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fruitless page™ (l. ). ˜All is exploded™ (l. ) begins the second section in
which Byron again gestures to the political ˜Titans™ Pitt and Fox ˜with a
dashing sea / Of eloquence between™ now shrunken to ˜a few feet / Of
sullen earth™ to ˜divide each winding sheet™ (ll. ±µ“°). The image of the
tomb which ˜preserves its form™ (l. ) stands from the beginning of the
poem as a reminder of terminal formal constraint. The couplets in this
work produce neither decorous restraint nor epigrammatic polish, but
a relentless legislative chartering. ˜Lotted™ is the word used by Byron to
± Byron, Poetics and History
suggest that “ like Napoleon™s rations “ human existence is controlled by
Congress. Rhymes (especially quasi-hudibrastic ones) force the reader to
count every syllable of that constraint.
The dynamics of the Southey stanza, like odd moments in Don Juan
canto ©©, reveal why at this point in his career Byron exchanged ottava
rima for the couplet:
But now I™m going to be immoral; now
I mean to show things really as they are,
Not as they ought to be: for I avow,
That till we see what™s what in fact, we™re far
From much improvement with that virtuous plough
Which skims the surface, leaving scarce a scar
Upon the black loam long manured by Vice,
Only to keep its corn at the old price.
(©©. °)

The run of monosyllabic words in this stanza emphasises the hardening
of tone and a restriction of the playful dynamics of ottava rima. The desire
to show ˜what™s what in fact™ demands that little or no room be left
for readerly discrimination. Skimming the surface is the readerly process
that Byron™s poetry usually invites, but in late ± the decision to publish
˜on his own account™ necessitated a more authoritative gesture (however
hollow that authority became in transmission). Canto ©© is punctuated
with digressions which signal a reinvigorated authorial independence
and an awareness of new beginnings:
But now I will begin my poem (©©. µ)
You™ll attack
Perhaps this new position “ but I™m right;
Or if I™m wrong, I™ll not be ta™en aback
(©©. ·±)

Here the twelfth Canto of our introduction
Ends. When the body of the book™s begun,
You™ll ¬nd it of a different construction
From what some people say ™twill be when done.
(©©. ·)

The digressions of canto ©© draw attention to the discrepancy between
liberation on a small scale (from ˜customers among the Orthodox™) and
economic enslavement on a larger scale (as the rami¬cations of ˜“Political
Economy”™ grow more pressing). This narrative technique highlights the
construction of systems and how they are sustained “ such as parliament:
±·
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
˜™Tis not mere splendour makes the show august / To eye or heart “ it
is the people™s trust™ (©©. ). Likewise, Byron acknowledges the reader™s
independence of his system: ˜I can™t oblige you, reader! to read on; /
That™s your affair, not mine™ (©©. ·). As Malcolm Kelsall has pointed
out, the interrogation of all systems carries within it the possibility of
terminal irony. The poem, however, is aware of this nihilistic path and
chooses another form.
The turn to heroic couplets in The Age of Bronze and The Island repre-
sents the working out of a corrosive irony that might otherwise have
pervaded Don Juan much in the way Kelsall describes. Canto ©©© con-
tinues the wry view of parliament as the home of meaningless utilitarian
abstraction, but at the same time it alerts us to the danger of producing
in both reader and poet a tendency to let idealism lapse into careless
comedy, and like Cervantes, allow ˜noblest views™ to become ˜mere
Fancy™s sport™ (©©©. ±°):
I should be very willing to redress
Men™s wrongs, and rather check than punish crimes,
Had not Cervantes in that too true tale
Of Quixote, shown how all such efforts fail.
Of all tales ™tis the saddest “ and more sad,
Because it makes us smile: his hero™s right,
And still pursues the right; to curb the bad,
His only object, and ™gainst odds to ¬ght,
His guerdon: ™tis his virtue makes him mad!
But his adventures form a sorry sight; “
A sorrier still is the great moral taught
By that real Epic unto all who have thought.
(©©©. “)

