Somewhat Scholarly, Somewhat Whimsical: A Gloss

(inspired by the "Etymology and Extracts" in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick)

On Sitting Down to Read
"On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again"
Once Again

(to a belated nostalgic Modernist)

Can we please not drag in Negative Capability
            this time? I, too, hate Hummel figures
            and Lawrence Welk, but not all figured scenes
or complete narratives are kitsch. Beauty,
a transcendent virtue, does not thereby
            push other virtues out and, as to means,
            the clumsily inelegant is not what sustains
beauty or best honors human multiplicity.
Though we have learned to mistrust perfection,
            we must not lose it in the old collage
of borrowed forms. We must pursue it in
             our simultaneous broken worlds, nostalgia
             the only real enemy, when we are brought where
             the old man wakes to find his one true daughter.

Karl Kirchwey

A Source and Referent for the Title:

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
            And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
            Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
            That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
            Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then I felt like some watcher of the skies
            When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
            He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise--
            Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats (1817)
From Poetry Exhibits. The Academy of American Poets

From Keats' 1817 Letter on Negative Capability:
at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason--Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

Various Forms of Kitsch:
Hummel Figurines: A Rich Heritage
The Lawrence Welk Show
A Definition of Kitsch

Two definitions of Nostalgia:
The good old days multiplied by a bad memory.

[originally refering to a serious medical disorder:]
"the pain a sick person feels because he is not in his native land, or fears never to see it again."

The old man Lear and his one true daughter:
From The Complete Works of William Shakespeare On-Line:
Act 1, Scene 1, in which Lear casts off Cordelia
Act 4, Scene 7, in which Lear awakes to find her returned
Act 5, Scene 3, in which Lear laments her death                                                             

Return to Aesthetics: An Exchange Between a Poet and a Dramatist