Byron, Keats, and Don Juan

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Byron, Keats, and Don Juan

Postby Despondence » Sat Oct 30, 2004 3:18 pm

What was the relationship between Byron and Keats, other than that they did not care very much for each other's works?

[I realize this must be discussed extensively in the biographies, but I'm lagging behind a bit there.]

I just read the first Canto of Don Juan, and was amazed at how bluntly he (Byron) in verse denigrates Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey ("the one is crazed, the other drunk"...etc). Does he ever name or allude to Keats or Shelley in Don Juan?

Also in the introduction to and closing of the first canto he clearly states the he does not intend to write this story in that lofty fashion which he finds so boring. I was wondering if he was referring to Endymion or Hyperion here (or at the least, that they were included in the reference..)

I forget the timeline - did Byron start on Don Juan before or after Keats published Endymion? (methinks after, around 1818 or so?)

Anyway, just some random wonderings I had.
Despondence
 

Postby Saturn » Thu Nov 04, 2004 11:28 am

The relationship between Byron and Keats was a difficult one.

In fact, early in his career (and I've mentioned this countless times on here) Keats did actually admire Byron greatly like many young men of the period, and affected his 'Byronic' style of dress and even, for a time, wore a Byronic moustache like the one Byron wore in the famous 'Eastern' portrait by Thomas Phillips.

Keats later came to disdain Byron, but even then, on his last journey I'm almost certain I remember that he did bring some of the cantos of Don Juan with him. Also, the eclectic, satiric fairy-tale poem he was working on in his last year, 'The Cap and Bells,; or The Jealousies' bears some of the hallmarks of a deep familiarity with Byron's Don Juan - some critics beleive that contained in the poem is a satiric portrait of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, The Prince Regent amongst other contemporary worthies.

I think we know what Byron thought of Keats work - not very much at all.
He unjustly lumped him in with Southey and Wordsworth as a 'Lake' poet. However, he did confess that Hyperion would confer immortality on Keats, so that epic side of Keats he did appreciate as Byron was a fervent disciple of the great 18th Century Augustan Classicists Pope and Dryden, who sought to emulate and surpass in their own epic productions the supreme master of epic in English, John Milton, who we all know was one of Keats' great heroes.

As for Don Juan it was begun in 1819, so Byron would have had time to read Endymion by the time.

I don't think he was aiming his barbs against Keats' epics - I suspect his direct target was his perennial enemy Robert Southey, whose endless productions of dreary epic poems Byron despised.

You should read one of Byron's other great satirical masterpieces, 'The Vision of Judgement' where he rips Southey and the late George III "to shreds, to very rags" with brilliant, razor-sharp wit amidst an epic backdrop.
Last edited by Saturn on Thu Nov 04, 2004 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Despondence » Thu Nov 04, 2004 11:57 am

Hey, I never thought about that, but now that you mention it - I always felt there was something mysteriously different about The Cap and Bells, but I couldn't put my finger on it. But there it is, a Keatsified Don Juan! (of sorts)

Thanks for the tip, I'll look into The Vision of Judgement.
"Thou shalt read Milton, Dryden, Pope" indeed...(there's too much good stuff to read!)
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Postby Saturn » Thu Nov 04, 2004 12:04 pm

If only life were a thousand years instead "three-score-and-ten", there is far too much great literature to read for one lifetime - I'd need at least a hundred lifetimes to read everything I want to.
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Postby Despondence » Fri Nov 05, 2004 11:57 am

Hey, as I looked it up yesterday I realized I had read it already, only forgotten the title...(hello senility). I agree, it's a brilliant and captivating piece. But how do you figure it's a deconstruction of Southey? Just scanning it quickly to refresh my memory, I didn't catch that. Guess I need to reread the whole thing..

And glancing at The Cap and Bells, I think you could be right that there is some sort of Byronic twist to the verse - but if it was an attempt at Byronesque, it seems it falls rather short of the mark. While the rhymes in Don Juan often become incredibly contrived, Byron is able to exploit this and turn it into burlesque. That just doesn't fit with Keats, so he tries to keep the sober tone and just break off the end of each verse with something, well, "unexpected" I guess is the word ("funny" certainly isn't).

Maybe I'm completely off here, but this is the impression I got on a second reading.
Despondence
 

Postby Saturn » Fri Nov 05, 2004 12:11 pm

I can't believe you didn't see how Byron destroys Southey in The Vision of Judgement - how about all that stuff about him writing for war and agaainst war, writing Satan's memeories nicely bound in two octavo volumes or whatever it says and how he bores the the entire heavenly host with reading his poetry to them.

In fact the whole poem was provoked and written in response by Southey's own encomium on George III called A vision of Judgement which shamelessly heaps the flattery onto the departed monarch wth a trowel.

As for The Cap and Bells - you're quite right it isn't realy Keats style at all - it is a bit of failure on the whole in my opinion.
I didn't really mean that it was supposed to be written in the style of Don Juan, just that the comic, satirical feel of it showed that Keats had a wish to show that side of himself in his work which was perhaps, in a small way at least, indebited to the hugely popular style of Byron's satires.
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Postby Despondence » Fri Nov 05, 2004 1:38 pm

Well, I'm really not very familiar with Southey to begin with...thanks for spelling it out for me!
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Postby Saturn » Sat Nov 06, 2004 10:36 am

I've only ever read a few poems of his in a poetry anthology, so all I know of him is coloured by Byron's criticisms of him.
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Postby Matt » Tue Nov 09, 2004 9:09 pm

In Don Juan, Byron dedicates a whole stanza to Keats:

'John Keats, who was kill'd off by one critique,
Just as he really promised something great,
If not intelligible, without Greek
Contrived to talk about the Gods of late,]
Much as they might have been supposed to speak.
Poor fello! His was an untoward fate;
'T is strange he mind, that fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuff'd out by an article.'

Let me know if I am way behind on everything!
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Postby Saturn » Tue Nov 09, 2004 10:08 pm

Nothing's happened while you've been away - in fact I've taken the pulse of the forum and the diagnosis is a terminal decline.

Alas!!!

That stanza in Don Juan just highlights Byron's grossly unfair attitude to Keats which I find really sad.

It's sad that Byron never really recognised Keats's genius and sad too that he was so prejudiced against him due to his background and social standing. In this, Byron was holding many of the popular prejudices which he so often disdained and rejected.
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Postby Matt » Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:40 pm

Although it is interesting that Byron suddenely showed a liking for Keats in the aftermath of Keats' death. Funny that
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Postby Saturn » Mon Nov 15, 2004 9:38 am

I think he did feel a bit guilty for slagging him off, though he was expressing his sympathy to Shelley, who Byron knew liked Keats' work so he may have just not wanted to upset his friend by continuing his attack on Keats' poetry.
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