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Launcelot and Guenevere, Tristan and Isolde, in order to explore what
D. G. Rossetti would call “the dif¬cult deeps of love.” The kiss is the earliest
¬gure of those deeps, and it focuses a great deal of Della Cruscan writing:
The greatest bliss
Is in a kiss”
A kiss by love re¬n™d,
When springs the soul
Without controul,
And blends the bliss with mind.
(Charlotte Dacre [“Rosa Matilda”], “The Kiss”)

The fact that we cannot tell whether it is the kiss or the soul that “blends
the bliss with mind” underscores the radical confusions being sought
in texts like these. They execute the drama that Mark Akenside called
the “pleasures of imagination” (±·). Coleridge™s measured “balance
and reconciliation of opposite and discordant qualities” here “springs . . .
[w]ithout controul” because Dacre™s theory of imagination stands closer to
a “Proli¬c” Blakean “Energy” than to Coleridge™s more famous conceptual
approach to the subject.
X X . Yes, and when Thomas Moore, in one of his many kissing lyrics, celebrates
the same kind of “sweet abandonment” (“The Kiss” [±°±]), he marks
the close relation between eros and madness that Romanticism perceives
and pursues. A great theme of Romantic culture, madness is the index of
thwarted desire. Writers of the period fashion a poetry of madness in order
to gain (paradoxically but precisely) the “controlless core” (Byron, Don Juan,
I, st. ±±) of imaginative abandonment. Demon lovers and desperate brains:
both are familiar Romantic tropes, and while the one descends into the
culture largely through the propagators of the ballad revival, the other is
the offspring of those sentimentalist projects and writers you seem to favor.
In each case, a grammar of the fantastical is deployed in order to express
what would be dif¬cult or impossible to say otherwise. A pair of this period™s
Poetry, ±·°“± ·
early and in¬‚uential writers, M. G. Lewis and Charlotte Smith, exemplify
these two grammars very well, as we can see in this sonnet by Smith
(±··):

Sonnet. On being Cautioned against Walking
on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, because
it was Frequented by a Lunatic
Is there a solitary wretch who hies
To the tall cliff, with starting pace or slow,
And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes
Its distance from the waves that chide below;
Who, as the sea-borne gale with frequent sighs
Chills his cold bed upon the mountain turf,
With hoarse, half-uttered lamentation, lies
Murmuring responses to the dashing surf ?
In moody sadness, on the giddy brink,
I see him more with envy than with fear;
He has no nice felicities that shrink
From giant horrors; wildly wandering here,
He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know
The depth or the duration of his woe.

A machinery of transferred epithets, Smith™s sonnet gradually measures a
series of ¬gural re¬‚ections between the seascape, the lunatic, and Smith her-
self. But even as these identi¬cations culminate in the ambiguous grammar
opening the sestet, Smith unfolds a glimpse of a far more wildered mental
landscape. The self-consciousness of Smith™s art “ her “nice felicities” “
produce the poem™s ¬nal, disastrous revelation: that the delicate workings
of the sonnet execute an awareness of the “giant horrors” one constructs
by raising illusory (i.e., rational) defenses against them.
There is an imagination in Smith™s sonnet at war with its cursed arti¬ce
and its limited, shrinking consciousness. Warned (reasonably) against a di-
rect encounter with the lunatic, Smith goes to meet him in imagination
because her own “moody sadness” “ her feelings “ possess a deeper knowl-
edge than her defensive, civilized understanding. In ±± Byron would
make the drama of “Consciousness awaking to her woes” world-famous
in the story of Childe Harold (Canto I, st. ). This story, however, began
to be told in the late eighteenth century™s literature of sensibility, as Smith™s
sonnet shows. It is the story of the sleep of reason, its illusory dreams, and
its “awaking” to that complex Romantic understanding that “Sorrow is
knowledge” (Manfred, I, ±).
A crucial feature of Smith™s sonnet is its style of sincerity· “ a style that
would come to characterize so much Romantic poetry. The purpose of
the style is to make the immediate experience of “the poet” the dramatic
focus of the text “ as if “the poet” were herself the poem™s central subject,
· Byron and Romanticism
as if she were subject to the revelatory power of the poem she herself
decides to write. Romantic melancholy is one affective consequence of the
deployment of such a style: mon coeur mis a nu, and at one™s own hand.
`
Much Romantic poetry will devote itself to a search for ways to defend
itself against the dangerous self-divisions fostered by this style of sincerity.
The most famous of these defenses was raised by Wordsworth, whose
journeys into his selva oscura brought, his poetry argued, an “abundant
recompense” for psychic wounding and suffered loss.
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
(“Tintern Abbey” [±·])

That lesson would guide and trouble a great deal of subsequent poetry.
Accepting “ indeed, undergoing “ such loss, Wordsworth discovered “That
in this moment there is life and food / For future years,” discovered (literally)
a new spiritual life:
a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
(“Tintern Abbey”)

Smith™s sonnet does not romanticize her suffering in this way. For Smith,
the recompense lies simply in the text™s having broken through the curse and
sleep of reason to discover the holiness of the heart™s affections, however
disordered. Indeed, the unstable character of feeling generated by her
sonnet is the exact sign that a break-through has occurred.
A A . But Romanticism had other ways for exploring unknown worlds. The im-
personal character of Blake™s Songs would succeed to the age™s greatest
representation of psychic and social derangement in that epic of “the tor-
ments of love and jealousy,” The Four Zoas. Madness in this work, however,
appears an objective state of general spiritual existence rather than the
subjective experience of a particular person. Consequently, the poem cre-
ates a textual environment where readers are thrown back wholly on their
own resources. To read The Four Zoas is extremely disorienting because one
must traverse the work with no guidance or protection “ as if Dante were
to have made his journey to hell without Virgil.
In the Romantic poetry of sincerity readers are spectators of the worlds
and experiences that appear to be undergone by the poets. In this respect
Poetry, ±·°“± ·µ
the Romantic poet serves at once as topic and guide for the reader, whose
function is to observe and learn lessons of sympathy “ to “overhear” the
poetry, as J. S. Mill later said. Blake™s poetry, by contrast, calls the reader
to acts of ¬nal (self-)judgment. The great question posed by all of Blake™s
poetry is simple but devastating, how much reality can you bear to know?
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to
man as it is, in¬nite” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate ±): but the
world of the in¬nite will not be reconnoitered as if one were going a casual
journey. It is a world of ultimate things, a world where one may expect
only to be weighed and found wanting.
X X . Blake was interested in the poetry of Ossian and the ballad revival because
such work appeared to deliver one into completely alien worlds: not the
worlds of dreaming or the dreamer, but the worlds of dreams-as-such “
those orders existing independently of the (un)conscious mechanisms that
can sometimes establish contact with them.
Some of Coleridge™s greatest poetry is essentially an argument that such
ideal orders do in fact exist, “Kubla Khan” being the most famous and
perhaps successful of these works. When he ¬nally published the poem,
Coleridge cased it in an elaborate prose framework that called attention
to the dreamed character of the text and experience. Paradoxically, this
personal rhetoric heightens the impersonal quality of the vision, as if the
poetical text were the residue of a concrete world subsisting beyond mortal
ken, a prelapsarian world where words rise up as things, a world occasion-
ally glimpsed (perhaps in dream) by time- and space-bound creatures.
In “Kubla Khan” the act of dreaming is a trivial event when set beside
the ideal world that appears to have suddenly and transiently arisen to
view. It is as if the appearance were recorded to measure the distance
between mortal dreamer and immortal dream. We observe the same kind
of rhetoric in, for example, a poem like Byron™s “Darkness.” Beginning
with a perfunctory gesture from the dreamer (“I had a dream, which was
not all a dream”), the poem unfolds a detailed catalogue of Armageddon,
which assumes an independent substantiality like Coleridge™s vision of the
world of Kubla Khan.
Byron™s rhetorical procedure is put into relief when we set it beside
the literary example that spurred him to his poem “ Thomas Campbell™s
“Last Man.” Although most of Campbell™s poem is a ¬rst-person report
of a dream of apocalypse, the dreamer is carefully de¬ned at the outset as
an imaginary “last man.” Consequently, the ¬ctional status of the poem
is always clear. Coleridge and Byron, on the other hand, represent their
texts through a rhetoric of immediacy. As a result, when their texts discard
the psychological supports for their visionary representations, we appear
to have entered worlds of dream rather than the dreaming experiences of
particular persons.
The uncanny effect of Byron™s poem is most disorienting not because the
apocalypse we enter is a negative one, but because the otherworld of the
· Byron and Romanticism
text appears an independently authorized existence. As in the texts of the
evangelists, the mediator of such an existence is not the focus of attention.
(Because Byron was so famous, perhaps especially at the moment of this
poem “ ±± “ the subjection of dreamer to dream is all the more arresting.)
Keats™s dream poetry is quite different, as one can see by looking at
his great sonnet “A Dream, after Reading Dante™s Episode of Paolo and
Francesca” (±°):

As Hermes once took to his feathers light,
When lulled Argus, baf¬‚ed, swoon™d and slept,
So on a Delphic reed, my idle spright
So play™d, so charm™d, so conquer™d, so bereft
The dragon-world of all its hundred eyes;
And, seeing it asleep, so ¬‚ed away”
Not unto Ida with its snow-cold skies,
Nor unto Tempe, where Jove griev™d a day,
But to that second circle of sad hell,
Where ™mid the gust, the world-wind, and the ¬‚aw
Of rain and hail-stones, lovers need not tell
Their sorrows. Pale were the sweet lips I saw,
Pale were the lips I kiss™d, and fair the form
I ¬‚oated with about that melancholy storm.

As in “The Fall of Hyperion,” this poem gives not the dream as such but
Keats™s experience of entering the uncanny world of dream. The event is
typically Keatsian, as one sees in early poems like “Sleep and Poetry” and
“On First Looking Into Chapman™s Homer.” Although not literally a dream
poem, the latter is, like “The Fall of Hyperion,” the record of the discovery
of the power of imaginative vision. The difference separating Keats™s work,
in this respect, from Blake™s and Coleridge™s and Byron™s measures the close
af¬nity of Keats to Wordsworth. Keats™s dream poetry follows the form of,
for example, the Arab-Quixote dream sequence detailed in the Prelude Book
V “ in this kind of work we behold the dreamer ¬rst; the dream itself is
mediated as an experience of discovery.
In the Wordsworthian model, the discovery is then self-consciously med-
itated and read by the poet. In all such work the contrast with Byron™s
“Darkness” could not be more complete. As with Manfred, “Darkness”
records a process of (as it were) undiscovering the powers of the human
mind. The epigraph to Manfred is telling: “There are more things in heaven
and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The special
perversity of Byron™s work would be picked up later by Poe, Baudelaire,
and Nietzsche.
N N . Mediated or unmediated, Romantic dream poetry traces itself to the
strange materials made available by late eighteenth-century philologists
and ethnographers: ballad editors like Bishop Percy and Joseph Ritson,
translators like Sir William Jones and Charles Wilkins. Jones™s in¬‚uential
Poetry, ±·°“± ··
translations of Sanscrit originals are explicit testimonies to the reality of
originary existences. The Vedic hymns reveal utterly strange worlds:

Hail, self-existent, in celestial speech
NARAYEN, from thy watry cradle, nam™d;
Or VENAMELY may I sing unblam™d,
With ¬‚ow™ry braids that to thy sandals reach,
Whose beauties, who can teach?
(“A Hymn to Na™ra™yena” [±·µ])

The strangeness of these pieces of “celestial speech” measures something
besides the distance between Orient and Occident. Indeed, the cultural dif-
ferences between these two great worlds are not what drives Jones™s interest
in the Vedic hymns. On the contrary, the universalist eighteenth-century
style of Jones™s texts fashions a verse argument about secret congruences
between East and West.
Through Jones™s translations the Sanscrit texts reveal the vision of an
originary and transcendent unity of being. The Vedic hymns are important
for Jones™s imperial intellect because they carry an “attestation strong, /
That, loftier than thy [poetry™s] sphere, th™ Eternal Mind, / Unmov™d, un-
rival™d, unde¬l™d, / Reigns” (“Hymn to Su™rya” [±·]).
A A . Well, important as Jones was, Western writers found their favorite, unknown
worlds much closer to home, in the folk literature of European culture. The
poetry of the period is dominated by those sophisticated appropriations of
original song and ballad materials, the literary ballads: texts like William
Taylor™s “Ellenore” (translated from an already sophisticated German text),
Coleridge™s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel,” Keats™s
“Belle Dame Sans Merci,” Baillie™s “Ghost of Fadon.” Taylor™s “Ellenore,”
for example, opens under a traumatic sign (“At break of day from frightful
dreams / Upstarted Ellenore”), but the story means to deliver us over to
strange realities all the more “frightful” just because they appear conscious
and undreamt.
X X . Which is why the work of M. G. Lewis calls for special attention, as I said
before. It not only represents a vigorous contemporary literary tradition,
it was a tradition denounced by Wordsworth, who anticipated later criti-
cism™s retrospective view of the issues involved. When Wordsworth refers
(in his ±°° Preface to Lyrical Ballads) to “frantic novels, sickly and stupid
German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse,”
he is re¬‚ecting on literary work of the ±·°s that Lewis epitomized and
fostered. No text illustrates better what Wordsworth disapproves of than
The Monk (±·), that wonderful “frantic novel” imbedded with several
“extravagant stories in verse.”
Wordsworth™s phrase “idle and extravagant” points to what is most dis-
tinctive and peculiar about Lewis™s work “ its marriage of the comic and
the ludicrous with the horrible and the terrifying. Rent by internal contra-
dictions, the work appears to have little interest in bringing them under
· Byron and Romanticism
control “ as if pure effect (and affect) were the sole resource and only plan
of the writing. In this respect The Monk™s imbedded poems re¬‚ect the novel
as a whole “ and none more so than the famous ballad (much parodied,
much imitated) “Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogine.”
A tale of betrayed love, revenge, and damnation, the poem™s most
disturbing effects develop from the “idle and extravagant” way it handles

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