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The effectiveness of the texture the poet created is suggested by
Elizabeth Barrett Browning™s response to his depiction of Napoleon™s
ex-wife as she recalled the passage in a letter to Miss Mitford in ±·:
˜Do you remember Lord Byron™s bitter lines, said bitterly while Marie
Louise leant upon the arm of Napoleon™s conqueror? . . . They have never
past from my memory since I read them. There is something hardening,
I fear, in power “ even if there is not in pomp!™ Her sense of redou-
bled bitterness tells us that Byron succeeded in turning Popean polish
into an unyielding brassy hardness encasing both a personal and public
disillusionment. For a moment, The Age of Bronze solidi¬ed Byron™s di-
gressive play into the shining contours of an urn. It needs, however, to
be read in dialogue with the other poems of the same period if we are to
be alert to the urgent variability of Byron™s art in the months before he,
like Prospero, relinquished his books.
The Island was begun just after Byron had sent The Age of Bronze to Mary
Shelley for copying. After the roughened and masculinised Popean cou-
plets of The Age of Bronze, this later poem uses its opening lines to signal
a change of course: ˜the vessel lay / her course, and gently made her
liquid way™ (ll. ± “). The Island is explicitly about a feminine course of
action, moving through a methodical consideration of different male
heroes (Bligh, Christian, Torquil) towards the resourceful heroism of
˜this daughter of the Southern Seas, / Herself a billow in her energies™
(ll. ±± “).° Whereas The Age of Bronze deploys the cynical voice of the
male libertine wit (Cleopatra ˜lured™ Anthony (l. °)), The Island exem-
pli¬es Byron™s ability to write sympathetically about individual women
who were not known to him, but imagined.± Byron took care that his
retelling of the story of The Mutiny of the Bounty should not fall into a pre-
dictable anti-revolutionary reception. He wrote to answer Leigh Hunt™s
comments on the work in progress:

I have two things to avoid “ the ¬rst that of running foul of my own ˜Corsair™
and style “ so as to produce repetition and monotony “ and the other not to run
counter to the reigning stupidity altogether “ otherwise they will say that I am
eulogizing Mutiny. “ This must produce tameness in some degree “ but recollect
that I am merely trying to write a poem a little above the usual run of periodical
poesy. (BLJ, , p. °)

None of the poem™s most recent commentators examines its relationship
to The Age of Bronze or considers how Byron turns between different
±
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
communities of reader for each poem. Often read as an escapist idyll,
The Island separates itself from Byron™s famous narrative of female rescue
in The Corsair through a poetic surface that promises pleasant songs and
liquid lays, but does not, quite, lull its readers into escapist reverie.
Fragments of The Age of Bronze keep turning up to shadow the carefree
islanders with trouble. The ˜lovely . . . forms™ (©©. l. µ) of Toobonai are
placed in the past, ˜Before the winds blew Europe o™er these climes™
(©©. l. ), and the poet insists that readers should identify an elegiac, rather
than escapist melody: ˜Who such would see, may from his lattice view /
The Old World more degraded than the New, “ / Now new no more™
(©©. ll. ·“µ). Torquil is introduced as a potential hero:
Placed in the Arab™s clime, he would have been
As bold a rover as the sands have seen,
And braved their thirst with as enduring lip
As Ishmael, wafted on his desart-ship;
Fixed upon Chili™s shore, a proud Cacique;
On Hellas™ mountains, a rebellious Greek;
Born in a tent, perhaps a Tamerlane;
Bred to a throne, perhaps un¬t to reign.
(©©. ll. ±·“)

His various alter-egos begin with general, mythic allusions but gradually
edge closer to home. With the mention of hereditary monarchs ˜perhaps
un¬t to reign™, the contemporary allusions of satire begin to make incur-
sions on the shores of the idyll, especially if readers catch the echoes of
this passage from The Age of Bronze:
The Athenian wears again Harmodius™ sword;
The Chili chief abjures his foreign lord;
The Spartan knows himself once more a Greek;
Young Freedom plumes the crest of each Cacique;
Debating despots, hemmed on either shore,
Shrink vainly from the roused Atlantic™s roar.
(ll. ·“±)

In The Island the sound of idealistic philhellenism works to rupture the
charm of its Edenic seclusion. An ironic awareness that we have been
sucking on ˜pamby™ pleasures is enhanced a few lines later by direct au-
thorial interpolation: ˜Thou smilest, . . . Thou smilest? “ Smile; ™tis better
thus than sigh™ (©©. ll. ±“°±). Byron™s digressive interruptions to his nar-
rative™s celebration of natural harmony and love were noted by reviewers.
More than one was upset by the intrusion of Ben Bunting™s pipe-smoke
into the poem and the sudden descent into nautical swearing; others,
± Byron, Poetics and History
however, recorded their determination not to be ˜surprised™ by Byron™s
irregularities. Having found The Age of Bronze to ˜bear the features™ of
Byron™s muse (˜careless and unequal, vigorous and caustic™), The Monthly
Review took it for granted that there would be ˜many blemishes of style™
in The Island and duly singled out examples of the ˜prosaic and bad™.
The New European objected to
examples of doggrel, and incongruity, and bathos, and carelessness, which are
crowded into almost every page . . . Low jokes and bad jesting, imitations of
Crabbe, and morbid misanthropy, now usurp the places of better feeling, and
elegant Poesy. The spectres only of former successful exploits now ¬‚it athwart
his pages. (RR, B: , p. ±·°)

