When you think Beat Generation do you also think Romanticism? No?? Don’t get tripped up by the overuse of the word “neon” and other supposed markers of so-called Beat poetry. Think more about their shared notions of colloquial language, intuition over reason, and spontaneity. Beat poetry is a natural evolution of Romantic poetry. (Caveat: “Beat Generation” and “Romanticism” are convenient labels, but the people associated with them wouldn’t identify themselves as being “members” of any sort of “movement.”)
I’ve written before about Beat poet Gregory Corso’s connection to one of my personal favorite poets, John Keats. Even more than Keats, though, Corso professed an admiration for Percy Bysshe Shelley. Corso is actually buried across from Shelley. While Allen Ginsberg (read last week’s post on Ginsberg’s Blake vision here) is known for littering his poetry with the names of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, Corso wrote of Shelley in “I Am 25” and “I Held a Shelley Manuscript.” I love, love, love the language he uses in those poems and can relate to the theme of idolizing other poets who have gone before one’s time.
When thinking about possible poems to share with you for National Poetry Month, I decided on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die” not just because of Gregory Corso’s love for Shelley but because it reminded me of the themes I’d found myself wonderfully entrenched in while recently reading Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, a book the Beats also read—themes of memory and love and music and flowers. (Swoon, swoon, swoon.) Like Corso’s “I Held a Shelley Manuscript,” Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die” sensually touches on what remains after death.
Without further ado, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die”:
Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap’d for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
What’s your favorite poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley?