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Byron of this poem is at once “the greatest [and] the worst” of citizens
(st. ), the literary Alcibiades of his country. The anonymous lyrical
style delivers the famous poet over to his text, however, turning him into
a symbolic form. As such, the form is both beautiful and ineffectual “ the
very type of that dead knowledge that Manfred™s Faustian quest revealed
(“The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life”).
Byronic mobility, like Keats™s chameleonism, is therefore “a most
painful and unhappy attribute” in virtually every respect “ at least if acts
are to be measured in functional terms. The Byronic text stands aloof
from the dialectic of loss and gain, rewards and punishments, in which
it is yet so deeply “ so wholly “ involved. Its satanism rests ultimately in
that posture of aloofness, as if it were indifferent to questions of judgment
and valuation. Good and bad, better and worse, are terms to be evaded.
Like Byron™s Paolo and Francesca, the texts seek (and execute) some-
thing beyond our conceptual categories of judgment (whether moral or
aesthetic).
The land where I was born sits by the Seas
Upon that shore to which the Po descends
With all his followers in search of peace.

The speaker here is originally Francesca, but through the texts™ mas-
querade we translate that name into its immediate equivalent, Teresa.
Francesca of Rimini, Teresa of Ravenna: the text applies to both. In his
role as poet and as lover Byron is then textually disposed as Dante and
Paolo.±· In truth, however, the “Byron” of this ventriloquist work seeks a
gender translation as well, and identi¬es himself with Francesca as much
as he does with her poet and her lover.±
As in Byron™s equivalent text “To the Po,” the river here is a ¬gure of
intense and ceaseless passion “ Turgenev™s “torrent of spring.” All of the
river™s tributaries and “followers” ride this river toward an extinguishing
sea, where Lucretius™s Aphrodite stands observing her universe.
Love, which the gentle heart soon apprehends,
Seized him for the fair person which was ta™en
From me, and me even yet the mode offends.
Love, who to none beloved to love again
Remits, seized me with wish to please so strong
That, as thou seest, yet, yet, it doth remain.
±°
Byron and the anonymous lyric
Damnation itself has not quenched the passion that “Seized him” and
“seized me,” as the next two lines emphasize:

Love to one death conducted us along,
But Caina waits for him our life who ended.

Damned to hell herself, Francesca utters a cold prophetic curse upon
her murderer. But the persistence of her passion, and of her love, is only
underscored by the curse, which is the emblem of her Byronic satanism.
All these “Souls” are, in Byron™s nicely ambiguous translation,
“offended.” Dante/Byron has “such a sympathy” in these offenses of
love that he pursues his inquiry and deepens his identi¬cation:

We read one day for pastime, seated nigh,
Of Lancelot, how love enchain™d him too;
We were alone, quite unsuspiciously.
But oft our eyes met, and our cheeks in hue
All o™er discoloured by that reading were;
But one point only wholly us o™erthrew.
When we read the long-sighed-for smile of her
To be thus kissed by such a fervent lover,
He who from me can be divided ne™er
Kiss™d my mouth, trembling in the act all over.
Accursed was the book, and he who wrote.
That day no further leaf we did uncover.

The real force of this text depends upon our reading it is Byron™s “ as
yet a further event in an eternal story of abandoned love. The book of
the tale of Lancilot, Dante™s text, Byron™s: all are “Accursed” because all
are committed, in Byron™s view, to the immediate intensities of a mortal
life. Paolo weeps as Francesca tells her accursed tale, Dante “swooned
as dying” in sympathy with their condition, and Byron replays the entire
complex story in both his verse and his life.
Byron ¬nds himself, in ±°, in the same hell as Dante and the damned
lovers. As Virgil “ who will never achieve salvation “ leads Dante through
this hell, Byron internalizes the entire transaction. Becoming all the tex-
tual characters, Byron invents the myth of the po`te maudit, whose work
e
now falls under Francesca™s curse of love. In Byron™s text (unlike Dante™s),
the poet literally tells the tale of his own damnation, including the damna-
tion of his poetry. What is worse (from a moral and aesthetic point of
view), the text does not ask its readers to transvalue the values by which
it will be condemned. All is accursed. If a benevolent (and invisible) God
±±° Byron and Romanticism
watches over all the events in Dante™s text, and if this God reigns even
in the love-hell of Paolo and Francesca, the children of Byron™s text are
children of a lesser god. Byron™s anonymous and oneiric work takes pos-
sesion of all its features. Consequently, here there is no God but god,
and his name is Byron. (He is also called Dante, Francesca, Paolo, Virgil,
Teresa, Gianciotto, and Satan.) He is a god in name only.
In Baudelairean reading of Byron, then, the translation of “Francesca
of Rimini” is a key text for the clarity with which it lays out the terms
of Byron™s lyrical dialectic. The Byronic mode is to take for its text Lord
Byron™s “personal life.” Like the “Sun of the sleepless” “ Byron™s startling
term for the imagination “ the lunar poem then casts it revelatory light
upon its subjects.± It is a light, however, “That show™st the darkness
thou canst not dispel”: “Distinct, but distant “ clear but, oh how cold.”
This is a light that shines in the darkness, but, unlike John™s salvi¬c
light, in comprehending the darkness it is equally comprehended by it.
Byron™s dark yet clari¬ed knowledge emerges because he has agreed
to collapse his “personal life” and his “poetical life” “ because a ¬nal
distinction cannot be drawn between the man who suffers and the poet
who sees. Lord Byron™s “personal life” is on one hand a fever of passionate
intensities, and on the other a cold set of representations: at once a life
and a re¬‚ection, a self and a text. The work is engulfed in that dissolving,
disillusioning ambiguity “ an ambiguity which, however, it also embraces.

