The Role of the Self in Byron and Keats

May 2, 2019 by Essay Writer

The primary source of feeling comes from within the Self. At least, this is what Lord Byron’s Manfred and “Lara: Canto the First” and Keats’ “Four Seasons Fill the Measure of the Year”, tell us. The implications of this are that once the internal Self has begun a process of inner torment, there is little in the universe of external circumstances that can do anything to stop or change that process. The ability of the Self to influence a person’s general disposition and outlook on life can be stronger than man’s ability to overcome it, and in a sense foregrounds man’s association with himself, others and his environment. In the two works by Byron, we see examples of men tormented by some past memory that they can’t seem to forget. In the work by Keats, we see a description of the mastery of the mind over its subject. It is the acknowledgment of the memory and the state of the mind which inform the actions of the individual.The idea of a traumatic memory is something that is carried over in both Byron poems. In the case of Manfred, the main character is tormented by the ambiguous loss of a love. The memory itself is described without ever really being completely being fleshed out, as in the lines 213 to 216 when Manfred says “Not with my hand, but heart– which broke her heart; /It gazed on mine, and wither’d. I have shed/ Blood, but not hers– and yet her blood was shed– I saw, and could not stanch it” (Byron, Manfred, 213-216). This adds to the mystery of the memory itself, which suggests that the impression of the sum of the whole memory is more important than its individual details, and that the unique perspective of the mind subject to the impression is likely to have the greatest influence of the form the impression takes on the mind. Evidence of this idea can be seen in Manfred, when he says “My slumbers-if I slumber-are not sleep, But a continuance of enduring thought” (Byron, Manfred 3-4) and in “Four Seasons Fill the Measure of a Year”, where Keats writes “There are four seasons in the mind of man”. (Keats, 2) In “Lara: Canto the First”, we also encounter an gentleman who is tormented by past regrets, and who, as a result, finds himself disconnected from the rest of society. In this poem, the idea of this man being tormented by his own mind is mentioned quite explicitly, when Byron writes “A thing of dark imaginings, that shap’d /By choice the perils he by chance escap’d;/ But ‘scap’d in vain, for in their memory yet/ His mind would half exult and half regret.” (Byron, “Lara: Canto the First”, 317-320) This is similar to lines from Manfred, such as: But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we, Half dust, half deity, alike unfit To sink or soar, with our mix’d essence make A conflict of its elements, and breathe The breath of degradation and of pride, Contending with low wants and lofty will, Till our mortality predominates, And men are what they name not to themselves, And trust not to each other. (Byron, Manfred, 300-308)In fact, the lines seem to mirror each other conceptually, and reinforce the running theme in Keats that the mind is tempered by internal contradictions, experience and age, much like the changing of the seasons. The difference between the Byron poems and the Keats poems is that Byron does not separate the temperament of the mind so much by age as by experience. Manfred’s youth is noted as a contrast to his brooding spirit, like in Act II Scene I, where he tells the chamois hunter Think’st thou existence doth depend on time? It doth; but actions are our epochs: mine Have made my days and nights imperishable Endless, and all alike, as sands on the shore Innumerable atoms; and one desart Barren and cold, on which the wild waves break, But nothing rests, save carcases and wrecks, Rocks, and the salt-surf weeds of bitterness. (Manfred 51-58)In “Lara: Canto the First”, a similar connection is made to the torment of experience on the mind, as the poem reads, “He lives, nor yet is past his manhood’s prime,/Though sear’d by toil, and something touch’d by time” (“Lara”, 55-56). In this poem, however, Lara is described as having had his Keatsian “spring” (Keats, 3) of his youth, having been energetic and full of verve. This is not a question of maturity, but rather of temperament, as Byron’s Manfred may be biologically young, but psychologically goes from having a desire to forget to a willingness to die, (which would essentially be a gloomy “summer” stage of remembrance (Keats, 5)), and pass into a “winter” stage (Keats, 13). Likewise, Lara “ruminates” (Keats, 7) in a summer stage, with all the sadness and morbidity associated to