dead Brits – Byron

last of the Big Six, is getting short shrift, I’m afraid. I’ve maundered on about Cain before, but I can’t, just can’t, make myself even begin to read Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and/or Don Juan.  I mean, hooray for She Walks in Beauty and So We’ll Go No More A-Roving, but at the moment my brain just scrunches up and starts going mwah-mwah-mwah-mwah when it sees this kind of thing:

Oh, thou! in Hellas deem’d of heavenly birth,
Muse! form’d or fabled at the minstrel’s will!
Since shamed full oft by later lyres on earth,
Mine dares not call thee from thy sacred hill:
Yet there I’ve wander’d by thy vaunted rill;
Yes! sigh’d o’er Delphi’s long deserted shrine,
Where, save that feeble fountain, all is still;
Nor mote my shell awake the weary Nine
To grace so plain a tale — this lowly lay of mine.

I may have overdone the Romantic thing just a tad…..

And not getting on with Byron is stopping me from getting on with the next thing.

So: very sorry George Gordon Byron, later Noel, 6th Baron Byron FRS (12 January 1787– 19 April 1824)!

Catch you later.  Maybe.

What I want to focus on now, I think, are Dead Americans (or actually, anyone who doesn’t say O thou all the time and go on and on about Helen and Troy and Delphi and the topless towers of Ilium, yes ok that was Marlowe but you get my point).

Moving right along here!

a shape like to the angels

CAIN (solus) – And this is
Life? Toil! and wherefore should I toil?- because
My father could not keep his place in Eden?
What had I done in this? – I was unborn:
I sought not to be born; nor love the state
To which that birth has brought me. Why did he
Yield to the Serpent and the woman? or
Yielding – why suffer? What was there in this?
The tree planted, and why not for him?
If not, why place him near it, where it grew
The fairest in the center? They have but
One answer to all questions, “‘Twas his will,
And he is good.” How know I that? Because
He is all-powerful, must all-good, too, follow?
I judge but by the fruits- and they are bitter-
Which I must feed on for a fault not mine.
Whom have we here?- A shape like to the angels
Yet of a sterner and a sadder aspect
Of spiritual essence: why do I quake?
Why should I fear him more than other spirits,
Whom I see daily wave their fiery swords
Before the gates round which I linger oft,
In Twilight’s hour, to catch a glimpse of those
Gardens which are my just inheritance,
Ere the night closes o’er the inhibited walls
And the immortal trees which overtop
The cherubim-defended battlements?
If I shrink not from these, the fire-armed angels,
Why should I quail from him who now approaches?
Yet – he seems mightier far than them, nor less
Beauteous, and yet not all as beautiful
As he hath been, and might be: sorrow seems
Half of his immortality. And is it
So? and can aught grieve save, humanity?
He cometh.

[Enter LUCIFER.]

– George Byron, Cain

dead Brits – Coleridge

Moving right along with revisiting the English Big Six.  Been stuck on Coleridge for a while, it seems.  I had a late-adolescent trauma related to Kubla Khan and a damsel with a dulcimer that seared him into my psychic memory – not unpleasantly, but rather ambiguously, perhaps.  That whole thing about him being zapped on opiates while he wrote it (and most other things, it seems) was an enduring point of adolescent focus, as was The Person From Porlock and the Wedding Guest’s apparent hypnosis in the Rhime of the Ancient Mariner.  This time around – dutifully expanding my horizons – I enjoyed Frost At Midnight but did find it somewhat hard not to glaze over during This Lime Tree Bower My Prison.

New and exciting this time: Christabel!

I mean: Vampire Girl!

A Gothic cross between Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes and Rossetti’s Goblin Market and something else I can’t think of at this minute.  Too bad there’s only a fragment of it.

(Oh wait - another Coleridge fragment..?).

