Thursday, June 05, 2008

Romantic Poets

I've been reading a lively tale of the Romantic poets of early 19th century England: Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge. The book is Wildly Romantic by Catherine M. Andronik, and I doubt it's the last thing I read by her, but I digress.

Inside its pages, I learned that Lord Byron was infamous as an incestuous, bi-sexual, abusive, irresponsible nomad. My favorite line about Byron is also by Byron: "I felt that, if what was whispered and muttered and murmured was true -- I was unfit for England, -- if false -- England was unfit for me."

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the inadvertent mastermind behind his wife's -- Mary Shelley -- most notorious novel, as he was one to enjoy experimenting in the lab with things that went "boom" and with electricity. His experiments included sending shocks of electricity into dead frogs' legs to watch them twitch and wondered about the possibilities for reincarnation. His penchant for telling horror stories and Mary's own interest in her husband's eccentricities were all pieces of the puzzle that became Frankenstein. The Shelley's were also fiercely and publicly atheist.

Wordsworth was self-indulgent and pompous and was very sure of himself. In his youth he enjoyed the ideals of "free love" and in his old age he looked down upon the up and coming poets who embraced his earlier fanciful ideals. Coleridge was an opium addict, and it cost him much throughout his life.

Between the lot of them (and their wives and children) there were more illegitimate children, adulterous affairs, divorces, suicides, and illicit behavior than even Jerry Springer could cover in one show. If some wise professor of English literature had bothered to give me something behind all those antiquated words in their poems, I not only would've enjoyed studying the genre and the poets, but by now I'd have completed that damned P.h.D. and be a happy professor teaching the next generation of the scandals of literary legends that helped flesh out their greatest works.

Think on it. While the English Loyalists took up arms against the American Colonies, these poets lived morally loose lives and wrote and published poems meant to be read in "plain" language accessible to everyone. These fellows were pre-Victorian era, in a time when almost anything went, although the winds were changing towards the end of Byron's life, so he became a "guilty pleasure" before his death. His sister and ex-wife saw to it that his autobiography manuscript was burned to salvage what was left of his reputation and to protect their own.

I'm so intrigued by it all that this one book alone has rekindled a love of literature for me that has been missing since my university years. But perhaps it's not so much the literature as it is how the literature can be utilized to tie in real lives to real times, and how it all is strangely timeless in that it is no more sensational than what is occurring in modern society, and how such lifestyles can be traced even farther back to earlier eras. It gives complete weight to that well-known and depressing fact: no new thought is ever original.

There is so much philosophy in that fact.

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