A Lone Star, Whose Light Did Shine

“Why do you write?” (Shelley)
“Because I haven’t the ability to prevent it.”  (Lord Byron)
Byron – The Movie

1200px-Lord_Byron_1804-6_Crop
Lord Byron (1788- 1824)

 

To Augusta

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 Shelley was largely unpublished in his lifetime, his writing viewed as too radical in reflecting a bias towards atheism and for his liberal views in supporting social justice.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.”

To Wordsworth

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.

Passions Read, That Yet Survive

 

BIlly Bragg and Wilco
Billy Bragg, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco.
“An isolationist America is no bloody use to anyone.”
Billy Bragg 

There is magic that occurs sometimes during live concerts, an interplay between the musicians and the audience, an amplification of energy, where each feeds off the other to create something unique, a time stamp of emotion, melody and percussion, that raises the hairs on the back of your neck with pure joy.  I love the sonic improvisation by skilled musicians of favorite songs that transform them into rock and roll jazz, an experience that will never be recreated note for note.

I had that feeling again last night at a Wilco concert at the Palace Theater in St. Paul.  The final performance of a masterful band before taking a break to allow each great individual talent to pursue solo projects.  Last night it was impossible to tell who was having more fun, the audience or the band, a night where Wilco strayed from the previous night’s set list and dived head long into an expansive array of music, created over several decades.

I try to keep a trail of bread crumbs between my blog posts.  Obscure though it may be, I attempt to playfully connect dots between poets and artists to create a flow in my writing and thought process. The concert reminded me of another creative project where the torch of creativity was passed from one artist to another after one of their deaths, just like Auden in translating Hammerskold’s Markings.  Early on in the evening, I said to my sister between songs, “I hope they play something from Mermaid Avenue.”

Billy Bragg and Wilco released two CDs, Mermaid Avenue Volumes I and II, in 1998 and 2000 respectfully. They are both compelling recordings of a unique musical partnership between musicians that took on the challenge of marrying unrecorded lyrics by Woody Guthrie to their original compositions. Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie, contacted Billy Bragg in 1992 during a tribute concert on what would have been Woody’s 80th birthday.  Nora asked Bragg if he would be interested in examining nearly 3000 songs that Nora had found in her father’s home that he had penned lyrics but for which no song composition existed. Either Woody hadn’t written the music yet or he didn’t need to write it down, as it was in his head. Many of the songs are quite different from the socialist political repertoire that Woody Guthrie is famous.  Nora Guthrie saw in Bragg a younger British version of her father, a brash and talented defender of working men and women through music. Bragg accepted the challenge but it wasn’t until he sought out Wilco after hearing their 1996 album Being There that the project built momentum. Bragg recognized in Wilco kindred musicians who had the musical chops to venture into a wide range of styles from folk, rock and blues that would be needed to bring Woody Guthrie’s legacy of alive.

It is impossible for me to listen to California Stars or Voodo Hoodo, both of which Wilco played during the concert with a complete flourish of joy and imagine that Woody could have performed them any other way.  The songs are too complete. The spirit of Guthrie lives with Bragg and Wilco and guides their hands and voices.

Poetry was as powerful an outlet to give voice to social issues in the 1800’s and early 1900’s as rock music is today.   The list of rock star poets is long, but in my mind Shelley, Yeats, T. S. Elliot and Dylan Thomas all fit that bill. They are poets who influenced at least a generation of men and women across the political and economic spectrum, just like great rock music.

Shelley’s poetry is rebellious in its themes and imagery.  Though the terms socialism and communism had yet to be coined, the sentiments of some of Shelley’s poetry fit squarely within those doctrines. Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias speaks eloquently on the corruption of power concentrated in hands too few.  It is about the insanity of Kings who build monuments to mock the very people who built them, an empty legacy, a desert where power corrupts absolutely.

Ozymandias

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”