According to the Cambridge History of English and American Literature:

“It has been said that “the thing attempted in Christabel is the most difficult in the whole field of romance: witchery by daylight.” And nothing could come nearer the mark. The miraculous element, which lies on the face of The Ancient Mariner, is here driven beneath the surface. The incidents themselves are hardly outside the natural order. It is only by a running fire of hints and suggestions—which the unimaginative reader has been known to overlook—that we are made aware of the supernatural forces which lie in wait on every side. The lifting of the lady across the threshold, the moan of the mastiff bitch, the darting of the flame as the enchantress passes—to the heedful, all these things are full of meaning; but, to the unwary, they say nothing; they say nothing to Christabel. Yet, the whole significance of the poem is bound up with these subtle suggestions; though it is equally true that, if they were more than suggestions, its whole significance would be altered or destroyed. It would no longer be “witchery by daylight,” but by moonlight; which is a very different thing.”

Check it out.

fugitive causes

“Poetry, even that of the loftiest, and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, [has] a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

unknown modes of being

Scavella excerpts in the comments to yesterday’s post on Wordsworth lines 351 – 400 of the first book of his Prelude. I’ve repeated them below, because they are stunning and keep dragging you back to them. A  lot going on, but two sections I found particularly compelling:

for many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness


But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

They made me think of this from The Second Coming:

a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs

And this from Paradise Lost:

Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan

The common linkage in my mind is something like that spiritus mundi thing Yeats went on about (although I’m guessing both Wordsworth and Milton would argue with that).

Anyhow, here’s the excerpt (thanks, Scavella!):

One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,–
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

– William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book I, l. 351-400

dead Brits — Wordsworth

Still working our way (in the wrong order, what can I say) through re-acquaintances with The Big Six  –  Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley & Keats

Reading up on Wordsworth’s life and re-reading some of his poetry has confirmed something I really only half-knew about myself — that ideas are important to me in poetry, in the sense that the intellectual framework upon which the poetry hangs counts as an element in favor of or against that poetry. Detracts from or enhances its aesthetic appeal. Unappealing ideas, of course, don’t necessarily mean I won’t be wowed by the poetry (I’m thinking Milton and Paradise Lost here), but they do go a long way to putting me off at times (Shelley).

In the case of Wordsworth, ideas and poetry come together for me most beautifully. I find his ‘trailing clouds of glory’ philosophy very appealing; likewise his respect for nature, for children and childhood and - separate but related - his emphasis on the power of ‘stored’ positive memory to act positively on the present. I also like the steady way his poetry ‘proves’ his thought.

Add to that (after the high-calorie luscious verbal high-drive of Keats) his relatively plain and low-key but still rocking diction, and you have a winning combination, in my book.

Wordsworth take-aways are not new, but all feel much the richer to me for my recent focus on his thought, and back-story reading — Tintern Abbey, Intimations of Immortality, Lonely As A Cloud and The Solitary Reaper most particularly.

dead Brits – Keats

Well, that was a sumptuous interlude, although I fear I have been captivated by Keats for many wrong reasons, such as his life story (so short! so tragic! so prolific!) and what he said about negative capability, which totally rocks. Certainly, my favorite Keats take-aways are made much more interesting with the life back-story than without. They would be To Autumn and When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be. Oh, and On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer (that scene on a peak in Darien is brilliant).

(I didn’t have much coherent Keats in any mental drawer before this, beyond La Belle Dame Sans Merci and various fragments from the odes, so it didn’t take much reading to put me in a much better place.)

Very instructive to read his six odes (To Indolence, To Psyche, To A Grecian Urn, To A Nightingale, On Melancholy, To Autumn) viewed as a series keyed to his own development, as well as stand-alones. I only read the fragments from Endymion and Hyperion you find in most anthologies and very generally skimmed Isabella, but I did get all the way through and enjoy The Eve of St. Agnes. (I cannot report being wowed by the choice of hero’s name here, however. Let’s see: Roland, Lochinvar, Tristan, Gawain and Porphyro?!)

I have to say that after all that lushness, I feel rather as if I’d eaten

a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon

and now find myself hankering after, oh, I don’t know — raw carrots and chamomile tea, maybe?

hyena foemen – purple riot – ruffian passion

For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
Whose very dogs would execrations howl
Against his lineage

Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
Made purple riot

O may I ne’er find grace
When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
Or look with ruffian passion in her face

–John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes

dead Brits – Shelley

I definitely struck out here. The Shelley drawer in my head until now has contained a jumble of skylarks, west wind, Defence of Poetry & Ozymandias. I have tried to tidy it up and have dutifully read up on his life and times and — even more dutifully — read, read about, and listened to the Skylark and West Wind odes, plus Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and a huge piece of the (long, long — why is everything he wrote so long?!) Masque of Anarchy. No use — I just don’t have a Shelley lobe in my brain (plus he makes me think of Fotherington-Thomas).

