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Showing posts from January, 2014

Broken Landscapes and Eroded Views in Beachy Head

Somewhat disturbingly, the last time I blogged on Charlotte Smith's Beachy Head (which doesn't seem all that long ago to me) was over two years ago, when I set the poem on a module at NUI Maynooth. This week, hopefully with some success, I again paired Beachy Head with Barbauld's Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, and there was some really good discussion in seminars.

One thing that came up repeatedly was a sense that Beachy Head is structurally disjointed. That's broadly the argument I made in my 2011 blog, suggesting that the poem was continually self-interrupting, breaking across a series of different modes of nature-poetry, and preventing 'a landscape unified under poetic mimesis….every view has a reverse angle, and there is something beyond, under or invisible to every glance.'As the students pointed out the various joins, I began to notice things that I hadn't before. This early stanza, for instance, is by far the shortest in a poem of irregular stanzas:*

First Love and Tragic Idealisms: Don Juan Cantos II-IV

There are several ways that Byron weaves epic conventions into his sprawling, open-ended anti-epic Don Juan. The satirical and subversive ones are the most obvious (the hero motif, riffs on length, etc.), but on re-reading the poem - perhaps because I've recently been working on Byron and Christianity - it's the potentially more serious evocations of Paradise Lost across Cantos II, III and IV that have caught my attention. What Byron seems to do in certain intense lyric stretches is to recapitulate the Edenic mythos with a tender but sensuous eroticism. That is, he fuses the epic and the intimate:
The gentle pressure and the thrilling touch,
The least glance better understood than words,
Which still said all and ne'er could say too much,
A language too, but like to that of birds,
(IV.14) It is an open question, I think, as to whether the romance inscribed here is one ideal genuinely untouched by Byron's incessant scepticism in the poem. Certainly, it lacks the mockery …