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.

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.