SONG LYRICS AND NOTES FOR
'PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY: ROCK STAR'
and
'SHELLEY'S GOLDEN YEARS IN ITALY'
(Scroll down for lyrics to other albums)
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PARADISE OF EXILES

 valle del fiume serchio  2

Sources: The Boat on the Serchio, Julian and Maddalo

Prose: Fragment on Beauty, Hellas, Prometheus Unbound ms. fragment, Adonais

 

Day has awakened all things that be;

The lark and the thrush and the swallow free;

The stars burn out in the clear blue air

The thin white moon lies withering there.

 

Thou paradise of exiles, Italy !

A heron comes sailing over me

 

Worlds on worlds are rolling ever

From creation to decay;

Like the bubbles on a river

Sparkling, bursting, borne away

 

Green and azure wanderer

Happy globe of land and air

 

The One remains, the many change and pass

Life, like a dome of many coloured glass

Stains the white radiance of eternity

 

This song consists of lines from Shelley's final years in Italy,

almost all composed in or around Pisa. His house in San Giuliano di Pisa

and the canal are still there, set in the fertile Italian landscape,

looking out on the hill that (as Dante put it), 'screens Lucca from the Pisan's envious eye'.

One of his boating expeditions during the summer of 1821 is described in 'The Boat on the Serchio'.

The famous 'paradise of exiles' line comes from Julian and Maddalo,

written two years previously in Venice; the line about the heron comes from

a piece of prose written during another of Shelley's boat trips.

The lines on the earth – 'green and azure wanderer' – owe

something to his fluency in Greek: the Greeks called

the planets 'wanderers' – the vagabonds of the solar system..

 

RISE LIKE LIONS

Riselikelionsmss

Sources: Song to the Men of England,

The Mask of Anarchy

 

People of England wherefore plough

For the Lords who lay ye low ?

Wherefore weave with toil and care

The rich robes your tyrants wear?

 

The seeds ye sow another reaps

The wealth ye find, another heaps

The robes ye weave another wears

The arms ye forge another bears

 

Wherefore feed and clothe and save

From the cradle to the grave

These ungrateful drones who would

Drain your sweat, nay drink your blood

 

Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many they are few.

Ye are many they are few.

 

 The political situation in Shelley's time was one of deadlock,

with the landowning classes monopolising political power and

fearful that the slightest reform would usher in violent revolution

on the French model. Changing social patterns, with Britain moving from a

predominantly agricultural society to an urban industrialising order,

meant that there was a new and increasingly literate –

but entirely disenfranchised – urban population.

The Peterloo massacre led to the beginning of the organised labour movement in Britain.

Shelley's lyrics see him trying to bond popular energies into a united force.

As the Chartist Circular of 19th October 1839 put it: 'He wrote to teach his

injured countrymen the great laws of union, and the strength of the passive resistance'.

Shelley sent The Mask of Anarchy to his editor friend Leigh Hunt

but he did not publish it until after the Great Reform Bill in 1832.

Shelley's other post-Peterloo lyrics, which included his 'Song to the Men of England',

were not published during his lifetime. They had to wait till 1839,

when Mary published an (almost) complete edition of his work.

 

WILD SPIRIT

Florencestorm2-crop2

Source: the Ode to the West Wind

 

Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere

Destroyer and Preserver, hear O hear!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed

One too like thee: tameless and swift and proud

 

O wild West Wind, thou breath of autumn's being

The leaves are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing

Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words amongst mankind!

 

Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere

Destroyer and Preserver, hear O hear!

Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words amongst mankind!

 
Shelley wrote the Ode to the West Wind in Florence, at a time when a recent series of events -
the death of his son (William, the Peterloo massacre, a savage attack on him in a magazine review, and Mary Shelley's depression had affected him deeply.The fragments he wrote in the days leading up his composition of his Ode see him
wrestling with the personal issues that these had raised; the Ode showed him rising above a purely personal perspective and incorporating such concerns into a broader and forward-looking  narrative that included the future of humanity and the role of his own work in bringing about social change.
 
On the way from his apartment to the park where he wrote his poem he would have passed the medieval slum dwellings that surrounded the Duomo; the plight of the poor found its way into the work when he conflated the sight of the autumn leaves being driven across the forest floor with the conditions they had to endure. He gave the leaves the colours of humanity - 'yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red/ Pestilence stricken multitudes', and showed that he had a global vision for humanity and its welfare when he wrote in his Ode to Liberty 'What if earth can clothe and feed/Amplest millions at their need?'
 
 
See also commentary at Schools)
 

HEART OF HEARTS

(from Percy Bysshe Shelley: Rock Star)

Sources: Dante's sonnet for Guido Cavalcanti (translated by PBS),

Epipsychidion, Lines for Emilia Viviani

 

Ah, my song; I fear but few

Fitly shall conceive thy reasoning

Of such hard matter doth thou entertain

Amongst enchanted islands of sunlit lawn

In the clear golden prime of my youth's dawn

There was a being who my spirit oft

Met on its visioned wanderings far aloft

 

As one sandalled with plumes of fire

I sprang towards the lodestar of my desire

In many mortal forms I rashly sought

The shadow of that idol of my thought

 

I never was attached to that great sect

Whose doctrine is that each one should select

Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend

And all the rest to oblivion commend

 

There was a being who my spirit oft

Met on its visioned wanderings far aloft

Amongst enchanted islands of sunlit lawn

In the clear golden prime of my youth's dawn

 

The clear brow, the amorous lips

The eyes where past time reposes

These are images, images of her

The fragrance, yet still I seek the roses

 

Henry Salt, author of Shelley: poet and pioneer, called Epipsychidion 'the despair of the critics' and it doesn't have the cohesion of Shelley's greatest work: it blends courtly love, autobiography, sexual and platonic passion and a philosophy of love. I would defend Epipsychidion though on the grounds that it fulfils the old maxim: 'Know yourself'. Shelley wrote to a friend shortly before his death that he could not now bring himself to look at it, but that 'it will tell you something' about 'what I am and have been'. 'I think one is always in love with something or another', he added; 'the error, and I confess it is not easy for spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid it, consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of what is perhaps eternal'.

At the time divorce was virtually impossible and Shelley was expected to 'marry well' for the sake of the family fortunes; his father told him he would provide for as many illegitimate children as he cared to father but would never forgive a 'misalliance'. Husbands had complete control over any financial assets the wife brought to the marriage, and women who had sexual relationships before or outside marriage were written off as fallen women. At a dance in Horsham Shelley had deliberately danced with a girl so regarded.

Shelley's championing of free love was really a plea that people should be free to realise themselves in this life with who they loved, rather than be stifled by law and convention. Virginia Woolf wrote: 'Shelley, both as son and as husband, fought for reason and freedom in private life, and his experiments, disastrous as they were in many ways, have helped us to greater sincerity and happiness in our own conflicts'.

 

SPIRIT OF DELIGHT

(from Percy Bysshe Shelley: Rock Star)

From an (untitled) Song

 

Rarely, rarely comest thou Spirit of Delight!

Wherefore hast thou left me now

Many a day and night?

Spirit false thou hast forgot

All but those who need thee not.

 

I love all thou lovest Spirit of delight !

The fresh earth in new leaves dressed

And the starry night Autumn evening and the morn

When the golden mists are born.

 

I love Love - though he has wings

And like light can flee,

But above all other things Spirit I love thee –

Thou art love and life ! oh come

Make once more my heart thy home.

 

This lyric is about being in what Shelley called being in an 'interval of inspiration'. Yet it reminds you of the existence of a 'spirit of delight' and its importance, and so achieves a positive emotional effect. 'Spirit of Delight' adds in the introspective side of Shelley's work and shows how he examined emotional states.

It's edited down from eight verses to three, with verse one finishing with two lines from verse two. This lyric was probably written a year later than stated, in 1821; even if so it still chimes with Shelley's mood and situation in 1820.