his regrets.This desire to forget leads Manfred down a path of transcendental magic, where he attempts to dominate a series of spirits and wishes for them to undo his curse of remembering. Ironically, it is this memory which dominates him, as no spirit can undo it. However, his memory finally confronts him in the form of the ghost of his lost love, and this is the catalyst for his existential winter, as the Phantom says “Manfred! To-morrow ends thine earthly ills./ Farewell!” (Manfred 521-22). Here, Manfred is dominated by his tormented self, despite all his learning, power and mastery. And it is only by confronting his torment, as opposed to forgetting it, that he can transition into death. However, when ghouls come to collect him, he wards them off, saying, The mind which is immortal makes itself Requital for its good or evil thoughts, Is its own origin of ill and end, And its own place and time; its innate sense, When stripp’d of this mortality, derives No colour from the fleeting things without, But is absorb’d in sufferance or in joy, Born from the knowledge of its own desert. (Manfred, 389-296)The idea that feeling comes from within the mind, and not without, is explicitly said. The implication of that is that no matter what hell or paradise Manfred experiences, it is always his own mind which will torment him most. The duality of Manfred and the torture of his own mind is also present in “Lara: Canto the First”, when Byron writes In him inexplicably mix’d appear’dMuch to be lov’d and hated, sought and fear’d.Opinion varying o’er his hidden lot,In praise or railing ne’er his name forgot;His silence form’d a theme for others’ prate;They guess’d–they gaz’d–they fain would know his fate. (“Lara”, 289-294)This is the caricature of a bright and promising man, with the bewildering darkness and bitterness of an old veteran. There is something about him which seems contradictory and enticing in a morbid kind of way, and despite his brilliance and moments of goodness he still inspires fear with his demeanor. The major discrepancy between the two works is that Manfred looks into the transcendental to find manifestations of his own torment, and Lara presents the duality of self among mortals. However, this mindset has caused Lara to reject his own mortality, as seen when Byron writes “He call’d on Nature’s self to share the shame,/And charg’d all faults upon the fleshly form.” (“Lara”, 332-333) Lara isolates himself from his former company and from society out of some manner of shame, for example, But what he had beheld he shunn`d to show, As hardly worth a stranger`s care to know; If still more prying such inquiry grew, His brow fell darker, and his words more few. (“Lara”, 91-94)Byron’s Manfred has isolated and alienated himself from the rest of society, considering himself to be existentially and psychologically disconnected from the rest of human life , for example ” I disdain’d to mingle with/ A herd, though to be leader– and of wolves./ The lion is alone, and so am I.” (Manfred 121-123) He deals with people on a basis of necessity, but feels no relationship to mortals except for the one mortal he lost, which hangs in his memory. This is related to “Lara: Canto the First”, where the main character is described as returning “at last in sudden loneliness” (“Lara”, 43). However, the character in Lara is told more from the point of view of an outside observer, who perceives this suddenness, and so what we get is the story of how this man is perceived by other people in almost every line. This is as opposed to Manfred, where we get both an indication of how the outsider feels in observing him, like the Abbott, hunter, Herman or Manuel, or how Manfred relates to others when he speaks for himself, clarifying the origins of his feelings rather distinctly.The two works by Byron, Manfred and “Lara: Canto the First”, and the Keats poem “Four Seasons Fill the Measure of a Year” all suggest an importance of the self and of the temperament of the mind. However, the approaches of the respective works to these ideas are not altogether identical. Keats’ work lends a generalization to the topics while the Byron poems narrow in on specific concerns in regard to the mind and the self. Ultimately though, the predominance of the state of the self is shown as being more powerful to the individual than any exterior forces or willful machinations of that person to change it.Byron, Lord, Manfred, The Literary Gothic, 18 Jan, 2008. 24 Nov, 2009.Byron, Lord, “Lara: Canto the First”, Great Literature Online., 1997-2009,24 Nov, 2009.Keats, John, “Four Seasons Fill the Measure of a Year”,, 24 Nov, 2009.

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