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that her art might think to lament. Its conclusive gesture of self-pity is
badly misread if it is read as either artistic incompetence or emotional
indulgence. The true “cost” of undertaking poetry is the discovery of
poetry™s delusions, which are then (i.e., here in this text) played out as dark
comedy. Smith™s poetic vocation entails a special knowledge of sorrow:
that poetry™s knowledge shall produce no powerful acquirements, but
simply bleak insight. Most bleak of all is the awareness that even this
± Byron and Romanticism
knowledge will only be gained in the event, as the actual experience of
writing and ful¬lling poetry™s incompetent promise. Smith™s self-pity is
thus the poem™s key textual event, the poem™s objective correlative for its
indictment of the pretensions of art. (Ironically enough, therefore, the
modernist critique of Romanticism™s “sentimentality” entails not merely
a misreading of verse like Smith™s, but a sentimental investment of its
own in poetry™s high cultural mission.)
In Smith™s hands, poetry becomes a machine of truth functioning
through the pitiless dialectic of “Fancy” and “Reason,” dream and
consciousness:

When welcome slumber sets my spirit free,
Forth to ¬ctitious happiness it ¬‚ies,
And where Elysian bowers of bliss arise
I seem, my Emmeline”to meet with thee!
Ah! Fancy then, dissolving human ties,
Gives me the wishes of my soul to see;
Tears of fond pity ¬ll thy softened eyes;
In heavenly harmony”our hearts agree.
Alas! these joys are mine in dreams alone,
When cruel Reason abdicates her throne!
Her harsh return condemns me to complain
Thro™ life unpitied, unrelieved, unknown.
And as the dear delusions leave my brain,
She bids the truth recur”with aggravated pain.
(Elegiac Sonnets [±·], Sonnet XXXVIII)

The force of these lines comes from the deliberate and re¬‚exive turn they
make on Smith™s own work, represented here (initially) by an intramural
reference to her recently published novel Emmeline (±·). As the locus
(literally) of “¬ctitious happiness,” the novel is the sign of the human effort
to gain “the wishes of [the] soul.” But the poem™s chinese-box structure “
it records and re¬‚ects upon an imaginary dream of an encounter with
the domain of the ¬ctional “ implodes upon itself, leaving a residue of
undesired, unimagined, and disorienting “truth.” In Smith™s work, the
reason for dream (or poetry) is to reveal the sick dreams of reason, the
traumas of conscious benevolence. This poem is itself another instance
of such traumatic revelation.
Like all the other canonical Romantics, Byron learned much of his
art from several late eighteenth-century sentimental sources, including
the Della Cruscans and Charlotte Smith. Smith™s poetry stands behind
the visible darkness of, for instance, the Thyrza lyrics. The remarkable
±·
Byron and the lyric of sensibility
“scorpion” passage in The Giaour elaborates the argument that Smith
had developed in her sonnets. Her “aggravated pain,” a deliberate con-
struction, is the direct ancestor of Byron™s Giaour™s “guilty woes.” Each
cultivates what James later called “an imagination of disaster”:
So do the dark in soul expire,
Or live like Scorpion girt by ¬re.·
(“)

Smith set a model for living in such an unre¬ning ¬re, and for imagining
its equivocal virtues. The brilliant syntactic wordplay of Byron™s couplet™s
¬rst line, which intimates either a material or a spiritual suicide, recalls
various poems by Smith, especially her sequence of sonnets “Supposed
to be written by Werter.”
For better and for worse, Byron brought a Brechtian theatricality to
textual strategies like the elegiacs of Charlotte Smith: perhaps for the
worse in poems like “If sometimes in the haunts of men,” certainly for
the better in another Thyrza elegy, the small masterpiece “Stanzas”
(“And thou art dead, as young and fair”). Constructed as a series of
perverse turns upon the inheritance of the poetry of lament, the poem
casts a cold eye upon itself, its poet, its audience, its forebears. It is a text
that would bear no illusions, not even the illusion of disillusion:
The love where Death has set his seal,
Nor age can chill, nor rival steal,
Nor falsehood disavow:
And, what were worse, thou can™st not see
Or wrong, or change, or fault in me.
(“·)

