Shelley – Nineteenth-Century Poetry continues – (29)

“Laian rage” – the death of King Laius who was killed by his son Oedipus

Ginsberg on Shelley’s Hellas (Chorus) continues from here

There’s a lot of great images in this, like that “empires gleam,/Like wrecks of a dissolving dream” is amazing.

I always liked that “Nor mix with Laian rage the joy.”  King Laius of Thebes was killed in a quarrel with his son Oedipus who did not recognize his father.  Shortly thereafter Oedipus delivered Thebes from the ravages of the Sphinx by answering its riddle.”  “Laian rage” would be then, what?  The ecstatic moment in Sophocles, in the whole play of Sophocles ,where Oedipus discovers the truth that he’s killed his father and married his mother and tears his eyes out.

Student:  That’s when Oedipus rages.
AG:  Yeah.  That would be Oedipian rage.
Student:  Laius….
AG:  So what does Laius rage?  “Laian rage.”
Student:  They meet at the crossroads..
AG:  Oh, yeah.  And the son…
Student:  The son looks..
AG:  … the father.
Student:  …  like some old beggar, or he looks… the old man yells at him and he smotes him to death.
AG:  The old man …
Student:  Raises his….
AG:  … puts him down.  Yeah.
Student:  Yeah, some kind of put-down.  He calls him a beggar or the other one calls him a beggar. He was in the way, I think.  He tells him to get out of the way. – “Get out of the way”.
AG:  “Get out of my way,” yeah, he tells his son.
Student (2):  ..because he’s…
Student:  Yeah.  And then the son strikes his father dead and..
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  ..yells at him, or something, raises his voice to him.

AG:  Yeah, okay, then don’t write the tale of Troy over again if death is the end of the story of earth – (“Oh, write no more the tale of Troy/ If earth Death’s scroll must be!”) –  And don’t mix this kind of Laian anger rage with the joy which dawns on free people. (“Nor mix with Laian rage the joy/ Which dawns upon the free”)

Well, what else does he want to do here?  Does he want time to stop, or does he want it to keep…  He says “Oh cease!”, at the end, but he’s also saying that the whole thing is going to rise up and go along all over again.  The whole world cycle is going to be repeated over and over again.  Sometimes it seems in the poem that he’s saying that the world cycle is going to be higher and vaster and more subtle.

Student:  No, it’s almost like (his own time), he wants to stop it, yet the cycle which he describes..(insanity’s growing wider and wider..)
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  …it’s soaring away, you know, it is ascending in a way

AG:  Yeah, soaring away beyond his power to stand it even finally.  It’s a funny mixture of prophecy of eternal return and horror that it’s going to keep going on and everybody’s going to suffer all the pain – “hate and death return/… men kill and die.” –  ( So, actually, he’s saying, I guess – the key thing is – “drain not to its dregs the urn/ Of bitter prophecy.” –  The “bitter prophecy” is that it’s all going to happen again and nothing’s going to stop it, that even though it happens again on a vaster and more subtle scale, it’s still going to be hate, death, kill, die).

Student:  Even where he talks about Athens, (in line twenty-five), coming back –  “Another Athens shall arise”,   (that it) will come back (which is also prophesied by other people)?

AG:  Yeah, but he’s also saying that the other Athens that is going to arise is going to be even greater.  And bequeath to remoter… it’s going to last longer, to remoter time, or at least to another age – “Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,/The splendor of its prime” –  So it’ll leave behind its pristine early splendor.  And it’ll leave, even if nothing as brilliant as Athens can live forever, still it’ll leave as much as Earth can take, or it’ll leave behind as much as heaven can give – (“And leave, if nought so bright may live/All earth can take or Heaven can give”) So that’s the highest you can get.

But even with that, what happens?  – “Saturn and Love” – (“Saturn and Love their long repose/Shall burst..”)  comes.  So war?  What is Saturn?  I forgot.  Age?  Time?  God of Time?  So anyway Time will come, Time will break its … well, what?  Will Time continue?.. or Time will burst? Time will burst out of his long repose –  Brighter and better than Christ.

Student:  “Than all who fell….”
AG:  “than One who rose.” –  (and so that’ll be Christ).
Student:  “all who fell..”
AG:  “(M)ore bright and good/Than all who fell, than One who rose.”
Student:  All who fell will be the angels?  Or…?
AG:  I suppose.  The angels.  Man.  Mankind itself – man fell.  “than One who rose,/Than many unsubdu’d.”

What does it say about the “unsubdu’d” here?  (turns to book). Okay, well, they have a footnote –  “Saturn and Love were among the deities of a real or imaginary state of innocence and happiness.”  ‘All those who fell’ are Gods of Greece, Asia, and Egypt –  the ‘One who rose’ –  Jesus –  the many unsubdued are the monstrous objects of idolatry in China, India, and the Antarctic Islands. The native tribes of America..”-  (Mary) Shelley’s note! – “The monstrous objects of idolatry in China, India, and the..” – ( Buddha!  The “monstrous idol” Buddha!)-   “Than many unsubdued.”

I didn’t understand the next (part) – “Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,/But votive tears and symbol flowers.”   He’s talking about the monstrous gods or….

Student:  Saturn and Love

AG:  “Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers.”  Okay.
So what does he (say)?  It sounds like what he would like is the cycle to continue to bring Athens back, and the pagan gods, and then let it stay there and stay forever, but it’s not going to happen that way.  It’s going to fall again, there’s going to be another decline, it’s going to be another descent into barbarism and darkness and Christianity and medieval superstition and blood and cross and crucifixions of the Inquisition and Crusades and Holy Wars and Holy Terrors.

So finally it says if that’s going to be the case, cease  –  “might it die.”  Let it all die and rest at last  (“Oh might it die or rest at last!”) – It’s 1822, he’d now be what?  twenty-six years old? –  twenty-five, twenty-six years old.  But he has that take.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *