Tag Archives: Lord Byron

Percy Shelley, Why Do I Love Thee?

18 May

Lord Byron is the epitome of Romanticism – he was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, a lonely and misunderstood individual who wrote poetry, led a life filled with love affairs and travels, he fought in Greece, he has a literary hero named after him. To dream of being his muse, well ‘the pleasure, the privilege is mine‘. Since I named my blog after him, these verses sound even sweeter on my lips:”Farewell, my young Muse! since we now can ne’er meet“. With all that said, I decree that my heart still goes to Shelley all the way. I’ve always preferred him more for I see him as a gentler one, both his poetry and lifestyle are more my cup of tea. Well, Percy Bysshe Shelley, why do I love thee, let me count the reasons.

a Percy Shelley 1

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1)Intellect

First of all, I’m astonished by his ferocious intellect and hunger for knowledge. As a student, he was said to have attended only one lecture at Oxford and often spent up to sixteen hours a day reading. In addition to being well read and having rich vocabulary, Shelley was also good at languages, being proficient in ancient Greek and Italian. (“Shelley was an excellent classicist, and sufficiently proficient in ancient Greek to make, as an adult, a fine translation of Plato’s Symposium.” (1) and “Among the major Romantic poets, Byron and Shelley spent the most time in Italy (…) and they became proficient in its language and well-read in its literature.” (2) Let’s just remember that he died a month before his 30th birthday, and in that short life he managed to acquire such vast amount of knowledge.

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2) Rebelliousness

Secondly, a typical romantic trait – rebelliousness. As I already mentioned, legend has it that he only attended one lecture while at Oxford from which he was expelled after less than a year for “writing and circulating a pamphlet promoting atheism.” (3) Whereas I am not promoting atheism for I am not an atheist, at the time when religion, Christianity in particular, was all too-dominant in everyday life, this was a necessary thing to be done. Therefore, I don’t see it as a promotion of atheism as much as a revolt against Christianity. What I admire the most about about this story is that, when asked by his father to renounce his atheist views and his pamphlet, Shelley refused, knowing that it meant the end of the financial support. After that, at the age of 19, he eloped to Scotland with the 16-year old schoolgirl Harriet Westbrook. I mean, just look at his portrait; untamed hair, unbuttoned shirt, wild protruding stare of those blue eyes, a quill in his hand – if that’s not a portrait of a rebellious romantic hero, I haven’t got a clue what is.

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3) Free Love

As we can see from his elopement with Harriet, Shelley had quite modern views on love and marriage. He went on to live with Mary until he died, but he did have platonic and non-platonic relationships with other women, and, with each others permission, both Mary and Percy occasionally flirted with other people. I see both relationships and an institution of marriage as rather restricting affairs, and therefore I like Shelley’s view on it and his promotion of free love. In poem ‘Queen Mab’, Shelley celebrates all the things I’ve mentioned here: atheism, vegetarianism, republicanism and – free love.

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3) Social and political activism

Shelley admired William Godwin’s socialist philosophy that was always one step away from anarchism, and imbued such ideas in his own writing and activities. He was politically active and fought for social rights which speaks for itself how seriously he considered problems of social equality to be, this is the ‘Res, Non Verba’ approach which I quite like. I think the case of Byron going to Greece and fighting for independence was a pure debauchery or licentiousness, but with Shelley it was truly about fighting for what he believed to be right, in a civilised and polite manner, defending his arguments with intelligence and eloquence. An example of his active involvement with social problems: “Distracted by political events, he visited Ireland shortly afterward in order to engage in radical pamphleteering. Here he wrote his Addres to the Irish People and was seen at several nationalist rallies. His activities earned him the unfavourable attention of the British government.” (4)

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4) Poetry

Rather an obvious argument but I ardently love his poems, which is necessary when it comes to loving a poet. I think both Keats and Shelley cherished a cult of pure beauty in their poems. I know many of Shelley’s shorter poems by heart but these are some of my favourite:

A Lament

O world! O life! O time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more — Oh, never more!….“(5)

and

Mutability

(…) We rest—a dream  has power to poison sleep;
    We rise—one wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep,
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:—
 
                                       IV.
It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
    The path of its departure still is free;
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
    Nought may endure but Mutability.” (6)
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5) Richness of expression
Shelley somehow managed to combine the social role of art with pure aestheticism, which is a pursuit that often ends unsuccessfully. (Other good examples of combining these two polar opposites would be the songs by Manic Street Preachers and Kitchen sink realism in films) Shelley’s choice of words and stylistic devices is pure beauty. The book The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley states that Percy ‘preferred more learned, polysyllabic words’ and it gives the examples of his revision of Mary’s manuscript of Frankenstein. He changes Mary’s words ‘have’ to ‘possess’, ‘wish’ to ‘desire’ and my favourite – ‘we were all equal’ to ‘neither of us possessed the slightest pre-eminence over the other’. (7) This may sound snobbish, and may cause his texts to be a bit harder to understand sometimes, but he was a well read and eloquent person and why should he refrain himself from using rich vocabulary?

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6) Vegetarianism

Being a vegetarian and promoting vegetarianism is, in my opinion, a sign of true humanity and one of Shelley’s greatest debts to society. I am a vegetarian, purely for ethical reasons, and I am immensely glad that both Mary and Percy Shelley were too. Shelley wrote several essays on the subject, most notable is ‘A Vindication of Natural Diet’, but he does make references on the subject in his other poems and dramas. For example, in Prometheus Unbound he writesI wish no living thing to suffer pain“(8), and in The Revolt of Islam “Never again may blood of bird or beast/ Stain with its venomous stream a human feast,/ To the pure skies in accusation steaming.” It’s easy to understand that in his time vegetarianism was radical, but one would think that in our day and age everyone would follow a ‘natural diet’, or perhaps it’s just my idealism. Shelley’s commitment didn’t stop at eating habits: “…Shelley went further, refusing to wear material made from animals, including wool and leather. Inveighing against  “the muffling of our bodies in superfluous apparel,” he preferred going hatless and eschewed a heavy overcoat for a long black coat made of cotton jean.” (9)

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Romanticism – Age of Sentimentality, Melancholy, Love, Death and Fallen Heroes

17 Oct

I dedicate this post to Frederic Chopin who died on 17th October 1849 and all the other Romantics who ‘ruined’ my life in the most positive way! ___________________________________________________________

Exploration of the inner self lead the Romantics to discover a prodigious world of mysticism, imagination and dreams.

To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.”(Novalis)

1818. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog - Casper David Friedrich

Romantic era is very appealing to me; all those sad young people that died way too soon, unrequited loves, themes and love towards nature, focus on individuality and imagination,beautiful portraits where ladies’ faces are framed with curls and delicate roses, escapism, melancholy as a state of mind, feeling of alienation.

Every movement in art, music and literature comes as an answer to the previous one and acts as its opposite. Romanticism came as an answer to Classicism and deemed its ‘cult of reason’, coldness, formality and restraint characteristic for the art and literature of the time. In Romanticism an artist is a genious, a gifted person who stands lonely and misunderstood against the meaningless masses. Art itself is originality whereas the principle of Classicism was imitating the Antic models. Romanticism praised the aesthetic function of literature while Classicism valued the educational purpose of it. Artist had more freedom in expressing himself in the Romantic era than in the rigid worldview of Classicism.

