Byron – Occasional Pieces (1810)

It seems particularly apt to come across this short poem today. Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ was never something that made much sense to me, nor did Anais Nin’s final rebuffing of Henry Miller, and so on, so that all those terrible things we learned would be finally obliterated by feminism, well, I begin to wonder if there’s more to it than that. Do I believe in love? Yes. There is the love of a parent for his or her child, and there is the love of a man for another man or woman. And I think that covers it. Do I believe in love? Not really. I think it’s mostly a struggle of power, and it just happens to find an easy vehicle for cruelty when everyone is so desperately exposed. One year ago I had spend significant amounts of time in a cockroach filled shoebox of a bathroom watching a girl piss, a girl who refused to let such trivialities get in the way of conversations about Fitzgerald or Henry James, and since she also refused to let such trivialities like eating get in the way of her drinking, well, I saw her drink for six days straight without eating so much as one bite, and we would spend the nights sneaking cigarettes in my room after her boyfriend fell asleep and we’d sneak away from him. We grew close by drinking in the middle of a country road while the moon was large, surrounded by dark farms, and when trucks would come barreling down the road we would hold on to each other, determined not to move, determined, until the absolute last second when, holding on to each other, we’d save each other’s lives by flinging ourselves away from the middle, roll into the dirt. When we came back, everyone was angry at us, they’d all waited up, we couldn’t feel our bodies, and they never had any idea of what we really did when we went out there that night, their imaginations ended at the word sex. We were really out there discussing how unfair it had never been necessary that any of them had to work for anything in their whole lives. She knows how to love, I think. I’ve seen her love. She proposes to me at least once a month.
“For the record,” I tell her, “I haven’t been answering or returning your calls for the past two weeks for a reason. It hasn’t just been ignorance.”
“Really?!” she asks excitedly.
“Yes. We can discuss it another time.”
“Tell me!”
“It’s because last time we spoke you went on a drunken tirade and said things that were entirely unacceptable.”
“Oh, it’s because I told you to dump that bitch, I mean, she’s not a bitch, I’m sorry, she’s not, but it’s because I was telling you to dump her. I’m sorry.”
“That wasn’t all you said.”
“Oh shit! Really? Well, I was drunk, how can you expect me to be liable for–”
“You’re always drunk! Always! So you have to be liable for your words, because that’s your normal state of being.”
“Okay, okay, what did I say?”
“We’re not discussing it right now. But you broke some of my rules, and if you do it again you can be damn sure you’ll never see my face again.”
“Okay. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I said though. Do you still love me?”
“Of course I still love you.”
“And you’ll still marry me?”
“You and everyone else. Why is it that the only people who want to marry me are in danger of liver failure before hitting age 28?”
“And kidneys for me too!”
“You’re all going to fucking die, and just leave me, helpless and alone and unloved because I’m the unlucky one. Many years ago I had a dream that I was being shot, and my feet were attached to the floor and I couldn’t fall, and I desperately wanted to die, I hated being shot so much, but until I fell over I couldn’t die, and I couldn’t fall. I’m afraid it’s true.”
“We still have time left. Think about it, k? I’m serious. We would never be really in love, but, but we’d still be amazing.”

I came to believe that love was emotionally about punishment, practically about money, and now, I’m quite sure, it’s about power. It’s a thought that doesn’t escape me when I see how my dogs love me, how devoted they are to me, and I try not to remember that it’s because they fear me, because I hold power over them, and it’s not love: it’s subservience. But they don’t understand how I feel about them.

“Does being around your mother make you happy?”
“Not…really.”
“Then fuck her.”
“What do you mean? Should I call her and say fuck you?”
“Just fuck her!”
“I don’t understand…”
“Just forget about her. If she doesn’t make you happy, why keep her around? Why keep anyone around if they can’t provide you with something.”
“That’s a fucking heinous thing to say.”
“Think about it.”
“…you know, you’re right.”

Do I believe in love? No. Do I believe in friendship? Yes. Do I believe in firewater? Even more than I believe in friendship.

And now, the poem that spurred this whole mess:

The spell is broke, the charm is flown!
Thus is with life’s fitful fever:
We madly smile when we should groan;
Delirium is our best deceiver.

Each lucid interval of thought
Recalls the woes of Nature’s charter;
And he that acts as wise men ought,
But lives, as saints have died, a martyr.

1810 is fascinating year as far as his “occasional pieces” are concerned, because there are so few of them as compared with years prior and years following. At first I figured he was perhaps writing Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage while on his travels, but there’s no evidence of such speculation, so I have otherwise no answers. What’s particularly noteworthy during this period is that he’s a perfect poetic upstart, perhaps in the wake of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, perhaps merely because he felt himself living in the golden age of mythology, making use of his classical education, “Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ,” and making full use of all his 2,000 parts.

Well, so it goes, Byron died alone, Shelley died essentially estranged from his wife, Keats died without ever making love to his lover, the political revolutions all failed except in Greece, the sexual revolutions gave way to stifling victorianism, what was radical became obscure, what was sublime became quaint, what was humanist became theist. What hope have I now?

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