THE PINE FOREST

pine-forest 

Sources: The Indian Serenade; The Pine Forest of the Cascine near Pisa;

When the lamp is shattered; To Jane: The Recollection

 

I arise from dreams of thee

In the first sweet sleep of night;

When the winds are breathing low

And the stars are shining bright;

I arise from dreams of thee

And a spirit in my feet

Has led me who knows how ?

To thy chamber window, Sweet!

 

We wandered to the pine forest

That skirts the ocean's foam

The lightest wind was in its nest

The tempest in its home

How calm it was, the silence there

By such a chain was bound

That even the busy woodpecker

Made (it) stiller by its sound.

 

Love's passions will rock thee

Like the storms rock the ravens on high

Bright reason will mock thee

Like the sun from a wintry sky;

Though thou art ever fair and kind

The forests ever green,

Less oft is peace in Shelley's mind

Than calm in waters seen

 

The final two verses belong to the last months of Shelley's life;

Verse 1 was written in Florence in 1819. The lyrics are an example

of how the songs are edited together by theme: there are comparatively

few settings of Shelley lyrics because composers have attempted to set a

whole poem (like the Ode to the West Wind) which is just too long to translate

successfully into music. Our approach has often been intuitive rather than technical;

matching spirit across nearly two centuries' divide.

 

The pine forest on the coast about 12 miles from Pisa - visible from the air when flying into Pisa -

was one of Shelley's writing haunts: verse two commemorates a still day in February 1822

when Shelley, Mary and Jane went walking there. The sea has receded a mile or two since Shelley's time.

The final verse begins with four lines from 'When the lamp is shattered'.

That late lyric begins unseen with a shining lamp, perhaps the radiance of a love relationship.

It indicates how sorrowful Shelley had become about love that the lamp

is shattered at the outset of the poem. Maybe this reflected the emotional distance

that had entered his marriage to Mary, largely due to the loss of their children;

he seemed to be trying to recreate that emotional bond with other

women like Emilia Viviani or Jane Williams. This is what drives

his final love lyrics in Pisa and Lerici; the tone of regret in the final four lines hints at the difficulties.

 

Many a Green Isle

(From Percy Bysshe Shelley: Rock Star)

Sources: Lines written in the Euganean Hills

Stanzas written in dejection, near Naples, Hellas


Many a green isle needs must be

In the deep wide sea of misery

Or the mariner worn, and wan

Never thus could voyage on

Day and night, and night and day

Drifting on his dreary way


Alas I have nor hope nor health

Nor peace within, nor calm around

Nor that content surpassing wealth

The sage in meditation found

And walked with inward glory crowned


  Yet were life a charnel where

Hope lay coffined with despair

Yet were truth a sacred lie

Love were lust, if liberty

Lent not life its soul of light

Hope its iris of delight

Truth its prophets robe to wear

Love its power to give and bear


Many a green isle needs must be

In the deep wide sea of misery

Or the mariner worn, and wan

Never thus could voyage on

 

Shelley’s years in Italy were marked by personal tragedy,

and the main chorus of this song was written in Este in 1818 in the Euganean hills

after the death of his young daughter Clara in Venice. The lines written in Naples were also written

at a time of some personal difficulty, which scholars have not been able to fathom

although it may be connected with his mysterious `Neapolitan charge’.

But the final lines from Hellas reveal Shelley’s recourse to secular redemptive ideals

based on liberty; he would not agree that a decline in orthodox religious beliefs

would necessarily lead to social or moral decline.


 

THE TRIUMPH OF LIFE

casa-magni2Lerici2a

Shelley's last house,  the Casa Magni in San Terenzo, Lerici and the view from its balcony

 

From The Triumph of Life

 

Swift as a spirit

Hastening to his task

Of glory and of good;

The sun sprang forth

Rejoicing in his splendour.

Before me fled the night

Behind me rose the day,

The deep was at my feet

And heaven above my head

When a strange trance over my fancy grew

Which was not slumber

And then a vision on my brain was rolled ...

 

Methought I sate beside a public way

Thick strewn with summer dust

And a great stream of people there

Was hurrying to and fro

Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam

Yet none seemed to know

Whither he went

Or whence he came

Or why he made one of the multitude

 

Struck to the heart by this sad pageantry

Then what is life I cried ......

 

This song amounts to a bit of creative editing – a poem of 544 lines

being edited down to about 14 ! It examines the difficulties of living

an ethically ideal existence, or achieving self knowledge, with the poem

maintaining that most, even Shelley's admired Plato, fall by the wayside –

betrayed by 'the mutiny within'.

In the poem Shelley meets the figure of Rousseau

who undertakes to explain the vision to him: it's interesting to compare

this with World War One poet Wilfred Owen's poem 'Strange Meeting'

which uses the same device and has much the same tone as The Triumph of Life.

Owen was highly influenced by Shelley's view of the role of the poet;

he was reading 'plenty of Shelley'  just before his death.

 

IMMORTAL DEITY

 

Sources: Queen Mab (adapted from notes)

The Defence of Poetry; Immortal Deity.

 

There is no God;

Or rather, there is no creative God.

The hypothesis of a pervading spirit,

Co-eternal with the universe

Remains unshaken.

 

This power arises from within:

Poetry redeems from decay

The visitations of the divinity in man.

 

Oh thou immortal deity

Whose throne is in the depth of human thought

I do adjure thy power and thee;

By all that man may be, by all that he is not

By all that he has been and yet must be !

 

This selection is an indication of how the Triumph of Life might have ended;

it tries to make a unity out of Shelley's many comments, over the ten years of his writing life,

on God and spirituality. He called himself an atheist – 'I took up the word, as a knight took

up a gauntlet, in defiance of injustice' he told Trelawny. Though he respected

Jesus of Nazareth as a teacher and moralist, he rejected the mythological element

and the Pauline superstructure of orthodox Christianity. Nor did he believe in

what he calls here a 'creative god', i.e. a protective, caring/angry paternal god;

he was consistent in attacking this Judeo-Christian model. The result was that

he looked elsewhere for sources of morality - substituting what he regarded as

innate qualities of benevolence and love of justice and liberty that were inherent in people.

Of course, these could be overridden, though they would not disappear.

Yet Shelley didn't go the way of the materialist; this late lyric Immortal Deity,

together with the extracts from the Defence of Poetry, expresses a tentative

sense of a spirituality bound up with human potential –

'what men call God' being a kind of spirit of wisdom/justice/liberty/creativity/poetry

that can visit anyone.

His earlier poem 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty' ploughs the same furrow as this.

Shelley took the phrase 'Intellectual Beauty' from Mary Wollstonecraft who had written that

women were primarily valued for their 'soft bewitching beauty' – actually, she wrote,

there is something called 'intellectual beauty' as well. The 'Hymn to Intellectual beauty'

refers to a time in boyhood when, as Shelley put it, 'thy shadow fell on me'; he added:

'I vowed that I would dedicate my powers To thee and thine – have I not kept the vow?'

 

THE FUNERAL

Trelawnybooktrs

Lyrics by John Webster

 

The quarantine officers stopped me

And sent me back to the quay;

Nonetheless Shelley and Williams

Kept heading out to sea

I watched till they disappeared into the haze

Then went down to my cabin to sleep;

I was woken by thunder and lightning

Coming crashing down over the deep.

 

And when the storm had cleared away

I looked where their boat had last been

Then I scanned the entire horizon

But they were nowhere to be seen.

 

(Mary Shelley: 'With us it was stormy all day and we did not

at all suppose that they could put to sea ….

Next day it rained and was calm – the sky wept on their graves…')

 

Two weeks on I was cantering over

The Mediterranean sands;

Despair in the pit of my stomach

 And sweat in the palms of my hands.

I was riding along for miles and for miles

I was brought up short when I saw;

The lifeless body of Shelley

Lying there on the shore.

I rode back to Lerici

And there told Mary and Jane

That Shelley and Ned had been taken from them

By the sea and the wind and the rain

 

Then I built an iron furnace

And carried it down to the shore

Prepared the cremation of Shelley

As a crowd gathered silent in awe.

The air seemed to quiver and glisten

Twixt the sea and the Apennine;

Over his burning body I poured Frankincense, salt and wine.

'My dear Trelawny' said Byron

Breaking the funeral's spell;

'I knew that you were a pagan

But you're a pagan priest as well !'

 

But not till the evening was on us

Was his body consumed on the pyre

All was consumed, except for his heart

Which I snatched from out of the fire.

And Mary is left with his papers,

And a question; she wonders how long

It will take for the world to realise

What it lost in this bright child of song.

This song, sung by guest vocalist Keith Parker, is a precis in song of Edward Trelawny's

account of Shelley's death and his funeral on the beach near Viareggio in his book

'Records of Shelley, Byron and the author'. The Mary Shelley spoken piece

over the instrumental is taken from a letter she wrote to her friend Maria Gisborne

from Pisa as the funeral was taking place.

 

ADONAIS

 

Sources: To Stella (adapted from Plato's epigram translated by Shelley);

Adonais;  the Ode to the West Wind

 

He was a morning star amongst the living;

Now that his spirit is fled;

He shines in the heavens like the evening star

He gives new splendour to the dead.

 

He hath awakened from the dream of life

He hath outsoared the shadow of our night;

The soul of Adonais, burning like a star

Beacons from the abode where the eternal are.

 

(The spring does not rebel against the winter - it succeeds it;

The dawn does not rebel against the night - it disperses it.)

 

The One remains, the many change and pass

Life, like a dome of many coloured glass,

Stains the white radiance of Eternity.

 

O wind if winter comes can spring be far behind?

Can Spring be far behind?

O wind if winter comes can spring be far behind?

Can Spring be far behind?

O wind if winter comes can spring be far behind?

Can Spring be far behind?

This song may be the first time that Plato (in verse 1) has ever been put to a backbeat!

It's sung by Ruth Murray, representing Mary Shelley paying tribute to her lost husband.

Two epigrams of Plato survive, evidence perhaps of an early desire to be a poet/playwright.

His evident failure to succeed may have been why, in book 10 of The Republic,

he proposed banishing poets from his ideal state ! His epigram is a soulful tribute

to a lost friend, Stella, who 'gives new splendour to the dead'.

 

The second verse, from Adonais, plays on the old philosophical notion that

perhaps this life is nothing but a dream. The opening lines of Stanza 40 of Adonais

are followed by the two final lines of the poem. Adonais often comes to mind

when the young and gifted suffer an untimely death; examples could include

Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger read pieces from Adonais at the concert in Hyde Park),

River Phoenix, Kirsty MacColl, Stephen Lawrence, or John Lennon.

You could see Lennon in Shelleyan terms as an 'unacknowledged legislator'

who now 'shines in the heavens like the evening star'.

 

In his poem A Terre (Being the Philosophy of many soldiers)

Wilfred Owen referred to Adonais (see stanza 42):

'I shall be one with nature, herb and stone',

Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned:

The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.

'Pushing up the daisies is their creed, you know'.

 

So Shelley's lyrics on death match today's largely agnostic attitudes

on the existence of the afterlife. What can continue after death though is inspiration and

strength for those who remain.

The spoken fragment comes from Shelley's notebook from Lerici,

and is significant in that it repeats the central idea from the Ode to the West Wind.

In other words the grim vision from The Triumph of Life, written at the same time as the fragment,

is not (as some say) a final descent into pessimism on Shelley's part,

but part of a longer work in which sources for hope in a secular world

would - if he had lived - been explored.

 

The third verse is a reprise of the platonic verse from Paradise of exiles,

and the final chorus is from the last line of the Ode to the West Wind.

It brings out the link between the Ode to the West Wind and Adonais:

at the beginning of the final stanza Shelley wrote

'The breath whose might I have invoked in song/ Descends on me ….'

– a reference back to the west wind in Florence.

Shelley called death 'the great mystery' and once apparently, suggested

to Jane Williams, when they were in a little dinghy off the beach in Lerici,

that they 'solve the great mystery together'.

She replied 'no thank you I'd like my dinner first'!

 

THE WORLD'S GREAT AGE

 Athens3

Sources: Hellas Prometheus Unbound, Act III; The Question

Prose: Lines written among the Euganean Hills

 

The world's great age begins anew

The golden years return;

The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn.

 

Heaven smiles, and faiths and Empires gleam;

Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

 

The loathsome mask has fallen;

The man remains

King over himself

Free from guilt and pain

 

Women frank and beautiful and kind;

Looking emotions once they feared to feel

Speaking the wisdom once they dared not speak

Changed to all which once they dared not be

 

I dreamed that as I wandered by the way

Bare winter suddenly was changed to spring

 

Let the tyrant rule

The desert he has made

Let the free possess

The paradise they claim

Where all shall live

As equals and as friends;

And the world grow young again.

 

The world's great age begins anew

The golden years return;

The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn.

 

This song gathers together Shelley's utopian verses from a variety of sources.

Matthew Arnold derided Shelley as an ‘ineffectual angel’

but modern historians have shown how his visionary verses made a significant

contribution to the attainment of universal suffrage in Britain

through their influence on key groups like the Chartists and the Suffragettes.

So this collection of Shelley lyrics ends with the poet in idealistic mode.

He understood the value of a vision, but saw its achievement as subject

to 'the difficult and unbending realities of actual life'. As he put it to Leigh Hunt

in the dark days after the Peterloo massacre: 'You know my principles

incite me to take all the good I can get in politics, for ever aspiring to something more.

I am one of those whom nothing will fully satisfy, but who is ready to be

partially satisfied by all that is practicable'.


 
 
 
 
LYRICS AND NOTES
FOR 'THE FIRST FAB FOUR'.
firstfabfour-resize2

Beginning with a medley of love lyrics with contributions from all four poets (Jenny kissed me), Lord Byron the mega-celebrity then makes an appearance in  Lord B. in motion, (a 'narrative song' by John). Byron and Shelley’s political sides then come to the fore in Marathon, Rise like Lions and Wild Spirit. Two classic Keats lyrics To Autumn and On the Shore are followed by two Shelley songs The Pine Forest and Many a Green Isle which meditate firstly on love and secondly on tragedy and surviving it. A second 'narrative song’ The Funeral recounts the dramatic story of Shelley’s drowning and cremation, and the following songs Adonais and Epitaph showcase luminous reflections on mortality from Shelley and Byron. Shelley’s The World’s Great Age follows, with the lyrics  showing the power of the vision he projected into the future, and the final song with Byron lyrics,  We’ll go no more a Roving, sees the Romantics passing into history.


JENNY KISSED ME


 

fabfour 

Hunt: Jenny kissed me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time you thief, who love to get Sweets into your list, put that in !

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I’m growing old, but add Jenny kissed me.

 

Byron: She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace;

Which waves in every raven tress

Or softly lightens o’er her face


Keats: I met a lady in the meads,

Full beautiful, a faery’s child;

Her hair was long, her foot was light

And her eyes were wild
She found me roots of relish sweet,

And honey wild and manna dew;

And sure in language strange she said ‘I love thee true’.
She took me to her elfin grot

And there she wept and sighed full sore

And there I shut her wild wild eyes

With kisses four

And there she lulled me asleep

And there I dreamed – Ah woe betide!

The latest dream I ever dreamed

On the cold hillside
I saw pale kings and princes too

Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

They cried – ‘La Belle Dame sans merci

Has thee in thrall!’

And this is why I sojourn here

Alone and palely loitering

Though the sedge has withered from the lake

And no birds sing

 

Shelley: The fountains mingle with the river

And the river with the ocean;

The winds of heaven mix forever

With a sweet emotion,

And the sunlight clasps the earth

And the moonbeams kiss the sea....

What is all this sweet work worth If thou kiss not me?

 

A medley of lyrics on the subject of love by all four poets.  Beginning with Leigh Hunt’s ‘Rondeau’, which as Hunt wrote 'was written on a real occasion' and recalls a meeting with a lady who 'was a great lover of books and impulsive writers', it moves to Byron’s famous verse inspired by a lady in a black spangled dress on the dance floor (whose attire reminds him of of the night skies he enountered on his 1810 journeys through Albania, Greece and Turkey), and then on to extracts from Keats’s story-poem ‘La Belle Dame sans merci’ which could be thought of as conveying the eternal truth that matters of the heart are not necessarily straightforward. But the song ends with the final verse from Shelley’s poem ‘Love’s Philosophy’, a charming way of asking for a kiss from a pretty girl.

 

 2. LORD B. IN MOTION

Byronillus1


(Lyrics by John Webster)

 Through the valley of the Arno

In the late October sun;
Lord Byron was a-travelling
While ahead his fame did run …

‘Lock up your daughters
Or keep them chaperoned;
He’s mad, he’s bad
He’s dangerous to know’

‘Don’t even look at him darling’
The mothers would say;
But their daughters sneaked a glimpse
Through the window anyway

At the head of five coachloads
Nine horses followed on the road
With an Egyptian falcon and a monkey;
There were five fine cackling geese.
He hadn’t had the heart to eat
And a bulldog and a mastiff

His accountant was coiled like a snake
On his money chest;
His four poster bed was adorned
With his family crest
Which read from Norman times ‘Trust Byron’ (Not all his ladies would agree).

‘I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all governments’ ‘Gin and water is the source of all my inspiration’ ‘God will not always be a Tory’

He thought that the poet laureate
Was a turncoat and a fool;
He satirised him in his verse
And challenged him to a duel.

‘Lock up your daughters
Or keep them chaperoned;
He’s mad, he’s bad
He’s dangerous to know’

When Byron’s poem Childe Harold was published in March 1812 it triggered a response that can be compared to Beatlemania. ‘I awoke and found myself famous’ Byron recorded, also remembering many years later that ‘the number of anonymous love letters and portraits I received, and all from English ladies, would have been enough to fill a large volume’.

Byron rode the wave of his fame in Britain (also developing an international reputation) until 1816, when London high society turned against him, scandalised by the implosion of his marriage and  suspicions that he had conducted an incestuous affair with his half sister Augusta.

After his exile public interest in him remained strong, and ‘Lord B. in motion’ tries to convey the extent of his celebrity.  The ‘don’t even look at him’ line were addressed by an English  mother to her daughter in Florence as Byron was passing through on his way to Pisa and gives an idea of how he was regarded by polite society.

The final verse refers to his ongoing literary warfare with Robert Southey the poet laureate (part of the no-holds-barred literary battle of the time). Southey, who had supported liberal causes in his youth, had dubbed Shelley and Byron’s impending collaboration on a journal in Pisa ‘The Satanic School’, and had called for legal action against them.

 

3. MARATHON (BYRON)


Sources:
Don Juan Canto III, Stanza 86
Childe Harold Canto III, Stanza 98
Entry in notebook 19th June 1823

MarathonpicMarathon2

(Two views of Marathon, Greece, which Byron visited in 1810)


The mountains look on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone
I dreamed that Greece might still be free


The mountains look on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone
I dreamed that Greece might still be free

Yet freedom ! yet thy banner torn but flying

Streams like the thunderstorm against the wind;

Yet freedom ! yet thy banner torn but flying

Streams like the thunderstorm against the wind.

The dead have been awakened – shall I sleep ?

The world’s at war with tyrants – shall I crouch ?

The harvest’s ripe - and shall I pause to reap ?

I slumber not – the thorn is in my couch ....

Each day a trumpet soundeth Its echo in my heart ....

The mountains look on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone
I dreamed that Greece might still be free

 

‘I would do anything for the land which gave Europe its science and its art’ said Byron in Pisa. In Genoa he assisted two German volunteers returning from Greece which rekindled his interest in supporting the Greek insurrection. When two emissaries from the London Greek Committee visited him and asked for help his mind was made up. The lines from his notebook ‘The dead have been awakened ...’ written a month before departure at the same time he was have Churchillian ring to them, conveying his mental preparation for what lay ahead.

4. RISE LIKE LIONS (SHELLEY)

Sources: Song to the Men of England, The Mask of Anarchy

libertyand

19th century political slogan kept by Shelley in Italy

(at a time when there was no true democracy in Europe)


People of England wherefore plough
For the Lords who lay ye low ?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

The seeds ye sow another reaps
The wealth ye find, another heaps

The robes ye weave another wears
The arms ye forge another bears

Wherefore feed and clothe and save
From the cradle to the grave
These ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat, nay drink your blood

Riselikelionsmss 

 

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many they are few.

Ye are many they are few.

 

The political situation in Shelley's time was one of deadlock, with the landowning classes monopolising political power and fearful that the slightest reform would usher in violent revolution on the French model. Changing social patterns, with Britain moving from a predominantly agricultural society to an urban industrialising order, meant that there was a new and increasingly literate – but entirely disenfranchised – urban population.

The Peterloo massacre led to the beginning of the organised labour movement in Britain. Shelley's lyrics see him trying to bond popular energies into a united force. As the Chartist Circular of 19th October 1839 put it: 'He wrote to teach his injured countrymen the great laws of union, and the strength of the passive resistance'.

Shelley sent The Mask of Anarchy to his editor friend Leigh Hunt but he did not publish it until after the Great Reform Bill in 1832. Shelley's other post-Peterloo lyrics, which included his 'Song to the Men of England', were not published during his lifetime. They had to wait till 1839, when Mary published an (almost) complete edition of his work.

In Tiananmen Square, before the crushing of the student/worker demonstration for democratic rights in China, a radio reporter talked to a student who was telling of her admiration for Shelley and Byron. These Shelley lyrics provide a template for situations where oligarchies assume power without popular mandate, and demonstrate how Shelley is a poet of global freedom.

5. WILD SPIRIT

Source: The Ode to the West Wind

Florencestorm3

Clouds - 'the locks of the approaching storm' - gather over

Florence where Shelley wrote the Ode to the West Wind

 

Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere
Destroyer and Preserver, hear O hear!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless and swift and proud

O wild West Wind, thou breath of autumn's being
The leaves are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing
Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words amongst mankind!

Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere
Destroyer and Preserver, hear O hear!
Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words amongst mankind!

Conventionally regarded as a nature lyric, Shelley's Ode to the West Wind again has a political edge to it.  There's a theme of personal renewal in it too, a refusal to be downed by the forces ranged against him. So at the end his work will 'quicken a new birth'. Elsewhere he wrote: 'the most unfailing herald, companion and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry'.

6. TO AUTUMN

Source: Keats’s letters, To  Autumn

k8

'Among the river sallows, borne aloft'... Keats Walk, Winchester, at the time of year To Autumn was composed

(How beautiful the season is now, a temperate sharpness in the air...

Somehow a stubble plain looks warm,

this struck me so much on my walk that I composed upon it....)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd  cottage-trees,                               
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease
For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells.


Where are the songs of Spring ? Ay, where are they ?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


In the song’s spoken introduction (from a letter of 22/9/1819) Keats says that the poem was inspired by seeing the setting sun turning the stubble fields red. But this key image figures almost casually in the final verse – ‘and touch the stubble plains with rosy hue’.

Shortly before writing To Autumn he had written: ‘Autumn is encroaching – for the Autumn fog over a rich land is like the steam from cabbage water’. Could this down-to-earth image of the fog be the beginnings of the poem’s famous first line?

Scholars say that manuscript evidence indicates that verses 1 & 3 of the poem were written at the same sitting, and that verse 2 was added later. In it he compared the autumn to the various occupations of the Hampshire people he observed around him in Winchester.

