Thursday, April 02, 2009

*For truth is always strange; stranger than fiction

So very much has been written about George Gordon, Lord Byron, and most of it in our modern age is nothing to do with his poetry. Women (usually it is women but maybe some men do it too) go on about how attractive he was, after all his reputation with the ladies was legendary. I could relay fact after fact on here, all copied from various sources, relating to his affairs, culminating of course in the rumours surrounding his affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh.

It was because of these rumours that Byron suddenly found himself shunned in 'polite' society. He decided to go abroad and I could again cut and paste lots of info here, all interesting and fascinating stuff, but I'm not going to - I leave that to others. I want to talk about his poetry.

Now lots of people give an inward groan when they think of poetry. They read the words on the page and fail to see why some people find it wondrous. But these words are not just meant to be read silently as if they were a book; they are written to be read aloud, as people did in previous centuries and as some of us do still. Don't forget that at the time that poetry was at its greatest (in my opinion it has to be the Romantics),there were not the amusements we have today. A new volume of poetry by a great writer was as exciting as a new Harry Potter book today, - okay, some of you can shoot me down about that - but you get my point.

Byron was a master at writing words that sound marvellous when read aloud. He broke every known rule of rhyme, rhythm and pacing and his style is unique.

The stanza below is from his masterpiece Childe Harold and it is about the night before one of the major battles at Waterloo.; Wellington and his officers were at a ball, not expecting to see any action.

Don't just read it to yourself - say it aloud and with emphasis - it's wonderful:

Did ye not hear it?--No; 'twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o'er the stony street;
On with the dance! let joy be unconfin'd;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet--
But hark!--that heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before!
Arm! Arm! it is--it is--the cannon's opening roar!

I must look most odd these days because so much of the time this past month I've sat there, my poetry book in my hand, reading aloud but I never realised poetry could make me so happy - not just any poetry however - most modern poetry doesn't affect my mood. For me the best is undoubtedly Byron - and not because of his aura or image.

*the title is of course from Byron


Jennysmith said...

Hi there. Mad, Bad & Dangerous to know - wasn't that him? The ruin of Lady Caroline Lamb and no doubt, numerous others. Yes, his "bad boy " reputation overshadows his unique literary talents.

Not that good on poetry. like John donne and Larkin, can't get into Plath tho'. Don't get that one at all.

Roger McGogh's brilliant. i wonder how he would have got on with Byron!


Dumdad said...

Poetry must be in the air (see my blog).

French Fancy said...

Jen - and there I was hoping nobody would do the bad mad etc. :) It was indeed Caroline Lamb that saddled him with that appendage - curse the woman

Dumdad - just before I hit Publish I did notice that you had done a poetry post and I went and checked on your site before publishing mine - if you had picked the same poet I would have postponed mine.

Jelica said...

I am definitely more a prose person than a poetry person, although I appreciate a good verse. I liked the one you picked from Childe Harold--I had read excerpts from it but long ago and in Serbian, which is a whole different kettle of fish.

willow said...

I find solace in the beauty of poetry. And yes, I agree, it must be read aloud for the full effect!

Interesting you can tell from the similarities in their features in the artwork you've posted they are related.

Dedene said...

I love Byron. Thanks for the jog down poetry lane.

French Fancy said...

Jelica - you knowing 'kettle of fish' reminds me that I am trying to learn French colloquialisms - the difference between us is that you know when to successfully use yours.

willow - I hunted around until I could get one with both of their faces at the same angle to show off their Byronic noses. Well spotted - but I expected nothing less from you.

Dedene - hurrah - a fellow Byronite, who likes the poetry more than the razzamatazz that surrounded him.

Frankofile said...

'Let joy be unconfin'd' - and I thought it was a family mock-ironic saying :-)

Delighted you're a fan of Ada Lovelace's dad.

Blu said...

Springtime is a wonderful time for poetry. I love to hear a good speaker read out loud, so many people have no life in their voices.

Shrinky said...

I've just read your profile (grin). Having left London to live on a remote sleepy island, I understand that pull, I love where I am now, but London is still in my veins, I still need my odd fix of it now and then, just to remember why I left!

