
Smoke's in the sky, quietly, lazily.
Trains and trains go by, whistling wildly, piercingly.
Dead leaves drift along lazily.
Autumn's here and quiet, and red and yellow and hills.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Sheldon Kranz: Report on lecture by Eli Siegel about Satire

Like nearly every teacher of literature, I've had the pleasure of speaking with my students about satire. Crucial in the study of satire is seeing that there is a huge difference between the kind of mockery that goes on in ordinary life and the kind that comes from wanting to have the world and people be better. I learned very much about this from a report by poet and critic Sheldon Kranz of the lecture by Eli Siegel. Here are two paragraphs from the report:
Satire at its best, [Mr. Siegel said,] has three forms: satire of one person, as we find it in Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt; satire of a group like the Rotarians or the D.A.R. Gilbert and Sullivan in their operetta Patience were satirizing the aesthetic movement of the 1890's; and third, there is a satire of mankind in general. Here Swift's Gulliver's Travels is one of the best examples in literature. In all of these, Mr. Siegel went on, it can be seen that satire is always about pretense, about how persons will choose what is false in order that their vanity be undisturbed. We have a picture of ourselves which truth will destroy; and so to protect that picture of ourselves, we will accept what is untrue and unimportant. Satire changes a bad thing into a good thing, an untrue thing into a true thing. Satire makes us laugh to make the ugly more apparent.