Monday, February 18, 2013

I was rather annoyed to find my text book presents only an abridged version of Lord Byron's "Don Juan" so I got the whole thing for my Kindle. I'm glad I did, or I'd have missed the dedication which contains the stanza;

And Wordsworth in a rather long Excursion
(I think the quarto holds five hundred pages)
Has given a sample from the vasty version
Of his new system to perplex the sages.
'Tis poetry, at least by his assertion,
And may appear so when the Dog Star rages,
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the tower of Babel.

You know, when it's read aloud, a listener might mistake "Babel" for "babble", which would be terribly unfortunate.

I can't believe it took me this long to read Lord Byron. It turns out I thoroughly love this guy. Yesterday I read "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" and "Manfred"--that latter in particular being absolutely great. I can see why Nietzsche loved it so much and it remains to-day pretty subversive--how many religious or even vaguely "spiritual" people would bristle at the idea of someone being able to choose an option that does not fit into the good or evil categories?

"Manfred" tells the story of a magician who rejects both the power of God and the power of demons when neither can restore to life his beloved Astarte. The whole work is mainly people from both sides trying to get him to cast his lot with one or the other and he continually refuses both, without hesitation, much to their consternation.

Some, I think, would argue the sorts of supernatural forces Manfred encounters would be able to resurrect Astarte, but that would be missing the point. Manfred encounters or conjures beings who are representatives of the elements, or locations, or destiny or Nemesis. The things they represent can't resurrect the dead so naturally they can't either, and it reflects the torment of Manfred as every direction in which he looks he finds only frustration of his real desire. Wordsworth might have argued you couldn't talk about that kind of terrible, fundamental truth of reality in the context of fantasy and "Manfred" shows Wordsworth would have been wrong.

I'd better get back to reading. I need to finish with both Byron and Shelley by Thursday . . .

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