In the Romantic era young individuals felt powerless against that rigid regime. Melancholy pervaded the air and the atmosphere of oppressive disappointment after the ideals of equality and justice of the French Revolution were never fulfilled, and the Napoleon’s demise made the society to perceive him as a fallen hero, fallen self-proclaimed hero, which again brought the disappointment. ‘Cult of reason‘ couldn’t and can’t explain the inequality of the world that hurt the young people so much. I find one of Novalis’ quotes very appropriate “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” How could rationalism answer the existentialistic questions one might ask oneself? What solution could rationalism have to cure the disappointment of the people with the false social values? Young people; misunderstood poets, artists, musicians and all the other sensitive individuals couldn’t find fulfillment and refuge in rationalistic ideas that were so popular only a century before so they had to find their own way to survive.

In literature this disappointment, unexplainable sadness and melancholy manifested themselves by escaping into solitude and one’s own vision of the world. Those are the sources of the pessimistic worldview, that is the Weltschmerz. ‘World-pain’ or Weltschmerz is an expression for the sense of sadness and despondency induced by discrepancy of reality and ideals. Physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. Weltschmerz resulted in the ‘cult of pain’; a pessimistic sense of how there is no cure for evil in the world. This world pain that caused depression, escapism and resignation as the individual felt powerless against all the injustice in the world, occurred as early as in Rousseau’s (New Heloise) and Goethe’s work (The sorrows of young Werther). However, the world-pain gained its fullest form in works of Byron and Chateaubriand.

Artists of the time felt helpless, sad and disappointed. Surrounded by the tranquil solitude they found comfort in four major themes and preoccupations; intimacy and love, nature (especially exotic landscapes), history and folklore, and mystic and occult. Theme of love and intimacy is the most evident in Goethe’s work The Sorrows of Young Werther, historical themes were the most interesting to Victor Hugo thought he came to the scene a little bit later, and the dark romantic, Edgar Allan Poe is the king of mystical and occult, combing the themes of beauty and death.

1888. John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, after a poem by Tennyson; like many Victorian paintings, romantic but not Romantic.

Romanticism in English literature begins with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s collection of poems Lyrical ballads (1798). These two poets, along with Robert Southey, belonged to a group called ‘Lake poets’ for they lived in the Lake district; a picturesque mountainous area in north-west England. William Wordsworth considered poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” which he then “recollect[s] in tranquility.” Nature was, however, Wordsworth’s biggest inspiration and he admired it deeply, not only for its aesthetic values; he felt in it the closeness with the sources of life and inexhaustible wellspring of simple and eternal cognition of life. Nature mirrors the state of your soul; romantic poets reflected their feelings into nature, but they also did the opposite, the nature acted on the poets’ sensibility and his inner experiencing. These poets have been very important in setting the ground for the English Romanticism, especially for the second generation of poets.

I must say that I prefer the second generation of English Romantic poets; Byron, Shelley and Keats. Byron, as a person and an artist, is characterised by the fact that in reality he had lived a life of his romantic heroes. His numerous love adventures, travels to exotic lands and the willingness to sacrifice for the ideals of freedom; most importantly, for the freedom of another country – that shows the true nobleness. Byron is responsible for many innovations in poetry and for creating a new type of hero, that is, anti-hero or Byronic hero. Alongside Byron there were two more important poets; Shelley and Keats; both of them cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’ and both of them died very young in tragic circumstances.

1856. Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton 1856, by suicide at 18 in 1770

Literary type that emerged from the literature of Romanticism was a romantic hero; a sensitive, courageous and adventurous young man with a great love for nature and everything that is natural, and yet he is unable of controlling his own emotions. He is usually a victim of scheming, mistakes from his youth, his abruptness or his pessimistic attitudes towards life. Typical romantic hero, the best example is young Werther, perhaps even Karl Moor from Schiller’s play The Robbers, does not fit in in society, has a rebellious spirit, can be self-destructive and highly pathetic and excessive in statements.

Other type of romantic hero is Byronic hero, created by Lord Byron. Byronic hero is a man who despises everything and everybody. Though he can have many positive traits like courage or intelligence, he is not noble, kind or humane. He is a cynic and a skeptic, most commonly a materialist and an atheist, often full of contradictions. He loves to live life to the fullest but that desire is usually induced by boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. Byronic hero is a ‘cursed person‘, doing everything that stimulates his own demise. Since Lord Byron was extremely popular with Russian romantic authors, Pushkin was the first to be inspired by the Byronic hero, and derived a similar hero – Superfluous man. It’s a hero who feels superior to his surrounding and yet he submits himself to aimless actions not taking advantage of his potentials. Prone to self destruction, the superfluous man has a strong sense of boredom which compels him to seek oblivion on wanderings and travels. Typical examples include Eugene Onegin and Pechorin from Lermontov’s novel and the first novel of Russian literature – A Hero of our Time.

Romantic hero and Superfluous man are different but they do have similarities such as feeling of alienation and loneliness, intelligence, sensitivity, they both have tendencies towards traveling and excitement and the are fighters against the established social and moral norms.

1821. John Constable - The Hay Wain

Though poetry was the most popular form of expressing oneself in Romanticism, it was music that was considered the most romantic of all arts. E.T.A. Hoffman commented on the subject of music ‘The magic of music is so strong, getting stronger, it should break any shackle of another art.‘ Romanticists considered music to be almost like a mind-expanding experience; music revealed unknown areas to man, a word of imagination, a world completely cut out from earthly senses; music was romantic because its theme was the fathomless itself. Music was not only considered to be the most romantic of all arts, but also the spring of all other arts, and therefor lies its true greatness and importance. Novalis also made a remark on music –  “Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution.

Beethoven was a musician whose work is considered to mark a transition between Classicism and Romanticism. Other Romantic composers were Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Schumann and Schubert. Romantic musicians were rebellious when it came to themes, they were fascinated by nocturnal, mystic and spooky, longing to the infinite they were inspired by fantastic seeing and spiritual experiences, fascinated by the past, especially Middle Ages, interested in the autobiographical and emphasised extreme subjectivism, at the same time surrendering to nature.

My favourite romantic composer is Chopin; I absolutely adore his Nocturnes; their melody is of greatest melancholy and sadness and yet it possess untamed beauty and mystique. Oscar Wilde commented on Chopin’s music ‘After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one’s tears.‘ Frederick Chopin grew up in Warsaw. His father was French, and Frederick soon moved to Paris, the center of Romanticism in music and the center of arts in general, and as soon as he arrived, his playing style amazed the posh aristocrat audience and gained him admirers. He soon befriended many famous artists and writers of the time; Victor Hugo, H. Balzac, H. Heine, Eugene Delacroix, and also F. Listz all became his friends.

Frederick was elegant and posh, he loved modern and beautiful clothes, champagne, he changed his white gloves every day and traveled in his own carriage. However, he was profound when it came to music and his playing style reflected both great strength and sophistication and sensitivity. ‘It should be like dreaming in beautiful springtime – by moonlight.‘ – he once described his sonata. However, Chopin was of frail health, always thin, weak and melancholic, he died aged thirty nine from consumption. Although befriended with many famous artists of the time, Chopin had a person in Paris he loved even more, it was George Sand with whom had a ten year long relationship. The two met on a party, but Chopin was repelled by her clumsy posture and short, fat, unattractive build. The two met again, two years later; Chopin was in state of melancholy because a young Polish girl had proved unfaithful him, and, devastated, he was improvising a lamentations on a piano when he saw George Sand standing on the doors. His eyes met with her eyes which were black, magical and velvety as the night. After he finished playing, she bent down and kissed him softly. The rest is history.