I have a bookcase of poetry books in my downstairs loo. Okay, I don't read aloud in there (often), but you are right. Most poetry gets lost ingested alone - shared and read aloud is what brings it to life. Maybe that's why poetry reading can be so magical.

Shrinky said...

Sigh. I meant poetry readingS of course, right? (Rolling eyes.)

Elizabeth said...

HeeHee! I was an English teacher for ages and made all the 15 year old Honors kids (the ones who liked literature and would humour me) do acres and acres of poetry and it was such FUN....
I also made them write sonnets -- a wonderfully useful accomplishment in the age of Twitter....
never mind....
Yes, poetry should definitely be read ALOUD
and re-read too as new delights reveal themselves.

If you like kitsch you really should see the ancient movie "Lady Caroline Lamb".
Richard Chamberlain as Byron (what???!!!!)
but smouldering Jon Finch as Lord M.

Can I be your on-line resource for all things Romantic trivia both high and low....?
But you probably know far more than I do already
So wonderful to meet someone who loves poetry

French Fancy said...

Frankie - I didn't realise that was a Byron quote. I attributed to good old Hamlet - because most famous quotes do indeed seem to come from that play.

The third Canto of Childe Harold begins and ends with personal verses directed at Ada (which amazingly is known as an apostrophe - a verse speaking directly to someone)

Blu - I think I put too much into my poetry readings - the dogs sit looking at me with their heads on the side as if to say ' what is she on?'

Hello Shrinky - I must come and 'check you out' - you sound like my sort of person. Poetry books in the loo sound wonderful - although I have to say (and sorry everyone if it is TMI) I've never read in the loo.

Elizabeth - I knew we liked the same things :). That movie does ring a bell actually - there was a two-parter BBC drama a few years back as well which I've seen advertised on ebay. I might have to get it.

I don't know much Romantic trivia at all - I'm at the beginning of all this.

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Lovely. Thank you I enjoyed it and read it out loud. The dog did not look impressed however ;-) xx

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FF, I think we have lost something of that time - When books and poetry were ordered and awaited, then discussed, as with book groups today... The excitement, the furore, surrounding each new arrival, would have had the air tingling with electricity...

I miss that, in our society, where we celebrate mediocracy and lack of talent... As well as his words, I also love the romance of Byron's mad life, and the Byronic heroes he so inspired, I must admit. Sorry about that.

Steve said...

One of my uni modules was on the Romantics through to the Victorians so we covered Bryon and his mate, Shelley, plus the earlier forerunners Wordsworth and Samuel J himself. Found Wordsworth stifling twee but Byron was always wondrously warm and humane. People often overlook the fact that he was a man of principle and used his priviledge to fight for the rights of others.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FF, I'm just reading back - Something I've rarely had the time to do, and I am fascinated by your mum with her letter written by Georges Sand, and your dad, the musician and Carry On star, and how you met Mr FF, and how you came to live en Bretagne - I had not noticed those 'best bits' links before - Very entertaining, thank you for sharing those scintillating snippets.

lakeviewer said...

Ah! Spring and poetry readings and everything romantic in the air. Lovely post.

Rob-bear said...

Must confess that Byron doesn't inspire me all that much. But Auden, Yeats, Eliot, even Tennyson -- ah, there we are.

I'm a different kind of romantic, I guess.

Lola said...

Thank you, I enjoyed this lovely post and read it all out loud, not just the excerpt. My son asked me in Italian, "con chi stai parlando? (who are you talking to?) We go into this complicated story about a poet who broke rules... Ciao

Cheryl said...

It does make a difference to read a poem aloud rather than just reading it in silence. I would so love to go to a poetry slam where the majority of poems performed could be classics like this.

French Fancy said...

Reasons - yes, the dog (s) - it must be very weird for them. I sometimes walk around the room doing Dramatic Actions whilst trying to memorise certain stanzas = that really foxes them.

AWONI - we are on one mind on this. I seldom watch television now and I know this might make me sound a bit precious - but it is nearly all rubbish. I still enjoy a good film though.