The poem™s basic unit is a distinctively arti¬cial nine-line stanza, met-
rically paced ““““““““ and rhyming ababccbdd. There are
eight of these stanzas, whose formal complexity shuts down “ in partic-
ular at the crucial seventh line “ any possible apparition of expressive
freedom. In thus ¬‚aunting its cold technical correctness, the verse un-
derscores its key themes of loss and de¬ciency. Byron™s lines are out of
joint psychically, morally, and even culturally.
In the passage just quoted, this warp appears with dramatic oblique-
ness in the odd allusion to Antony and Cleopatra. If the reference shocks
us by its incongruence, and it does, it helps us to see Byron™s analo-
gous ineptitude in face of his loss. He is a ¬gure of (“worse”) incompe-
tence by his virtues and ¬delities, which here are turned to signs of vice.
± Byron and Romanticism
Byron™s perverse experience thereby cuts back upon his Shakespearean
inheritance, wringing Cleopatra™s “in¬nite variety” into a ¬gure of the
grotesque.
Such a move, we must realize, poisons the very ground of an English
conception of poetry and culture, for this precise Shakespearean text
had become the touchstone of Shakespeare™s poetical greatness. Byron
deals, quite literally, a mortal blow to received ideas about the authority
of poetry and imagination. Recollecting Shakespeare, he discounts the
cultural capital that has been made of the original work. In a love-elegy
for John Edleston, the oddness of the Shakespeare allusion is doubly witty,
and of course doubly perverse. Dangerous ambiguities play all about the
action of poetry, which is not “ Byron insists “ what high culture imagines
it to be. And so in reading Byron™s text we are teased to recall the whole
of the original Shakespeare passage, where the unnerving truth about
poetry “ that it is unnerving “ will be found:
other women cloy
The appetites they feed; but she makes hungry
Where most she satis¬es; for vilest things
(II, ii, ± “)
Become themselves in her.
Born from and for death in several senses, Byron™s is a poetry of spolia-
tion where, like Samson among the Philistines, he pulls the temple down
upon himself and everyone who comes to witness his prisoned strength.
It is enough for me to prove
That what I lov™d and long must love
Like common earth can rot;
To me there needs no stone to tell
™Tis Nothing that I lov™d so well.
(±“±)

In Byron, and as by tradition, Memory is the mother of the muses, as
this poem™s epigraph reminds us: “Heu quanto minus est cum reliquis
versari quam tui meminisse.” But here the offspring of Memory are
stillborn.
The logic of Byron™s thinking is sketched in a poem written shortly
before these “Stanzas,” the lines “Written Beneath a Picture”:
±.
Dear object of defeated care!
Though now of Love and thee bereft,
To reconcile me with despair,
Thine image and my tears are left.
±
Byron and the lyric of sensibility
.
™Tis said with Sorrow Time can cope;
But this I fear can ne™er be true:
For by the death-blow of my Hope
My Memory immortal grew.

Written under the sign of art, the lines enact the contradictory powers
of imagination. Like the “image” of his unnamed love, the poem seems
fated to eternalize its ground of experience “ as the text™s powerful set of
upper-case abstractions indicate (Love, Sorrow, Time, Hope, Memory).
In establishing their authority these powers, these symbolical forms, ap-
pear to have erased the material name and ¬gure of the beloved. As a
consequence, among the symbolical forms that loom over this small text,
only “despair” comes as a mortal ¬gure, dressed in lower case.
Thus the celebrated power of art over Time is here weighed out and
found wanting: not because art fails to “defeat” Time, but exactly because
it does gain its customary measure of triumph. With poetic immortality
comes the evanishment of immediate experience “ the “Dear object of
defeated care” “ and the emergence of a ¬gure of “Hope” delivering its
own death-blows, and a ¬gure of Memory doomed to transcendence.
The “Stanzas” (“And thou art dead, as young and fair”) do not im-
mortalize Thyrza in “powerful rhyme,” therefore, they mortalize him.
Left with memories alone, the work ensures that no one, least of all the
poet or his readers, shall make capital of those revelations. Three refer-
ences to Shakespeare, all perverse objects of defeated care, signal Byron™s
determination to see that only loss shall be built upon loss.

The ¬‚ower in ripen™d bloom unmatch™d
Must fall the earliest prey,
Though by no hand untimely snatch™d.
The leaves must drop away:
And yet it were a greater grief
To watch it withering, leaf by leaf,
Than see it pluck™d to-day;
Since earthly eye can ill but bear
To trace the change to foul from fair.
(·“µ)