In this way, Byron™s wry consideration of Cervantes is more complex than
Ruskin™s accusation that either Don Juan or Don Quixote killed idealism:
If you were to ask me who of all powerful and popular writers in the cause of
error had wrought most harm to their race, I should hesitate in reply whether to
name Voltaire, or Byron, or the last most ingenious and most venomous of the
degraded philosophers of Germany [Schopenhauer], or rather Cervantes, for
he cast scorn upon the holiest principles of humanity “ he, of all men . . . helped
to change loyalty into license, protection into plunder, truth into treachery,
chivalry into sel¬shness.·

Ruskin imagines that culture is entirely in the hands of the poet while
Byron sees it resting with his readers (˜all who have thought™). His playful
± Byron, Poetics and History
questioning about how meaning is constructed coexists within a narrative
which only continues by mutual consent:
And is there not Religion, and Reform,
Peace, War, the taxes, and what™s called the ˜Nation™?
The struggle to be Pilots in a storm?
The landed and the monied speculation?
(©©©. )

Characteristically, the narrator of Don Juan will always ˜leave the matter™
where he ¬nds it (©©. °); but The Age of Bronze does not permit the
space for re¬‚ection of Don Juan™s ababab lines and is more insistent that
readers should come to the point of the satire. When stanza ± turns to
˜noble Albion™, the frequency of marked digressive interruption forces the
reader into a position of troubled vigilance. Doubt is cast on the long list
of clich©d British achievements by quoting them and then interrupting
the citation:
˜And Waterloo “ and trade “ and “ (hush! not yet
A syllable of imposts or of debt) “
And ne™er (enough) lamented Castlereagh,
Whose pen-knife slit a goose-quill t™other day “
And “pilots who have weathered every storm” “
(But, no, not even for rhyme™s sake, name reform).™
(ll. µ“±)

It is in line with the anger of The Age of Bronze that the quotation of
Canning™s praise of Pitt is signalled where it is not in Don Juan: Popean
satire represents an obligatory sharpening of the reader™s ˜affair™ with
the poem while Don Juan allows the reader to forget, if he or she wishes.
Throughout its ·° lines, The Age of Bronze is more fretful and unforgiving
about lapses of attention. Its use of a quickly changing dialogue within the
heroic couplets recalls the impatient Pope of the ˜Epilogue to the Satires™
(±·), while the sustained ironic concentration on civilisation™s facade
draws some of its strength from Churchill™s ˜Dedication to the Sermons™.
Pope™s satire on paper credit in the ˜Epistle to Bathurst™ (˜Pregnant with
thousands ¬‚its the Scrap unseen, / And silent sells a King, or buys a
Queen™ (ll. ··“)) allows us to hear, however, the difference between
their economic critiques.
As Reuben A. Brower remarks about Pope: ˜ugly actualities . . . gain
force by the surface elegance of the diction™.·µ Byron™s verse in The Age of
Bronze deliberately eschews this surface elegance; stanza ±µ on ˜real paper
or imagined gold™ adopts a coarse register of body parts and a disturbingly
reductive portrait of Jewishness.· Although we can recognise Byron™s
±
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
forefathers in the Juvenalian tone of the satire, Nina Diakonova is right
to observe that in The Age of Bronze Byron is ˜both disciple and iconoclast,
rising from classicist abstractions to a realistic satirical portrayal of social
psychology and the laws of its evolution™.·· The Age of Bronze invokes Pope
to implicate readers in the achievement of modern civilisation. All the
generalised critical qualities associated with Popean satire “ polish, versa-
tility, feminine control “ are present in a corrupted form in the Congress
system itself.
Whereas Pope had deployed an antithetical style to dance between
two clearly de¬ned parties, ˜Papist or Protestant, or both between, /
Like good Erasmus in an honest Mean, / In Moderation placing all my
Glory, / While Tories call me Whig, and Whigs a Tory™ (Sat. ©©. i, ll. µ“),
Byron used Popean couplets in this late poem to embody a claustrophobic
mediocrity without the lively paradoxical implications of Pope™s ˜isthmus
of a middle state™.· Napoleon™s heroic extremity is now diminished to
existence in ˜this middle state, / Between a prison and a palace™ (ll. ·“);
he is one who can only ˜¬‚it between a dungeon and a throne™ (l. µ), and
his former wife ˜¬‚its amidst the phantoms of the hour™ (l. ·µ). Similarly,
Russia™s enlightened despot is presented ˜Now half dissolving to a liberal
thaw, / But hardened back whene™er the morning™s raw™ (ll. °“±).
Seemingly everything is caught ˜between those shifting rocks, / The new
Symplegades “ the crushing Stocks™ (ll. °“±) “ which Byron™s letters
reveal to have caught him as well. The Age of Bronze offers the sound of a
saw cutting off the seesaw on which the poet is sitting. Inbetweenness is
the object of the satire, rather than its elegant solution.·
Pope had used couplets for discrimination, judgement, measuring the
distance between things and framing an intelligible, connected order. In
The Age of Bronze, Byron worked across the space of the couplet to col-
lapse contemporary political distinctions (the Sovereigns are ˜alike, / A
common coin as ever mint could strike™ (ll. ·°“)), and to demean leg-
ends by cramping their gestures. Historical allusions are invoked only
to be re-embodied as pathetically limited physical entities.° Weinbrot,
Brower and Tillotson praise Pope™s synthesis of former traditions, the
moral purpose of his compound texture and the importance of connec-
tion in his variety.± Byron disconnects Pope™s smooth assimilation of
culture: Cleopatra enters the poem as a piece of cargo and even the
memory of her amorous conquest is tarnished (˜Though Cleopatra™s
mummy cross the sea, / O™er which from empire she lured Anthony™
(ll. “°)). The eagle that was Napoleon is ˜Reduced to nibble at his
narrow cage™ (l. µ). In discussing Don Juan, Paul Curtis provides a help-
ful summary of the way in which the concept of organisation changes
±° Byron, Poetics and History
between Pope™s and Byron™s writing:
The neo-classical poetry of Pope depends upon the image of time as a linear
(and spatial) construct. . . . Pope™s wit enables him ¬rstly to see (to know) time
and the literary tradition at a glance, and secondly to arrange artfully images
of temporal import . . . Byron dismantles the eighteenth-century aesthetic of
allusion as exempli¬ed in the poetry of Pope.
Any homage to Pope in The Age of Bronze is indeed ironised as the
poem wrenches lines from their untroubled celebration of sterling worth
into a new world of obfuscation and compromise. The mercurial bril-
liance of Pope™s friend Peterborough becomes the dubious ¬‚uctuation of
Montmorency™s career (˜He falls indeed, perhaps to rise again / “Almost
as quickly as he conquered Spain” ™ (ll. ·µ“)), and the erotic tenderness
of ˜Eloisa to Abelard™ becomes an index of the power of international
banks who ˜waft a loan “from Indus to the Pole” ™ (ll. ·). The poem
is therefore caught between a yearning for the clear de¬nition of heroic
value which beacons from Pope™s language and a knowledge that Pope™s
ability to order and energise culture antithetically is outdated. The Age
of Bronze borrows Pope™s disappointment at the failings of his own time
and adds its layer of exasperation at the shrinking relevance of a Popean
voice under a global political system which is crushing the cultural basis
for identity and difference.
Pope used couplets in The Dunciad to belittle mediocrity. In The Age
of Bronze, the same couplets are deployed to measure how mediocrity
reproduces itself (as Shelley saw). It is a hyper-self-conscious, doubly
ironic use of form. All the sparkling patterns of repetition which Pope
perfected to vary his lines are redeployed to mark the inescapable ironies
of tamed existence like Napoleon™s (˜smile™ (l. µ·); ˜But smile (l. ±); ˜How
must he smile (l. ±); ˜How must he smile (l. ); ˜the better-seeing shade
will smile™ (l. ±±)). The use of formal accomplishment to de¬ne the
horrors of the Congress™s ˜vast design™ is emphasised through triplets as
linguistic skill is debased:
There Chateaubriand forms new books of martyrs;
And subtle Greeks intrigue for stupid Tartars;
There Montmorency, the sworn foe to charters,
Turns a diplomatist of great eclˆ t,
a
To furnish articles for the ˜Debâts;™
(ll. ·±“°)

