Here is the next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
“Turned on the radio as I was sitting down to dinner last evening and chanced upon a Strauss waltz. Couldn’t resist getting up and gliding around a bit to that lilting rhythm even though I ate a cold dinner as a result.
There is something about rhythmic movement as opposed to more or less mechanical, everyday motions such as hurrying to the subway, making a bed, wrapping or unwrapping a package, which has a liberating effect. I’d be inclined to say it releases the soul if I weren’t chary of such an equivocal word.
Be that as it may, I am convinced that rhythm is a stimulus to creative thought. One well-known example that comes immediately to mind is A. E. Housman’s description of how he wrote his poems: a long, rambling walk in the country, not thinking about anything in particular, induced the spontaneous welling up in his mind of lines of verse, sometimes a complete stanza, sometimes with lines missing which he had to fill in later by conscious, intellectual effort. Many poets have testified that the reading of poetry begets the writing of poetry. I suspect the rhythmic element is the predominant influence.
It may be that for some artists rhythmic movement which is experienced only passively, such as riding on a train, has the same effect. I think I read somewhere once that Mozart found riding in a carriage very conducive to composing.
I believe it may even unlock other kinds of mental capacities. I recall, for instance, an episode described in one of J. B. Rhine’s books on extrasensory perception. He took a man whom he had been testing for ESP for an automobile ride to give his mind a rest. Rhine had a pack of his ESP cards with him and after they had been driving awhile, he stopped the car by the side of the road and put his subject through the usual test. To their mutual astonishment the subject scored 21 correct calls out of a possible 25, the first fifteen of them in succession. Rhine gave no explanation of this extraordinarily successful but uncontrolled experiment (except, by implication, the subject’s relaxed mood), but I wonder if the rhythmic motion of being carried along in a car did not lull the restless top layer of the mind and give access to a deeper level of perceptiveness.
It doesn’t seem like a far-fetched notion when you think how bound up with rhythms our bodies are: breathing, heartbeat, electrical pulsations of the brain, menstrual cycle, circadian rhythms. When any of these get out of kilter, the body suffers. It’s hard to believe the mind doesn’t, too. Even a simple disturbance of our sleeping and waking rhythm makes us feel disgruntled.
Furthermore, we each have rhythms and tempos and ways of moving that feel right to us, in which we feel most comfortable, even though they may vary to some extent as our moods vary (themselves probably subject in part to little-understood rhythms within or without the body). I have often noticed, for instance, that in riding in a car with someone whom I know to be a good driver, I nevertheless feel nervous if he or she drives in a different rhythm than I do, whereas I always feel comfortable with a driver who accelerates or slows down or passes or stops at the moment I would if I were behind the wheel. I enjoy walking with some people because they have the same pace as I. I find myself vaguely irritated or ill at east beside someone who walks at a slower or faster speed, or in a jerkier or smoother fashion than I.
Even walking by myself I do not always hit the right pace. This usually happens when I’m under pressure or worried about something. The only benefit I get from it then is the exercise or reaching my intended destination. On those occasions when I’m lucky enough to fall into a gait that feels effortless (which is not necessarily the same as feeling physically energetic) I have a sense of well-being, of aliveness, a sense of wholeness and of being in harmony with the world around me. I wonder if any lines of poetry would have flowed into Housman’s mind if he had set off on a fast, vigorous cross-country hike instead of a leisurely ramble.
These individual rhythms and tempos must be one reason that interpersonal relationships are sometimes so difficult. We not only walk and gesture to different measures, we talk, eat, sleep, make love, carry on our daily affairs and even think in different cadences. One person’s mind functions best under pressure and in a fast-paced environment that exhausts and paralyzes the flow of thought in another’s. The staccato tempo of an industrial plant may stimulate one person and make a nervous wreck of the next. The same can be said of the slow, quiet, everything-in-its-season rhythm of country life. In popular jargon, we operate on different wavelengths, and they do not always wave in harmony.
And then, too, it is hard to maintain one’s own natural rhythms when we impose – or have imposed on us – so many artificial and alien ones. It’s easy to blame the culture in which we live: the times are out of joint. Sometimes I wonder, though – could the times be out of joint, at least in part, because we’ve neglected or distorted our own inherent rhythms?