ROUND ONE IN POETRY: KEATS VERSUS BYRON

Image result for lord byron

Byron

It is fitting somehow, that Lord Bryon faces off against Keats in Scarriet’s Poetry Madness—these are the two greatest poets, in English, perhaps, and their vast differences bespeak of Man’s two extreme personalities: One, manly and mercurial, the other feminine and consistent.

Here is Byron reacting rather egotistically, and coldly, to Keats’ death, remarking that Keats was killed by a bad review, but he (Byron) wasn’t:

Is it true, what Shelley writes me, that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review? I am very sorry for it, though I think he took the wrong line as a poet, and was spoilt by Cockneyfying, and Suburbing, and versifying Tooke’s Pantheon and Lempriere’s Dictionary. I know, by experience, that a savage review is Hemlock to a sucking author; and the one on me (which produced the English Bards, etc.) knocked me down — but I got up again. Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of Claret, and began an answer, finding that there was nothing in the Article for which I could lawfully knock Jeffrey on the head, in an honourable way.

Byron was cruel and sentimental, cold and warm, by turns, a man of the world, who loved and hated, risked and lost, ranted and wept; where Keats, perhaps the slightly higher genius, was satisfied to live in a cottage and love the maiden next door; Keats was never sentimental, never cruel—but burned with a glow, everlasting.

This is not quite true.  Even Keats had his anger and his petulance.

Any good poet—as Poe pointed out—is irritable; reaching after perfection, one will naturally be annoyed at times.

And yet Keats’ bad moods must have resembled the bad moods of a flower.

The aesthetically critical mind can be argumentative, and still gentle.

Look at this sneering sonnet Keats wrote (he sounds like Byron!):

The House of Mourning written by Mr Scott,
A sermon at the Magdalen, a tear
Dropped on a greasy novel, want of cheer
After a walk uphill to a friend’s cot,
Tea with a maiden lady, a cursed lot
Of worthy poems with the author near,
A patron lord, a drunkenness from beer,
Haydon’s great picture, a cold coffee pot
At midnight when the Muse is ripe for labour,
The voice of Mr Coleridge, a French bonnet
Before you in the pit, a pipe and tabour,
A damned inseparable flute and neighbour —
All these are vile, but viler Wordsworth’s sonnet
On Dover. Dover! — who could write upon it?

It sneers, yes.  But it’s a sonnet.

It is one of the more interesting poems by Keats—because it reveals so much about him.  He liked coffee, etc.

“The House of Mourning” is not a well-known poem.

Nor is this line of Keats’s well-known either, “Soft went the music the soft air along.”

Connoisseurs of poetry will recognize instantly the genius and beauty of this line—chosen for the 2017 Madness.

“Soft went the music the soft air along” has no sentiment.  The line has beauty only.

The famous Byron line is beautiful—and also sentimental.

“So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.”

Keats wins.

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5 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 11, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    I always want Keats to win. Very interesting point you have made that none of the poets necessarily are all one thing purely throughout all their work thus, Keats could be petulant or Byron sentimental but each seemed to chose an overall coluring, shading so that Keats tended toward the sentimental and Byron the sardonic. Anway, can’t think about anything except Keats won. Yay. and Thank You.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 11, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      Also very serendipitous (for me, at least) the line from Keats about dropping a tear on a greasy novel as I just wrote a poem commending the sentimental archaic novels. Feel free to ignore it if you want. Im only sharing it because it fits and it is fun to share what seems to fit and is better use of a comment section than might otherwise be thought, at least I think so.

      ON THE GREAT NOVELISTS NEGLECTED

      perhaps they think we have forgotten
      those passages where mignonette blooms
      on dresses of pale blue silk

      where people confer over great or small matters
      keeping their distance.
      where a letter can spell doom

      a gesture, finality.
      the sound of carriage wheels speed happiness,
      a fireside out of the rains.

      perhaps the flower pressed into a book
      would live again
      the margins begin to snow,,,

      blow the dust off your indifference
      and let the old novels
      glow

      said a ministering angel once
      where you almost lingered
      in an out of the way shop.

      isn’t it enough to know
      they lived once, and wrote and wrote
      all this at times without a drop of mercy

      shown to them

      and isn’t it amiss we have left
      their gardens alone
      and let their heroines drift

      their heroes far from home
      because we are modern.
      and do not know

      what we do not know.

      mary angela douglas 11 march 2017

      • maryangeladouglas said,

        March 11, 2017 at 3:42 pm

        Correction on above poem: should be “left their heroines adrift” NOT “let their heroines drift’.

  2. Desdi said,

    March 11, 2017 at 4:20 pm

  3. Mr. Woo said,

    March 14, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    I’ve always loved Keats more, but for some time I would have preferred to “be” Byron. What a delicious character.

    Basically, I wanted what most young men want: fame, misery, adventure, lots of women, and a heroic death.

    Only one of the above appeals to me anymore. And it’s not fame, lots of women, or a heroic death.

    Poetry aside, if that’s possible, I would much prefer to “be” Keats, even taking into account his early death and crushing hardships.

    Beautiful lines.


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