A Defence of Poetry ends with his poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Maybe at bottom my Shelley brain-block is philosophical.

I do have an Ozymandias lobe in my brain, though, like most people, and these are two Shelley moon notes that do actually quite rock, especially the second one (listed as a ‘fragment’):

       To the Moon

       Art thou pale for weariness
       Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
       Wandering companionless
       Among the stars that have a different birth, –
       And ever changing, like a joyless eye
       That finds no object worth its constancy?

and this:

        And like a dying lady, lean and pale,
        Who totters forth, wrapp’d in a gauzy veil,
        Out of her chamber, led by the insane
        And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
        The moon arose up in the murky East,
        A white and shapeless mass–

(Not sure he meant this one to be funny, though.)

dead Brits or Irishmen

I’ve been reading Yeats and Blake. Quite by accident (even though there are no accidents).

Yeats has been to me until now a vague jumble of Things Fall Apart, Leda and the Swan, Innisfree, terrible beauty, Irish airmen and Irish nationalism. So I spent some time over the past few days reading up on his life and situating him chronologically, emotionally, poetically. Ditto with, a century earlier, William Blake (another accident, truly), who was an even vaguer jumble to me of Tyger, Tyger, Little Lamb, Jerusalem, the world in a grain of sand and engravings.

They are both a little more sorted in my head now. Attractive to me is that they both have this ‘before and after’ Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience motif going. I thought first that Blake offers both as two sides of the same coin, whereas Yeats seemed to grow into the second as a repudiation of the first, but now am not so sure.

I could have warned you, but you are young,
So we speak a different tongue.
But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.

– Yeats in To A Child Dancing in the Wind.

I’ve spent some time listening to various recordings of different Yeats and Blake pieces (no offense, WBY, but yikes to this one). I’ve confirmed that I’m pretty much a text-dependent poetry reader — don’t expect me to listen to a new piece textless and get anything worth getting out of a poem. The written text is the (sine qua non) anchor and information base for me.

Also, it’s been interesting to read metered poetry on an extended basis and learn how unexpected meter combinations can throw me off if I fail to focus and identify the patterns before hoping for enjoyment. Innisfree is a good example — three lines of iambic hexameter followed suddenly by a line of tetrameter. WTF?! Byzantium another — five lines of pentameter, two lines of trimeter, one of pentameter. The whole can be very muddling and anti-enjoyment (to me) until I have worked out the overall pattern.

I have to apologize to Blake for mentally relegating him to Child’s Garden of Versedness all these years, as he is way more complicated than any box or label in my ken. (I’m still not that keen on his engravings, though.)

Favorite Blake take-aways from this period of focus are a renewed respect for and interest in “Tyger! Tyger!”, as well as the two pieces quoted in posts below: the third stanza from Mad Song (the first two don’t live up to the third, in my view) and the Sick Rose, which is amazingly dark and sinister and unsettling.

Favorite Yeats take-aways are old ones like The Second Coming, Leda and the Swan and the Lake Isle of Innisfree. New favorites are the Song of Wandering Aengus and Sailing to Byzantium.

a jangling noise of words unknown

That’s Book 12, l. 55. I didn’t find myself gripped by much else in this last book.  After all the excitement of Book 10 and previous, Book 11 began a trend towards the ho-hum and Book 12 defnitely consolidated it.

(No more Lucifer, of course, which probably explains it.)

So that’s it for boring endless posts with great chunks of Paradise Lost.