Some say that the reference to the gleaner in verse 2 has a political resonance. Keats was probably aware of prosecutions that had taken place for gleaning after the passing of the 1815 corn laws (they had been denounced in the letters page of the Examiner, which he read regularly). 'By reinscribing the word ('gleaner') into poetry and into the poetic tradition, Keats was making (consciously or not) a claim for the legitimacy of the act of gleaning: he discovered another way of writing politics into poetry, one that, through its silence, exerted a political pressure of presupposition' (andrew j. bennett).

To Autumn was written shortly after the Peterloo massacre, when demonstrators in Manchester calling for the vote for all British men and women had been attacked by yeomanry and cavalrymen. 11 had been killed, 600 wounded. Keats had been in London recently and had witnessed a tumultuous demonstration there greeting the main speaker Henry Hunt and survivors from the event.

Could the tone of the poem, so full and calm, be a reaction to the political and financial chaos that Peterloo threatened to unleash ? It has been said that Britain at this time was closer to revolution than it had ever been since the Civil War – though memories of that civil conflict were fresher than they are now and very few will have wanted to repeat those days.

Underlying the poem is the theme of change, but change unfolding peacefully and naturally. Maybe this is Keats’s subliminal political message after Peterloo. He had written once ‘I hope to put something to the liberal side of the question before I die’.

Rock and pop stars often comment on current political matters. Very often there’s a directness of approach: perhaps Keats’s poem To Autumn shows another way of reflecting such issues ?



7. ON THE SHORE

Source: Untitled sonnet ‘When I have fears’

Ontheshore

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain;
Before high-piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain
When I behold upon the sky’s night face
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance
And when I feel fair creature of an hour
That I may never look upon thee more
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love
Then on the shore I stand alone and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink

Keats’s sonnet ‘When I have fears’, titled here ‘On the Shore’, is on the theme of untimely death. Though his early death at the age of 25 gives the poem poignancy, it was written as a literary exercise, before Keats knew of his fatal infection with tuberculosis, perhaps in response to one of Shakespeare’s sonnets (no 64). The ‘fair creature of an hour’ is thought to refer to a girl glimpsed at the Vauxhall gardens in London.

The poem reveals Keats's sceptical attitude towards the idea of an afterlife. As a freethinker who refused the consolations of religion even on his deathbed, he could not be satisfied with such predictions, or any other conception of an afterlife. All he can say, confronted with the issue of death ‘before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain’, is that: ‘On the shore, I stand alone and think/Till love and fame to nothingness do sink’.

 


8. THE PINE FOREST

Sources:

The Indian Serenade
The Pine Forest of the Cascine near Pisa
When the lamp is shattered
To Jane: The Recollection

dia 0056 

The pine forest near Pisa

I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night;
When the winds are breathing low
And the stars are shining bright;
I arise from dreams of thee
And a spirit
in my feet
Has led me who knows how ?
To thy chamber window sweet

We wandered to the pine forest
That skirts the ocean's foam
The lightest wind was in its nest
The tempest in its home
How calm it was, the silence there
By such a chain was bound
That even the busy woodpecker
Made it stiller by its sound.

Love's passions will rock thee
Like the storms rock the ravens on high
Bright reason will mock thee
Like the sun from a wintry sky;
Though thou art ever fair and kind
The forests ever green,
Less oft is peace in Shelley's mind
Than calm in waters seen.

 

The final two verses belong to the last months of Shelley's life; Verse 1 was written in Florence in 1819. The lyrics are an example of how the songs are edited together by theme: there are comparatively few settings of Shelley lyrics because composers have attempted to set a whole poem (like the Ode to the West Wind) which is just too long to translate successfully into music. Our approach has often been intuitive rather than technical; matching spirit across nearly two centuries' divide.

The pine forest on the coast about 12 miles from Pisa - visible from the air when flying into Pisa - was one of Shelley's writing haunts: verse two commemorates a still day in February 1822 when Shelley, Mary and Jane went walking there. The sea has receded a mile or two since Shelley's time.

The final verse begins with four lines from 'When the lamp is shattered'. That late lyric begins unseen with a shining lamp, the radiance of a love relationship.
It indicates how sorrowful Shelley had become about love that the lamp is shattered at the outset of the poem. Maybe this reflected the emotional distance that had entered his marriage to Mary, largely due to the loss of their children; he seemed to be trying to recreate that emotional bond with other women like Emilia Viviani or Jane Williams. This is what drives his final love lyrics in Pisa and Lerici; the tone of regret in the final four lines hints at the difficulties.


9. MANY A GREEN ISLE

Sources: Lines written in the Euganean Hills
Stanzas written in dejection, near Naples
Hellas
EuganeanHills

 (View of the Euganean Hills)


Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of misery
Or the mariner worn, and wan
Never thus could voyage on
Day and night, and night and day
Drifting on his dreary way

Alas I have nor hope nor health
Nor peace within, nor calm around
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found
And walked with inward glory crowned

 Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of misery
Or the mariner worn, and wan
Never thus could voyage on

Yet were life a charnel where
Hope lay coffined with despair
Yet were truth a sacred lie
Love were lust, if liberty
Lent not life its soul of light
Hope its iris of delight
Truth its prophets robe to wear
Love its power to give and bear

Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of misery
Or the mariner worn, and wan
Never thus could voyage on


Shelley’s years in Italy were marked by personal tragedy, and the main chorus of this song was written in Este in 1818 in the Euganean hills after the death of his young daughter Clara in Venice. The lines written in Naples were also written at a time of some personal difficulty, which scholars have not been able to fathom although it may be connected with his mysterious `Neapolitan charge’. But the final lines form Hellas reveal Shelley’s recourse to secular redemptive ideals based on liberty; he would not agree that a decline in orthodox religious beliefs would necessarily lead to social or moral decline.


10. THE FUNERAL

(Lyrics by John Webster, from Trelawny's account)

Trelawnybooktrs

Trelawny's memoirs of his time in Italy with the poets,
and a photograph of him in old age.
 

The quarantine officers stopped me
And sent me back to the quay;
Nonetheless Shelley and Williams
Kept heading out to sea

I watched till they disappeared into the haze
Then went down to my cabin to sleep;
I was woken by thunder and lightning
Coming crashing down over the deep.

And when the storm had cleared away
I looked where their boat had last been
Then I scanned the entire horizon

But they were nowhere to be seen.

(Mary Shelley: with us it was stormy all day
and we did not at all suppose that they could
put to sea …. Next day it rained and was calm
– the sky wept on their graves…')

Two weeks on I was cantering over
The Mediterranean sands;
Despair in the pit of my stomach -
And sweat in the palms of my hands.

I was riding along for miles and for miles
I was brought up short when I saw;
The lifeless body of Shelley
Lying there on the shore.

I rode back to Lerici
And there told Mary and Jane
That Shelley and Ned had been taken from them
By the sea and the wind and the rain

Then I built an iron furnace
And carried it down to the shore
Prepared the cremation of Shelley
As a crowd gathered silent in awe.

The air seemed to quiver and glisten
Twixt the sea and the Apennine;
Over his burning body I poured
Frankincense, salt and wine.

'My dear Trelawny' said Byron
Breaking the funeral's spell;
'I knew that you were a pagan
But you're a pagan priest as well !'

But not till the evening was on us
Was his body consumed on the pyre
All was consumed, except for his heart
Which I snatched from out of the fire.

And Mary is left with his papers,
And a question; she wonders how long
It will take for the world to realise
What it lost in this bright child of song.

 

This song, sung by guest vocalist Keith Parker, is a precis in song of Edward Trelawny's account of Shelley's death and his funeral on the beach near Viareggio in his book 'Records of Shelley, Byron and the author'. The Mary Shelley spoken piece over the instrumental is taken from a letter she wrote to her friend Maria Gisborne from Pisa as the funeral was taking place.