NOTES

The editor of the Byron Journal asked me to write an essay for this issue
[±], to mark the completion of my project of editing Byron™s Complete
Poetical Works. This essay does not address editorial matters. It represents a
reading of Byron that has slowly come to dominate my thinking during my
past (almost thirty) years of involvement with his work.
± See Byron™s translation of the episode from Dante (Complete Poetical Works,
ed. Jerome J. McGann, IV [ Oxford: Oxford University Press, ±],
°“µ); hereafter cited as CPW. Byron™s obsession with this emblematic
story is evident throughout his work: several of the poems in Hours of Idleness
recall the Dante passage (e.g., the “Lines Written in Letters of an Italian Nun
and an English Gentleman . . . ,” ibid., I, ±± [poem no. ·µ]), as does the love
of Selim and Zuleika in The Bride of Abydos and Mazeppa and Theresa in
Mazeppa. Byron puts a quotation from the passage at the head of the ¬rst
Canto of The Corsair, and of course the tale ¬gures in Don Juan™s ¬rst two
affairs, with Donna Julia and with Haid´ e.e
 See the letters to Madame Aupick of  July ±µ· and ± February ±µ
(Baudelaire™s Correspondance, ed. Claude Pichois [Paris: Gallimard, ±·],
±±±
Byron and the anonymous lyric
±°“±±, µ±). The major work of Fleurs du Mal, “Le Voyage,” is an
I,
act of homage to Byron, whom Baudelaire de¬ned as the “charact` re e
oriental . . . le sceptique voyageur” (Baudelaire, Oeuvres Compl`tes, ed. Claude
e
Pichois [Paris: Gallimard, ±·], II, ±). See Baudelaire™s letters to Sainte-
Beuve, ± February ±µ, and (two days later) to Maxime du Camp
(Correspondence, µµ“µµ and nn.).
 Heine and Poe also understood Byron™s method and imitated his work “ and
of course Heine and Poe are two of Baudelaire™s other early poetical models.
 Oeuvres Compl`tes, II, ±.
e
µ This brief discussion of “Fare Thee Well!” sketches the argument I elaborate
more fully in “What Difference do the Circumstances of Publication Make
to the Interpretation of a Literary Work?” in Literary Pragmatics, ed. Roger
D. Sell (London and New York: Routledge, ±±), ±µ“° (see also this
volume, ch. ). For two related discussions see as well my “The Book
of Byron and the Book of a World,” in The Beauty of In¬‚ections (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, ±µ), µµ“; and “My Brain is Feminine™:
Byron and the Poetics of Deception,” in Byron, Augustan and Romantic, ed.
Andrew Rutherford (Basingstoke: Macmillan, ±°), “µ± (see also this
volume, ch. ).
 Wordsworth™s judgment came in a letter to John Scott, who published the
¬rst unauthorized printing of the poem in his newspaper the Champion. See
The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, rev. edn. by Mary Moorman and
Alan G. Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±·°), III, ii, °.
· See The Letters of John Keats, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, ±µ), II, ·.
 Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, Bollingen Series
·° (Princeton: Princeton University Press, ±), II, .
 Katrina Bachinger™s brief comments on the extremely complex ironies of this
work are the best criticism of the poem that I know. See her “The Sombre
Madness of Sex: Byron™s First and Last Gift to Poe,” Byron Journal (±±), ±± “
±. (Waltz, incidentally, was not “published” in ±±, it was privately printed
then. Technically, its ¬rst “publication” was in the pirated Paris edition of
±±.)
±° See Wordsworth™s Preface to Lyrical Ballads, in Lyrical Ballads, ed. R. L. Brett
and A. R. Jones (rev. edn., London: Methuen, ±µ), µµ.
±± For the publication history and the titles see CPW, I, µ± “µ and ·.
± See CPW, III, ±.
± The phrase is M. H. Abrams™s, from his celebrated structural study of the
Romantic lyric: “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric,” in From
Sensibility to Romanticism, ed. Gordon Haight and Harold Bloom (New Haven:
Yale University Press, ±µ), µ·“µ°. Abrams says that “Only Byron, among
the major poets, did not write in this mode at all” (µ·). This is wrong, I
think, on two counts at least: ¬rst, Blake did not write in this mode (he is, like
Byron, a rhetorical poet); and second, Byron did write in the mode, through
he took considerable liberties with the form, See, e.g., “Churchill™s Grave”
±± Byron and Romanticism
and “To the Po”; and Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage has a number of set-piece
passages that correspond to the form.
± Baudelaire was especially pleased with Byron™s sympathetic approach to feel-
ings of hatred. See his letter to Michel Levy, ±µ February ±µ (Correspondence,
II, ).
±µ The classic statement of this reading is in Macaulay™s ±± review of Moore™s
Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (see Byron. The Critical Heritage, ed. Andrew
Rutherford ([New York: Barnes and Noble, ±·°], µ“±).
± See “[Epistle to Augusta]”, ±°°, and The Prophecy of Dante, Canto I, ±µµ.
±· The Paolo indenti¬cation is made not merely through Byron™s relation to
the Francesca/Teresa ¬gure, but also through his relation to Dante, whose
younger brother (poet) he is (as Paolo was the younger brother of Francesca™s
husband Gianciotto).
± For Byron™s “feminine” sympathies see Susan Wolfson™s two important
essay “ ˜Their She Condition™: Cross-Dressing and the Politics of Gender
in Don Juan,” ELH, µ (fall ±·), µµ“±·; “ ˜A Problem Few Dare Imitate™:
Sardanapalus and ˜Effeminate Character,” ELH, µ (fall ±±), ·“°. See
also Sonia Hofkosh, “Women and the Romantic Author “ the Example of
Byron,” in Romanticism and Feminism, ed. Anne K. Mellor (Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, ±), “±±, and chapter , above.
± “Sun of the Sleepless!” is the title of one of the Hebrew Melodies; see CPW, III,
°µ. At line  Byron™s poem recollects Dante™s Paolo and Francesca passage
by echoing one of his favorite texts “ the Dante passage he appended to
Canto I of The Corsair: “How like thou art to joy remembered well!”