Thank you for your patience.

all the cataracts of Heav’n

More grist for the brilliant movie mill. Here’s the Flood:

Meanwhile the Southwind rose, and with black wings
Wide hovering, all the Clouds together drove
From under Heav’n; the Hills to their supplie
Vapour, and Exhalation dusk and moist,
Sent up amain; and now the thick’nd Skie
Like a dark Ceeling stood; down rush’d the Rain
Impetuous, and continu’d till the Earth
No more was seen

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 738-745

dæmoniac phrenzie, moaping melancholie

Not sure whether this is funny or wonderful, or both. One of the many and varied of scenes of future human misery Michael lays out for Adam. It reads like an engraving from the Inferno. Kind of.

Immediately a place
Before his eyes appeard, sad, noysom, dark,
A Lazar-house it seemd, wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseas’d, all maladies
Of gastly Spasm, or racking torture, qualmes
Of heart-sick Agonie, all feavorous kinds,
Convulsions, Epilepsies, fierce Catarrhs,
Intestin Stone and Ulcer, Colic pangs,
Dæmoniac Phrenzie, moaping Melancholie
And Moon-struck madness, pining Atrophie
Marasmus and wide-wasting Pestilence,
Dropsies, and Asthma’s, and Joint-racking Rheums.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 477-488

his bright appearances

Adam and Eve have been told by Michael that they’re being evicted from Eden, where they had hoped to be able to live out their disgrace, although in deep disgrace. Here’s Adam prefiguring multi-layered nostalgia, just too aching:

here I could frequent,
With worship, place by place where he voutsaf’d
Presence Divine, and to my Sons relate;
On this Mount he appeerd, under this Tree
Stood visible, among these Pines his voice
I heard, here with him at this Fountain talk’d:
So many grateful Altars I would reare
Of grassie Terfe, and pile up every Stone
Of lustre from the brook, in memorie,
Or monument to Ages, and thereon
Offer sweet smelling Gumms and Fruits and Flours:
In yonder nether World where shall I seek
His bright appearances, or foot step-trace?
For though I fled him angrie, yet recall’d
To life prolongd and promisd Race, I now
Gladly behold though but his utmost skirts
Of glory, and farr off his steps adore.

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 317-333

a dreadful din of hissing

Satan morphing into a serpent (brings to mind more Narnia – The Silver Chair, the scene in which the Lady of the Green Kirtle does the same in a bid to stop Rilian/Caspian et al escaping the underworld):

he wonderd, but not long
Had leasure, wondring at himself now more;
His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare,
His Armes clung to his Ribs, his Leggs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,

                                  Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 509 – 514

And so they all become snakes — again, a wonderfully cinematic moment: 

he would have spoke,
But hiss for hiss returnd with forked tongue
To forked tongue, for now were all transform’d
Alike, to Serpents all as accessories
To his bold Riot: dreadful was the din
Of hissing through the Hall, thick swarming now
With complicated monsters head and taile,

                            Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 517 – 523

And here’s Hamlet’s to-be-or-not-to-be speech (Milton was 16 when Shakespeare died, by the way — I had to look that one up) from a miserable Adam:

That dust I am, and shall to dust returne:
O welcom hour whenever! why delayes
His hand to execute what his Decree
Fixd on this day? why do I overlive,
Why am I mockt with death, and length’nd out
To deathless pain? how gladly would I meet
Mortalitie my sentence, and be Earth
Insensible, how glad would lay me down
As in my Mothers lap! There I should rest
And sleep secure; his dreadful voice no more
Would Thunder in my ears, no fear of worse
To mee and to my ofspring would torment me
With cruel expectation. Yet one doubt
Pursues me still, least all I cannot die,
Least that pure breath of Life, the Spirit of Man
Which God inspir’d, cannot together perish [ 785 ]
With this corporeal Clod; then in the Grave,
Or in some other dismal place who knows
But I shall die a living Death? O thought
Horrid, if true!

Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 770 – 789

nature gave a second groan

Another great description of the natural world’s visceral reaction to bad humans eating forbidden fruit. This moment, when Adam eats, and the earlier one, when Eve eats, would be fantastic in a movie. Something like that freaky bit in The Mummy, when the sand suddenly sighs creepily and flips itself around. (These would obviously be thicker greener fruitier moments, but you get the idea.)

Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan,
Skie lowr’d, and muttering Thunder, som sad drops
Wept at compleating of the mortal Sin

Paradise Lost, Bk. 9, l. 1000-1005