“If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?”

Please Listen:
The Phantom Wooer
A ghost, that loved a lady fair,
Ever in the starry air
Of midnight at her pillow stood;
And, with a sweetness skies above
The luring words of human love,
Her soul the phantom wooed.
Sweet and sweet is their poisoned note,
The little snakes of silver throat,
In mossy skulls that nest and lie,
Ever singing, Die, oh! die.
Young soul put off your flesh, and come
With me into the quiet tomb,
Our bed is lovely, dark, and sweet;
The earth will swing us, as she goes,
Beneath our coverlid of snows,
And the warm leaden sheet.
Dear and dear is their poisoned note,
The little snakes of silver throat,
In mossy skulls that nest and lie,
Ever singing, Die, oh! die.
Thomas Lovell Beddoes was born in Clifton, Shropshire, in 1803, to a distinguished and eccentric
family. His mother was a sister of the novelist Maria Edgeworth; his father, often referred to in
his time as ‘the celebrated Dr Beddoes’, was a colleague of Sir Humphry Davy, who lived with the
Beddoes family and taught at the Pneumatic Institution in Clifton, where Dr Beddoes administered
laughing-gas to Coleridge. The doctor also tried his hand at poetry; his long poem ‘Alexander’s
Expedition down the Hydaspes and the Indus to the Indian Ocean’ has been called ‘one of the
strangest books in English’.
Beddoes has often been called a ‘poet of fragments’, most of which are embedded in unfinished
Jacobean-style tragedies. Their dramatic structure has the form of quicksand, in which dazzling
shreds of poetry sink or swim. His magnum opus was to have been Death’s Jest Book, a kind of
bottomless pit that absorbed most of his creative energies during his final years. As in all his
plays, the plot is murky to the point of incomprehensibility, and the characters exist mainly to
mouth Beddoes’ extraordinary lines, though they do collide messily with one another. One critic
has observed that they have ‘the essential unity of dream characters’ who meet ‘in the dreamer’
and are merely ’emanations of the central idea’. All this does result in a bizarre kind of
theatricality, and it might be interesting to try to sit through a staged version of Death’s
Jest Book. Unlikelier closet dreams have made it to the boards.
Death was Beddoes’ main subject, both as a poet and as a medical man; he seems relaxed and happy only when writing about it. Pound (in the Pisan Cantos) mentions ‘Mr Beddoes/(T.L.) prince
of morticians . . . centuries hoarded/to pull up a mass of algae/(and pearls).’ Any anthologist
is bound to include a bit of the former (the creepy ‘Oviparous Tailor’, for instance) as well as
some of the latter, and none can avoid ‘Dream Pedlary’: his most anthologized poem, it is also
one of the most seamlessly beautiful lyrics in the English language.Pound evokes ‘the odour of eucalyptus or sea wrack’ in Beddoes; one could add those of rose,
sulphur and sandalwood to this unlikely but addictive bouquet. Edmund Gosse, whose landmark
edition of Beddoes’ work appeared in 1890, got it almost right in his preface: ‘At the feast of
the muses he appears bearing little except one small savoury dish, some cold preparation, we may
say, of olives and anchovies, the strangeness of which has to make up for its lack of importance.
Not every palate enjoys this hors d’oeuvre, and when that is the case, Beddoes retires;
he has nothing else to give. He appeals to a few literary epicures, who, however, would deplore
the absence of this oddly flavoured dish as much as that of any more important piece de
resistance.’ One should qualify that by adding that in the century since it was written, the
little band has swollen to something like a hungry horde, avid for what Pater called ‘something
that exists in this world in no satisfying measure, or not at all.’
One drop of Manna in a shower of brine.
he ghost of wasps shall haunt thee, naughty bud.
Bury him deep. So damned a work should lie
Nearer the Devil than man. Make him a bed
Beneath some lock-jawed hell, that never yawns
With earthquake or eruption; and so deep
That he may hear the devil and his wife
In bed, talking secrets.
To carry on…
And for more…

Author: mmartel

"If he's honest, he'll steal; if he's human, he'll murder; if he's faithful, he'll deceive. Being at a loss to resolve these questions, I am resolved to leave them without any resolution." I have so much to say to you that I am afraid I shall tell you nothing."

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