Tag Archives: John Keats

Before the Beats, Rimbaud Had a “Bohemian Life”

17 Apr

225px-RimbaudPhoto by Etienne Carjat (1871)

Rimbaud’s kinda cute, eh?

Before Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation on the Lost Generation with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes, before he went on the road and lived a bohemian life, he attended (and dropped out of) Columbia University. It was through his Columbia connections—which Paul and I explain in more detail in Burning Furiously Beautiful (it’s actually super interesting to discover how they all met and became friends)—that Kerouac met Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg. Back then, the phrase they were throwing around was a “New Vision.”

Carr had borrowed the phrase from Arthur Rimbaud, and the young friends in Morningside Heights used it to mean:

1) Naked self-expression is the seed of creativity. 2) The artist’s consciousness is expanded by derangement of the senses. 3) Art eludes conventional morality.[17]

As a teenager, Rimbaud was part of the Decadent movement in late-nineteenth-century France. The term “Decadents” refers to the clever poets who preferred to show off their literary skill rather than emote as naturally as the Romantics. The earlier Romantics—such as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats—used more colloquial language than the highly stylized language of the Decadents.

In a letter to a friend, Rimbaud wrote:

I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.

 

Sounds like something Kerouac might write, doesn’t it? Not because the author of On the Road sought to make himself scummy by any means, but because he shook off pretensions and suffered for his art, appreciating the authenticity of experience.

I couldn’t find a translation of any of Rimbaud’s poetry that was in the public domain, so here is Rimbaud’s “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)” in the original French:

Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

You can read a 1962 English translation by Oliver Bernard here.

 

Advertisements

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die”

10 Apr

ShelleyPortrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint (1819)

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?

Remembering Gregory Nunzio Corso

17 Jan

corso_mindfield_new

I have a special place in my heart for Gregory Corso. I’ve always appreciated his Romantic notions and the levity he brought to the so-called Beat Generation canon.

Unlike a lot of the other people he associated with, who were brought up in middle-class families and took an interest in the seedy underbelly of New York City as adults, Corso was abandoned by his mother at a Catholic charity and his father had him put in the foster care system. At thirteen, he landed in jail, where he discovered poetry. It was only many years later, after he became famous, that filmmaker Gustave Reininger found Corso’s mother and reunited them in what turned out to be a happy ending. His mother actually outlived him, though, as he soon found out he had cancer. During that time, his daughter Sheri Langerman, a nurse, took care of him.

Corso passed away in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, on January 17, 2001. His ashes were buried at the Protestant Cemetery, Cimitero acattolico, in Rome, across from the poet that inspired him, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Modern Love

14 Feb
by William Hilton

by William Hilton

When I was still just a teenager, I fell for John Keats. He was a Romantic, prone to fits of passion and depression, the highs and lows most teenagers can relate to. He had studied and gotten his apothecary license, but who wants to be a doctor when they could be a poet? Both fix the heart, do they not? He sat under a plum tree and wrote an ode to a nightingale. Swoon. He wasn’t stuffy. He infused humor into his poetry and broke traditional rules, using false rhymes. He went on “road trips,” walking tours of the Lake District, Ireland, and Scotland. There’s a beautiful scene in the film Bright Star, about Keats’ romance with Fanny, in which a million butterflies flutter though a bedroom. And isn’t that just like love? Whimsical. Animated. Delicate. Fleeting. Memorable.

Gregory Corso, the poet associated with the Beat Generation, was a fan of John Keats’ poetry. It’s easy to see their resemblance to each other—the way they both referenced their hero poets in their poetry, the cheeky humor, their admiration for the Classics, the way they strayed from conformity, their struggling to make ends meet.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s Keats’ thoughts on modern love.

 

Fragment: Modern Love

And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up

For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;

A thing of soft misnomers, so divine

That silly youth doth think to make itself

Divine by loving, and so goes on

Yawning and doting a whole summer long,

Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,

And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;

Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,

And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.

Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,

If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,

It is no reason why such agonies

Should be more common than the growth of weeds.

Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl

The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say

That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.