Oct. 13, 2014: from MANFRED

Readers,

this weekend I heard the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred Symphony,” something I’d never heard before, and indeed, had never heardof. I would like to point out that the orchestra included 2 harpists, a gong and a tubular bell, 4 french horns, pipe organ, and 7 — seven! — double basses. It was rockin’.
The piece is relevant to us because it is a thematic composition based on George Gordon, Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) closet drama of the same name. A closet drama is a poetic piece that is written in dramatic form, with different characters, dialogue, etc., but no stage directions. It is intended for a dramatic stage reading, not full-fledged play production. A british literature professor I spoke to told me that’s a shame, because it is extremely mopey and boring. But, she went on to explain, the piece is important because it’s sort of the chief exemplar of the Byronic hero–the struggling, tortured soul wandering in a wilderness that echoes his desolated mind, seeking wisdom or lost love or whatever his fate drives him toward. In Manfred’s case, lost love, forgetfulness, and, ultimately, death.
Manfred’s dialogue is in blank verse, which any high school junior will tell you is unrhymed iambic pentameter, and Shakespeare’s medium. He summons some spirits, eventually seven of them, and they speak to him in various arrangements of rhymed lines. Overall, this poem suits our goal of running several rhymed, “poem-looking” poems, although I’m only going to reprint the first snippet of Manfred’s invocation, in Act I, Scene I. The scene: he’s camped in a desolate cave, high in the Swiss Alps… -ed.
from MANFRED
THE LAMP must be replenish’d, but even then
It will not burn so long as I must watch.
My slumbers—if I slumber—are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought,         5
Which then I can resist not: in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within; and yet I live, and bear
The aspect and the form of breathing men.
But grief should be the instructor of the wise;         10
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
Philosophy and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world,         15
I have essay’d, and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself—
But they avail not: I have done men good,
And I have met with good even among men—
But this avail’d not: I have had my foes,         20
And none have baffled, many fallen before me—
But this avail’d not:—Good, or evil, life,
Powers, passions, all I see in other beings,
Have been to me as rain unto the sands,
Since that all—nameless hour. I have no dread,         25
And feel the curse to have no natural fear,
Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes,
Or lurking love of something on the earth.
Now to my task.—
                Mysterious Agency!         30
Ye spirits of the unbounded Universe,
Whom I have sought in darkness and in light!
Ye, who do compass earth about, and dwell
In subtler essence! ye, to whom the tops
Of mountains inaccessible are haunts,         35
And earth’s and ocean’s caves familiar things—
I call upon ye by the written charm
Which gives me power upon you—Rise! appear!
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