Apr 20: Deems and wisting

Byron today, and while I love Don Juan, this is more serious Byron -- Byronic, in fact:

The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream’d that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

Oh -- and I say this with all due sensitivities to differing times -- brother. Who "deems" anything, nowadays? What's kind of funny is that Byron was dashing and scandalous, and reading this verse you just think of a big ol' schoolmarm, scented with lavender, her voice perhaps cracking a little at that last line. Or you think that someone wrote something like this, with far worse scansion, upon the death of Barbaro.

Why is that? Why does the 392-line narrative poem about a prisoner in a castle, which forms the bulk of the reading, seem so obviously unappealing that I would have skipped it, if not for this bet I've made with myself? Is it because everything we need to have said about prisoners chained up in castles can be done in New Yorker cartoons? Because this poem ("The Prisoner of Chillion") is not, to my mind, a neglected classic. It's the kind of poem where deeming might occur -- I didn't search for it, but I do know that the narrator wists, although, in his defense, he is scarce conscious of the fact of his wisting.

The glib answer to the question might be, "Hey, maybe our modern attention spans aren't too short -- maybe your old-timey attention spans are too long." Yes, yes, it's scandalous that everyone thinks The Great Gatsby was a failed Hanna-Barbera character, but at least there's a lot of old claptrap they're also free of. And, a little more seriously, the part that really seems musty to me is the message-ness of it, its pro-freedom agenda. It's a little like I felt reading those Wordsworth poems -- maybe more needed to be made of daffodils in his time, but now it's hard to hear. Whereas Shakespeare, who hardly takes sides, endures.

There's much more to be said on this subject (like, "But what about Pope? You like Pope and he's didactic." To which I reply to myself, "Shut up," and "But he's also funny."). But not by me, not now.

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