27 March 2006

More Monday Byron

I have spent much of the last month working on a proposal, and so have neglected this site. To not let it just lie fallow, I return to Byron’s Don Juan.

Canto II shows the cynical Byron at his world-weariest. Thus, verse 4:
Well – well, the world must turn upon its axis,
And all mankind turn with it, heads or tails,
And live and die, make love and pay our taxes,
And as the veering wind shifts, shift our sails.
The king commands us, and the doctor quacks us,
The priest instructs, and so our life exhales,
A little breath, love, wine, ambition, fame,
Fighting, devotion, dust – perhaps a name.
And yet, that name means much to the poet. In Canto IV, verse 106, he notes:
Yet there will still be bards.  Though fame is smoke,
Its fumes are frankincense to human thought;
And the unquiet feelings, which first woke
Song in the world, will seek what then they sought.
Back in Canto II, Byron’s advice on getting through it all is blunt. In verse 179:
Man being reasonable must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication.
Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men and of every nation;
Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of life’s strange tree, so fruitful on occasion.
But to return. Get very drunk, and when
You wake with headache, you shall see what then.

13 March 2006

Monday with Byron the Blogger

Hidden away in Canto XIV of Lord Byron’s Don Juan is a verse (the seventh, to be precise) that would be apt in any modern blog.
But what’s this to the purpose, you will say.
Gent. Reader, nothing, a mere speculation,
For which my sole excuse is, ‘tis my way.
Sometimes with and sometimes without occasion
I write what’s uppermost without delay.
This narrative is not meant for narration,
But a mere airy and fantastic basis
To build up common things with commonplaces.
Not far from this, in the sixteenth verse, is an appropriately political entry in which Byron proves that he can craft the kind of blue-state complaint about the current administration that could adorn a modern liberal blog.
With much to excite, there’s little to exalt,
Nothing that speaks to all men and all times,
A sort of varnish over every fault,
A kind of commonplace even in their crimes,
Factitious passions, wit without much salt,
A want of that true nature which sublimes
Whate’er it shows with truth, a smooth monotony
Of character, in those at least who have got any.