How weird and eerily appears, that solar surge,
Aurora Borealis, 1865,
by Hudson River School’s Frederic Edwin Church.
The skyscape is so alien, and yet alive,
with faint and dancing lights, blue, yellow, red and brown,
above an opaque hemisphere. Ice mountains thrive.
Although it seems as if the tiny ship is groun-
dead, slight, it plods its way along the arctic sea.
In such a place, how strange it is to be so found;
in so much desolation, luminosity.
It is so dark and empty, nearly all life purged;
yet somehow th’ eye-sick haze reflects a victory.

 

Bruce Dale Wise is a poet living in Washington State

Featured Image: “Aurora Borealis, 1865,” by Frederic Edwin Church

 

 

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  1. Submitted Comment

    Why I like Wise’s Aurora Borealis
    By Lew Icarus Bede

    First off, I like ekphrastic work. Some do not, because it is derivative; but all literature is derivative and derives from somewhere, a culture’s letter, words, and sentence structures, as well as its oral and literary traditions. Why I like ekphrastic work is because I like to see how one artist responds to another, and what an artist responds to in a work. There are so many possibilities. To dispense with this idea, let me quote T. S. Eliot from his essay Philip Massinger,
    “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”

    I like that Wise immediately identifies the work he’s looking at in lines 2 and 3. He is not being elusive or mysterious; I like his bluntness; he gets straight to the point. The painting itself can elicit the weird, the eerie, and the alien; he simply, like a neoRealist, describes its effects and visual constructs, “faint and dancing lights, blue, yellow, red and brown, /above an opaque hemisphere.” The poem, a bilding, is half way done with a brief, neatly alliterative, sentence, “Ice mountains thrive.” They loom above the “tiny ship,” which seems to indirectly allude to Auden’s “expensive delicate ship” in Musee des Beaux Arts, a Postmodernist ekphrastic poem.

    Wise can be overly overt, as in his “groun- /dead”; but I do understand both his and Church’s purpose. After all, here is an artistic expression of an Arctic expedition by Doctor Isaac Hayes; and that world of the North seems devoid of life. The year of 1865, as well, can’t help but reverberate with desolation in an American mind, the final year of the devastating Civil War, the conclusion of which was so much agony and death. For me, the picture is a perfect example of Romanticism dovetailing into Realism, which I have thought for some time was the natural consequence of a Romantic outlook.

    The last quatrain begins with a cadence from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “In such a night,” which Wise has changed to “In such a place.” In Shakespeare, the conversation is between the young lovers Lorenzo and Jessica They speak in lovely terms about foredoomed young lovers. Here Wise invokes, in a rather contorted language, i.e., “how strange it is to be so found,” the luminosity in “so much desolation.” Note the repetition of so in three lines, 9, 10, and 11. This appeals to my sensibilities. And the concluding two lines, almost like a couplet, incapsulate th’ idea: “It is so dark and empty, nearly all life purged; /yet somehow th’ eye-sick haze reflects a victory.” At the end of the Civil War, it was a victory for the North; but it was hard and bitter. I even accept Wise’s verbal pun on the doctor’s name, because it fits this scene at that moment in history, eternity.

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