Sunday, April 15, 2012

`Leave the Dinned Air Vibrating Silverly'

“Such noise is like the roar of bleak-grown pines;
Which, when it ceases in this mountain’d world,
No other sound succeeds; but ceasing here,
Among these fallen, Saturn’s voice therefrom
Grew up like organ, that begins anew
Its strain, when other harmonies, stopt short,
Leave the dinned air vibrating silverly.”

The passage didn’t come back verbatim. As is customary, I heard an echo. I knew it was Keats but the poem eluded me. “Vibrating silverly” arrived intact because of something I had written years ago about synesthesia. The fleeting memory of “Hyperion” came Saturday while I was judging research demonstrations by engineering students. One was devoted to the structural integrity of bridges, and the young civil engineers played the famous 1940 film of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as it flapped, twisted and collapsed just four months after completion. The culprit was aeroelastic flutter: 

“Flutter is a self-feeding and potentially destructive vibration where aerodynamic forces on an object couple with a structure's natural mode of  vibration to produce rapid periodic motion.” 

Sometimes I work backwards from a thought, trying to trace the links of association. Keats’ “vibrating” is obvious, but I suspect “silverly” helped as well. The bridge’s towers and cables are steel. The leap from “resonance” in the physics and engineering sense to Keats’ use of “harmonies” in the musical/poetic sense is miniscule. 

At home I found an email from Dave Lull whose friend Roger I wrote about here. Roger had noted a passage by Dwight MacDonald quoted by John Simon in the February issue of The New Criterion: 

“Like Keats, [James] Agee died just when he was beginning to mature as an artist. That Keats was twenty-five and Agee forty-five doesn’t alter the point. Agee was an American, of a race that matures slowly, if ever.” 

Dave writes: “Roger pointed this out to me this morning and said he disagrees and he thinks you would too:  Keats was a mature artist; there is writing among his poems and letters `as mature as anything in Shakespeare.’”

No comments: