To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reconfiguring Romanticism (39): Jeffrey Robinson, Two Poems with Notes after Wordsworth & Keats

after William Wordsworth

Delicate veil renewed delicate veil
sweet May renewed delicate leafy veil
renewed in the deep dale delicate leafy
veil renewed sweet May blithe
May sweet May blithe May blithe
Flora blithe May blithe Flora blithe
May blithe blithe blithe Flora from
His couch upstarts blithe Flora blithe
May season blithe May season of
renewed delicate leafy blithe May
season of Fancy and Hope Season of
Fancy and of hope blithe May Season
of Fancy and fine touch of hope fine
touch of self-restraining self-restraining
art and hope Season of self-restraining
Season of Fancy and of hope tempering
tempering the years of extremes years extremes
tempering extremes extremes tempering
self-restraining breathes a freshness
a freshness breathes quickening quickening
where love nestles patient patient streams
inmost heart where love nestles
breathes freshness luster and freshness
freshness luster freshness luster freshness
freshness o’er noonday luster o’er noonday
stream that April could not check
could not check quickening luster
scattering scattering scattering hope
scattering luster blithe patient modest May
freshening glee scattering hope and luster
scattering season of fancy entrust fancy
entrust unfinished song deathless song
deathless scattering song unfinished
breathes unfinished luster of inmost heart
of quickening balance of delight How delicate
where love nestles how leafy blithe May
scattering lustres o’er noonday of unfinished
blessed sweet May sweet lustres blithe
May of deathless unfinished song



Between 1826 and 1835 William Wordsworth wrote two poems to the month of May. One begins like this:

While from the purpling east departs
The Star that led the dawn,
Blithe Flora from her couch upstarts,
For May is on the lawn.
A quickening hope, a freshening glee,
Foreran the expected Power,
Whose first-drawn breath, from bush and tree,
Shakes off that pearly shower.

All Nature welcomes Her whose sway,
Tempers the year’s extremes;
Who scattereth lusters o’er noon-day,
Like morning’s dewy gleams;
While mellow warble, sprightly trill,
The tremulous heart excite;
And hums the balmy air to still
The balance of delight.

You can see from these stanzas why people dismiss the late Wordsworth’s poems—inert blocks of predictable Romantic idiom. The following poem, however, builds on a careful review of the manuscripts of the May poems which show that the poet in his late 50s and early 60s had an intensely active and playful revisionary imagination. Here (in the mss. and in the poem that I’ve written) is a world that Wordsworth never wrote but that may have happened instantaneously and then faded into something more stable — we might call what follows a dream of the poems of May. The drafts show how vitally Wordsworth’s images, lines, and stanzas floated and flew through different arrangements. Ought, for example, “blithe” go with “Flora” or with “May”? I have tried to catch the visionary possibilities of words like “hope,” “blithe,” “season,” by placing them in fast-moving stream or electric current.

Cockney Keats on Fanny Brawne

In singing never mind the music
devoted to wreckage
Suck or drink in a penchant
for acting stylishly: floridize
Keep your time and play your tune:
Dodge him
Abounding in flowers, spin the irreparable

Her mouth is bad and good
Innocence of all becoming
We have been depleted
We shall floridize soon I hope
Her arms are good her hands baddish
“Figurate” elaborate run and bloom
to fish with a spinning bait
to twirl or whirl
to draw out elaborate evolve
twist (of the Fates) of wool
cast a spell and whirl and twirl
to fabricate from suitable materials
spend time in inactivity
her arms are good her hands baddish
to shoot, spring up (as in blood)
issue in a rapid stream

Grotesque to a curious pitch
Yet still making up a fine whole
Poem is “fulfilled love living in desire”
Frozen words: sign of the fantasy of total control
Among Camels, Turbans, Palm Trees and sands
Draw out and twist fibres of wool
Twisting and untwisting of thoughts
Taken up by chemical action
Some suitable materials blooming
With a penchant for acting stylishly

Pass or be spent quickly
The irreparable: Dodge him
Spend time in inactivity of
Flowers abounding flushed florid
She wants sentiment in every feature
Cast a spell figurate in grace
Monstrous in her behavior
Flying out in all directions
Yet still making up a fine whole
Passage of music running on
Calling people such names

Fish for depletion with a spinning bait
Love is true attention to something or someone
She wants sentiment in every feature
A penchant she has for acting stylishly
And no longer exist apart – play your tune



Keats mimicking Leigh Hunt: “What is this absorbs me quite? O we are spinning on a little, we shall floridize soon I hope” – letter to the George Keatses, Dec. 1818-Jan. 1819. “Shall I give you Miss Brawne?” – same letter (which also contributes to the language of the poem)

“Floridize” occurs neither in Webster’s Unabridged nor in the OED. But “florid” in the Renaissance meant “abounding in or covered with flowers,” and since then has always carried the sense of profusion, bloom, elaboration, decoration, and extravagance. While a florid, flushed, complexion often signalled health, it also could suggest the (sexual) embarrassment associated with Keats and his poetry. Musically it has come to mean “running in rapid figures, divisions, or passages.” Recall Scarlatti, Bach, Handel, Haydn, early opera. “Floridize” may be Cockney poet leader Leigh Hunt’s neologism, it may be the secret “flash” language of boxers and dandies on the edge of Hunt’s circle, or perhaps Keats, friend of Hunt and with an “up-market” yearning, made it up with Hunt in mind. Vincent Novello, an important early nineteenth-century publisher of European Classical Music, and John Byng Gattie with his good singing voice, brought running musical figures to the Cockneys (spinning, drawn out, spent, twisted, produced) in immortal evenings of Bacchic figuration, while Fanny Brawne (of whom as he is dying Keats, absorbed, will say, “the sense of darkness coming over me–I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing”) spins for the first time into view..

-- from Jeffrey Robinson, Untamed Wing (Station Hill Press, scheduled: 2010) -- a further installment of Robinson's "deformations" of a range of Romantic poets.

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