11. ADONAIS (SHELLEY)

Sources:
To Stella (adapted from Plato's epigram translated by Shelley)
Adonais, Ode to the West Wind


He was a morning star amongst the living;
Now that his spirit is fled;
He shines in the heavens
like the evening star
He gives new splendour to the dead.

He hath awakened from the dream of life
He hath outsoared the shadow of our night;
The soul of Adonais, burning like a star
Beacons from the abode where the eternal are.

(The spring does not rebel against the winter - it succeeds it;
The dawn does not rebel against the night - it disperses it.)

The One remains, the many change and pass
Life, like a dome of many coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity.

O wind if winter comes can spring be far behind?
Can Spring be far behind?
O wind if winter comes can spring be far behind?
Can Spring be far behind?
O wind if winter comes can spring be far behind?
Can Spring be far behind?

This song may be the first time that Plato (in verse 1) has ever been put to a backbeat! It's sung by Ruth Murray, representing Mary Shelley paying tribute to her lost husband.

Two epigrams of Plato survive, evidence perhaps of an early desire to be a poet/playwright. His evident failure to succeed may have been why, in book 10 of The Republic, he proposed banishing poets from his ideal state ! His epigram is a soulful tribute to a lost friend, Stella, who 'gives new splendour to the dead'.

The second verse, from Adonais, plays on the old philosophical notion that perhaps this life is nothing but a dream. The opening lines of Stanza 40 of Adonais are followed by the two final lines of the poem. Adonais often comes to mind when the young and gifted suffer an untimely death; examples could include Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger read pieces from Adonais at the concert in Hyde Park), River Phoenix, Kirsty McColl, Stephen Lawrence, or John Lennon. You could see Lennon in Shelleyan terms as an 'unacknowledged legislator' who now 'shines in the heavens like the evening star'.

In his poem A Terre (Being the Philosophy of many soldiers) Wilfred Owen referred to Adonais (see stanza 42):

'I shall be one with nature, herb and stone', Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned: The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now. 'Pushing up the daisies is their creed, you know'.So Shelley's lyrics on death match today's largely agnostic attitudes on the existence of the afterlife. What can continue after death though is inspiration and strength for those who remain.

The spoken fragment comes from Shelley's notebook from Lerici, and is significant in that it repeats the central idea from the Ode to the West Wind. In other words the grim vision from The Triumph of Life, written at the same time as the fragment, is not (as some say) a final descent into pessimism on Shelley's part, but part of a longer work in which sources for hope in a secular world would have been explored.

The third verse is a reprise of the platonic verse from Paradise of exiles, and the final chorus is from the last line of the Ode to the West wind. It brings out the link between the Ode to the West Wind and Adonais: at the beginning of the final stanza Shelley wrote 'The breath whose might I have invoked in song/ Descends on me ….'
– a reference back to the west wind in Florence.

Shelley called death 'the great mystery' and once apparently, suggested to Jane Williams, when they were in a little dinghy off the beach in Lerici, that they 'solve the great mystery together'. She replied 'no thank you I'd like my dinner first'!

 

12. EPITAPH

Adapted from Childe Harold Canto IV Stanza 137

Missolonghi2

19th and 20th century views of Missolonghi, where Byron died in 1824

 

But I have lived, and have not lived in vain

My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire;

But there is that within me which shall tire

Torture and time, and breathe when I expire

Like the remembered tone of a mute lyre.

 

In 1818 Byron had published the last Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgimage, in which he included a reflection on what his legacy could amount to.  In an age when belief in an afterlife is on the wane these lyrics point to an immortality of the spirit which certainly a great poet like Byron can aspire to. What survives of the rest of us is perhaps less measurable, but at best is seen perhaps in a diffused but none the less real contribution to humanity, liberty, and society, that goes on to build up the human story – for all we know, the only self-aware form of life in the universe.

 

13. THE WORLD'S GREAT AGE

Sources:
Hellas
Prometheus Unbound, Act III
The Question, Shelley’s Lerici notebook, Lines written among the Euganean Hills

Athens4Athens3

(illustration reconstructing 5th century Athens - what Shelley saw, with some qualifications, as 'The World's Great Age')

The world's great age begins anew
The golden years return;
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn.

Heaven smiles, and faiths and Empires gleam;
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

The loathsome mask has fallen;
The man remains
King over himself
Free from guilt and pain

Women frank and beautiful and kind;
Looking emotions once
they feared to feel
Speaking the wisdom once they dared not speak
Changed to all which once they dared not be

I dreamed that as I wandered by the way
Bare winter suddenly was changed to spring

Let the tyrant rule
The desert he has made
Let the free possess
The paradise they claim

Where all shall live
As equals and as friends;
And the world grow young again.

The world's great age begins anew
The golden years return;
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn.

 

This song gathers together Shelley's utopian verses from a variety of sources. Matthew Arnold derided Shelley as an ‘ineffectual angel’ but modern historians have shown how his visionary verses made a significant contribution to the attainment of universal suffrage in Britain through their influence on key groups like the Chartists and the Suffragettes.

So Shelley leaves this collection in idealistic mode. He understood the value of a vision, but saw its achievement as subject to 'the difficult and unbending realities of actual life'. As he put it to Leigh Hunt in the dark days after the Peterloo massacre: 'You know my principles incite me to take all the good I can get in politics, for ever aspiring to something more. I am one of those whom nothing will fully satisfy, but who is ready to be partially satisfied by all that is practicable'.

 

14. SO WE’LL GO NO MORE A ROVING


So we’ll go no more a roving,
So late into the night;
Though the heart be still as loving
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath
And the soul outwears the breast;
And the heart must pause to breathe
And love itself have rest

Though the night was made for loving
And the day returns too soon
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Though the night was made for loving
And the day returns too soon
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

 

One of Byron’s most famous lyrics, whose jumping off point was a contemporary Scottish folk song, is pressed into service as a farewell song for the younger Romantics: Keats, Shelley and now Byron who had all died young.

They had all died freethinkers, unreconciled to orthodox formulations of God; in a sense today’s society, which also finds simple all-explanatory formulas problematic, has only just caught up with them.

Romantic poetry has been called ‘a fusion of love, philosophy, exact observation and spiritual vision’ (Grevel Lindrop) which doesn’t seek to express a coherent system of thought but reflects a ‘painfully fragmented existence’ (Richard Cronin). Which is a good cue for a last quotation from Byron: ‘When a man talks of system’, he once wrote, ‘his case is hopeless”.

 

 

 

SCROLL DOWN FOR LYRICS FOR OUR OTHER CDs:

   'COURAGEOUS HEART: SEVEN BYRONIC SONGS' and 'LORD BYRON AND THE GREEK WAR', 'JOHN KEATS'S SUBLIME SINGLE'

 

SEVEN BYRONIC SONGS and LORD BYRON AND THE GREEK WAR

Byron-cover6-1501 smByroncover

 

LORD B. IN MOTION (Lyrics by John Webster)

 

 Through the valley of the Arno

In the late October sun;

Lord Byron was a-travelling

While ahead his fame did run …

 

‘Lock up your daughters

Or keep them chaperoned;

He’s mad, he’s bad

He’s dangerous to know’

 

‘Don’t even look at him darling’

The mothers would say;

But their daughters sneaked a glimpse

Through the window anyway

 

At the head of five coachloads

Nine horses followed on the road

With an Egyptian falcon and a monkey;

There were five fine cackling geese

He hadn’t had the heart to eat

And a bulldog and a mastiff

His accountant was coiled like a snake

On his money chest;

His four poster bed was adorned

With his family crest

Which read from Norman times ‘Trust Byron’

(Not all his ladies would agree).

 

Byron: ‘I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all governments’

‘Gin and water is the source of all my inspiration’

‘God will not always be a Tory’

 

He thought that the poet laureate

Was a turncoat and a fool;

He satirised him in his verse

And challenged him to a duel.

‘Lock up your daughters

Or keep them chaperoned;

He’s mad, he’s bad

He’s dangerous to know’

 

When Byron’s poem Childe Harold was published in March 1812 it triggered a response that can be compared to Beatlemania. ‘I awoke and found myself famous’ Byron recorded, also remembering many years later that ‘the number of anonymous love letters and portraits I received, and all from English ladies, would have been enough to fill a large volume’.

Byron rode the wave of his fame in Britain (also developing an international reputation) until 1816, when London high society turned against him, scandalised by the implosion of his marriage and  suspicions that he had conducted an incestuous affair with his half sister Augusta.

After his exile public interest in him remained strong, and ‘Lord B. in motion’ tries to convey the extent of his celebrity.  The ‘don’t even look at him’ line were addressed by an English  mother to her daughter in Florence as Byron was passing through on his way to Pisa and gives an idea of how he was regarded by polite society.

The final verse refers to his ongoing literary warfare with Robert Southey the poet laureate (part of the no-holds-barred literary battle of the time). Southey, who had supported liberal causes in his youth, had dubbed Shelley and Byron’s impending collaboration on a journal in Pisa ‘The Satanic School’, and had called for legal action against them.

 

HALF A SCOT BY BIRTH

Adapted from Don Juan, Canto X, Stanzas 18 and 19

 

I am half a Scot by birth

And bred a whole one …

‘Auld Lang Syne’ brings Scotland, one and all

Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills and clear streams

The Dee, the Don, Balgounie brig’s black wall,

All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams

Floating past me …

You may remember, in a youthful fit

I railed at Scots – to show my wrath and wit

And yet, I ‘scotched, not killed’ the Scotsman in my blood -

I love the land of ‘mountain and of flood’.

I am half a Scot by birth …

And bred a whole one …

Auld Lang Syne brings Scotland, one and all

Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills and clear streams

The Dee, the Don, Balgounie brig’s black wall,

All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams

Floating past me …

This childishness of mine

Comes back with ‘Auld Lang Syne’ …

 

After Shelley’s death in the summer of 1822 Byron took up his poem Don Juan again, and in these lines, written in his study in Pisa at the Palazzo Lanfranchi, overlooking the river Arno, he thinks back to his childhood in Aberdeen.

To visit the Dee valley (and the Linn of Dee near Braemar he visited as a child) is to understand something about Byron, the grandeur, beauty and wildness of the scenery he encountered in boyhood seeming to have permeated his spirit in some way. (Songwriter's note: Apologies, Balgounie is mis-pronounced in the song, should be Balgownie rather than 'Balgoonie' )

The lines about his ‘youthful fit’ refer to his poem ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’, a savage attack on both the Scottish and English literary worlds. The Edinburgh Review, the liberal journal which he would have expected to be supportive, had trashed his first published poem ‘Hours of Idleness’. His first reaction had been complete despair but then, as he recalled later, ‘I drank three bottles of wine and sat down to make a reply’.

So ‘Half a Scot by birth’ amounts to public act of reconciliation and a farewell to the Scotland he would never see again.

 

MARATHON

Sources: Don Juan Canto III, Stanza 86 Childe Harold Canto III, Stanza 98 Entry in notebook 19th June 1823

 

 The mountains look on Marathon

And Marathon looks on the sea;

And musing there an hour alone

I dreamed that Greece might still be free

 

Yet freedom ! yet thy banner torn but flying

Streams like the thunderstorm against the wind;

Yet freedom ! yet thy banner torn but flying

Streams like the thunderstorm against the wind.

 

The dead have been awakened – shall I sleep ?

The world’s at war with tyrants – shall I crouch ?

The harvest’s ripe - and shall I pause to reap ?

I slumber not – the thorn is in my couch ....

Each day a trumpet soundeth

Its echo in my heart ....

 

The mountains look on Marathon

And Marathon looks on the sea;

And musing there an hour alone

I dreamed that Greece might still be free

 

‘I would do anything for the land which gave Europe its science and its art’ said Byron in Pisa, as well as telling Shelley’s cousin Tom Medwin ‘I mean to return to Greece, and shall in all probability die there’.

 In Genoa, where he moved after leaving Pisa in the autumn of 1822, he assisted two German volunteers returning from Greece, and this rekindled his interest in supporting the insurrection of Greek nationalists, who had risen to try to end fopur centuries of rule by the Ottoman empire. When two emissaries from the London Greek Committee visited him and asked for help his mind was made up. The lines from his notebook ‘The dead have been awakened ...’ were written a month before departure, and convey his mental preparation for what lay ahead.

 

SETTING SAIL FROM GENOA (Lyrics by John Webster)

 

Setting sail from Genoa

With a chest of gold and medicines,

To join the Grecian fight for liberty;

Sailing slowly southwards

Past the volcanic islands

And out beyond the heel of Italy.

It was as if ten long years

Were lifted from his shoulders,

He felt like he was young again;

And Byron then remembered

The Springtime of his manhood

And the women who had loved him then ....

 

After twenty days on board

They saw the mountains of Morea,

Rising wreathed in cloud above the sea;

And Byron came on deck then

To catch sight of the country

Where he thought he could well meet his destiny ....

Everyone was watching

On the isle of Cephalonia

When Byron's boat moored at Argostoli,

Through telescopes and glasses

They viewed the noble poet

Whose life had now become legendary.

 

And so Byron left Genoa in July 1823, planning to sail to Cephalonia, then under a British mandate, to wait for firm information on the situation in Greece.  He had chartered The Hercules, ‘a tub built on the lines of a baby’s cradle’ according to Trelawny, and captained by Captain Scott, a Cockney who ‘abused Byron most obstreperously for throwing himself away on these villains’ - the Suliotes who swarmed onto the ship when Byron arrived in Cephalonia – ‘when there were so many honest men suffering at home’. Byron and Trelawny teased the Captain during the journey by getting into his prize scarlet waistcoat, taking one arm each (he was so large they both fitted) and jumping into the sea with it.

When they arrived on Cephalonia Trelawny, impatient with what he saw as Byron’s vacillation, went on ahead to the mainland, where – completely misreading the situation - he immediately joined up with the treacherous warlord Odysseus and was nearly assassinated for his pains. Byron however, waited for hard news from the mainland – demonstrating the blend of scepticism and idealism that underlay his expedition.

 

(LORD BYRON’S) FREEDOM SONG

(Adapted from lyrics in a letter dated November 5th 1820; music Dave Eastoe)

 

When there is no freedom to fight for at home

Let one combat for that of ones neighbours;

And think of the glory of Greece and of Rome ….

And get knocked on the head for ones labours !

 

Finally in January 1824 Byron arrived in the coastal town of Missolonghi to throw his weight behind one part of the Greek forces, the ‘Provisional government of western Greece’. There he began to try to unite the different factions in the town and the country, to shore up Missolonghi’s defences and raise a loan from banks in London for the Greek cause. (Download Missolonghi narrative here). But on 24th April he succumbed to cerebral malaria.

‘The news of his death came upon London like an earthquake’ a journalist wrote. ‘No one could remember the death of a poet having such an effect’. Another comment was:‘I felt as if I had lost a friend – he was the noblest spirit in Europe’.

The piece of Byronic wit in (Lord Byron’s) Freedom Song was written in Ravenna when he was providing assistance to Italian nationalists who wanted to rid Italy of rule by Austro-Hungarian Empire. It demonstrates how he would build up a noble or heroic theme only to undercut or subvert it. He did this to the great lines ‘The mountains look on Marathon...’ from Don Juan and also when he wrote his tribute to the Ukranian patriot Mazeppa. Both admirers, critics, and those who met him routinely complained that he would never stick to a point of view, but when it came to the point in Greece, he would stand by the cause to the bitter end.

EPITAPH

Adapted from Childe Harold Canto IV Stanza 137

 

But I have lived, and have not lived in vain

My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire;

But there is that within me which shall tire

Torture and time, and breathe when I expire

Like the remembered tone of a mute lyre.

