Tag Archives: Manfred

#FlashFictionFriday: Lord Byron: Manfred, a Theater of the Mind

Bad poetry can be written by anyone, but writing great poetry takes a certain genius. Words are bent and shaped by poets to evoke meanings, bent and formed into precise shapes. We novelists and writers of short fiction have the luxury of creating a long narrative. In poetry, the author intentionally limits space, forcing the poet to write within narrow constraints. Thus, allegory, allusion, and indirection are common motifs in poetry.

Poetry doesn’t always rhyme and it frequently involves complicated aesthetics that are both auditory and visual. This is because the reader may not always be reading the poem aloud, and so the visual art of the piece comes into play.

Sometimes, poetry is long, epic in actuality. Consider Manfred, by George Gordon, Lord Byron (From Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge): Manfred: A dramatic poem is a poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. (end quoted text)

Byron himself referred to his works as “closet dramas,” since they were intended more for the theater of the mind than the actual theater.

Excerpt from Manfred

When the moon is on the wave,
And the glow-worm in the grass,
And the meteor on the grave,
And the wisp on the morass;
When the falling stars are shooting,
And the answer’d owls are hooting,
And the silent leaves are still
In the shadow of the hill,
Shall my soul be upon thine,
With a power and with a sign.

Though thy slumber may be deep,
Yet thy spirit shall not sleep;
There are shades which will not vanish,
There are thoughts thou canst not banish;
By a power to thee unknown,
Thou canst never be alone;
Thou art wrapt as with a shroud,
Thou art gather’d in a cloud;
And for ever shalt thou dwell
In the spirit of this spell.

Though thou seest me not pass by,
Thou shalt feel me with thine eye
As a thing that, though unseen,
Must be near thee, and hath been;
And when in that secret dread
Thou hast turn’d around thy head,
Thou shalt marvel I am not
As thy shadow on the spot,
And the power which thou dost feel
Shall be what thou must conceal.

And a magic voice and verse
Hath baptiz’d thee with a curse;
And a spirit of the air
Hath begirt thee with a snare;
In the wind there is a voice
Shall forbid thee to rejoice;
And to thee shall night deny
All the quiet of her sky;
And the day shall have a sun,
Which shall make thee wish it done.

From thy false tears I did distil
An essence which hath strength to kill;
From thy own heart I then did wring
The black blood in its blackest spring;
From thy own smile I snatch’d the snake,
For there it coil’d as in a brake;
From thy own lip I drew the charm
Which gave all these their chiefest harm;
In proving every poison known,
I found the strongest was thine own.

By thy cold breast and serpent smile,
By thy unfathom’d gulfs of guile,
By that most seeming virtuous eye,
By thy shut soul’s hypocrisy;
By the perfection of thine art
Which pass’d for human thine own heart;
By thy delight in others’ pain,
And by thy brotherhood of Cain,
I call upon thee! and compel
Thyself to be thy proper Hell!

And on thy head I pour the vial
Which doth devote thee to this trial;
Nor to slumber, nor to die,
Shall be in thy destiny;
Though thy death shall still seem near
To thy wish, but as a fear;
Lo! the spell now works around thee,
And the clankless chain hath bound thee;
O’er thy heart and brain together
Hath the word been pass’d–now wither!

 

And a “theater of the mind” is what Byron’s work sparks in me.

The Poetry Foundation says this about George Gordon, Lord Byron:

In his dynamism, sexuality, self-revelation, and demands for freedom for oppressed people everywhere, Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few writers have, stamping upon nineteenth-century letters, arts, politics, even clothing styles, his image and name as the embodiment of Romanticism.


Sources and Attributions:

Quote from: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/lord-byron © 2017 Poetry Foundation, accessed August 25, 2017

Manfred – Lord Byron. Poem originally published 1816, portion republished March 2, 2015 by Hanson, Marilee, accessed August 25, 2017|Hanson, Marilee. “Manfred – Lord Byron Poem” https://englishhistory.net/byron/poems/manfred/, March 2, 2015

Wikipedia contributors, “Lord Byron,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lord_Byron&oldid=796893308(accessed August 25, 2017)

Lord Byron in Albanian dress, painted by Thomas Phillips in 1813. Venizelos Mansion, Athens (the British Ambassador’s residence) via Wikimedia Commons, accessed August 25, 2017.

