Saturday, 25 August 2018

Byron, Keatsy, Shezza and Co.

Here we go. The Romantics! Just for amusement's sake I consulted 'Poetry For Dummies' to see what it might have to say about Byron, Keatsy, Shezza and their ilk. The entry commenced: "People in the Romantic period weren't any more inclined to love than those in other periods." That had me laughing into my breakfast coffee!

Actually, it continued in a more sensible manner to explain the label 'Romantic' in the following terms: "Romantic came to mean a new, often revolutionary outlook, emphasising the importance of personal emotions, innovation in ideas and the use of language, an appreciation of nature and a feeling for new beginnings. Some of these developments came about as a reaction to the industrial revolution."

That's a reasonable summation, though the latter phrase reminds me of "the industrious revelation", Philomena Cunk's tremendously funny malapropism from her spoof 'History of Britain' documentary.

What might the obtuse Ms Cunk have made of John Keats (dead at 25), Percy Bysshe Shelley (dead at 29) and George Gordon Byron (dead at 36)?  I imagine something like this:

All joking aside, your Saturday Blogger has a lot of time for the poetry of Keats in particular and to  a lesser degree Shelley, though not much for Byron. As to the other leading lights of the Romantic movement, the ones who didn't die young, it's perhaps heretical to say I'm not overly fond of Coleridge or old 'Father' Wordsworth either, but it's true.

Of the six who are generally labelled 'The Romantics', I hold William Blake (1757-1827) in the highest regard. He is one of my all-time favourites - artist, philosopher, poet, prophet, social campaigner and visionary. The poet and scholar Kathleen Raine, who has written about Blake extensively, calls him "our one national prophet" and "the supreme poet of his native city" (London, of course). I wouldn't argue with either epithet. Blake can also be seen as an early opponent of materialism (and its associated ills), the predecessor of modern psychology and an embodiment (two hundred years ahead of the curve) of 'New Age' thinking - quite a guy; and most people only know him for 'Jerusalem' and 'The Tyger' which is a great shame.

Mention of London (which I am visiting this week-end) leads neatly to today's newly-forged poem. In 1802, Wordsworth wrote a famous and much-loved work (because it's in 'The Nation's Favourite Poems' - as polled and published by the BBC) entitled Upon Westminster Bridge. Time to revisit the bridge, I think:

Upon Westminster Bridge (Again)
This is where Wordsworth stood one morning
Just as the nineteenth century was dawning
And wrote his rose-tinted sonnet (of sorts)
In praise of the greatest city on earth.

Actually, that's not strictly true.
For the bridge he then stood on (aged thirty two)
Barely outlived him. It was subsiding badly
And proved expensive to maintain. Sadly

A decade after Wordsworth died
It was pulled down brick by brick and replaced
By the seven-arched cast-iron edifice
Which spans the tide of the Thames today.

As for his majestic city, he'd be staggered
To see how wide, how high it's grown.
He might even find it beautiful still
Though its mighty heart never stopped lying!

I know it's not the sense he meant to convey,
But check out the last lines of his iconic verse*
And tell me if there's not an ironic twist or worse
That a post-truth interpretation can overlay
As scandal rocks the Royal Docks
And the Mother of Parliaments goes awry.

* Those lines read as follows:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

By the way, if you haven't discovered Philomena Cunk yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Thanks for reading, Steve :-)


Boz said...

I watched Cunk on Shakespeare and thought that was quite amusing. I agree with you about Keats and Blake (keep) and the rest of the romantics (dump). I'm surprised you've got a copy of Poetry for Dummies though!

Steve Rowland said...

Poetry for Dummies has pride of place on the yellow shelf between Pilates for Dummies and Ventriloquism for Dummies ;-)

Seriously, I borrowed it from a friend (not a dummy).

Anonymous said...

Very good Steve. Your blogs are always most entertaining. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

I know you said this was tongue-in-cheek but I think your poem is quite thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Wordsworth having a 'rose-tinted' view of the world (as you put it). He still wrote some great poetry though.

PJ said...

We had to do the Ancient Mariner at school and that put me off Coleridge and the romantics for life. You make an interesting case for Blake. I'll try reading some of his work. Recommendations?

Steve Rowland said...

PJ - I'd definitely start with 'Songs of Experience'.

LG said...

Love your blogs Steve. Always beautifully written. I'm not sure I always get some of your poems - this one for instance: about the rise and fall of empire is it?

Anonymous said...

Clever spoof of La Cunk. Enjoyed your poem too.

Tom Shaw said...

"And the mother of parliaments goes awry" - bloody prescient.