Romantic era with its emphasis on love and emotions, was an era of many great love stories; Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Robert Browning, Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb… the list is endless.

1781. The Nightmare - Henry Fuseli1781. The Nightmare – Henry Fuseli

In Romantic era even death was romantic; it was considered a beautiful land of dreams where one could escape the harshness, troubles and greyness of reality. When one sleeps, one dreams and in death one would be dreaming forever, eternally united with nature. In dreams we see our innermost thoughts and desires, and when we die, we would be dreaming forever and ever; death is a dream and one should not be afraid of it. In life, Romantic poets were sad, melancholic, disappointment, alienated, lonely, burdened with social injustices, and powerless against established social and moral norms, and the only comfort and sweetness they could get was sleep; dreams. For Wordsworth, death is nothing more than returning to a more complete and satisfactory existence. Keats considered a death to be an eternal dream which is as beautiful as we create it; death is for him merely a sleep in which one sees the picture they most desire. There are no fears in death, only the ones we create for ourselves. Death is opposite of life, it’s an escape from reality and misunderstanding society, it’s the submerging in nature, becoming a part of the universe again. Life was hard for romantic spiritual philosophy since they lived in times when the Industrial revolution was changing lives and materialism was becoming dominant.

John Keats – ‘On Death’

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

Percy Shelley, mon préféré Romantic poet, was especially fascinated with death and dreams. Highly sensitive, he hated life; its trivialities and the conventionality of society. Extremely devoted to the beauty and peace which he believed could only be found in dreams and death, Shelley was very close to committing suicide, as he felt an enormous ‘death urge‘; he wished to lose all his senses, all attachment from life, all communication with society and emerge himself forever in enormous beauty and magic that death beholds. He wrote a poem ‘A Lament’ in which he expressed his deep desires and longings for death.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

1840s grand duchesses olga nicolaeievna et alexandra nicolaievna

I’m fascinated by deaths in Romantic era, thought people were always dying, and artists died young in many eras, there something so appealing in deaths of Romantic poets, musicians, painters or princesses. Perhaps the shortness of their lives, perhaps the sadness and tranquility that tortured them and maybe even induced their deaths… Shelley, Byron, Keats, Schubert – they all died young, but tragic and romantic death did not spare the members of aristocracy either, particularly interesting to me are Russian Grand Duchesses, sisters Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna who died very young; Alexandra died aged seventeen and Elena was just a year older when she succumbed to her eternal sleep. Later, Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna died aged only nineteen. In her portraits, she gazes at the viewer with a hint of melancholy and resignation, dressed in elegant satin, while her pale skin shows the beauty of her innocence, her stately neck stands as if it was fragile as a feather, carrying a beautiful face crowned with dark hair in braids. Aura of sadness followed Alexandra on her portraits like a shadow.

P.S. I wrote this post exactly one year ago but due to the connection between Autumn and Romanticism, and my current obsession with Romanticism, I decided to re-post it.

Bohemian Life: Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites, Hippies

27 Sep

Bohemian way of life has always been alluring to me and in this post I decided to assemble my love for Romanticists, Pre-Raphaelites and London Underground scene in the 1960s with a bit of fashion, aesthetics, art and music. I’ve also made collages which serve to substantiate the connection between these three art movements/counter cultures and the bohemian way of life. Enjoy 🙂

hippie romantics 1 text a(Click to enlarge)

‘Cult of genius’ emerged during Romanticism – for the first time in history an artist was considered an individual, an imaginative creature rather than a craftsman as it had been understood before. Romantics were the first rebellions, mostly artists and intellectuals led by the ideals of individuality and freedom they opposed the serious rules of the rationalistic world of neoclassicism. In the aspect of individuality, all the art movements that followed and the very perception of the artist himself owe a great deal to Romantic movement.

It’s not unusual that the word ‘bohemian’ appeared in the 19th century, though a bit after the romantics, but its meaning can fully be applied in context of Romanticists and their lifestyles. Term ‘bohemian’ was first used in French language to describe Romani people because it was believed that they came from Bohemia, Czech Republic, but it later came to symbolize any kind of unconventional lifestyle, often in the poorer but culturally richer parts of the city, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. Bohemians are also seen as wanderers and adventurists. When Pre-Raphaelites arrived on the art scene in the mid-Victorian era, they opposed realism and materialism, and questioned the false values and morals of Victorian society.

A century later numerous young people chose more unconventional ways of living and  opposed the conformist and consumerist Western society – those were the hippies. As you can see, every time period has its bohemians or outsiders. I could write about the large number of artists/bohemians on Montmartre in the late 19th century or the crazy early 20th century bunch on Montparnasse, but in this post I decided to focus on three art movement/countercultures that share similarities in terms of values, ideas, inspirations and aesthetics. How could I not compare the dangerous and dashing Dante Gabriel Rossetti with dark and brooding Lord Byron, and both of them with Syd Barrett for example – art knows no time, art knows ideals, moods and feelings.

hippie romantics 2 a text

Romanticists were rebellions and idealists, and in their works (especially regards literature and music) they put emphasis on subjectivity, love and intimacy, appreciation of nature, and delved into mysticism: they celebrated everything that contrasted neoclassicism and enlightenment. Romantic painters focused on the glorious past, though it often carried characteristics of escapism. The need to escape time or space is a longing which arises from the sense of dissatisfaction in a hopeless reality, and this longing characterised the whole art of Romanticism. Similarly, members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood were fascinated with the past, and in the idealised Medieval world they found the spiritual and creative energy that was (according to them) lost in the industrialised Victorian world. Pre-Raphaelites also found inspiration in their ‘spiritual predecessors’ the Romantics, and their artworks show their interest in mythology, specially Greek and Roman.

A century after the Pre-Raphaelites, in the late 1960s London’s underground came alive. As the Mods and Dollies were on the wane, an alternative scene was thriving in obscurity. Acid heads, pop stars, different eccentrics, artists and outsiders graced the London scene in those years, among that horde was Syd Barrett. ‘Syd was happy being a bohemian, like the romanticised ‘poetes maudits’.* Just like Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites before them, the London hippies drank from the fountain of the past. They drew inspiration from Eastern mysticism (yoga, Hare Krishna, Buddhism, I Ching, Ravi Shankar, Tagore) European mythology, Celts, English folklore, astrology, occult, Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation and vegetarianism.

hippie romantics 7 text

Music: Ravi Shankar

Parallels between Pre-Raphaelites and London Underground can also be drawn in terms of aesthetics. When artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth were commissioned to make posters for the UFO, they sought inspiration in the 19th century Orientalism and artists such as William Morris who was a member of the Arts and Crafts Movements, befriended Pre-Raphaelites and shared their ideas and style. In terms of fashion, one can notice similarities. In both cases, a bohemian lifestyle needed a bohemian fashion to match. Pre-Raphaelites came up with the aesthetic dress movement in an effort to loosen and brighten up the rigid and somber Victorian fashion. Likewise, London bohemians found a unique way of expressing themselves by wearing brightly coloured satin, floral prints, wooden bracelets, antique silver jewellery, bizarre and floral prints, velvet trousers, flowing silks… Although they lived a century apart, in terms of aesthetics and style, Jane Morris with her loosely cut dresses in natural fabrics and Marianne Faithfull or Brian Jones with their extravagant psychedelic outfits rightfully belong to the same stylistic universe.

