Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Poems, by Lord Byron

Why I read it: Western Canon

Podcasts: In Our Time

Brow: If you read this as a teenage girl in 1816, when Byron was the equivalent of the Beatles, well, you'd still be high-brow because yay! You beat the odds by a wide margin.

Summary: It's all of Byron's published poems except for Don Juan.

What I liked about it: I honestly thought when I borrowed this book from the library that all of his poems were like To M.S.G.: When'er I dream of that pure breast, / How could I dwell upon its snows! / Yet is the daring wish repress'd ,/ For that - would banish its repose. / A glance from thy soul-searching eye, / Can raise with hope, depress with fear / Yet I conceal my love - and why? / I would not force a painful tear.' All forbidden romance and tragic death at 24 from tuberculosis that has got teenage girls worked into a lather for centuries. But actually, a lot of his poetry is about adventure stories, like Lara or Childe Harold's Pilgrimage or tragic narrative like Beppo. It turns out a lot of the hype that got the ladies worked up was just an early understanding of how publicity works.

I think my favourite of his works is Cain, in which the first murderer expresses his resentment at being kicked out of the Garden of Eden and made mortal for his parents' mistake:
And this is Life! Toil! And wherefore should I toil? - because my father could not keep his place in Eden. What had I done in this? I was unborn: I sought not to be born; nor love the state to which that birth has brought me.
He then goes on to meet Satan and kill his brother and get banished to the Land of Nod.

What I didn't like about it:  Byron didn't write enough limericks. Here's the one example in the entire book: John Adams lies here, of the parish of Southwell / A carrier who carried his can to mouth well; / He carried so much and he carried so fast, / He could carry no more - so was carried at last; / For the liquor he drank, being too much for one / He could not carry off - so no he's carri-on. Limericks forever!

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