Saturday, October 21, 2006

Thomas Lovell Beddoes


Old Adam, the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
Under his tail and over his crest;
And through every feather
Leaked the wet weather;
And the bough swung under his nest;
For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It’s only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer’s bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts’ moonshine.

Ho! Eve, my grey carrion wife,
When we have supped on kings’ marrow,
Where shall we drink and make merry our life?
Our nest it is queen Cleopatra’s skull,
’Tis cloven and cracked,
And battered and hacked,
But with tears of blue eyes it is full:
Let us drink then, my raven of Cairo.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It’s only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer’s bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts’ moonshine.

Work and school have been placing increasing demands on my time, and the other day, I realized that I’m running the risk of completely neglecting one of my favorite times of the year. Luckily, Richard Geyer’s newly re-launched, Thomas Lovell Beddoes site, The Phantom Wooer, reminded me that Halloween is just around the corner.

Though Beddoes (1803-1849), referred to as “the most morbid poet in the English language,” wrote during the late Romantic period, the bulk of his output consists of poetic, Elizabethan/Jacobean style dramas in the manner of Webster and Tourneur. Consistent with such a style, these plays are sprinkled with many brilliant lyrics, such as the macabre poem above, which appears in Beddoes’ masterpiece, Death’s Jest Book (available at Geyer’s site). Though his lyrics are often anthologized apart from their respective plays, Ezra Pound (who refers to Beddoes as “prince of morticians” in Canto XXX) rightly warns in his essay, Beddoes and Chronology, that they are even more impressive when seen in context, and though it’s harder to anthologize, much of Beddoes best writing appears in his dramatic blank verse.

Though Beddoes is still a rather obscure poet, there is a society dedicated to him, which publishes an annual scholarly journal and is overseen by the poet’s distant relative John Lovell Beddoes.


Burntdisk said...

Have to admit, though it probably makes me a bad English major, that except for rareties like Charles Bukowski I really can't stand poetry, even if it's as morbid as this. Still, it would make a hell of a psychobilly song.

Megan said...

Ooh I like this poem very much. The darker/creepier the better for me. Thanks for sharing, I hadn't heard of this poet before.

Mark said...

I'm glad you like it! (And I like Bill's suggestion!) I was torn between using that song or this one:

In the latter, he literally mixes a wedding song and a funeral dirge. Well worthing looking into.

Please stay tuned--the next post will deal with Victorian Ghost stories.

Megan said...

I spent seriously all afternoon reading his poems (instead of doing work). I really like most of them. Then I read a bunch of Yeats. Barely any work done today, sadly. Thanks for giving me the head's up though. How do you pronounce his last name? Bed-DOHS? Bed-DUHZ?

Looking forward to the Victorian ghost stories, I've been on a big Victorian kick lately.

Mark said...

Accent on the first syllable, long "o" in the second. I'm really glad you like him. He's so obscure and has such an amazing wit and ear (speaking of Yeats, who probably had the best ear of all since Shakespeare). He deserves much more recognition than he gets. I actually joined the society a few years back.

I'm ALWAYS on a Victorian kick but always moreso right around Halloween. I would love to do a seminar at the college on either Victorian horror or detective fiction. I'll be sure to include lots of links in the next post.