hippie romantics 3 textMusic: Pink Floyd – Chapter 24

Apart from the fact they were inspired by similar things, these three groups of bohemians also shared some ideas despite the fact that they lived in different times and in differently structured society and social norms. Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites and hippies all shared ideas of originality, idealism, emphasis on feelings and love towards nature. Love, intimacy and identification with nature was for Romantics a wellspring of deep, almost mystical rapture. In poetry Nature reflected the way artist felt, but also influenced his feelings. As for Pre-Raphaelites, their paintings speak for themselves, but I won’t fail to mention the patience with which Millais painted the nature surrounding his drowning Ophelia. For London Underground, a part of which was formed by a group of young people from Cambridge, including Syd, nature was part of the growing up; they all enjoyed the Cantabrigian landscape, long walks by the river, in the woods. For Syd nature was imbued with mystical overtones, and he had a spiritual connection with it. I’ll quote the book:

”This profound connection with nature never left him. In his lyrics, the sky was a woman, and love was air.”*

Another thing they shared in common was the ideal of ‘free love’; a social movement which rejects marriage and perceives it as a form of social and financial bondage. It’s not the same as supporting promiscuity. Although the idea of free love is mostly associated with hippies and counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s, ‘free love’ was a much more radical and controversial concept earlier in the past than in the ’60s. Many Romantic poets supported the idea of ‘free love’, William Blake and Shelley among them. For example, Blake believed that ‘humans were ‘fallen’ and that a major impediment to a free love society was corrupt human nature.’ Percy Shelley, along with Mary Shelley who had inherited her mother’s liberal worldviews, also supported free love, along with vegetarianism – another trait common with hippies. As for the Pre-Raphaelites, one doesn’t need to go too far, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a good example because he lived with Elizabeth Siddal c. ten years before they married, an act very scandalous in Victorian times.

hippie romantics 4 textMusic: Syd Barrett – Opel

Caspar David Friedrich, the most famous German Romantic painter, is well-known for his landscapes with figures turning their backs on the viewers, as if they are gazing towards something eternal and infinite. Syd Barrett’s song Opel reminded me of Friedrich’s painting ‘Moonrise over the Sea’ which can be seen in the collage above. The beginning of the song beautifully captures Friedrich’s landscapes of skies in the dusk, evening or moonrises, emptiness painted in soft transitions of purple and yellow colour, tiny figures against the vast backdrop of the sea…

On a distant shore, miles from land
Stands the ebony totem in ebony sand
A dream in a mist of grey…
On a far distant shore…” (Syd Barrett – Opel)

In addition to the ideas shared by all three groups of bohemians, Romantics and hippies also shared the idea of pacifism, specially Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, the mood of Romanticism was a mood of disappointment, melancholy, sadness, loss of hope in society, whilst hippies tended to be a rather cheerful bunch (maybe Romantics would have been merry too, had they used acid), putting emphasis on altruism and their inner peace. Live and let live.

hippie romantics 8 text

And last, but not least, we could see how these bohemians lived their lives in different times and expressed their ideas. Percy Bysshe Shelley for example, lived a short but turbulent and unconventional life (as did many bohemians =). In poetry he cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’, and supported idealism, nonviolence, social justice and vegetarianism (he supported rights of all living creatures that he saw being treated unjustly!). With his strong principles and interesting ideas he became a hero for the generation that followed, poets beyond Europe, such as Rabindranath Tagore (whom the hippies loved) admired his work. Lord Byron ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know‘ led a completely different life, with more danger than integrity, but his actions are good examples of unconventionality. He had numerous love affairs, you could say that free love was his cup of tea, fought in Greece and died there also very young.

As for Pre-Raphaelites, well William Holman Hunt traveled a bit, Millais ‘stole’ Ruskin’s wife Effie and had eight children, and Rossetti lived with Elizabeth Siddal until she overdosed on laudanum and died, painted a few beautiful red haired models, then retreated himself in a house in Chelsea, London, surrounded by ‘extravagant furnishings and a parade of exotic birds and animals’. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s mother Frances Mary Polidori was John Polidori’s sister? And John Polidori was a friend of both Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. Strange.

hippie romantics 5 text

First and foremost, London bohemians of the late ’60s disapproved the lifestyle their parents led so the natural thing to do was to behave in a totally different way; to begin with they listened to blues records, wore colourful clothes and accepted a laid back attitude to life. They traded the drab and grey post-war reality with a colourful, psychedelic and mystical world of arts, music, flamboyance, love and freedom.

All in all, bohemianism is a personal, cultural and social reaction to the bourgeois life. The choice is yours, ladies and gentleman. Peace.

*Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe – Julian Palacios

Mary and Percy Shelley – ‘A Gothic Romance’

9 May

Yesterday’s tranquil afternoon filled my soul with excitement and overwhelming joy for it rained heavily and dark clouds pervaded the sky. I was listening to Chopin and reading Shelley’s poems by candlelight, relishing in the sounds of wind whispering through the trees, and a peaceful birdsong. I couldn’t have hoped for a more atmospheric afternoon! Then suddenly, the sky turned golden, mottled with purple, like in one of Turner’s paintings. After a picturesque storm, all was calm again. The love story of Mary and Percy Shelley, one of the wildest and most interesting romances in history, was on my mind the entire afternoon.

1830s mary shelley

Mary Shelley was born on 30 August 1797. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a philosopher and the founder of feminism, and died ten days after the birth of her daughter Mary. Mary’s father was William Godwin, a fellow philosopher and a prominent thinker, and the first modern proponent of anarchism. As she grew up, Mary accepted her mother’s liberal attitudes and outspokenness, and soaked up her father’s ideas like a good pupil. She was eager for knowledge from a young age, and growing up in an intellectually fruitful environment had served only to increase her intellectual curiosity. She met Wordsworth and Coleridge as a child, for they had been her father’s guests, and, along with excessive reading, she was taught by her father a great variety of subjects.

1797. Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie                                     1797. Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie

All in all, she had received a sophisticated, the least to say,  an unusual education for a girl at the time. Her father described her at fifteen as ‘singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.‘ Still, Mary’s childhood had a dark side too. Firstly, she was aware that no matter how innocent she may be now, she had caused her mother death, and this thought seemed never to have left her. Secondly, her father remarried in 1802 to Mary Jane Clairmont who brought her own two children into the marriage. Mary never got along with her stepmother.

1775-1800. A Welsh Sunset River Landscape by Paul Sandby, showing rather better weather than most 'sublime' landscapes1775-1800. A Welsh Sunset River Landscape by Paul Sandby, showing rather better weather than most ‘sublime’ landscapes

Lonely and isolated, young Mary could often be found reading by her mother’s grave, relishing in the tranquility, in the behold of her mother’s spirit. She also liked to daydream, escaping the difficulties of reality into a world of imagination. It was during her two stays in Scotland in the summer of 1812 and 1813 that her imaginings turned into profound stories. Namely, Mary stayed with the family or a radical thinker William Baxter in Scotland, where she revelled in the magnificent landscapes and in the companionship of his four daughters. Mary later recalled: ‘I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered.