This sense of being haunted by earlier poems is, as we have seen, part
of the digressive texture of Byron™s late works. With the exception of the
New European which was wholly critical, reviewers of The Island attempted
to isolate Byron™s ˜beauties™ from contamination by strange contrasts and
abruptness. Throughout his career, Byron™s textual rendition of multi-
plicity baf¬‚ed his readers. Almost as an answer to the ˜system™ which his
reviewers perceived, Byron™s last poems create still further a digressive
palimpsest in which the controversies of his years of fame are juxtaposed
with multiple future identities. The Island imagines various ends for its
heroes: Bligh dreams of ˜Old England™s welcome shore™ (©. l. ±) before
the mutiny which translates him into the avenging wrath of English law.
Christian contemplates his end: ˜“I am in Hell”™ (©. l. ±) before his sui-
cidal plunge from ˜wounded, weary form™ into formlessness (©. l. ·).
Torquil wonders whether he has been brought by Neuha to the rock
to die before he plunges into the sea and (for his pursuers) melts into
legend. Finally he is welcomed ˜as a son restored™ (©. l. °), the image
of Byron™s heroic return that both Kinnaird and Hobhouse treasured,
but never saw.
The Island is a verse romance that keeps interpolating other frames of
reference so as to keep the reader awake with ˜uncommon place™. Christian™s
violent death shatters the language of natural harmony associated with
the island (the rocks below received like glass / His body crushed into
one gory mass™ (©. ll. ± “)) until the last traces of human trouble are
effaced (˜But calm and careless heaved the wave below, / Eternal with un-
sympathetic ¬‚ow™ (©. ll. ·“)). In this way, the undertow of the couplet
measures even as it resists ˜the clock™s funereal chime / Which deals the
daily pittance of our span™ (©©. ll. “µ°). The reader is not allowed to set-
tle into one perspective. Fantasy and practicality are entwined in the cave
±µ
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
section as the poem offers its readers the ˜fantastic shell™ of Mermen and
the tasty ¬‚esh inside the turtle shell (possibly the same turtle we watched
hatching from its shell at the beginning of the canto: ©. ll. ; ±·± “;
±). Disconcertingly, the rapturous embrace of Torquil and Neuha is
shadowed by the stark loss and deprivation of Pope™s ˜Eloisa to Abelard™:
enough that all within that cave
Was Love, though buried strong as in the grave
Where Abelard, through twenty years of death,
When Eloisa™s form was lowered beneath
Their nuptial vault, his arms outstretched, and prest
The kindling ashes to his kindled breast.
(©. ll. ± “)

This allusion breaks into the illusion of their young love, not only by
reminding the reader of mutilation and separation, but also because it
holds an uncanny echo of the mordant view of revolutionary hope in
The Age of Bronze:
The infant world redeems her name of ˜New™.
™Tis the old aspiration breathed afresh
To kindle souls within degraded ¬‚esh.
(ll. ·“)

