16 March 2017

larryhammer: Tara from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with Sappho painted on her back - label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (greek poetry is sexy)
In lieu of a Wednesday reading post, a more in depth report on Guy Vernon (see also) by John Townsend Trowbridge, a novelette in verse per the subtitle, and a shockingly overlooked gem:
                    After many tears, and blind,
Swift gusts of passion, she accepted Guy.—
    All which sounds commonplace enough, I find.
    But somehow it seems better, to my mind,
The muse should be a trifle too familiar,
Than pompous, adipose, and atrabiliar,

Singing the past in those false tones I loathe.
    Some poets seem oppressed with the conviction,
That to be classic, they must still re-clothe
    The venerable forms of antique fiction
    In what they deem approved poetic diction;
And so they let their unpruned fancies roll
Round some old theme, like hop-vines round a pole.

Give me the living theme, and living speech—
    The native stem and its spontaneous shoots,
Fibres and foliage of the soul that reach
    Deep down in human life their thrilling roots,
    And mould the sunshine into golden fruits,
Not ashes to the taste, but fit to feed
The highest and the humblest human need!

O singers of the sunset! is there naught
    Remaining for the muse, but just to fill
Old skins of fable with weak wine of thought?
    The child, Imagination, at his will
    Reshakes to wondrous forms of beauty still
A few bright shards of common joy and hope,
And turns the world in his kaleidoscope.
While I can't say for certain that Byron's Beppo was the most influential poem of the 19th century, especially given Marmion, it was by gum the most fruitful influence.

Fair warning to those who attempt this: set just before the Civil War, it has period-typical racism, only some of which is directly questioned by the story. And the resolution is … a muddled disappointment -- at least the title character's part, as the arcs of his wife and her former beau are handled perfectly a la genre's mode. But along the way, we get a marriage of North and South, a Grub Street writer, pointed satire of period manners, and a deft hand with the verse. Not to mention deft hand with the manner, as every digression (fewer than Byron's) is spot on the point.

This was not a success when first published, and Trowbridge never again attempted anything like this -- he is best known as a hack writer of adventure stories. I can only whimper in frustration -- but at least we have this.

(Historical trivia: it was published anonymously in an anthology that had one few poems of Emily Dickinson's published in her lifetime.)

---L.

Subject quote from, well, "Guy Vernon."

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