1819. Portrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint1840. mary shelley

Portraits of Percy Shelley (1819) and Mary Shelley (1840)

Indeed, Mary was familiar with many philosophers of the time through her father, but one lad, one passionate, eloquent and rebellious young poet had caught her eye – Percy Bysshe Shelley. On 5 May 1814 Percy visited Godwin’s bookshop in London’s East End in hopes of meeting Mary; a lady he had previously heard of, but had never laid his eyes on. He had just been expelled from Oxford for an independent mind is a dangerous thing, and, bored with his wife Harriet, he sought for a more intellectual female companionship. Percy first befriended Godwin with promises of financial help, but later snatched his darling Mary from his arms. Seems like this was a lose-lose situation for Gowdin for he could have known better; never trust a young man’s promises.

Godwin–Shelley family treeGodwin-Shelley Family Tree

Percy Bysshe Shelley was an exciting adventure and a passionate love that Mary had so anxiously expected. A vegetarian, an advocate of free love, and a man married to Harriet Westbrook with whom he had eloped only three years earlier. ‘The son of a man of fortune in Sussex‘ and ‘heir by entail to an estate of 6,000 £ per an‘ was how he informed Godwin, and offered himself as a devoted disciple. Still, Percy had difficulties gaining access to money until he inherited his estate because his family disapproved of his engagements in projects of ‘political justice’. His inability or unwillingness to pay off Godwin’s debts infuriated Godwin. The subsequent elopement with Mary served only to deepen Godwin’s sense of betrayal.

Harriet Westbrook, who was the passionate love of his life merely a year ago, had by now bored him to death. He accused her of marrying him for money, and abandoned both her and their daughter Elizabeth Ianthe (born in June 1813) before their second child was born. Harriet was devastated.

1827. On 26 June 1814, Mary Godwin declared her love for Percy Shelley at Mary Wollstonecraft's graveside in the cemetery of St Pancras Old ChurchCemetary of St Pancras Old Church in central London

The church was restored in c.1850, and after. I visited late in a winter afternoon and it felt lonely, separated from city life; the atmosphere was curiously quiet, almost countryside.‘ (source)

St Pancras Old Church 2St Pancras Old Church today

Percy’s affection towards Mary blossomed and he lavished her with attention, joyful that he had finally found a lady intellectually equal to him. They soon began meeting each other secretly at Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave in St Pancras Churchyard. London has greatly changed since Romantic era and St Pancras Church was, in those times, an isolated place; an oasis of tranquility by the River Fleet. On 26 June 1814 Mary declared her love for Percy Shelley at her mother’s graveside, under a starlit sky. Tombs glistening in the moonlight witnessed the endearments the two lovers whispered through the night.

Mary was nearly seventeen, and Percy nearly twenty two. William Godwin disapproved their relationship and Mary was confused. She could not apprehend her father’s worries for she saw both Percy and their love affair as the embodiment of her parents’ liberal ideas of the 1790s. Despite being a good daughter, Mary rebelled against her father’s advice and continues the love affair of her life.

Shelley's travels in 1816Map showing Shelley and Byron’s travels in 1814 and 1816

On 28 July 1814, the couple eloped to France, taking Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, with them. Mary’s older half-sister, eighteen year old Fanny Imlay was left behind, to her great dismay, for she too had fallen in love with Percy. While traveling, the trio amused themselves by reading, mostly works of Shakespeare, Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft. They also kept a joint journal, and continued writing works of their own. Traveling by donkey, mule, carriage, and foot through a a France recently ravaged by war, brought them to Switzerland.

At Lucerne, however, the lack of money forced them to turn back. Mary Shelley later recalled ‘It was acting in a novel, being an incarnate romance.‘ The trio allegedly visited ‘Frankenstein Castle’ in the Odenwald, on their way to Lake Geneva. It was during that trip that Mary became acquainted with the story of Conrad Dipper, an anatomist and a former resident of the mentioned castle, and a possible prototype for Doctor Frankenstein.

‘Lord Byron and his physician settled themselves in Villa Diodati; mysterious place hidden in the trees, in the darkness of the large pines, while the Shelleys rented a smaller, less sumptuous villa nearby.’

In 1815 Mary faced the loss of her first child, a girl named Clara who died thirteen days after birth. In May 1816, Mary, Percy and their son William, born the same year, traveled to Geneva where they spent the infamous ‘summer without sun‘ in the company of Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont and John William Polidori, Byron’s physician. I have already written a post about this event, ‘Year without a Summer – Its effect on Art and literature‘ in detail, here.

In short, the tranquil, bleak and desolate atmosphere was inspiration for a group of young poets and writers. What started as a challenge to write a ghost story, turned into a hauntingly magnificent novel Frankenstein. Mary was just nineteen years old when she wrote the novel, but in the companion of such geniuses as were Byron and Shelley, she had not dared to present them with a less haunting story. This group of ‘Romantic era hippies’ returned to England in Autumn of 1816, where Percy and Mary would be greeted with sad news. Fanny Imlay, Mary’s older half-sister, born illegitimately to Mary Wollstonecraft before she met Godwin, had committed suicide 9 October 1816 by taking an overdose of laudanum at an inn in Swansea, Wales. She was twenty-two years old, and already so unbearably depressed, lonely and neglected. Motivation for the suicide remains unclear; some suggest it was her unrequited love for Shelley.

Shelley’s verses for Fanny:

Her voice did quiver as we parted,
Yet knew I not that heart was broken
From which it came, and I departed
Heeding not the words then spoken.
Misery—O Misery,
This world is all too wide for thee.

1816. Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, June 1815. Walking Dress, Ackermann's Repository, May

Fashion 1814-16

In December, another sad event happened, Shelley’s wife Harriet had committed suicide too. Still, Percy and Mary got married shortly afterwards. The marriage denoted Mary’s reconciliation with her father, for she had not spoken with him since her elopement. Although W. Godwin detested marriage in theory, his opinion was different when it came to his daughter. Although devoted to her husband, their marriage had not been the easiest. Wherever Shelley went, the children seemed to follow. Free love had its price.

In 1818, the couple went to Italy with no intentions of returning. Once there, they never settled in one place for too long. Time was spent in socialising, writing, reading, learning and sightseeing. However, their ‘Italian adventure‘ was overshadowed by personal tragedies and infidelities. Mary, who had inherited her mother’s melancholic streak, became depressed and isolated after the loss of her children, William and Clara. Percy sought happiness outside the family home, and in December 1818 Shelley’s daughter was born by an unmarried woman. Still, Shelley expressed Mary’s isolation from him:

My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone,

And left me in this dreary world alone?

Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—

But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road

That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode.

For thine own sake I cannot follow thee

Do thou return for mine.

1889. The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier

Years spent in Italy were the most creative and intellectually active period in their lives. In the Summer of 1822, the couple moved to isolated Villa Magni, in San Terenzo in the Bay of Lerici. On 8 July the same year, Mary’s life was struck by a sad event, again – Percy drowned while sailing back from Livorno to Lerici after meeting with Leigh Hunt and discussing their newly printed journal, The Liberal. Mary dedicated the rest of her life to preserving Shelley’s poems from falling into oblivion.

Romanticism – Age of Sentimentality, Melancholy, Love, Death and Fallen Heroes

17 Oct

Exploration of the inner self lead the Romantics to discover a prodigious world of mysticism, imagination and dreams.

