What better setting for today’s quote than a cemetery? As alluded to in my previous post, this part of the Incantation, from Byron’s “metaphysical drama” Manfred, has been very much on my mind these past days. To be fair, it has been a favourite for more time than I can remember, but not much thought about for years in the general ebb and flow of life.
And a magic voice and verse
Hath baptized thee with a curse;
And a spirit of the air
Hath begirt thee with a snare;
In the wind there is a voice
Shall forbid thee to rejoice;
And to thee shall Night deny
All the quiet of her sky;
And the day shall have a sun,
That shall make thee wish it done.
Ah, yes, on a purely practical level, there have been many days this summer when the day has had a sun that has made me wish it done.
Whilst I’m not sure I’d recommend ploughing through the whole of Manfred (I’m not convinced I’ve ever done that myself), the Incantation – which runs to seven verses – is well worth reading in its entirety. Depending on your mood, it can read as superbly vicious, or quite melancholy. Is the Voice which recites the incantation one who seeks retribution, or one who is sad that the circumstances call for retribution? At present I feel it as the latter, even in the final verses which deal more with the poisonous traits of the victim on whom this curse is placed.
I hope this gives food for thought this Friday.
Prof. Richard Holmes, OBE, is my favourite biographer of the Romatic era and a good starting place is his book Sidetracks which explores some little curiousities thrown up during his research on larger works. He has not covered Byron in particular in any of his works, but I have read his books on Coleridge and loved them. I would also recommend his books on the interface between science and poetry in the Romantic period, if you’re up for a long, dense read.
Fancy a bit more Byron? Listen to Leonard Cohen’s rendition of “We’ll Go No More A-Roving” on his “Dear Heather” album.