Maybe a bit of me loves (okay a lot) that he was so very charismatic, but the poetry does come first. I just love saying the words aloud so much - it's not a recent thing either. The first book I remember loving was one of my dad's school prizes - The Oxford Book of English Verse. I read poetry aloud from about the age of 6.

Steve - your course sounds a good overview of the whole period. I've only 'done' certain poets. I'm with you on Wordy - he got loads of ideas from Dorothy as well, an unsung background figure.

AWONI - thanks for that - I could do lots of name dropping ones but I think it looks bad form. Perhaps one day.

lakeviewer - the tulips are out now - pictures to follow

Rob - I do like lots of other poets too - yes, those you mention are wonderful as well.

Lola - I wish I could speak Italian. I do know the words of some famous arias though and sometimes say those aloud.I love Puccini - we're seeing Madame Butterfly in Venice next month - hurrah.

Cheryl - imagine going to a poetry recital back then - read by one of the greats.

LadyFi said...

Lovely! The power of reading poetry aloud is amazing.. even the dog looked impressed!

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear, my favourite poem by Byron is called "When we Two parted" ( It's very sad but beautiful. I used to read a lot of poetry. I have a passion for it. Being a romantic, I think only poetry can feed my hunger. Not many people these days read aloud. Like you, I like to read it aloud. I don't have the voice of Alan Rickman but I've been told that I've got a good voice.

The Dotterel said...

Oh yeah! He was the rock-star of his age, and you're so right to read aloud. 'So, we'll go no more a-roving' is one of my Byron faves. A tad self-indulgent, but darned good.

lime said...

ah, april is poetry month in the usa so it is even more delightful to be finding gems like this out in blog land.

Lulu LaBonne said...

Crikey - you're making me feel very ill-educated Frenchie. I've not read any Byron - but seeing as it's poetry month and I have your blog to read some aspects are getting rectified

French Fancy said...

Ladyfi - I'm sure if more people who thought that poetry wasn't a good 'art' tried reading it aloud then they would change their minds.

ASD - I do know that poem, very well indeed - I've got LB's complete works here (not that I've managed to read everything yet). I bet you've got a gorgeous voice - I can sense these things.

The Dotterel - That's not one of my top ten actually. I like the long sagas best - all those poetry groupies at his disposal. He was like a rock star really

lime - hello and thank you very much

Lulu - You know so much about the world of nature that you have strengths most of us can't imagine. I mean you don't mind things that crawl around - it's far more impressive than literature.

Elizabeth said...

People get a bit mean about Wordsworth - not nearly so charismatic as Lord B I agree.
But I do like his ideas in Tintern Abbey and the Ode on the Intimations that nature can make us better people.
Is that utterly sappy?
Living a long time is not a good thing if you intend remaining ROMANTIC.......part of the package to pop off early on in the proceedings before wrinkles and dullness set in.....

French Fancy said...

Hello again E. I've not read that much Wordsworth, although I did do a fair chunk of The Prelude in the block I did on the 'sublime' a few OU months ago. It's also one I think I am going to revise for the June exam.

In truth I don't know much about the Romantics at all, I'm just a beginner. I've got loads of books on it in the last few months however which I hope to read over the years to come.

I got the Shelley today anyway - it looks magnificent. Thanks again for the tip.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FF, I am being really thick, but by the Romantics, who do we mean?

I am surprised with all your ready learning and knowledge that you have not devoured Shelley, Keats, Blake and Coleridge? A minor player who I loved very much was John Clare, I must admit... I didn't like Wordsworth much, too sappy in my opinion...

And Browning, designed to be read out loud, where does he fit?

I am picking your brain, hope you don't mind!

As for the name-dropping, I think you are being understandably English and unassuming, but I for one would love to read your tales of theatreland and your echt experiences, FF.

Hope the work is going well and that the weather is being good to you x

French Fancy said...

Hello again Awoni

Romantic poets are six - Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Blake, Wordsworth and Byron

I've read them all - don't much like Blake or Coleridge or Wordsworth - they just don't 'do' it for me.

