There be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean’s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:
And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o’er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant’s asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.
Lord Byron – Prisoner of Chillon
Sonnet on Chillon
by Lord Byron
Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;–
For there thy habitation is the heart,–
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
I have slept terribly in recent weeks. I don’t think I am alone in that predicament. What little sleep I get appears to be at least restful enough to have the energy I need to be productive. I am eager for life to get back to normal but I fear that what was once my “normal” maybe a thing of the past. And I fear even more, that if and when we have the tools to resume the lives we expect, that we will have all grown so accustomed to being isolated that we will be fearful to venture into the rock and roll concert mosh-pits of our existences again.
Lord Byron’s poetic voice can feel a bit antiquated, but the ideas of state sponsored suppression of minority freedoms, injustice, unfair incarceration, and in spite of those opposing forces, hopeful dreams for a better future are as relevant in his verse from 200 years ago as today. I look to poets to help me make sense of the senseless in times of grief and loss and fear. Which poets do you find inspiration from right now? What emerging new voices have caught your attention?
Life is Twofold
(From The Dream)
by Lord Byron
Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
a boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence. Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality;
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy.
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight off our waking toils.
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity.
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain.
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of their own,
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh….
So, we’ll go no more a roving ..So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving, . .And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath, . .And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe, ..And love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving, . .And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving ..By the light of the moon.
I attended The Tallest Man on Earth concert at the Palace Theater in St. Paul last night. It was an amazing performance by a single artist on stage. Kristian Matsson is a whirl-wind of energy and musicality, his guitar playing and mastery of reverb make it sound like there must be multiple guitarists performing when only his nimble fingers are producing that incredible music.
Listening last night in raptor to one song, I wondered if Matsson would describe himself as a song-writer first, guitarist second and poet third or guitarist-first, poet second and song-writer third or you get the point, there are many combinations, what would be his list? The real question is whether any of it can be separated from the other in a linear fashion during the artistic process or does each talent inform the other in ways that alter and shape it? Do a song writer fit lyrics to a tune or does the tune inform the lyrics or does words become the tune or all of the above?
Some poems are so musical by the very selection of the words that it is inevitable they will be set to music. There are many different versions over the years of Byron’s So We’ll Go No More A Roving that have been recorded and probably a myriad of versions that never were. It is a love song that is meant to be sung. I am rather fond of Cohen’s version. Cohen always described himself as poet first and singer/song writer second. His love of poetry informs his lyrics and sets them apart even as his voice faded a bit as he aged, his lyrics were still lyrical, and by surrounding himself with a strong cast of musicians, Cohen’s music and concerts remained vibrant right up until his death.
Who is your favorite singer/song-writer/poet? What’s your favorite song of theirs?
You Have No Form
by Leonard Cohen
You have no form, you move among, yet do
not move, the relics of exhausted thought
of which you are not made, but which give world to
you, you are of nothing made, nothing wrought.
There you long for one who is not me, O
queen of no subject, newer than the morning,
more antique than first seed dropped below
the wash where you are called and Adam born.
And here, not your essence, not your absence
weds the emptiness which is never me,
though these motions and these formless events
are preparation for humanity,
and I get up to love and eat and kill
not by my own, but by our married will.
That they shall suffer.” Swift doth young Love flee,
And we stand wakened, shivering from our dream.
Then if we study Nature we are wise.
Thus do the few who live but with the day:
The scientific animals are they—
Lady, this is my sonnet to your eyes.
She Walks In Beauty
by Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
“Why do you write?” (Shelley) “Because I haven’t the ability to prevent it.” (Lord Byron)
Byron – The Movie
by George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron)
Though the day of my destiny’s over
And the star of my fate hath declined,
Thy soft heart refused to discover
The faults which so many could find.
Though thy soul with my grief was acquainted.
It shrunk not to share it with me,
And the love which my spirit hath painted.
It never hath found but in thee.
Yet I blame not the world, nor despise it,
Nor the war of many with one;
If my soul was not fitted to prize it,
“Twas folly not sooner to shun:
And if dearly that error hath cost me,
And more than I once could foresee,
I have found that, whatever it lost me,
It could not deprive me of thee.
From the wreck of the past, which hath perish’d.
Thus much I at least may recall,
It hath taught me that what I most cherish’d.
Deserved to be dearest of all:
In the desert a fountain is springing,
In the wide waste there still is a tree,
And a bird in the solitude singing,
Which speaks to my spirit of thee.
To Augusta is a six stanza poem, I have included only the first and fifth and sixth stanzas. I find Byron interesting. There are parts of his personality that are repellent; he was a cad, narcissistic, he took advantage of women in his relationships, but he was true to his nature, recklessly so, for taking your half-sister as your lover is not for the faint of heart, it simply isn’t done in any time period.
One of the powerful themes within the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin is who are you allowed to love? This question stems from the relationship between a brother and sister, Cersei and Jamie Lannister, and the lies, the deception, the chaos that this incestuous legacy of children that it creates. Incest, even in fiction, is an uncomfortable and difficult subject, I can’t imagine what it was like for Byron and Augusta in real life.
Percy Shelley was a good friend of Byron, Shelley matching him in strength of character, writing ability and unconventionality in lifestyle. Shelley was largely unpublished in his lifetime, his writing viewed as too radical in reflecting a bias towards atheism and for his liberal views in supporting social justice. He was hugely influential after his death among generations of poets, writers and political thinkers who saw in Shelley a beautiful courage.
The sonnet, To Wordsworth, is a touching memorial, but I wonder if is written in honor to more than just one poet? The lines “wept to know That things depart which never may return” had to be influenced by the deaths that surrounded Shelley in his short life, particularly the deaths of several of his children. Shelley seemed to have been stalked by tragedy, himself drowning shortly before his 30th birthday while sailing in the boat Don Juan, after a meeting to set up a new journal called The Liberal. His body was cremated on the beach in Italy where his body washed ashore, as was customary at the time, his friends Trelawny and Byron attending. Shelley’s remains are buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. His grave bears a few lines of “Ariel’s Song” from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)
Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know
That things depart which never may return:
Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss is mine
Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.
Thou wert as a lone star, whose light did shine
On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honored poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,
–Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.