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its materials. When Alonzo returns from the dead to claim his false
beloved at her wedding feast, he comes helmeted, his identity concealed.
Faced with this strange wedding guest, Imogine barely manages to keep
her composure:
At length spoke the bride, while she trembled”“I pray,
Sir Knight, that your helmet aside you would lay,
And deign to partake of our chear.”
The lady is silent: the stranger complies,
His vizor he slowly unclosed:
Oh God! what a sight met Fair Imogine™s eyes!
What words can express her dismay and surprise,
When a skeleton™s head was exposed!
All present then uttered a terri¬ed shout:
All turned with disgust from the scene.
The worms they crept in, and the worms they crept out,
And sported his eyes and his temples about,
While the spectre addressed Imogine:
Although marked with the sign of comedy, the text™s extreme civility
(“partake of our chear,” “dismay and surprise,” “turned with disgust,”
“sported,” and the like) is ¬nally far more deeply disturbing than the poem™s
stock ¬gural horrors. Lewis has introduced disorder into the most primi-
tive levels of his work by upsetting the poem™s aesthetic base. The text is
anarchic “ “idle and extravagant” “ precisely because, as Wordsworth saw,
it has made itself the primary instance of its im/moral subjects. A lord
of misrule presides over this ballad “ over the way the ballad materials
are rhetorically managed. The poem exhibits a reckless and cosmopolitan
savagery resembling nothing so much as the ¬ction of the Marquis de Sade.
A A . According to Wordsworth, these landscapes of savage places and demon
lovers ¬gure a natural world corrupted by men “ speci¬cally, by men
(and poets) like Lewis and, later, Byron.
X X . But the devil™s account is that the messiah fell and formed a heaven of
what he stole from the abyss. According to this view of things, Lewis™s
work exhibits the eternal delight of its own idle and extravagant energies.
How did Keats put it later “ “might half slumbering on its own right arm”
(“Sleep and Poetry”)? Corruption and sin are problems according to the
still sad music of humanity, not according to the mighty working of the
universal order of things, the music of the spheres.
Poetry, ±·°“± ·
Henry Boyd™s academic treatment of Dante is misguided, Blake says,
because the critic brings ethical touchstones to Dante™s work. But poetry
for Blake is committed to the splendid struggles of Good and Evil.
“The grandest Poetry is Immoral,” according to Blake™s view (“Annotations
to Boyd™s Dante”). And his further thought is also very much to the histori-
cal point. The Byronic and the Wordsworthian, the city and the country,
the aristocrat and the bourgeois: “These two classes of men are always
upon earth, & they should be enemies” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,
plate ±).
N N . No doubt. But those two classes of men are not the only citizens of these
worlds.
X X . True. Wordsworth and those who sympathized with his work “ Coleridge
and Hazlitt, for example “ found as little to praise in the work of George
Crabbe as in the work of Lewis, although Crabbe could hardly be seen as
an idle or extravagant versi¬er. His representations of madness, for exam-
ple, so detailed and methodical, empty themselves of all their Romantic
possibilities. With “Peter Grimes” (±±°) he writes a kind of case report of
a deranged mind:

“˜All Days alike! for ever!™ did they say,
˜And unremitted Torments every Day.™”
Yes, so they said:” but here he ceas™d and gaz™d
On all around, affrighten™d and amaz™d . . .
Then with an inward, broken voice he cried,
“Again they come,” and mutter™d as he died.

One has only to compare Grimes™s imaginary visitations with those of
Byron™s Giaour. Both apparitions rise up from watery graves, but while
Byron™s hero lives in a charged erotic world “ his despair is sublime and
¬nally transcendent “ Grimes has no access even to the negative dialectics
of Romanticism. For Crabbe™s work is a dismissal of eros, the world he sees
and represents is survivalist at best. The grimmest reading of the culture
of the period that we have, Crabbe™s poetry is, for that very reason, an
indispensable limiting case for criticism.
N N . But very much a special case. I was recollecting another differential. We
customarily think of Byron™s spectacular arrival on the cultural scene in
±± as a turning point in the history of Romanticism . . .
X X . . . . as it surely was. His work distinctly sharpened the Romantic critique of
culture. Byron™s importance was to have (fore)seen that Romanticism itself
would become a cultural norm. For this reason his work became the bar
sinister across what he called the “wrong revolutionary poetical system” of
Romanticism (letter to Murray, ±µ September ±±·).
The movement™s systematic inertias de¬‚ected its revolutionary poten-
tial, turning the poets into schoolmasters, imagination into pedagogy. As
Wordsworth, addressing Coleridge, declared:
° Byron and Romanticism
Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak
A lasting inspiration, sancti¬ed
By reason, blest by faith: what we have loved,
Others will love, and we will teach them how;
(Prelude, XIV)

The Byronic resistance to this potential in Romanticism recalls the exu-
berant independence of Burns and Blake. But later Romantics, paradig-
matically Byron and Shelley, developed the sorrow that came with twenty
and more years of dark knowledge:

