Nineteenth-Century Poetry – 15

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) declared Shelley to be “a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain”

Allen Ginsberg on 19th Century Poetry (on Romanticism –  death and dying, and reactions to death and dying) continues from here

Student:  (Well, you know that poem where)  she’s dying, and everybody’s praying and (there’s) tears, (and over there) a fly buzzing off in the distance.  You know what I mean?
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  It’s blackness.
AG:  Yeah.   “I heard a fly buzz – when I died”  – (Emily) Dickinson).  Yeah.  I always liked that, too.
Student:  It’s beautiful.
AG:  It’s about death.

But the particular angle I was getting at is that sudden removal and the feeling of a gap or an absence, and then the realization of existence going on, but something removed from existence, or entered into the diurnal realm of existence, but lost its human form, so no longer personal.  So a big impersonal (thing).

And then when people, when somebody you do know dies, you do get this big glimpse awe of vast impersonal sense, of an impersonality so vast you can’t really get mad at it or weep over it, or resent it.  It’s hard to be lyric over it like Shelley is.  Shelley’s is still a little bit complaining compared to Wordsworth’s implacability, sort of.  Wordsworth is a big bore in many ways, in his long (poems).  There’s no fire, there’s no real verbal fireworks in here, there’s no surrealist imagery.  But, on the other hand, you get glimpses through him, through the ordinary mind that he’s got, of a big nature, a big impersonal vast nature.  He starts more lyric, but he winds up empty, sort of.  (His is) a little footnote to or a side look from Shelley’s.

Let’s see what else would be on that?  Shelley views it as a … here’s a thing called “Time” which is like a little vision of the big impersonal vast.

“Unfathomable Sea whose waves are years/, Ocean of time, whose waters of deep woe/ Are brackish with the salt of human tears!/ Thou shoreless flood which in thy ebb and flow/ Claspest the limits of mortality!/ And sick of prey, yet howling on for more./ Vomit us thy wrecks on its inhospitable shore../  Treacherous in calm and terrible in storm,/ Who shall put forth on thee, /Unfathomable Sea?”

Well, it’s still a complaint.   And his whole vision is really a complaint.  And his whole vision of the whole shot is not of the clean implacability rolled around in earth’s diurnal course with clean rocks, clean stones, clean trees, it’s “brackish with the salt of human tears,” “sick of prey,” “howling … for more,” “vomit us thy wrecks,” “inhospitable,” treacherous.  It’s a lot younger-minded or weepy-minded.  It’s more weepy-minded.  That’s why Matthew Arnold who was a later critic – more boring than Wordsworth, ultimately – said Shelley is a luminous ineffectual angel beating his wings in the void in vain.  (“a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain” ) The biggest insult in poetry ever handed out –  “A luminous ineffectual angel beating his wings in the void in vain”.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-four-and-a-quarter minutes in

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