 

In 1818 Byron had published the last Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgimage, in which he included a reflection on what his legacy could amount to.  In an age when belief in an afterlife is on the wane these lyrics point to an immortality of the spirit which certainly a great poet like Byron can aspire to. What survives of the rest of us is perhaps less measurable, but at best is seen perhaps in a diffused but none the less real contribution to humanity, liberty, and society, that goes on to build up the human story – for all we know, the only self-aware form of life in the universe.

7. So We’ll Go No More a Roving

(Written in Venice 1819)

 

So, we'll go no more a roving,

So late into the night;

Though the heart be still as loving

And the moon be still as bright.

 

For the sword outwears its sheath

And the soul outwears the breast;

And the heart must pause to breathe

And love itself have rest

 

Though the night was made for loving

And the day returns too soon

Yet we’ll go no more a roving

By the light of the moon.

 

Though the night was made for loving

And the day returns too soon

Yet we’ll go no more a roving

By the light of the moon.

 

One of Byron’s most famous lyrics, whose jumping off point was a contemporary Scottish folk song, is pressed into service (see narrative ? of LB & GW) as a farewell song for the younger Romantics: Keats, Shelley and now Byron who had all died young.

They had all died freethinkers, unreconciled to orthodox formulations of God; in a sense today’s society, which also finds simple all-explanatory formulas problematic, has only just caught up with them.

Romantic poetry has been called ‘a fusion of love, philosophy, exact observation and spiritual vision’ (Grevel Lindrop) which doesn’t seek to express a coherent system of thought but reflects a ‘painfully fragmented existence’ (Richard Cronin). Which is a good cue for a last quotation from Byron: ‘When a man talks of system’, he once wrote, ‘his case is hopeless”.

John Webster: vocals; Dave Eastoe: Guitars, keyboards, bouzouki; Ruth Murray: Vocals, flute; Steve Homes: flamenco guitar; Keith Parker: Guest vocals

 

DIALOGUES:

  

Dialogue 1: In Genoa Byron converses with the visiting Lady Blessington on love, fame and his imminent departure to Greece. Listen to the dialogue on YouTube here.

Ruth Murray: Voice of Lady Blessington; John Webster: Voice of Lord Byron

Lady Blessington has been described as ‘shrewd and sympathetic’ and her book ‘Conversations with Lord Byron’, from which these dialogues are largely reconstructed, is generally held to be both fair and accurate. Born in humble circumstances in Ireland and sold by her father to a farmer, she had been rescued by an English officer and then had married Lord Blessington. She came to preside over a literary salon in St James’s Square, London, so had witnessed Byron’s years of fame and ultimate fall from grace in London society. A year younger than Byron, she was ‘entrancingly beautiful’ and was dubbed ‘most gorgeous’ after a portrait of her caused a sensation amongst her peers.

Dialogue 2: Byron considers the issue of religion in Cephalonia

 Andrew Stubbings: Voice of Dr James Kennedy

Dr James Kennedy, an Edinburgh doctor with ‘gentle manners and a kind heart’, was the physician to the British garrison on Cephalonia. A Methodist, he sought to defend literalist Christianity against Enlightenment ideas – his meetings on Cephalonia, some of which Byron attended, were for this purpose. (Byron quipped that the respectable attendance at these meetings owed something to the beauty of his young wife). He died in Jamaica in 1827 fighting an outbreak of yellow fever, and his widow subsequently oversaw the publication of his book ‘Conversations on the Subject of Religion with Lord Byron’, from which these dialogues, again, are largely reconstructed.

Further reading:

BYRON The Flawed Angel, by Phyllis Grosskurth. Perceptive modern biography.

The Last Attachment, by Iris Origo. The classic description of Byron and Teresa’s relationship.

The Last Journey, by Harold Nicolson. An in-depth account of his journey to Greece.

That Greece Might Still be Free, by William St. Clair. An account of the involvement of Philhellenes, including Byron, in the Greek War of Independence. Lord Byron: Detached Thoughts

Don Juan, The Curse of Minerva

Edward Trelawny: Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author

 

JOHN KEATS’S SUBLIME SINGLE

keatscover4

 

TO AUTUMN

Sources: Keats’s letters, To Autumn, verses 1 &3

(How  beautiful the season is now, a temperate sharpness in the air... 

Somehow a stubble plain looks warm,

this struck me so much on my walk  that I composed upon it....)


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom friend of the maturing sun

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd  cottage-trees,           

                    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease

For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells.


Where are the songs of Spring ?

Ay, where are they ? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day

And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
 

In  the song’s spoken introduction (from a letter of 22/9/1819) Keats says  that the poem was inspired by seeing the setting sun turning the stubble  fields red. But this key image figures almost casually in the final  verse – ‘and touch the stubble plains with rosy hue’.

Shortly  before writing To Autumn he had written: ‘Autumn is encroaching – for  the Autumn fog over a rich land is like the steam from cabbage water’.  Could this down-to-earth image of the fog be the beginnings of the  poem’s famous first line?

Scholars  say that manuscript evidence indicates that verses 1 & 3 of the  poem were written at the same sitting, and that verse 2 was added later.  In it he compared the autumn to the various occupations of the  Hampshire people he observed around him in Winchester.

Some  say that the reference to the gleaner in verse 2 has a political  resonance. Keats was probably aware of prosecutions that had taken place  for gleaning after the passing of the 1815 corn laws (they had been  denounced in the letters page of the Examiner, which he read regularly).  'By reinscribing the word ('gleaner') into poetry and into the poetic  tradition, Keats was making (consciously or not) a claim for the  legitimacy of the act of gleaning: he discovered another way of writing  politics into poetry, one that, through its silence, exerted a political  pressure of presupposition' (andrew j. bennett).

To  Autumn was written shortly after the Peterloo massacre, when  demonstrators in Manchester calling for the vote for all British men and  women had been attacked by yeomanry and cavalrymen. 11 had been killed,  600 wounded. Keats had been in London recently and had witnessed a  tumultuous demonstration there greeting the main speaker Henry Hunt and  survivors from the event.

Could  the tone of the poem, so full and calm, be a reaction to the political  and financial chaos that Peterloo threatened to unleash ? It has been  said that Britain at this time was closer to revolution than it had ever  been since the Civil War – though memories of that civil conflict were  fresher than they are now and very few will have wanted to repeat those  days.

Underlying  the poem is the theme of change, but change unfolding peacefully and  naturally. Maybe this is Keats’s subliminal political message after  Peterloo. He had written once ‘I hope to put something to the liberal  side of the question before I die’.

Rock  and pop stars often comment on current political matters. Very often  there’s a directness of approach: perhaps Keats’s poem To Autumn shows  another way of reflecting such issues ?

ON THE SHORE


Source: Untitled sonnet ‘When I have fears’

 

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books in charact'ry
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the sky’s night face
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel fair creature of an hour
That I may never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!- Then on the shore
Of the wide world  I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink
 

Keats’s  sonnet ‘When I have fears’, titled here ‘On the Shore’, is on the theme  of untimely death. Though his early death at the age of 25 gives the  poem poignancy, it was written as a literary exercise, before Keats knew  of his fatal infection with tuberculosis, perhaps in response to one of  Shakespeare’s sonnets (no 64). The ‘fair creature of an hour’ is  thought to refer to a girl glimpsed at the Vauxhall gardens in London.

The  poem reveals Keats's sceptical attitude towards the idea of an  afterlife. As a freethinker who refused the consolations of religion  even on his deathbed, he could not be satisfied with such predictions,  or any other conception of an afterlife. All he can say, confronted with  the issue of death ‘before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain’, is  that: ‘On the shore, I stand alone and think/Till love and fame to  nothingness do sink’.

With: John Webster: vocals; Dave Eastoe: Guitars, keyboards 
  
 
 
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
 
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