To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.”(Novalis)

1818. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog - Casper David Friedrich

Romantic era is very appealing to me; all those sad young people that died way too soon, unrequited loves, themes and love towards nature, focus on individuality and imagination,beautiful portraits where ladies’ faces are framed with curls and delicate roses, escapism, melancholy as a state of mind, feeling of alienation.

Every movement in art, music and literature comes as an answer to the previous one and acts as its opposite. Romanticism came as an answer to Classicism and deemed its ‘cult of reason’, coldness, formality and restraint characteristic for the art and literature of the time. In Romanticism an artist is a genious, a gifted person who stands lonely and misunderstood against the meaningless masses. Art itself is originality whereas the principle of Classicism was imitating the Antic models. Romanticism praised the aesthetic function of literature while Classicism valued the educational purpose of it. Artist had more freedom in expressing himself in the Romantic era than in the rigid worldview of Classicism.

In the Romantic era young individuals felt powerless against that rigid regime. Melancholy pervaded the air and the atmosphere of oppressive disappointment after the ideals of equality and justice of the French Revolution were never fulfilled, and the Napoleon’s demise made the society to perceive him as a fallen hero, fallen self-proclaimed hero, which again brought the disappointment. ‘Cult of reason‘ couldn’t and can’t explain the inequality of the world that hurt the young people so much. I find one of Novalis’ quotes very appropriate “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” How could rationalism answer the existentialistic questions one might ask oneself? What solution could rationalism have to cure the disappointment of the people with the false social values? Young people; misunderstood poets, artists, musicians and all the other sensitive individuals couldn’t find fulfillment and refuge in rationalistic ideas that were so popular only a century before so they had to find their own way to survive.

In literature this disappointment, unexplainable sadness and melancholy manifested themselves by escaping into solitude and one’s own vision of the world. Those are the sources of the pessimistic worldview, that is the Weltschmerz. ‘World-pain’ or Weltschmerz is an expression for the sense of sadness and despondency induced by discrepancy of reality and ideals. Physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. Weltschmerz resulted in the ‘cult of pain’; a pessimistic sense of how there is no cure for evil in the world. This world pain that caused depression, escapism and resignation as the individual felt powerless against all the injustice in the world, occurred as early as in Rousseau’s (New Heloise) and Goethe’s work (The sorrows of young Werther). However, the world-pain gained its fullest form in works of Byron and Chateaubriand.

Artists of the time felt helpless, sad and disappointed. Surrounded by the tranquil solitude they found comfort in four major themes and preoccupations; intimacy and love, nature (especially exotic landscapes), history and folklore, and mystic and occult. Theme of love and intimacy is the most evident in Goethe’s work The Sorrows of Young Werther, historical themes were the most interesting to Victor Hugo thought he came to the scene a little bit later, and the dark romantic, Edgar Allan Poe is the king of mystical and occult, combing the themes of beauty and death.

1888. John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, after a poem by Tennyson; like many Victorian paintings, romantic but not Romantic.

Romanticism in English literature begins with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s collection of poems Lyrical ballads (1798). These two poets, along with Robert Southey, belonged to a group called ‘Lake poets’ for they lived in the Lake district; a picturesque mountainous area in north-west England. William Wordsworth considered poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” which he then “recollect[s] in tranquility.” Nature was, however, Wordsworth’s biggest inspiration and he admired it deeply, not only for its aesthetic values; he felt in it the closeness with the sources of life and inexhaustible wellspring of simple and eternal cognition of life. Nature mirrors the state of your soul; romantic poets reflected their feelings into nature, but they also did the opposite, the nature acted on the poets’ sensibility and his inner experiencing. These poets have been very important in setting the ground for the English Romanticism, especially for the second generation of poets.

I must say that I prefer the second generation of English Romantic poets; Byron, Shelley and Keats. Byron, as a person and an artist, is characterised by the fact that in reality he had lived a life of his romantic heroes. His numerous love adventures, travels to exotic lands and the willingness to sacrifice for the ideals of freedom; most importantly, for the freedom of another country – that shows the true nobleness. Byron is responsible for many innovations in poetry and for creating a new type of hero, that is, anti-hero or Byronic hero. Alongside Byron there were two more important poets; Shelley and Keats; both of them cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’ and both of them died very young in tragical circumstances.

1856. Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton 1856, by suicide at 18 in 1770

Literary type that emerged from the literature of Romanticism was a romantic hero; a sensitive, courageous and adventurous young man with a great love for nature and everything that is natural, and yet he is unable of controlling his own emotions. He is usually a victim of scheming, mistakes from his youth, his abruptness or his pessimistic attitudes towards life. Typical romantic hero, the best example is young Werther, perhaps even Karl Moor from Schiller’s play The Robbers, does not fit in in society, has a rebellious spirit, can be self-destructive and highly pathetic and excessive in statements.

Other type of romantic hero is Byronic hero, created by Lord Byron. Byronic hero is a man who despises everything and everybody. Though he can have many positive traits like courage or intelligence, he is not noble, kind or humane. He is a cynic and a skeptic, most commonly a materialist and an atheist, often full of contradictions. He loves to live life to the fullest but that desire is usually induced by boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. Byronic hero is a ‘cursed person‘, doing everything that stimulates his own demise. Since Lord Byron was extremely popular with Russian romantic authors, Pushkin was the first to be inspired by the Byronic hero, and derived a similar hero – Superfluous man. It’s a hero who feels superior to his surrounding and yet he submits himself to aimless actions not taking advantage of his potentials. Prone to self destruction, the superfluous man has a strong sense of boredom which compels him to seek oblivion on wanderings and travels. Typical examples include Eugene Onegin and Pechorin from Lermontov’s novel and the first novel of Russian literature – A Hero of our Time.

Romantic hero and Superfluous man are different but they do have similarities such as feeling of alienation and loneliness, intelligence, sensitivity, they both have tendencies towards traveling and excitement and the are fighters against the established social and moral norms.

1821. John Constable - The Hay Wain

Though poetry was the most popular form of expressing oneself in Romanticism, it was music that was considered the most romantic of all arts. E.T.A. Hoffman commented on the subject of music ‘The magic of music is so strong, getting stronger, it should break any shackle of another art.‘ Romanticists considered music to be almost like a mind-expanding experience; music revealed unknown areas to man, a word of imagination, a world completely cut out from earthly senses; music was romantic because its theme was the fathomless itself. Music was not only considered to be the most romantic of all arts, but also the spring of all other arts, and therefor lies its true greatness and importance. Novalis also made a remark on music –  “Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution.

Beethoven was a musician whose work is considered to mark a transition between Classicism and Romanticism. Other Romantic composers were Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Schumann and Schubert. Romantic musicians were rebellious when it came to themes, they were fascinated by nocturnal, mystic and spooky, longing to the infinite they were inspired by fantastic seeing and spiritual experiences, fascinated by the past, especially Middle Ages, interested in the autobiographical and emphasised extreme subjectivism, at the same time surrendering to nature.

My favourite romantic composer is Chopin; I absolutely adore his Nocturnes; their melody is of greatest melancholy and sadness and yet it possess untamed beauty and mystique. Oscar Wilde commented on Chopin’s music ‘After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one’s tears.‘ Frederick Chopin grew up in Warsaw. His father was French, and Frederick soon moved to Paris, the center of Romanticism in music and the center of arts in general, and as soon as he arrived, his playing style amazed the posh aristocrat audience and gained him admirers. He soon befriended many famous artists and writers of the time; Victor Hugo, H. Balzac, H. Heine, Eugene Delacroix, and also F. Listz all became his friends.