CHAPTER


Private poetry, public deception




[P]oetic reference is not only a question of “the world in the work” but “the work
in the world”
“ Barrett Watten, Total Syntax


When readers today, especially academic readers, think of “the politics
of poetic form” in connection with Romanticism, the names that usually
come to mind are Blake and Shelley (for the opposition), or Wordsworth
and Southey (for the establishment). In the context of ±·°“±°, how-
ever, and throughout the Euro-American world of the nineteenth and
much of the twentieth century, the name that would have been ¬rst on
everyone™s lips was Byron. A political activist in England where he spoke
in parliament against capital punishment, later a social pariah who left
England for Italy and Greece where he was deeply involved in revolu-
tionary political groups, he ¬nally “ famously “ died on the west coast
of Greece, in the guerilla encampment of Greek Suliotes whom he had
joined and personally ¬nanced to ¬ght against the Turks for the liberation
of Greece.
English public opinion, after worshipping at his shrine for almost ¬ve
years (±±“±±), ¬nally decided he was the single greatest threat to
the country™s public morals and social order. This judgment of Byron
is written for anyone to see in the English public press of the years
±±“±. It seems astonishing to us today, and yet it is the simplest
fact. We are surprised partly because we do not easily imagine any single
person having the kind of political signi¬cance which Byron evidently did
have. We are astonished as well, however, because Byron™s political life
seems to have been so ineffectual “ in contrast, for example, to a person
like Lenin. But most of all we are surprised because we have come to
think of Byron™s Romanticism not as a political force but as a purely
personal one: Byron the great lover, the man not of political but of erotic

±±
±± Byron and Romanticism
affairs, the broken dandy of the fast and luxurious world of Regency
England.
I will be asking you to rethink the terms of this framework in which
Byron and his work have descended to us. And I believe it is important to
do so, at this point in time especially, because the contradictions implicit
in Byron™s personal and political investments have great relevance to our
own immediate circumstances.
We begin to glimpse that relevance when we remember perhaps the
single most important fact about him and his work: that he was the ¬rst
writer in English to become a brand name, even a commodity fetish.
He was himself well aware of this phenomenon, and was actively “
consciously “ involved in generating what Benjamin was later to see
as an auratic ¬eld of poetical relations. Benjamin saw Baudelaire as
the poet who de¬ned the character of writing in an age of mechanical
reproduction. But to Baudelaire, Byron was the true model and point of
origin; and Baudelaire was right.
To understand this better we shall have to go over the ground of
Romanticism, and the critique of Romanticism which Byron™s work
generated. Byron™s departure from England in ±±, heaped with oblo-
quy, would be the emblem of his subsequent cultural and ideological
fate. Romantic ideologies came to dominate writing in English for the
next hundred years and more, but those ideologies would carefully cir-
cumscribe the antithesis embodied in Byron™s own Romanticism. This
would be done by refusing to take seriously Baudelaire™s and Nietzsche™s
readings of Byron™s work, by marginalizing him into various inconse-
quential territories “ poet of Regency high life, poet of sentimental
love, Satanic poseur, king of light verse and depthless adventure nar-
ratives set in exotic places. In his own day, and throughout Europe in

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