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Canto the Fifth: Windmills

Published onApr 17, 2023
Canto the Fifth: Windmills
In short, he became so absorbed in his books that he spent his nights from sunset to sunrise, and his days from dawn to dark, poring over them; and what with little sleep and much reading his brains got so dry that he lost his wits. His fancy grew full of what he used to read about in his books, enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, wooings, loves, agonies, and all sorts of impossible nonsense; and it so possessed his mind that the whole fabric of invention and fancy he read of was true, that to him no history in the world had more reality in it.1
The History of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra2
The appeal of improvised poetry was complex, but a part of its appeal from the beginning was as a type of easy, yet authentic speech. In this type of poetry alone can we hear… the poet's true voice of feeling. An element consistently recurring in the descriptions of the improvvisatore is the poet's "'mobility," the testament to his true feeling.
— Lindsay Waters3

…Just like those wandering ancient bards of yore;
    They never laid a plan, nor ever reckoned
What turning they should take the day before;
    They followed where the lovely Muses beckoned:
The Muses led them up to Mount Parnassus,
And that’s the reason that they all surpass us.

John Hookham Frere. 4

George has been promising to leave for quite a while
But keeps being distracted by a mask
That takes the form of Juan. He wants to rouse a smile
From readers and, at the same time, wants to bask
In the pleasure of his art. His digressions help wile
Away time, and recall Byron’s own task:
‘I perch upon an humbler promontory
Amidst life's infinite variety.

I don't know that there may be much ability
Shown in this sort of desultory rhyme;
But there's a conversational facility,
Which may round off an hour upon a time.
Of this I'm sure at least, there's no servility
In mine irregularity of chime,
Which rings what's uppermost of new or hoary,
Just as I feel the improvvisatore.’5

The really careful reader of this chronicle
Notes that there’s been a sudden change in rhyme
Scheme. This keeps us on our toes, as do fickle
Shifts in rhythm, like this one, or in length of line.
Perhaps we should recall Byron’s approach, to dickle
Around, such that the form of the very line
Conforms to the story that I’m trying to tell,
And the poetic tools I’m using, as well.

Byron cast around and found ottava rima,
Which allowed him to chat, and to conform
To a poetic style. You have to believe a
Specialist, like him, that stories are born
Of some complex combinations of structure
And improvisation, of love and scorn
For tradition. It’s a way to know this city,
And gives license for remarks -- some witty

Some silly -- while providing me a chance to spin
A web of urban history, and an excuse
To reference the Great Books, mostly poems with im-
Punity -- some well-known, some more obtuse.
The biggest change from here on out, or out-on-in,
Is that the first two rhymes repeat, and use
A rhyming couplet at the end. This is great
Fun, and, to believe poetics, adds weight

And prestige (not to mention humor). Yeats
Employed this form of rhyme when he sailed to
Byzantium6, which is amongst the greats
In this domain. He also walks through
Corridors among school kids7, while he dictates
Some insights about age, and wisdom. You
Probably read Yeats’ poems in school; we did,
When we weren’t fooling around (I’ll bid

We did more of that back then!). But now I
Need to move on, since George has lots to
Say about the Southeast BeltLine trail, to belie
The sense that it remains ‘unfinished’. You
Have to examine what such a term might mean, and try
It for yourself, because unpaved parts give views
Of both what it’s like now, and what’s to come. It starts
Near Glenwood Park, and heads to Boulevard

Heights. Somewhere along, the pavement ends, and there takes
On a more rustic hue, with gravel, stones
And bush, where on the Eastside were condos, cafes,
And new development. George rattled his old bones
With joy, and used the motor in the bike to fake
That twenty-miles-per-hour was his own
Self-created pace. Who cares? And who’s to know?
Part of the goal is to discover, the other to grow

A reputation for athleticism, a trait
We don’t associate with poetry!
If you want to follow along, locate
That pile of junk that’s now a kind of free
Museum that’s adjacent to a maze. Great
Piles of stuff are piled high, that for me
(And George) recall this theme of transforming urban
Blight into a space of hope. It’s why I can

Equate the form of verse we’ve chosen, to the aim
Of these Chronicles. George stood before this trash
And reflected back to Mello’ Mushroom’s same
Effort: to create artwork from a hash
Of discarded metal, just as he hoped to tame
His endless emotions, and turn them into a stash
Of stanzas for future generations. From there
George wandered on, and found a kind of stair

Way that, rather than bringing him up, wound him ‘round
And ‘round. Dizzy and inspired, he perceived
A sign describing Gebsite’s labyrinth8. George found
Out that Geb, in Egyptian Mythology,
Is the spirit of the earth; and when he bound
Himself to the Goddess of the Sky, she
Gave give birth to the conditions necessary for
Human life. This labyrinth offered George more

Ways to contemplate, and heal, and cast away
Fears that can impede our quest through urban
Landscapes. Artworks like this one offer us a way
To soak in lovely sounds of life that can
Be masked by our own trepidation. George stayed
There for a while, moving ‘round and forth and
Back around, until dizzy with reflection, at peace
With all his being. A warm and gentle breeze

Awakened the leaves on trees, and as he returned back
Towards his bicycle, which he’d left near
The pile of junk-turned art, he thought the stack
Of stuff had come to life. No longer a mere
Stash, it seemed like it could rise up and attack
Him! Just like Don Quixote’s windmills, that appeared
As giants to Don’s overwrought imagination.
George didn’t follow his first inclination

Which was to flee in fear, but instead he stood, stared
At what once was trash, and then celebrated
Its change into a giant living being. He cared
More, as we’ve seen, for art, and he created
Rhyme from his experiences. He compared
Strong emotions to visits from a Muse, and dated
Many of his best ideas to fear-giving
Moments of unease. So, George faced this ‘living