Frederick was elegant and posh, he loved modern and beautiful clothes, champagne, he changed his white gloves every day and traveled in his own carriage. However, he was profound when it came to music and his playing style reflected both great strength and sophistication and sensitivity. ‘It should be like dreaming in beautiful springtime – by moonlight.‘ – he once described his sonata. However, Chopin was of frail health, always thin, weak and melancholic, he died aged thirty nine from consumption. Although befriended with many famous artists of the time, Chopin had a person in Paris he loved even more, it was George Sand with whom had a ten year long relationship. The two met on a party, but Chopin was repelled by her clumsy posture and short, fat, unattractive build. The two met again, two years later; Chopin was in state of melancholy because a young Polish girl had proved unfaithful him, and, devastated, he was improvising a lamentations on a piano when he saw George Sand standing on the doors. His eyes met with her eyes which were black, magical and velvety as the night. After he finished playing, she bent down and kissed him softly. The rest is history.

Romantic era with its emphasis on love and emotions, was an era of many great love stories; Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Robert Browning, Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb… the list is endless.

1781. The Nightmare - Henry Fuseli1781. The Nightmare – Henry Fuseli

In Romantic era even death was romantic; it was considered a beautiful land of dreams where one could escape the harshness, troubles and greyness of reality. When one sleeps, one dreams and in death one would be dreaming forever, eternally united with nature. In dreams we see our innermost thoughts and desires, and when we die, we would be dreaming forever and ever; death is a dream and one should not be afraid of it. In life, Romantic poets were sad, melancholic, disappointment, alienated, lonely, burdened with social injustices, and powerless against established social and moral norms, and the only comfort and sweetness they could get was sleep; dreams. For Wordsworth, death is nothing more than returning to a more complete and satisfactory existence. Keats considered a death to be an eternal dream which is as beautiful as we create it; death is for him merely a sleep in which one sees the picture they most desire. There are no fears in death, only the ones we create for ourselves. Death is opposite of life, it’s an escape from reality and misunderstanding society, it’s the submerging in nature, becoming a part of the universe again. Life was hard for romantic spiritual philosophy since they lived in times when the Industrial revolution was changing lives and materialism was becoming dominant.

John Keats – ‘On Death’

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

Percy Shelley, mon préféré Romantic poet, was especially fascinated with death and dreams. Highly sensitive, he hated life; its trivialities and the conventionality of society. Extremely devoted to the beauty and peace which he believed could only be found in dreams and death, Shelley was very close to committing suicide, as he felt an enormous ‘death urge‘; he wished to lose all his senses, all attachment from life, all communication with society and emerge himself forever in enormous beauty and magic that death beholds. He wrote a poem ‘A Lament’ in which he expressed his deep desires and longings for death.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

1840s grand duchesses olga nicolaeievna et alexandra nicolaievna

I’m fascinated by deaths in Romantic era, thought people were always dying, and artists died young in many eras, there something so appealing in deaths of Romantic poets, musicians, painters or princesses. Perhaps the shortness of their lives, perhaps the sadness and tranquility that tortured them and maybe even induced their deaths… Shelley, Byron, Keats, Schubert – they all died young, but tragic and romantic death did not spare the members of aristocracy either, particularly interesting to me are Russian Grand Duchesses, sisters Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna who died very young; Alexandra died aged seventeen and Elena was just a year older when she succumbed to her eternal sleep. Later, Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna died aged only nineteen. In her portraits, she gazes at the viewer with a hint of melancholy and resignation, dressed in elegant satin, while her pale skin shows the beauty of her innocence, her stately neck stands as if it was fragile as a feather, carrying a beautiful face crowned with dark hair in braids. Aura of sadness followed Alexandra on her portraits like a shadow. She died, tortured by life, her beauty preserved in an eternal dream.

Pete Doherty – Musician, Poet, Artist, Babyshamble & Libertine

10 Sep

“I fall in love with Britain every day, with bridges, buses, blue skies… but it’s a brutal world, man.”– Pete Doherty

pete 1

Pete Doherty – an introverted, artistic, daring, kind and romantic Englishman is perhaps the most real person there is out there in the music business and that is one of the reasons the media portrays him as a substance user, bohemian lover and fake poet, at the same time neglecting and purposely ignoring the real Pete Doherty; a musician, a poet and an artist.

Pete Doherty is a product of a comfortable middle class family and though he showed an early interest in music when he started playing guitar in order to impress a school friend Emily whom he fancied, his primary interest was literature; at the age of sixteen he won a poetry competition. After achieving eleven GCSEs, 7 of which were A* grades, he was offered to study English Literature at Oxford; an offer he gladly turned down in favour of moving to his grandmother’s flat in London and working at a Willesden Cemetery where he filled graves. However, most of the time he spent reading and writing poetry while sitting on the gravestones; that really sounds atmospheric. He eventually did go to college Queen Mary to study English literature but he left the course after the first year. After leaving the university, he moved into a London flat with his friend, and a future band member, Carl Barat.

The Libertines is a band formed from a close friendship between Pete and Carl, a friendship Carl has described as having the obsessiveness and jealousy and all the things that come with first love. The Libertines had that kind of raw energy, spontaneity and liveliness so much needed on the British music scene in the first years of the 21st century. However, after the second album The Libertines the group split due to Pete’s increasing drug problems and all the unfortunate events caused by it. No one really sat face to face with Pete and told him that he was kicked out of the band, he had heard it on the radio, read it in the newspaper, and this left him feeling hurt and betrayed. What saddened him the most was the fact that Carl was his best mate and this left him contemplating what was the line people were prepared to go to in order to gain success or wealth. ‘I’d rather starve my guts than stab a friend in the back.’ he said. His response to this was a new band called Babyshambles.

It was in Babyshambles that Pete’s true artistic and poetic character came out of its shell and created an album Down in Albion filled with beautiful, dreamy songs. He did write songs in The Libertines but writing them with Carl has surely been different than writing them on his own. Various literal influences have come to the fore on many of the song featured on the album, most notably A Rebours (title taken from the same named nineteenth century novel by Joris-Karl Huysman). I can’t resist adding that A Rebours was the first song out of all Babyshambles’ that I fell in love with and is my favourite now still. I just can’t forget that line ‘…you ignore, adore, A rebour me..’

Sitting on the marble gravestones and reading books in the long Autumn afternoons, gazing at all those red and yellow falling leaves while the breezing wind brought anxiety and melancholy has surely been useful for Pete who listed his favourite novels as George Orwell’s 1984, Graham Green’s Brighton Rock and Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet along with complete works by Oscar Wilde. From poetry he mentioned Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire and works of Emily Dickinson. He also put particular emphasis on Romantic poets and also on existential philosophers. Judging by his song, the book A Rebours would also be on his list. The deepness of both his lyrics and his characters are often undervalued due to the extreme infatuation the media has with him as a drug addict and a rebel. Pete is a rebel; rebel against conventions, normality, simple-mindedness and elitist aspect of art. He said ‘I don’t really know what “intellectual” means, but if it means you’ve got a desire to learn, you’ve got a desire to look for things that haven’t been presented to you, then, maybe. I think that “intellectual” is quite an exclusive word. I think it’s just for anyone that has a thirst or a hunger to improve themselves, or a yearning to escape from somewhere to get to a better place.’

pete 3

On the first sight Pete probably does seem as shallow and fake as the media portrays him, but the real Pete; Pete the intelligent and humble poet, the artist, the libertine is a person worth being inspired by, worth listening too and worth giving respect to. A libertine is ‘one devoid of most moral restraints’ or ‘one who defies established religious precepts’; a freethinker and that’s exactly what Pete is; despite the odds he managed to stay oblivious to the public and media’s opinions and harsh judgements – “I’m not going to be hardened by these people, to these things, I’m not going to let them destroy my feelings or my emotions.” Seems like the public ignores, adores, a rebours him, leaves him washed up begging for more...