The rocking-horse motion which Hazlitt detected in Pope has become
expressive of the wearisome predictability of ˜kind[ling] souls within de-
graded ¬‚esh™ (l. ) as the ashes of old heroes are reheated. Repetition,
±±
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
the mode of the poem, marks a nauseating cultural condition. Masculine
rhymes and monosyllables limit the amount of time spent with this de-
based currency while feminine and ludicrous strained double rhymes
underline the inescapable lunacy of the system.
Frederick Beaty argues that the ˜desultory thoughts of this poem are
uni¬ed largely by the section on Napoleon™ (Byron the Satirist, p. ±·). On
the other hand, McGann ¬nds that ˜its centre is located in the passage
where Diogenes is invoked . . . as B™s classical surrogate and alter-ego™
(CPW, ©©, p. ±°). It may be, however, that Pope™s couplets are recalled
in order to highlight the lack of any centre or unifying heroic ¬gure. The
Age of Bronze, The Island and The Deformed Transformed all use multiple plot
lines, doubling heroes and plots that become shadowed by alternative
action, as if to debar the possibility of a single hero ever emerging.
In The Age of Bronze™s endless recycling of declines and falls, the re¬‚exes
of digression offer the reader the possibility of a fresh start, only to
remove it again. A signi¬cant proportion of stanzaic paragraphs begin
with ˜But™ (©©©, ©, ©©, ©©©, ©©, ©©), others begin ˜And what™, or ˜Or
turn™, or ˜Enough of this™ (©, , ©©). These are all verbal cues for
digressive interruption that we recognise from other poems; but in The
Age of Bronze, the idea of a liberating break away from the main plot
is rendered impossible by the weight of economic liabilities which hold
everything in place. Freedom™s awakened spark in the ˜infant world™ and
Greece and Spain is con¬ned between sections on the ˜girded™ Napoleon
and the ˜animated logs™ (l. °·) of Congress who are ˜crushing nations
with a stupid blow™ (l. °). The almost partyless Canning offers a glimpse
of independence (which is not the same as aristocratic individualism), but
the romantic ideal of Canning™s ˜poetic ¬‚ame™ (l. µµ±) is thwarted when he
is shown to be not fully in control of his royalist Pegasus: ˜The unwieldy
old White Horse is apt at last / To stumble, kick, and now and then stick
fast™ (ll. µ“µ).µ In this way, he is yet another unsatisfactory alter-ego,
like Napoleon, and an example of how the satire, having identi¬ed a
possible sign of promise, identi¬es the political inevitability of it stalling
and grinding to a halt.
Balked movement is a recurrent device in the poem. Enjambed cou-
plets begin to ¬‚ow more freely in order only to be brought up short. Pope™s
vigorous intestinal wars harden into ˜no movement™ between courses;
the walls of Verona girding their royal guests shrink to the kilt that girds
Sir William Curtis; monuments of patriotism and freedom are ¬tted
round the ˜gross sirloin™ (l. ··) of globalisation as it appeared in ±.
Coleridge had criticised the heroic couplets of Erasmus Darwin as ˜the
Russian palace of ice, glittering, cold and transitory™. That is exactly
± Byron, Poetics and History
what Byron insisted on as the form of The Age of Bronze: ˜this is a temporary
hit at Congress &c™, Byron told Kinnaird, insisting that the poem must
˜appear alone™.·

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