Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More truth in poetry than in news stories -- 2

This oil on canvas by Louis Edouard Fournier is entitled, "The Funeral of Shelley," and was completed in 1889, sixty-seven years after Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in the Bay of Lerici off the coast of Italy. The painting, obviously, is not based on the personal recollections of Fournier, but, rather, on accounts of the funeral pyre ceremony. It is located in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England. The painting has its inaccuracies, including the presence of Mary Shelley. Due to customs of the times, a widow did not attend the funeral of her husband. The three men, from the left, are Edward Trelawney, Leigh Hunt and George Gordon / Lord Byron. Strange as it may seem, I have read so much about the lives of these individuals and the death of Shelley that I feel like I am standing next to the painter watching the events transpire. Research + imagination = tantalizing dreams.

(Editor's Note: This is the second segment to the unpublished post(s) of February 2009. Reading this portion now, with six and one-half years having come and gone since it was written, it seems sort of mystifying to me, even a bit silly. I wish I could recall the reasons why I tied it in with the first piece about the decline of journalism. I know that at the time I thought there was more truth to be found -- quite literally -- in a piece of poetry than in a newspaper or in a television newscast or in a political blog. I believe such is even more the case today. Beyond that, since these words and thoughts were written less than a month after I had begun "San Francisco," it seems obvious in reading this piece that among the things I was doing was adding another element in my attempt to introduce myself to anyone who might pass by here and pause to read here. Perhaps, most symbolically unique is the fact that it was on July 11 when I "re-discovered" this forgotten post, with its words about Emily Dickinson and her poem about death, and with its mention about the deaths of George Gordon / Lord Byron and Percy Shelley .... and, July 11 was the same day I published my post about dying, death, divine comedies and my burial. Finally, once again the music was part of the original, unpublished 2009 post, but an illustration had not yet been selected to accompany it back then.)

Discovering Emily & rescuing Percy's heart

I have no idea how many people browse the "sea of blogs," either idly or in a pattern searching for common interests, but it really is a fascinating pastime. My brief periods of exploration the past few days have centered on poetry.

A few sites I have visited are primarily dedicated to one or more well-known poets. The other day, for example, I found one where Emily Dickinson was featured. There was a photograph of Ms. Dickinson. Although one of my college majors was English, I recall rarely ever seeing an actual photo of her before. I wonder why ....

The lead poem on the page was entitled, "The Chariot," when first published in 1890 after Dickinson's own death. This is it:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

Where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

 Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

The simplicity, yet the depth of those few words, is breathtaking. I think I have gained a new and a greater appreciation for Ms. Dickinson through my exploration of the blogs.

My own studies of verse have revolved mostly around the British poets of the 17th/18th/19th centuries. Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Milton, Pope, Donne and their brethren, to name a few. English major snobbery, I suppose.

The only recent American poet I ever took a close look at was James Dickey, and only then because I consider his novel, "Deliverance," to be a classic -- a heroic tale told in contemporary style and language. Besides that, it is about canoeing and the "zen of archery," and there you are talking my language. So, if I like his novel, it could be I would like his poetry, too. Right? Yes, right. I do like it.

Speaking of novels and British poets, may I recommend another of my favorite works of fiction, "The Missolonghi Manuscript," by Frederic Prokosch. George Gordon / Lord Byron spent the last few months of his life in Missolonghi in Greece, where he died at the age of thirty-six in 1824. This novel is presented as if it were the memoirs of the dying man, written as he reviews his entire life. Byron, in addition to being a poet of the first order, literally was the No. 1 "rock star" of his time among all circles of social celebrities in Britain and on the Continent.

Prokosch, incidentally, was a Wisconsin native who spent most of his adult life in Europe and was sort of a man of mystery. He is a character worth researching in his own right and a writer worth reading.

Among the ingredients of the novel are accounts of the death by drowning of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his funeral pyre ceremony, at which Shelley's heart was snatched from the flames by Edward Trelawny as a macabre memento. Trelawny gave Shelley's heart to Leigh Hunt, who later gave it to the widow, Mary Shelley. The heart was entombed sixty-seven years later in the coffin with Shelley's son, Percy Florence Shelley, upon his death.

It strikes me as a book with something for everyone who has a taste for the truly literary, and it might lead you deeper into the lives and works of Percy and Mary Shelley and George Gordon / Lord Byron, if you have not discovered them before now.


Kaya said...

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

This is my favorite Emily Dickinson'a poem.

Sometimes I also like to wonder around poetry blogs and just read poems.

My first American poet was James Wright and his poem Lying in a Hammock... The title of this poem is so long. This poem made me think when I last time lay in hammock and what I felt. Just the first word of this poem brought all memories back. And I thought how great sometimes to do nothing, nothing at all; Just look at the sky, at the trees, forget all duties and lie back in the hammock and let it go. He introduced me to an odd but great idea, that not doing isn't wasting your life away; it's just slowing down to see it more deeply.

Sometimes I don't get a rhythm because it's so different in American poetry but it doesn't matter, what matters the words; do they touch your heart and soul.

Interesting post, Fram. Read what you wrote with great interest.

Fram Actual said...

This has been a strange summer for me, Kaya. Winter was long, not much snow, but bitterly cold and it lasted well into days that should have been spring-like and not winter-like. Now, with summer present, there have been several rainy days, but never so many absolutely splendid days that I can remember in terms of near-perfect weather. This region usually has much heat and humidity beginning in late June and lasting into September. But, this year, summer is more like spring, and, as I said, I cannot recall a June and July with so much wonderful weather.

I have spent many of those weather-wonderful afternoons lying beneath the sun and watching the leaf-filled branches waving in the uppermost expanses of huge trees and seeing billowy, whiter-than-white clouds drifting in blue skies.

I am glad at the moment that I grew up in this region and the sights are consistently familiar to me because I have been trying to remember how these leaf-filled branches and spectacular clouds looked to me at other times, at other ages -- did I see them the same when I was seven or eleven or fifteen? Yes, I do. They appear the same to me. They have not changed. Only I have changed, it seems to me.

Anyway .... I have being spending a considerable amount of time doing what your poet, James Wright, wrote about, except I am missing a hammock. Rainy days find me at a computer, but sunny days find me watching the birds, butterflies, swaying trees and drifting clouds. I agree completely with you and your poet.

Thank you, Kaya. I am glad you came to visit me and to write a comment, and I am glad you found the post interesting. As I mentioned, it does puzzle me a bit, though .... wondering where my mind was when I wrote it way back in 2009.

Boris Estebitan said...

Interesante la historia de la pintura, los personajes de ella animan a investigar sobre ellos. Saludos y buen tema el de los Doors, poesia pura.

Fram Actual said...

These were fascinating people who led fascinating lives, Boris. They were writers and literary giants of their times. Mary Shelley, for instance, wrote the original Frankenstein story: "Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus."

In case you are not aware, that novel was born when Lord Bryon challenged Percy Shelley, Mary, and others to a competition of who could write the best ghost story as a means to entertain themselves while they were staying at his villa at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Frankenstein began as a result of that challenge and a dream Mary had during the night the challenge was issued.

Yes, The Doors and Jim Morrison created poetry in musical form. Some might compare Morrison with Shelley and Byron in terms of lifestyle and creative talent, although I would not go that far.

Thank you, Boris, for your visit here and your comment.

Something special ....