Being’ and, like a Knight Errant, he derived
From it newfound inspiration. In time,
This vision will recede, but it’s transcribed
Here, for posterity. And so he climbed
Back on his bike, overflowing and imbibed
With images for his poem. His rhyme
Scheme was working out, and as he pursued his quest
Towards the Westside Trail, he felt that the best

Still lay ahead. Mounted on his bike again he
Did look, come to think of it, a bit more
Like a knight than a poet, particularly
Because his crazy colorful clothing bore
Some resemblance to what we imagine Medi-
Aval chivalric warriors must have worn
When out on the town, or in the village
Where they’d just set down for a night of pillage

And other amusing activities. From here
On out, and for a while, there’d be no paved
Pathway. Instead, it’s like a trail that’s has been cleared
Of bushes, and trees, but not stones. George waved
The urge to pull over, to save his bones, and veered
Towards the edge of the path, and steered
Into it with all his might, in part to atone
For the multitude of drinks he’d drunk alone

The night before. Back in the day, when Quixote
Was ambling about, seeing windmills where
There were sheep, and fantasy where others would see
Just ordinary life, people didn’t seem to care
That their horses gave an uneven ride. They’d sleep
Or look around in full gallop, whereas George didn’t dare
To even look around, for fear that he might
Fly into the woods, and not be found until a night

Or two later. But it sure was fun to stroll
At thirty miles per hour or so, swaying side-to-side
Like a drunken sailor pacing the deck during a full-
On thunder-storm upon the high seas! George’s ride
Hung tough, while his knobby tires did more than pull
Their weight (in this case George). The ruggedness reminds
Us of poets who amble more in the wilderness
Than on city streets. Wordsworth is the best

Example of this trend, when on his Excursion9
He wrote about unscripted meanderings
-- Especially in the countryside. His version
Of poetry was a lot different than Byron’s, who sings
In rhyme. Byron hated it (!), but George had fun
Recalling that Excursion. He watched the forest whizzing
By, and contemplated BeltLine scenery while singing
A tune about being on the road again, and bringing

To mind some of Wordsworth’s famous lines:
“In days of yore how fortunately fared
The Minstrel! wandering on from Hall to Hall,
Baronial Court or Royal; cheered with gifts
Munificent, and love, and Ladies' praise;
Now meeting on his road an armed Knight,
Now resting with a Pilgrim by the side
Of a clear brook;—beneath an Abbey's roof

One evening sumptuously lodged; the next
Humbly, in a religious Hospital;
Or with some merry Outlaws of the wood;
Or haply shrouded in a Hermit's cell.”
These are lovely lines, like ordinary speech
That rolls along, in ten beat lines to tell
Stories of fearless exploration. George liked
It all the more this particular day, as he biked

Through undeveloped BeltLine woods, because it recalls
A story of fearlessness, even when
The hero of the poem meets armed Knights, or falls
Asleep unarmed, near clear brooks. We can
Venture forth on trails like these, with neither walls
Nor signs, when communities feel free and open
Rather than closed in. Wordsworth recalls Rousseau,
Who calls the natural world our real home, and knows

Peace and protection not from swords, but from his song:
“Him, sleeping or awake, the Robber spared;
He walked—protected from the sword of war
By virtue of that sacred Instrument
His Harp, suspended at the Traveller's side;
His dear Companion wheresoe'er he went
Opening from Land to Land an easy way
By melody, and by the charm of verse.”

George’s companion was his verse, and his bike,
Which guided him past Chosewood Park, Peoplestown,
And on towards Adair Park. Wordsworth liked to hike
With his “wanderer friend”, which George had not yet found:
But no matter, for he too loved nature, and liked
To let uneven pathways be his solid ground:
“What wonder, then, if I, whose favourite School
Hath been the fields, the roads, and rural lanes,

And pathways winding on from farm to farm,
Looked on this Guide with reverential love?
Each with the other pleased, we now pursued
Our journey—beneath favourable skies.”
Byron, George recalled, was – as we’ve seen – pretty rude
When talking about Wordsworth’s poems. He would decry
Their lack of structure, the inconsistent timing,
And most of all, I think that he’d have like some rhyming:

“And Wordsworth, in a rather long "Excursion"
       (I think the quarto holds five hundred pages),
Has given a sample from the vasty version
Of his new system to perplex the sages;
Tis poetry—at least by his assertion,
       And may appear so when the dog-star rages—
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the Tower of Babel.”

There’s no accounting for taste, and George’s love for
Those Romantic bards laid waste all critiques. Each
Of them were muses, and poetic jabs only made him more
In admiration, and all of them would preach
In favor of their approach. These are ruses that we adore,
A way to build a better (Belt)line. George reached
These conclusions late at night, was he tried to turn
His own wanderings into verse. He’d learn

From all of those mentioned so far, and many more
Before his long Atlanta quest was done.
The day had been long, and his bumpy travels bore
Many fruits, visions of forests that were fun
To fly by. He arrived at a tunnel, and paused for
A few minutes to take in some
“A Sweeter Breath”10, strands of ivy that hang down,
Like talismen that recollect, in sight and sound,

Nature’s orchestra. So, after meditating
In the maze, George now heard from the wide girth
Of sounds in Piedmont wetlands, captured in swaying
Sculptures. This work preserves sounds of the earth,
Reminding every passer-by of all that’s passing,
Past, and yet to come. The poet George then works to birth
A vision to steal upon the meditative mind,
And then styles, in verse, sweet songs to leave behind.


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