poetry: Byron: Hours of Idleness (1807)

Four selections from a book of poems I find a somewhat tedious read of sporadic quality:

“Love’s Last Adieu”–I nearly didn’t make it through this, every line, I mean, was difficult to make sense of, even after spending the past hour working through Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Granted, it can’t be easy to write something compelling when every stanza ends with “love’s last adieu,” but this is one of those pieces that perhaps should not have been written. It comes across as an exercise, and perhaps it was a helpful one because it forces one to find eleven words that rhyme with adieu…but it also helps explain why Hours of Idleness was often a flop. [ This last statement perpetuates a myth originated by Byron himself on the reception of Hours; of the publications that reviewed his work, the majority had either positive or neutral opinions of his work, and often identified the author by name. Byron, so far as we know, only focused on the opinion of the Edinburgh Review, at least publicly, which led to his English Bards and resulting fame. In hindsight, this was a good move, but at the time–what was he thinking? ]

“Damaetas”–This first reminded me, of course, of Byron himself, or, perhaps what he might have become–perhaps the sort of person Wordsworth became, if he ever lived any sort of sinful life. Second I thought of the character Pippin from the musical that share’s his name. Yet, while Byron’s character gives up sin in what seems to be repugnance, Pippin gives up sin out of boredom, if not depression. And then I thought of myself, and I grew very sad, because I thought of myself prancing about England unhappily, with my mistress sin, hating myself, though trying to “drain the dregs of pleasure’s bowl” at every turn, and oh, however much time I spent thus, ten times as much have I regretted it.

“To Marion” — “Still fickle, we are prone to rove” are the lines that I read over and over aloud, thinking how well it describes me, though how much more well it describes Byron, if we condense his endless loves into these few pages.

“To a Lady who presented to the author a lock of hair braided with his own, and appointed a night in December to meet him in the garden” — I think this to be the most important poem in Hours so far, because he doesn’t merely suggest a sense of humor, he lets it fall out, and now doubtless this is the Byron who will go on to compose Don Juan; all the elements of his craft are seedlings here, the humor, the great fickleness of love, the great loves, all the things made glorious in what may have been quite dull, really. When he writes, one tends to forget that an obese and lame boy is the writer. But it is the legend whom he goaded to live.

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poetry: Wordsworth: “An Evening Walk” (1793)

click picture for licensing infoWordsworth was doomed to be Wordsworth. Even at age 16 he was writing extensive descriptive poems of the places he’s seen, the every twig and feather seen on his walk. Of course, the words call to mind my own roving through his lake district, early in the morning, over misty hills, surrounded by sheep, and huddling under my coat in the soft rain, gaping at Grasmere. But it also calls to mind hours and what seemed like years sitting in coffeeshops in Amherst, swatting at flies, reading and re-reading passages aloud, drinking endless coffees in an attempt to stay awake through the dread burden of Wordsworth’s “Prelude.” Prelude to what? was my greatest fear…and “An Evening Walk” is the preparation, I hope, for “Prelude”–I know he valued this enough to have rewritten it and the editors placed it in an appendix. But such a slap in the face as the third or so poem in his Works…it makes me wonder if there is a god. Seriously, his writing is beautiful, and there is a way of reading it, somewhere between cognizance of meaning and hypnotic sleep, in which it makes sense to the soul. Professor Curtis and I would speak about the Prelude as if its reading was a progression through cancer, some weeks better than others. Oh, this week it made no sense to me, and there was nothing I could do, I worked through every line with a pickax and almost slit my wrists. This week, something happened, it all made sense, I found the necessary pace, and I trotted through the lines in a place nobody could touch me, I was inside the poem, I felt Wordsworth, I feel as if life will never end. This week, everything was shattered, I don’t understand why. Anything by Wordsworth makes me suspicious–I never know if I am reading the words of an old or a young man. And I don’t know how much it matters. If he was Whitman, I wouldn’t be concerned, but he is Wordsworth, and his soul seemed to rather shrink with age.

24 March 07