I like Shelley and Keats poems more than the first three and for some reason prefer Byron. His don Juan opus is for me the best poem ever written in the English language

I need no notes about structure or meaning for Byron and to get the most out of the other poets I like to read a reference book alongside - which makes it a bit fiddly.

Robert Browning is a Victorian poet, an early champion of women's rights.

Of course there are lots of good poetry out there but Romantics is nothing to do with the style of the poem - it is purey an era that followed the Enlightenment

All of this comment is plucked out of my head after not much sleep - hence its possible awkwardness

...and it's raining

Cynthia said...

I know just what you're talking year, I spent studying Shakespeare's plays...the lesser known ones. I read at the beach, thought with my gaze on the horizon, and wrote with intense concentration. What a wonderful time! (Confession: I never really liked Shakespeare.)

Have a wonderful time with the Romantics and Lord Bryon. <3

French Fancy said...

Cynthia - hello my friend - yes, this literature bug can really grab one although, having said that,I've just today moved on to an architecture module about the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

It's going to be one of my exam options as well so I've put Byron and his gang aside and moved on to oriental building design.

Oh well, it keeps me away from the biscuits.

Phil Lowe said...

In that short verse I'm getting the urgency to live life to the full and the realisation that life (and potential death) is becoming increasing more harshly real by the second in the need to go fight for their lives.

PS: I live not so far from Byron's old gaff in Nottinghamshire ie: Newstead Abbey. Maybe I should do a blog from the tea shop there!

bARE-eYED sUN said...

if we've learned anything from reading my fellow bloggers: its that it is often worthwhile to follow their suggestions.

that's how we were prodded into reading Pablo Neruda who has quickly become a favorite.

we do not know much about poetry except how to write the worst type; hoever we WILL seek out and read Byron. :-)

thanks for the heads-up!


david mcmahon said...

I've always been a Byron fan, since I was a teenager.

Sydney said...

Thank you for re-inspiring me to consider checking out poetry of the romantics again once I've got the time in June. I took a class on them in college, but it was really because we got to go to London for a week as part of it. We went to galleries by day and plays by night. I was so damp to the bone that I missed a few plays to sit in the bathtub up to my nose in hot water, and seemed more interested in going to the pub with the guy who was starring in Rocky Horror at the time than in the Blake exhibition... (I miss those days). Fortunately, everything in time... as I can NOW appreciate Byron.

French Fancy said...

Phil- I think it is your duty to go and eat cake at Newstead Abbey.
Re the verse - and a bit off-topic - Byron felt it wasn't so much that Wellington won the war but that Napoleon lost it. Old B had a lot of respect for Napoleon and of course by then he was a bit anti-British.

BES - I've never read any Neruda but if you seek out Byron I will in turn go and seek out 'Twenty Love Poems' by Neruda, which someone told me has some beautiful items in.

david - me too, ever since I read my dad's old prize book from school.

sydney - hello to you and I'm glad you spent a week in my home city but I'm sorry it rained a lot. Good on you for pulling an actor - vain lot aren't they?

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FF: Thank you - I must have been asleep at Uni when they were going into the detail of the poetry eras as such...

I remember liking Blake quite a bit, although he was barking, and used to be able to recite Coleridge's The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner while quite young!

French Fancy said...

Snap with the Ancient Mariner - I can still quote vast chunks of the boring ode.

Rob-bear said...

In that case, just be lucky that someone hasn't hung an albatross around your neck!

French Fancy said...

If that had been one of my poems for this course I would have hung myself - never mind an albatross being hung round me!

FireLight said...

Hello Miss Fancy! I adored this post and all the wonderful absolutley DO have the poetic conversation well established here. Thank you for stopping by my little place. I have only just gotten underway (only 11 posts), and I think it was my second one that has a quote from Byron. I will need to spend some time "blurking" about here. Kindest regards to you!

Yoli said...

He was a giant and a damn good looking man to boot.

French Fancy said...

Firelight - well you enjoy 'blurking' here and I will enjoy your enjoyment of your blog by coming to visit you often

Yoli - well said and absolutely spot on. Coming to visit you now!
(disappears in a puff of smoke!)