As with the earlier allusion to Antony and Cleopatra, these two recollections
of Macbeth call attention to themselves by their oddness and ineptitude.
Something seems missing, or wrong, as if the poem possessed an aware-
ness that escaped us. Whatever they might be taken to “mean” in a
±·° Byron and Romanticism
thematic sense, the allusions function rhetorically as Byron™s personal
signature. Their very unnaturalness underscores the textual presence of
a dark design in the text.
We register that design in two principal ways. Choosing to write his
poem under the aegis of Antony, Cleopatra, and Macbeth, Byron sug-
gests that those massive Shakespearean pretexts somehow forecast a
pattern for Byron™s personal life. But the allusions also form an indi-
rect address to Byron™s readers, who have their own claims upon the
Shakespearean inheritance. Byron™s odd quotations are signs of a cul-
tural disturbance. Such stylistic moments prophesy the coming of the
celebrated Byronic Hero, who will unsettle his readers with similar un-
certainties. That is at once the hero™s meaning and function in the Byronic
economy of art.
In this context the “Stanzas”™ second Macbeth allusion seems especially
effective. The awkwardness of the inverted construction “to foul from
fair” recalls the more orderly and expected “from foul to fair,” which
is a phrasal index of the compensatory logic of traditional elegy. When
Byron wrecks this phrase he makes more than his immediate text dif¬cult
to read. Once again we realize that Byron has made Shakespeare the
spring of his mordant rhetoric: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
Byron™s use (and misuse) of Shakespearean pretexts may return us to
the poem™s ¬rst quotation “ the epigraph from Shenstone™s celebrated
inscription “On an Ornamented Urn,” which Shenstone composed for
his cousin “Miss Dolman . . . who died of the smallpox, about twenty-one
years of age.” The whole of the Shenstone text is as follows:

Ah Maria
puellarum elegantissima,
Ah ¬‚ore Venustatis abrepta,
Vale!
Heu quanto minus est
cum reliquis versari,
quam tui
meminisse!

Byron™s last stanza recollects (and almost translates) the epigraph, thus:

Yet how much less it were to gain,
Though thou hast left me free,
The loveliest things that still remain,
Than thus remember thee!
(“·)
±·±
Byron and the lyric of sensibility
In traditional elegy the recollection is the event of the writing, so that
Byron™s “thus” refers to his own text. But his point becomes ironical be-
cause the English syntax of “how much less . . . than” makes only a highly
equivocal rendering of the Latin original “quanto minus . . . quam.” The
latter speaks unambiguously on the question of what is “less” (i.e., “cum
reliquis versari”) and what is more (“tui meminisse”). Turned into Byron™s
verse, however, a Latin clarity translates to an English problem, for the
English text leaves one uncertain about the status of losses and gains.
Indeed, one reading only signi¬es the option of relative degrees of loss
either in the gaining of (life™s present) “loveliest things” or in the remem-
bering of the dead Thyrza.
The text™s ultimate irony is reserved for the wordplay Byron teases
from the Latin phrase “cum reliquis versari.” The normal reading of
this phrase might be rendered something like “to be occupied with oth-
ers (people and/or things).” But the root of “versari,” as the English
word “verse” reminds us, leaves the Latin word perpetually open to the
meaning “to make verses.” Historically this meaning seems not to have
been exploited by earlier writers. In Byron™s poem, however, the mean-
ing is all but irresistible, at least after one has ¬nished reading the ¬nal
stanza, where “gain” is translated (literally) into a syntax and economy
of diminishing returns.
In Byron, therefore, the poetry is not in the pity but in the pitilessness.
To write anything about loss, especially anything poetical, threatens to
make a mockery of the event. This thought, yet another commonplace
of elegy, Byron literalizes in order to display the truth about loss “ that it
is irreparable “ and the truth about elegy “ that it is at best a bad (which
is to say, for Byron, a good ) joke.
Such humor is bleak enough. In Byron™s work it plays alongside an-
other comic style that he learned from a different sentimental source,
the Della Cruscans. Like their master Sterne, Hannah Cowley and her
poetical comrades tend to enlighten (in several senses) the scene of love™s
trials, even to the point of comedy. Once again Byron makes himself
their student, as we see so plainly in the splendid late poem “Could Love
for ever.” This work makes a game of its self-consciousness and urbanity
by parading (and parodying) a kind of step-by-step logical argument. It
is, in this respect, the ful¬llment of various Della Cruscan exercises of
his youth “ for example. “The Edinburgh Ladies™ Petition to Dr. Moyes
and his Reply.”
I draw two morals from this fragment of a forgotten poetical history.
First, Byron™s lyrics can help us recover a body of writing “ indeed, a
±· Byron and Romanticism
whole complex stylistic tradition “ that has been badly misunderstood
and neglected. I mean the many forms of sentimental poetry, and in
particular the work of those inaugural ¬gures who shaped the tradition
during the years ±·°“±°. Second, and reciprocally, the recovery of
that tradition will throw our received critical views of Romanticism into
an entirely new light. Or perhaps I shouldn™t say “entirely new.” What we

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