˜Kindling™ is a preoccupation of both The Age of Bronze and The Island: it
represents that moment when form changes and is, of course, associated
most strongly with sparks of freedom. Byron™s use of it in both these
poems may be in¬‚ected by Eloisa™s erotic resistance: ˜I view my crime, but
kindle at the view™ (l. ±µ). The Island plays with the mood of unrepentant
transition, teasing the reader by drawing out the moment before the
turn (whether in the plot, or in the line) as with the mutineer who enacts
Byron™s habit of digressive interruption:
“ at times would stand, then stoop
To pick a pebble up “ then let it drop “
Then hurry as in haste “ then quickly stop “
Then cast his eyes on his companions “ then
Half whistle half a tune, and pause again “
And then his former movements would redouble,
With something between carelessness and trouble.
This is a long description, but applies
To scarce ¬ve minutes past before the eyes;
But yet what minutes! Moments like to these
Rend men™s lives into immortalities.
(©©©. ll. ±±°“°)
± Byron, Poetics and History
Manfred™s consciousness of being ˜plough™d by moments, not by years™ is
here revisited in the context of self-re¬‚exive narrative rather than mental
theatre. Byron™s use of caesuras emphasises an urgent and self-regarding
discontinuity. The half-whistled tune recalls the half untold tale in The
Age of Bronze. Both poems thematise the uncertainty which is also Byron™s
poetic texture.
As the line endings shift from masculine to feminine rhymes, the poem
itself re¬‚ects on a moment which is also a turning point in the poet™s ca-
reer. ˜The Island is much admired & if you choose ever to come back
into our cloudy country I have no doubt you may carry all before you™,
Hobhouse wrote to Byron in July ±. But while Byron™s verse ex-
periments played out different versions of the future, he had selected
another course (albeit one always shadowed with the other possibili-
ties). The main characters in The Deformed Transformed “ Caesar, Arnold,
Bourbon “ play with the role of leader, and the various versions of the
future Byron offers his readers are literally rendered in the scene where
Arnold chooses his new (old) form. The Age of Bronze lays Napoleon to rest
only to rake over his ashes one more time: ˜(. . . But no, “ their embers
soon will burst the mould)™ (l. ·µ). In the penultimate stanza of The Island,
Neuha sees a sail and imagines another ending: ˜With ¬‚uttering fear, her
heart beat thick and high, / While yet a doubt sprung where its course
might lie: / But no! it came not™ (©. ll. ·“°).µ Perpetually haunted by
other possibilities, the idyllic resolution of the poem remains strangely
inconclusive.
The speed at which Byron was composing and the verbal overlaps be-
tween these last works encourage us to read them as digressive off-shoots
from each other. He translates the ˜common ark™ in which ˜Church, state,
and faction, wrestle in the dark™ (ll. “) into Bligh™s ˜ark™ and then
into the ˜slender ark™ of Neuha and Torquil. Their feast in the ˜yet infant
world™ at the end of The Island is recon¬gured in the Whig banquets in
the last cantos of Don Juan, in which Byron multiplied the possibility of
a female hero by three, and continued, as the Monthly Review lamented,
˜without much regard to that censure of the kind of colouring, expression,
hint, and allusion in which the author indulges, that has been bestowed
on this poem by the public™.
But readerly responses to Byron™s poetry might, in a curious way, have
been more regarded than the reviewers thought. Galignani™s Messenger for
 October, ± (no. ) carried a long extract from The Siege of Corinth
which ended with these words:
±·
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
™Tis still a watch-word to the earth:
When man would do a deed of worth,
He points to Greece and turns to tread,
So sanctioned, on the tyrant™s head; [— Macbeth ©. . l. µ]
He looks to her, and rushes on
Where life is lost or freedom won.
This was not the only time that Byron™s early poetry returned in the
context of the Greek struggle for independence; ˜The Isles of Greece™
lyric from Don Juan was also extracted from its rather negative context,
and reprinted to encourage their readers™ sympathy with the liberation
movement. We cannot gauge what Byron™s response to the re-emergence
of his early verse might have been, but his lyric ˜On this day I complete
my thirty sixth year™ gives us some indication of how far his philhellenism
in ± oscillated between irony and idealism:
Awake ! (not Greece “ She is awake!)
Awake my spirit “ think through whom
Thy life blood tracks its parent lake
And then strike home!
The digressive aside which interrupts this lyric yields a penultimate in-
stance of Byron™s refusal to succumb entirely to abstraction. The paren-
thesis is a sudden reminder of another more matter-of-fact perspective
which the poem opens even as it seems to be withdrawing from its read-
ers. The throwaway remark is actually working very hard: the words
offer the re¬‚ex of Romantic irony™s check on lyric exaltation, assurance
(to Hobhouse and the Greek Committee), a challenge (to the Illiberals
of The Courier) and a rueful aside to a Greek boy who would probably
never read the poem. At once ironically detached and committed to a
world of particular accidents and delights, they epitomise the way in
which Byron™s digressions allow us to enjoy the exquisite performance
of historical uncertainty “ ˜something between carelessness and trouble™
or, ˜like a system coupled with a doubt™ (©. ), Don Juan™s last glass of
champagne.
Notes




I NTRO D UC T I ON
± BLJ, ©©, p. ±; CPW, ©, p. ±.
 HLRO, Proxy Book ±±, vol. ±, p. ±·.
 Stuart Curran, Poetic Form and British Romanticism (New York: Oxford
University Press, ±).
 Edinburgh Review µ° (±“°), “·.
µ The Globe and Traveller, no. · (° June ±). The ¬nal stanza was later
revised to emphasise a singular instant of ¬nality: ˜an awful tale of greatness
o™er™ (The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London: Henry Frowde,
±°), pp. µ“).
 The Works of Mrs Hemans with a Memoir of her Life by her Sister, · vols. (Edinburgh
and London: Blackwood and Cadell, ±), ©, p. ±·. For a reading of
the feminised poetics of the poem, see Jerome J. McGann, The Poetics
of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±),
pp. ±°“.
· Jerome J. McGann, Fiery Dust: Byron™s Poetic Development (Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, ±), p. ·.
 The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin,  vols. (London:
Longman, ±µ), ©©, pp. “·.
 See, for example, Philip W. Martin, Byron: A Poet Before His Public (Cambridge
University Press, ±).
±° Nigel Leask: British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire (Cambridge
University Press, ±), p. .

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