Eli Siegel wrote the fantastic poem Put zebras by the Mississippi. This poem was first published in the book Hot afternoons have been in Montana: Poems in 1956.
About Eli Siegel
Eli Siegel is the founding father of Aesthetic Realism. This poet, critic and educator was born on August 16, 1902, in Dvinsk (Latvia). His most famous poem is named after the same book that the pome Put zebras by the Mississippi was published in: Hot afternoons have been in Montana.
Siegel moved to the United States when he was three years old. His parents, Mendel and Sarah Siegel, decided to settle in Baltimore (Maryland). Here Siegel was educated at the Baltimore City College. He showed his debating and writing skills during this period. In 1925 the poem Hot afternoons have been in Montana was submitted by him anonymously and won the award of The Nation’s poetry prize. This literary magazine found this poem to be:
“the most passionate and interesting poem which came in—a poem recording through magnificent rhythms a profound and important and beautiful vision of the earth on which afternoons and men have always existed.”
The poem was considered controversial for its technique. It was something no one had ever seen up to that moment. Critics made fun of this poem, by writing parodies to this poem. We will not share these parodies because the poem Siegel wrote is too good for this.
Though he would write poetry the rest of his life, Siegel is considered the founding father of Aesthetic Realism. No poem was quite the success of the first poem, though he wrote some beautiful poetry.
Aesthetic Realism and controverse
The concept of Aesthetic Realism is as follows: it leans on three principles:
First, the deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis. Second, the greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it—contempt defined as the false importance or glory from the lessening of things, not oneself. Third, the study of what makes for beauty in art is a guide for a good life: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of (the) opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
This might look fine, but there is still a lot of controverse about this Aesthetic Realism and the works of Siegel. This philosophy claimes (and so did Siegel), that homosexuality is something that should be cured. In 1990, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation received a lot of criticism for this belief. Nowadays, the organization still exist, but the organization doesn’t promote their methods openly.
Of course, the claims made by both Siegel and the foundation are without any scientific evidence. That part makes it hard to read the work of Siegel sometimes. It conflicts with such a great poem Put zebras by the Misssissippi.
Put zebras by the Mississippi
Swiftly in forests, the zebra,
Slowly the Mississippi;
Zebras are by the Mississippi,
Not so by, but by.
Where the palm-tree waves slowly in heat, with many-colored,
little live things all about, green, orange, pink, black,
purple, red and all,
O, do say, the Mississippi flows slowly.
Hell, is not the same moon over zebras and the Mississippi?
Put zebras by the Mississippi.
Put ichneumons by the Mississippi.
Put the Mississippi anywhere.
Put zebras where you like.
Put palm-trees in New York state.
The moon’s over all.
The moon’s not so big.
Zebras are by the Mississippi.
Purple’s by the Mississippi.
Anywhere’s anywhere, anywhere’s everywhere.
Put zebras by the Mississippi; O, do.
— Eli Siegel