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From Beppo -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

       
(Poem #1601) From Beppo
     L.

 But to my tale of Laura, --- for I find
 Digression is a sin, that by degrees
 Becomes exceeding tedious to my mind,
 And, therefore, may the reader too displease ---
 The gentle reader, who may wax unkind,
 And caring little for the author's ease,
 Insist on knowing what he means, a hard
 And hapless situation for a bard.

     LI.

 Oh that I had the art of easy writing
 What should be easy reading! could I scale
 Parnassus, where the Muses sit inditing
 Those pretty poems never known to fail,
 How quickly would I print (the world delighting)
 A Grecian, Syrian, or Assyrian tale;
 And sell you, mix'd with western sentimentalism,
 Some samples of the finest Orientalism!

     LII.

 But I am but a nameless sort of person,
 (A broken Dandy lately on my travels)
 And take for rhyme, to hook my rambling verse on,
 The first that Walker's Lexicon unravels,
 And when I can't find that, I put a worse on,
 Not caring as I ought for critics' cavils;
 I've half a mind to tumble down to prose,
 But verse is more in fashion --- so here goes.
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
A reader recently complained (and quite rightly) that the Minstrels pendulum
had swung too far in the direction of modern poetry, to the detriment of the
tried and true. In the ensuing, and interesting exchange of email, it turned
out that what he missed was poetry about "traditionally poetic" subjects,
and that he was not too fond of what he felt was a modern tendency to
poetize the mundane and trivial - I'm not too sure I *agree* with him, but I
can definitely see his point. However, my thoughts ran in a different
direction, and I realised that we've been running fewer poems where much of
the delight lay in the verse itself. It is this imbalance that today's
poem addresses.

I know of few poets with Byron's easy facility for perfectly metrical and
rhyming verse - the likes of Kipling and Gilbert, perhaps, but their verse
looks more impressive than effortless. Byron definitely tends towards the
effortless side, and that effortlessness (or the illusion thereof) extends
itself to the reading. His extended works like Don Juan and Beppo need
no conscious shift to a "poetry reading" mode; they flow along as easily and
as entertainingly as the most straightforward of prose, but with the added
bonuses of rhyme and metre.

On top of that, I loved the self-referential aspect of today's excerpt -
reminiscent, perhaps, of Chaucer's Franklin, who assured his audience that

  I never studied rhetoric, that's certain;
  That which I say, it must be bare and plain.
  I never slept on Mount Parnassus, no,
  Nor studied Marcus Tullius Cicero.

but far more polished and entertaining. And I laughed out loud at the
'punchline' - the timing and delivery were just perfect.

martin

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bharath Lingam said...

Added to that, I would say the poem appears to be so contemporary. In choice
of words, references, and the style of humour. Remove the byline of the
author, and it might be difficult for people who haven't come across Beppo
earlier to imagine it to be an 18th century work!

Bharath.

William Grey said...

It's a nineteenth century work actually. Byron (1788-1824) published Beppo
in 1818. This verse form is marvellous for discursive poetry: an argument
is developed in the first six lines (ababab) followed by a conclusion which
is punched home in the concluding couplet (cc) of the stanza. A.D. Hope
(1907-200) used this Byronic verse form to excellent effect: it rolls on
and on wonderfully. A fine example is Hope's 'Conversation with Calliope'
-- unfortunately too long for Minstrels.

William Grey

Bryan Alexander said...

Speaking of blindness and sight (and old-school versus new-school), I
was just puzzling over a Stevie Wonder song (he was blinded soon after
birth), "Golden Lady," in which the lover sings, "Looking in your eyes /
Kind of heaven eyes / Closing both my eyes / Waiting for surprise / To
see the heaven in your eyes is not so far . . . ." There is a similarity
between Wonder's "Closing both my eyes" and Milton's "Her face was
veil'd, yet to my fancied sight". In short, I would say that both
poets suggest that the organ we call the eyeball grants a form of seeing
that pales in comparison to the sight that's rooted in fancies, dreams
and keeping-in-mind.

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