Byron may be the most questionably reliable author I know of, even more so than whoever wrote The Things They Carried, so that by 1812 I’m still wondering if he’s telling the truth…does he really feel such sadness? Could it have taken the death of someone he loved for his writing such serious verse? Does it matter? In this case, I think it does, because Byron is his poetry in the same way that Shakespeare is not, it seems to me a mistake to read into Shakespeare by reading into his works, including the sonnets. Petrarch may bring to mind a proper example of how I feel about Byron at this juncture, because I’ve never, not for one moment, trusted Petrarch, and I think history treats him precisely as he wishes to be treated by it, rather than how I think he is–that is, I do not trust Petrarch’s religious fervor as anything other than spectacle–if a Shakespearean sonnet is about fucking, a Petrarchian sonnet is about not getting fucked for a very, very long time, and trying to deal with it. So do I believe Byron, or do I think he’s making use of the speechless dead, stirring up emotions that weren’t there until they were useful. Whatever the truth, his writing is much more grave and solemn, though with somewhat crudely lilting meter, until I reach this stanza of “If Sometimes in the Haunts of Men”:
For well I know, that such had been
Thy gentle care for him, who now
Unmourn’d shall quit this mortal scene,
Where none regarded him, but thou:
And, oh! I feel in that was given
A blessing never meant for me;
Thou wert too like a dream of Heaven
For earthly love to merit thee.
His usage of “him” directly before the commas on lines 2 and 4, and the subsequent commas, throw the meter and rhyme off slightly, but it’s still in perfect form, the words follow the pulse, but the punctuation does not. I always try to read poetry without forcing a pulse, just to feel how the words naturally rest, and this caught me entirely off guard, and delighted me. It reads to me like this:
For now I know, that such had been thy gentle care for him,
who now unmourn’d shall quit this mortal scene,
where none regarded him, but thou:
And it’s quite beautiful, even the very sound of it, and I think this illustrates what 1812 does for Byron, then, beyond developing the essential Byronic character further, it’s his breaking rules, in a sense, by owning them–for the first time I feel as if he has complete control over the poetic form, and it no longer restrains him but rather gives him new freedoms. If clothes do not fit on your body, they are not clothes; if a cuisine is not edible, it is not a cuisine; I think all the arts lead back to one’s body, and if poetry does not fit in one’s breath, it is not poetry–this stanza simply thrills me.