Monday, August 6, 2012

All's Well... Working My Way Back Up To Date

I've been busy. Sorry. By way of apology: here's the first thousand words (first draft) of the creative work I'm doing for my Masters' Degree. It's a 13000 word poem in the Ottava Rima system used by Byron for his epic Don Juan.

It isn't as easy as it looks.

This isn't a work of undying genius. But before you say anything, go look at Don Juan itself. You can find it online easily enough. I'm not trying for undying genius. I'm trying for something like Byron. This is a first draft. When I'm done, it'll be much more Byronic.

Meantime, I'm off again. Gotta go do some Swedish with the kids.

The Queen of Bedlam

Canto I

When all the world was young, great marvels walk'd
The broad earth o'er, a wild and dreadful place. 
Thus Artemis her Attic mountains stalk'd
And Olympus quailed before Zeus' stern face;
The very stones beneath Poseidon rocked
And warlike Ares father'd the might of Thrace.
Aye, some would call these fearful beings 'gods',
And claim they raised up Man from earthen clods.

They wandered o'er that younger earth at will,
Strew'd tales like dragon's teeth in their wake.
Meaning no mortal either good or ill,
All their mighty deeds wrought for their own sake.
Their smallest whims oft raised the poet's quill,
The hero's sword, the maiden's heart – to break!
For to creatures of such Titanic fame
The lives of men are but a little game.

E'en unto these rainswept isles they came
Roving the grey hills, the greenwoods deep.
Our forefathers gave them many a name
Now lost, for such are mickle hard to keep
When Father Time his rightful meed doth claim
Deliv'ring all men unto lasting sleep.
For who can hope to keep alive the past
When each must go beneath the earth at last?

Yet it seems that e'en Titans have an end
Shadow'd and uncertain, 'tis true, but still;
These triumphant centuries of Man must lend
Strength to that belief, or at least until
Some storied wonder comes forth to ascend
In glory, to rule  –  or perhaps to kill.
After all, to the elephant what boots
It if the mouse be trampled underfoot?

Still the world is wide. Mayhap some far land
Of fabled realms, like the high Hindoo Kush
Or ancient, shadow-haunted Samarkand;
Yet makes a home for mighty beings such
As those of long-lost legend. Understand:
Though Albion's a fair land, green and lush
So many millions teem her shores today
'Tis no surprise her gods have turn'd away.

The last such nonpareil in Britain dwelt
Not centuries past, but a few short years
Agone. While of Scotland she came, no Celt
Was she. Last of the fairy kind, her peers
Long since vanished. By many, 'tis felt
Their flight was no loss, but I greatly fear
Mankind's future will be hopeless, tragic
With no  leavening of sweet fay magic.

Maeve was the name of the last fairy queen;
A queen without a country, for in Bedlam
Was she prison'd, until eighteen fifteen,
Cruelly bound by one of the Monro clan.
Not the vile Doctor Thomas, lately dean
Of that benighted hell, but a quondam
Chief Physician, his grandfather James
No man better destined for Hades' flames.

They met upon the shores of  Cromarty Firth
Where the dour North Sea growls and shows its teeth.
He thought her a young maid, alive with mirth
Lissome, lovely, her beauty like a wreath
Of wildflowers, rarest of all the earth.
Her hair, her eyes, her breast – aye, and beneath!
All this the handsome lecher's eyes took in.
He proffered his hand, and made a satyr's grin.

“Sblood,” quoth he, “What star hath fled from heaven?
For surely 'tis a splendid jewel of night 
Before me here. May I die unshriven
If e'er I have beheld such a fair sight.”
It was his habit his words to leaven
With sweet whispers that a comely maid might
Hark to. Displaying thus his manly charms
That he might persuade her into his arms.

Yet no blushing, virginal maid was Maeve
Rather a mighty queen of ancient race
Loved o'er centuries by great men, and brave;
Adored by bards and poets, full of grace.
This James Monro seemed but a very knave
A bumpkin, reaching far above his place.
She thought at first his squalid schemes to thwart
Then check'd herself. Perhaps she'd make some sport!

For in truth, she'd wandered long and alone
A-roving the wildwoods, the beasts and birds
All the companionship that she might own.
Deep inside her, she hunger'd for some words
Of comfort, and merriment, some light shone
In the long dark; a cup from the vineyards.
To be the last of your kind is trying,
While short-lived mortals must go on dying.

So with a pretty smile she turned her head
And in a voice like sweet  music she spoke.
“Grace to you good sir, and good health,” she said
“A shepherdess am I, of simple folk.
Seeking here for my flock, which lately stray'd.”
And here, she gathered 'round herself a cloak
Made play as if she suffered from the cold
To see if this bumpkin might grow more bold.

Say this for James Monro; he was not slow
To act upon an opportunity.
“Eventide is nigh, and the sun hangs low
In the west. Lady, please, my coat,” said he.
“Tis of finest fleece, and quite warm, I trow.”
The garment doffed, he made a leg – most pretty.
No earthly cold can harm a fairy queen
But Maeve took it, and smirk'd to see him preen.

“A gentleman such as yourself is rare
As an honest man in parliament,
And more welcome withal,” she said. With care
She donned his fine, dark, woollen coat, and went
Upon her way, as if to leave him there,
Though 'tis certain 'twas never her intent.
Monro, recking nothing of her wiles
Would have follow'd her for a thousand miles.

“The hour grows late,” said he, “Night comes apace.
Permit me, please, to play your gallant squire
And see you safely from this lonely place.”
Maeve gazed long upon him, her eyes sapphire 
Pools, dreaming on the snow-plains of her face,
And Monro felt as if he caught afire.
For such is the strength of fairy glamour
That incites the soul to lustful clamour.


  1. I am familiar with Don Juan. I've tried to write in Ottava Rima. It wasn't worth saving. Your attempt is much better than any of mine.

    Are you getting a Masters in poetry? I didn't know such a thing was even possible.

    1. Nah. It's way more complicated.

      What pisses me off about Lit Theory is that it does fuck-all to inform praxis. You check most of the great painters of the last couple-hundred years, you'll find they had formal training in art and art theory. Composers? Yep: music and music theory. But writers?

      Orwell - Journalist. Hemingway - Journalist. Woolf: literary family, big library. Joyce: studied undergrad English, French and Italian (I think), got into writing by way of theatre and theatre criticism.

      Lit Theory is all analysis, no goddam synthesis, and that pisses me off. So I'm writing up Lit Theory of Genre, attempting to demonstrate that it is possible to use aspects of it to guide the writing of genre-type fiction... but that it is clearly incomplete because it fails even in describing the current state of genre fiction in a full and meaningful fashion.

      The poem will be 13,000 words. It will be attached as an appendix to the novel about Byron, Bedlam and the last Fairy Queen. It's supposed to be a 'lost' Byron work, describing the events.

      There are perfectly good Lit Theory reasons to justify this; and according to Lit Theory, it should make a more interesting and engaging novel.

      Either way: it's a hell of an exercise. This is a first draft. It will improve as I get a better feel for Byron's technique.

    2. I realize that saying this reveals my ignorance, but the term "Lit Theory" seems like a non sequitur to me.

      I certainly have no standing to critique what you have done or aspire to do, but I remember Byron less as an early romantic and more as a fucking funny guy. Don Juan is hilarious. A Vision of Judgment is even more so. Byron had the courage to be funny when the money was in Childe Harold's proud desolation.

    3. Actually, Byron's sense of humour is perhaps what I found most admirable about him. I'm not a big fan of the style of poetry from the era, but I loved the irony and the sharp wit in Don Juan, which is why I picked it as the model over Childe Harold.

      I won't go into a lot of detail about something still being written, but my view of the Byron writing this Queen of Bedlam piece is that he's been through something too big and too strange to really find words for... so he more or less makes a joke of it. And ultimately unsatisfied by even that, he puts the work aside, so that it doesn't see publication.

    4. I would argue that literary theory isn't a non sequitur, though. You get Art Theory and Music Theory: no reason there shouldn't be a body of theory on the meaning of, and the production of literary works.

    5. I enjoy the style of the early romantics (which is where Norton places Byron, and that is good enough for me) but they did tend to be a morbid lot (what we would call "goths" today, I suspect), and I agree with you about Byron's sense of humour.

      Interesting view re: Bedlam. But then, Coleridge went through something too big and strange for him to understand, and he ended up with Khubla Khan.

      I admit knowing nothing about literary theory beyond a very cursory understanding. But I do know a bit about music theory and there does seem to be a substantive difference between the two beyond the obvious. Both are essentially subjective examinations, but music theory seems a bit less subjective. Literary theory seems to me to be centered on very, very deep critical analysis of literature that boils down to differing view on how best to approach reading a book or poem - which is really quite wonderful.

  2. Hope you'll show us the final draft.

    And by the way.... doesn't even LOOK easy.

    1. I can think of no particular reason not to include the piece here, so I'd say yep: you'll probably see the damnable thing!