But all the bubbles on an eddying ¬‚ood
Fell into the same track at last, and were
Borne onward.
(“The Triumph of Life” [±])

NN. Byron™s and Shelley™s knowledge comes from deeper roots. Look at the
cultural scene through Mrs. Barbauld™s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (±±),
published the same year as Byron™s Childe Harold. A Romaunt. As dark a
vision as Byron™s, Barbauld™s poem imagines a world at war with itself.
The torments of contemporary civilization are not tares among the new
spring wheat; they are a function of the presiding “Genius” of the European
world in general:

There walks a Spirit o™er the peopled earth,
Secret his progress is, unknown his birth;
Moody and viewless as the changing wind,
No force arrests his foot, no chain can bind;
Seen from a contemporary vantage point, this is the spirit of what Mary
Shelley would call “The New Prometheus,” here imagined raising up “the
human brute” from ignorance and darkness. Like Shelley™s Frankenstein,
Barbauld™s Prometheus is a ¬gure of severest contradiction “ as one
sees in the startling conjunction of “moody” with the Miltonic poeticism
“viewless.” A spirit of grandeur, beauty, and great power, he is a “destroyer
and preserver” in a sense far more darkly imagined than Percy Shelley™s
West Wind. According to Barbauld, “arts, arms, and wealth destroy the
fruits they bring.”
Barbauld™s is a root-and-branch critique of a systemic malaise. The most
disturbing thought of all is that a demonic force can be traced as easily in the
“arts” as in any other feature of civilization. The (Romantic) imagination
that art is not among the ideologies is dismissed in Barbauld™s text “ as it
was not in Byron™s famous poem of the same year, and as it typically would
not be in most Romantic texts.
Whereas Byron™s despair held out a secret Romantic (i.e., personal)
hope, Barbauld™s ¬nal hope “ the poem ends with a vision of freedom for
Poetry, ±·°“± ±
America “ can only suggest an unnerving question: If spring comes, can
winter be far behind?
Comparable to Childe Harold. A Romaunt in so many ways, Barbauld™s
poem differs from Byron™s in one crucial respect “ it genders the issues.
The “capricious” Promethean Genius is gendered male; the knowledge of
suffering, female. To note this is not to suggest the poem is arguing a moral
equation of men with evil and women with good. It is to suggest, however,
that a new way of seeing may emerge when an alienated imagination±°
comes to consciousness. The fact that Barbauld™s poem “ unlike Byron™s “
was denounced and then forgotten as soon as it appeared is telling, particu-
larly given the respect and fame that Barbauld™s work enjoyed. Barbauld™s
poem seemed grotesque and anomalous from a writer who had come to
de¬ne the proprieties of the feminine imagination for almost ¬fty years.
In this respect her poem would prove a song before the dark sunrise of
the poetry of the ±°s and ±°s. Literary history has all but forgotten this
interregnum because its work is marked with the sign of a bourgeois Cain.
With the emergence of Gift Books and literary Annuals as the dominant
outlets for poetry, the arts appeared to have indeed destroyed their own
best fruits and scattered the high altars of the imagination. It is a fast
world dominated by a self-conscious trade in art and a studious pursuit
of cultural fashion in every sense. In face of it twentieth-century readers
learned to avert their eyes and await the coming of the reliable seriousness
of Tennyson and Browning.
Two women “ they both wrote for money, to support themselves and
their families “ preside over the poetry scene that developed with the deaths
of Keats, Shelley, and Byron. One was Felicia Hemans, who would prove
the most published English poet of the nineteenth century. The other was
Laetitia Elizabeth Landon, the famous “L. E. L.,” whose death in ±
turned her life and career into one of the foundational cultural myths of
the period.
In certain respects the two writers could not be more different: Hemans™s
work focuses on domestic issues and a Wordsworthian ideology of “the
country,” whereas Landon, distinctly an urban writer, explores the treach-
erous crosscurrents of love. Because each moves within a clearly de¬ned
female imagination of the world, however, their work independently estab-
lishes new possibilities for poetry.
X X . But what™s so special about these two women? Literary historians have had
no trouble characterizing the immediate aftermath of High Romanticism
in relation to writers like Beddoes, Darley, Hood, and Clare.
A A . All interesting and important writers. But have they been read to deepen
our understanding of Romanticism? Not even Clare has made much of
a difference in this respect, although his work might easily have served.
Neither his class position nor his madness has been taken seriously enough
by critics or literary historians. Hemans and Landon are important because
their feminized imaginations establish clear new differentials. Their work
 Byron and Romanticism
gives us a surer grasp of what was happening in those forgotten decades of
the ±°s and ±°s.
Take Hemans for instance. The draining melancholy of her poetry car-
ries special force exactly because of its domesticity. What is most unstable,
most threatened, is what she most values “ the child and its immediate
world, the family unit (centered in the mother). Hemans™s central myth
represents a home where the father is (for various reasons) absent. This
loss turns the home to a precarious scene dominated by the mother. As
in Wordsworth, one of Hemans™s most important precursors, the mother™s
protective and conserving imagination presides over a scene of loss (see
“The Homes of England,” for instance, or “The Graves of a Household”).
But whereas Wordsworth™s (male) myth of (feminine) nature licenses what
he called a “strength in what remains behind,” Hemans™s is an imagination
of disaster because (unlike Wordsworth™s nature) Hemans™s mothers are so
conscious of their fragile quotidian state.
The disaster is clearly displayed in poems like “The Image in Lava” and
“Casabianca.” Theatrical by modernist conventions, these lyrics deploy
Byronic extravagance as a vehicle for measuring social catastrophe and
domestic loss. “The Image in Lava” studies the epic destruction of Pompeii
in a bizarre silhouette of a mother cradling her child. The artist of the end
of the world is here imagined not on a grand scale “ as a Blakean “history
painter” “ but rather as a miniaturist. For Hemans, catastrophe is ¬nally
what Byron famously called “home desolation,” and world-historical events
are important only because they help to recall that fact.

