Thursday, March 23, 2006

Insults - Poetical and Otherwise

One of the greatest insults of all time is Byron's seventeen stanza introduction to his verse novel Don Juan. He does a piss take of all the Romantic poets. He called them the 'Lake poets', mocking their fondness for writing about natural scenes:

... all the Lakers, in and out of place,
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye,
Like "four and twenty Blackbirds in a pie".

He lays into philosopher-poet Samuel Taylor-Coleridge:

... Coleridge, too, has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumbered with his hood,
Explaining Metaphysics to the --
I wish he would explain his Explanation.

William Wordsworth is next:

'Tis poetry - at least by his assertion,
And may appear so when the dog-star rages --
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the Tower of Babel.

Byron goes on to make a complicated reference to Mount Parnassus: in classical mythology, it was the 'seat of the Muses'. He mixes it up with the scenery preferred by the Lake poets:

You're shabby fellows -- true -- but poets still,
And duly seated on the Immortal Hill.

He's not above mocking their appearance, either:

Your bays may hide the baldness of your brows ...

This was true, at least for Wordsworth.
There's also a lot of topical commentary in there, too. I like particularly his line about 'The intellectual eunuch Castlereagh', a 'Cold-blooded, smooth-faced placid miscreant' but I'm not sure what this is referring to. It's great stuff, nonetheless.

But I think we can all agree with Byron when he says:

I say -- the future is a serious matter,
And so -- for God's sake -- hock and soda water!


At 8:59 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Shelley's "To Wordsworth" is in a similar vein, although not quite as caustic. Have you read Robert Nye's The Memoirs of Lord Byron? It is a novel purporting to be the poet's lost memoirs, and Nye does a great job of emulating Byron's prose style, invective included.

At 9:03 AM, Blogger TimT said...

I'm googling it as we speak. We're having a, shall we say, unproductive day at work at the moment. Shelley was an admirer of Wordsworth, apparently, which was the cause of some strain between him and Byron.

Can you make it to the grogblogging?

At 9:06 AM, Blogger TimT said...

Haven't read the Robert Nye book, actually. I have a big fat book called 'ROMANTICISM' which has some of the letters of Byron in it. Great stuff. Always wonderful to see a poet use the word c*nt ...

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Yeah, I'll probably mosey on down to the Clyde. Or maybe I'll catch a tram.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger TimT said...

Hey, man! That 'To Wordsworth' poem isn't insulting at all!

This is a pretty good insult, though: "Princes, the dregs of their dull race ..." Great stuff ...

At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...all the Lakers, in and out of place

Dang, and there was me thinking it was a poem about Shaquille O'Neil

At 4:12 PM, Blogger TimT said...

Ha, good one!

Anonymous strikes again ...


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