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Filed under #FlashFictionFriday, Poetry

But what about poetry?

ode to the west wind-shelleyI love poetry because I love the many ways words can be manipulated on a blank page. To me, poetry is something beautiful and visually simple, a thing that looks like it should be uncomplicated. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

I guarrantee you, this post will not scratch the surface of why poetry is so much more than naughty limericks (which I do know a great many of and which are quite hilarious).

Bad poetry can be written by anyone, but writing great poetry takes a certain genius–I don’t consider myself a poet, although I do sometimes feel compelled to attempt poetry.

Poetry doesn’t always rhyme and it frequently involves complicated aesthetics that are both auditory and visual. This is because the reader may not always be reading the poem aloud, and so the visual art of the piece comes into play.

Sometimes, poetry is long, epic in actuality. Consider Manfred, by George Gordon, Lord Byron (From Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge): Manfred: A dramatic poem is a poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. (end quoted text)

Byron himself referred to his works as “closet dramas,” since they were intended more for the theater of the mind than the actual theater.

manfred-lord byronExcerpt from Act III, scene I of Manfred

There is a calm upon me–
Inexplicable stillness! which till now
Did not belong to what I knew of life.
If that I did not know philosophy
To be of all our vanities the motliest, 10
The merest word that ever fool’d the ear
From out the schoolman’s jargon, I should deem
The golden secret, the sought ‘Kalon,’ found,
And seated in my soul. It will not last,
But it is well to have known it, though but once.

And a “theater of the mind” is what Byron’s work sparks in me.

Words are bent and shaped by poets to evoke meanings, bent and formed into precise shapes. We novelists and writers’ of short fiction have the luxury of creating a long narrative. In poetry, space is intentionally limited by the author, forcing the the poet to write within narrow constraints. Thus, allegory, allusion, and indirection are common motifs in poetry.

Traditional forms have precise constraints: Sonnets are fourteen lines, following a set rhyme scheme and logical structure. Sonnets use iambic pentameter, which is characterized by the familiar “da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum” cadence of five sets of syllables.

Even in free verse, one must pay attention to the meter, the basic rhythmic structure  of a piece, the rhythm and cadence of the syllables. A clear example of this can be found in Walt Whitman’s poems, where he repeats certain phrases and uses commas to create both a rhythm and structure.

I love the poem,  When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, written in free verse in 206 lines. Whitman used many of the literary techniques associated with the pastoral elegy. He composed it during the summer of 1865, a period of profound national mourning. The country was reeling in the aftermath of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, that occurred on April 14, 1865.

Despite the poem being an elegy to the fallen president, Whitman neither mentions Lincoln by name nor does he mention the circumstances of his death. Instead, Whitman used allegory–symbolic imagery:  the lilacs, a falling star in the western sky which was the planet Venus, and a shy bird, the hermit thrush. It is most definitely an elegy because he employed what scholars consider the traditional progression of the pastoral elegy: moving from grief toward an acceptance and knowledge of death.

It is is a beautiful poem, and is one I often return to. Lines 18-22 of Whitman’s leaves of grass-whitman When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d:

In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

And how has poetry evolved into the 21st century? For one unique direction of evolution check out the works of Seattle poet, Bill Carty on Pinwheel

For more famous contemporary poets, check out 31 Contemporary Poets You Need to Read.

I have always been a fan of the classic masters: Dickinson, Browning, the Brontë sisters, Byron, Shelley, Frost, Whitman. Wordsworth, and my beloved Yeats, among many.  I was raised in a home with their works proudly displayed on the bookshelves in the living-room, massive tooled-leather volumes from Grolier, smelling of romance and ideas.

I didn’t always understand the works of the great poets, and I still don’t–but I love them.

I leave you with a rhyming poem, The Song of the old Mother by William Butler Yeats:

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their days go over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.

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