It’s important to stay ignorant to public opinions and just stay in your own world which is as beautiful, as romantic, as peaceful and interesting as you have created it. That’s what Pete does; he lives in his own world, leaving the harsh greyness of reality outside the door. He still has that rush, that desire, that absolute contamination of soul with melody and music. (‘I think I only needed something to hold on to. It has never been about depravity. It’s always been about melody. But melody and I met in many depraved situations. Meeting melody is the victory of the empty spiralling nightmare.’) He keeps living his life no matter how fucked up it is, not knowing what’s going to happen next, crossing the borders of reality into the unknown. In some terms Pete’s lifestyle could be compared to some nineteenth century bohemian poets. Every generation has its leader, it is the one who represents all the despair, coldness, alienation and sadness numerous young people feel. Pete sort of has that aura of bohemianism and romanticism about him; his intelligence, open-mindedness, his sensitivity and strangeness connected to him certainly help too in drawing people towards him. Pete is the icon of the 21st century romanticism, like a today’s Lord Byron; he escapes reality into his own world of imagination and praises individuality and honour.

Album Down in Albion is Pete Doherty’s world of imagination. Decision is yours whether you want to enter it or not. It’s a beautiful, melodic album, gentle and dreamy (compared to loud, noisy songs of The Libertines, but let’s not forget that Carl plays his guitar in punk style) and the songs sound so contemporary in a good way, something I can relate to, something touchable and real. Besides the already mentioned song A Rebours I also like songs Fuck Forever (‘And fuck forever/If you don’t mind/See I’m stuck forever/Oh I’m stuck in your mind, your mind, your mind…’), The 32nd of December and In Love with a Feeling. Song Killamangiro is very fast paced and vibrant. Song La Belle et la Bete also sounds very nice, and it’s a duet between Pete and his then girlfriend Kate Moss. I also have to mention one more song, though it’s not on this album it is written by Pete Doherty for The Libertine’s second album, and it’s the song ‘What Katie Did’; it’s very melodic and soft and lyrics are sweet (‘Oh what you gonna do, Katie?/You’re a sweet sweet girl/But it’s a cruel, cruel world/a cruel, cruel world. (…) …You won’t just leave me standing here/And don’t give in/Not to the darkest sins/Oh what you gonna do?/It’s up to you.’) However, on album Down in Albion there is a song called What Katie Did Next, I’m just saying.

Musically the album is seen as a move from The Libertines’ style of music; now we at least know what Pete and Carl’s musical preferences would be like. However, The Libertines are back together again and, wait for it, they are planning to release, what would be their third album, in 2015. This news came like a cherry on top, at least I hope. I know that I am very, very, very exited to hear that since I feel like I’ve missed out on lot of things in music and sometimes it’s nice to be able to listen and love and album released in your lifetime.

P.S. If you want to have more insight in Pete Doherty’s world of imagination, or you’ve been wondering what’s inside his whimsical mind, you can read his diary, or look at I should better say. It is really interesting. I would describe it as a sneak peak into Pete’s mind.

book

 “If you’ve lost your faith in love and music then the end won’t be long.”

Year without a Summer – Its effect on Art and Literature

26 Aug

Year 1816. is known as the Year without a Summer due to an eruption of a great Mount Tambora volcano in East India (today’s Indonesia). The volcano eruption which lasted from 5th to 15th April 1815. caused a volcanic winter; a reduction in global temperatures caused by vast amounts of volcanic ash obscuring the Sun. However, this very summer proved to be inspirational for Mary Shelley and her circle of friends.

1828. Chichester Canal's vivid colours may have been influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. - Turner1828. Chichester Canal’s vivid colours may have been influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. – J. M.W. Turner

It rained heavily in April 1816, and in May too and that’s when Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, along with his lover Claire Clairmont and his physician John William Polidori headed to Switzerland, planning to spend their summer by the beautiful Lake Geneva. Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, who just turned eighteen in April, was a lively, voluptuous brunette who caught Lord Byron’s eye, and was already pregnant with his child. The party arrived at Geneva on 14th May 1816. and Lord Byron joined them on the 25th May. They rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lord Byron and his physician settled themselves in Villa Diodati; mysterious place hidden in the trees, in the darkness of the large pines, while the Shelleys rented a smaller, less sumptuous villa nearby.

‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer’, remembered Mary in 1831, ‘and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house’. Memorable tranquil, bleak and desolate atmosphere proved to be inspirational despite the long rainy afternoons without a glimpse of sun. The landscapes, frightening and lonely, only added to the atmosphere, and even after many years Mary remembered them clearly, as she later recorded in her work ‘Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime’.

The group amused themselves by reading German horror stories and discussing, among other things, galvanism, by a log fire in Byron’s villa where the group usually gathered. There, on the lake Geneva, in the dreary May, Percy Shelley first met Lord Byron and the two were having endless discussions; they needed nobody else, nor did they noticed the other guests. It was in one of these long, tranquil, rainy afternoons that the idea of a ghost story arose. The tension in the villa hadn’t helped; Polidori was becoming more and more interested in Mary who showed no accept of his affection, and, at the same time, Claire was pretty much relentlessly fixated on Lord Byron whereas to him she has became dull a long time ago. This claustrophobic atmosphere proved to be hard for Percy who found himself slipping into a mood of oppression and morbidity. One rainy night, as the guest were all sitting by the fire in the great room, Lord Byron read a few verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’. It the poem, a character Geraldine (who appears as a women but is in fact Lamia, a disguised serpent) seeks not only the physical but also the spiritual possessions of Christabel who is innocent and beautiful. Percy seemed to be very impressed, perhaps with the poem itself, perhaps with the hypnotic way Lord Byron recited it, still, he fled the room screaming, in horror. He later explained his sudden departure by the sudden mental of a woman who had eyes instead of nipples on her breasts. Polinori later used this event in his novel Vampyre, written originally as a short story during the same holiday in Geneva. In only six years time, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Polidori would all be death.

Some verses from Christabel:

‘(…) There she sees a damsel bright,
Dressed in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandaled were;
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, ‘t was frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she-
Beautiful exceedingly!’

Later that night Mary had a mental vision too, in the darkness and tranquility of a stormy night, her heightened consciousness of terror created something that would later be known as a novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.

‘Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion …’ Frankenstein’s monster and Frankenstein the book had both been born.’

A Year Without a Sun proved to be inspirational not only to poetic group of Romanticists who made up ghost stories for fun but also to J.M.W. Turner, famous landscape painter who studied the sky with a great flair. His painting shown above, Chichester Canal was inspired by the sky as it appeared in that infamous Summer Without a Sun. The painting depicts the Chichester Canal in Sussex and its brilliant, vivid colours were influenced by atmospheric ash from the previously mentioned volcano eruption.