Babe! wert thou brightly slumbering
Upon thy mother™s breast,
When suddenly the ¬ery tomb
Shut round each gentle guest?

Hemans™s poem is imagining a new burning babe and a new sacred heart.
The events at Pompeii comprise a mere ¬gure for the “impassioned grasp”
that bonds child to mother. Burning in the ¬re of their relationship “ setting
their ¬res against “the cities of reknown / Wherein the mighty trust” “
mother and child transcend the Pompeiian world. As Blake might have
said, they “go to Eternal Death” ( Jerusalem), which now reveals itself in and
as the poem Hemans is writing, what she calls a “print upon the dust.”
In “Casabianca,” another poem of ¬ery immolation, Hemans empha-
sizes the psycho-political basis of destruction in “the cities of reknown.”
Explicitly set in a modern context (the Battle of the Nile, August ±·), the
poem anatomizes the ideology of glory in the death of the thirteen-year-old
“son of the admiral of the Orient,” Commodore Casabianca. Standing to
his duty in a secular ¬ery furnace, the boy is the central ¬gure of a complex
iconograph of the violence society exacts of itself as payment for its pursuit
of power and glory. The sentimentalism of the scene is a feminizing textual
Poetry, ±·°“± 
move. The boy pleads for a word from his “unconscious” father that would
release him from “the burning deck,” but the language of the father is de-
¬ned as a fearful symmetry of heroic silence and awful noise. The upshot is
a poem of violent death brooded over by a beautiful but ineffectual angel
of (maternal) love.
It is crucial to understand that Hemans™s feminine imagination does not
solve the problems it exposes. Her sentimentalism is revelatory. Readers
cannot forget that “Casabianca” recollects one of Nelson™s mythic victories
over the French, and a turning point in the Napoleonic wars. But Hemans™s
poem deliberately forgets to remember that saint of English imperialism.
Nelson and England™s sea power supply the poem with its obscure and
problematic scene.
Standing with the young Casabianca on the burning French ¬‚ag-ship,
Hemans puts the war and its champions in a better perspective: in worlds
where power measures value, imaginative truth seeks to ¬nd itself in power-
lessness. The young Casabianca™s moral and emotional position, what the
poem calls his “still, yet brave despair,” de¬nes the complete equivocalness
of what he represents. That he stands as the ¬gura of “Casabianca” “ of
Hemans™s own poetry in general “ is ¬nally a central argument of the work.
Landon™s writing devotes itself to similar pursuits, as a text like “Lines of
Life” or her many poems for pictures show. “The Enchanted Island,” for
instance (after Francis Danby™s painting of the same title), implodes upon
its own “dream of surpassing beauty.” Itself enchanted by that equivocal
(and double-meaning) fantasy, Landon™s poem initiates a severely antithet-
ical reading of certain proverbial Romantic ideas, like “A thing of beauty is
a joy for ever” and “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.” The truth that Landon
repeatedly discovers in beauty “ including the beauty of art “ is death.
Keats of course had begun to make similar discoveries, but Landon™s
more intimate (female) knowledge of the institutions and machiner-
ies of beauty gave a special privilege to her work. Whereas Keats
(like Byron) imagined a transcendent power coming from sorrow™s knowl-
edge, Landon™s knowledge is like Eve™s original (cursed) discovery of the
cruel fantasy grounding the ideal of transcendent power.
Landon™s imaginative authority rests in what she is able to fashion from
her experience of passivity. The dynamic of love and courtship “ Landon™s
great subject “ supplies the (female) object of the enchanted (male) gaze with
a special self-consciousness. The women in Landon™s poems are shrewd
observers of their spectacular society “ cold spectators of a colder spectacle
repeatedly masked in the warm colors of dissimulating love. In such a
world the distinction between a woman and a thing of beauty is continually
collapsing, as one sees in Landon™s wonderful lines “Lady, thy face is very
beautiful,” where we are never sure if the text is addressing a mirror, a
painting, or a woman.
A poet of disenchantments, Landon works by putting the vagueries of
imagination on full display:
 Byron and Romanticism
Ay, gaze upon her rose-wreath™d hair,
And gaze upon her smile:

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