‘The Course of Empire’ Observations by Reid McGrath The Society March 1, 2015 Art, Beauty, Culture, Poetry 2 Comments Observations both Literal and Inferred on The Course of Empire, 1833-36, by Thomas Cole The Savage State THE foreground is dark, sublime, and savage. Storm-clouds roll up towards the right. The ledge reflects the setting or the rising sun. The turquoise waters crash; the storm’s not done. One bounding buck leaps over a green creek. One brutal hunter, chiseled like a Greek stone statue of a herculean man wields a long-bow in his outstretched left hand. There’re tee-pees and a fire on the right: a semblance of domestic warmth and light in this emergent, Paleolithic state, wild and rough and rugged, if irate. Adam, out of Eden, with all his kin, who Cole paints as a white-skinned Indian. The Pastoral or Arcadian State LIKE the storm, Cain’s gone, that murderous rover. The land is cleared, trees are felled, the clover and grass (that terrestrial plankton) grow naturally, unlike the crops we sow. The rain, the sun, the fertile loam nurtures this Neolithic town’s verdant pastures. They raise white sheep, white togas women wear; a man is plowing with an ox; the air is post-storm fresh; an old man pokes at dirt sagaciously while Holy Fire’s girt by a Doric, crude columned-thing atop the plateau where the tee-pees were. They stop their running over land: They build some boats as leisure, love, and calm seas raise their hopes. The Consummation of Empire PAST’RAL simplicity—for Classical complex white structures—’s doffed. Symmetrical domes gilded with gold and marble lambent, Corinthian columns— Caesar planned it. It’s glowing whitely. It is beautiful: The ferns in urns. Doubtless reputable drapers who sell the sails and fabric pink, peachy, purple, and soft like silk, I think are rich. They all are. There is a statue. The bay is like a mirror. The sky is blue. The fountain signifies outpouring wealth. But the staid rock seems leery of their health: their excess leisure which turns into sloth, lust, gluttony. Their mouths begin to froth. Destruction IT’S not Sublime; it’s Death; it’s Terrible! It’s the augured Sickness transmittable because of myriad sins rife in this world: Greed, pride, envy, wrath, are all here unfurled, as barbarians in Viking-like ships storm and raid and plunder! Red fire rips through Caesar’s City while the sable smoke billows up toward the leaden sky! The yoke of slavery is imminent for those who aren’t raped and drowned. The indisposed take their own lives, jumping into the sea. The rock still means: Immutability, as compared to evanescent mankind who winds itself up, if only to unwind. Desolation THEN it’s over; it’s evening. The doves hoot in the sagebrush, tangled thickets, then scoot with iridescent necks up to some spot where they now nest amidst the marble’s rot. The air breathes well. The Romantic ruins are consumed by ivy, moss. Coy bruins slink down from the high hills to roll the stones of ancient relics looking for old bones to gnaw on, grubs, or leftover honey, not caring one hair for all the money bestrewn upon the dirt. The placid sea reflects the moonshine. This is how it’ll be when the Flood ebbs, when Life begins again. Dame Nature is a swift Custodian. Reid McGrath is a poet living in the Hudson Valley of New York. Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 2 Responses Shari Jo LeKane-Yentumi March 1, 2015 Dear Reid, I enjoyed this series of poetry very much. Your wrapped phrases are especially clever. Thomas Cole would appreciate this homage to his work. Reply james sale March 1, 2015 As always Reid, you find some great rhymes, especially your final clinching couplets – love ’em! Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.