Sunday Night Journal, January 14, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, January 21, 2018

52 Poems, Week 3: Drachenfels (Byron)

On New Year's Eve we went to a party in Germany, invited by my brother who lives in the Westerwald. It's a three-hour drive each way, and we didn't intend to stay more than two or three hours at the party, so I cast about for something to break the journey, and increase the proportion of time spent in pleasurable activities rather than speeding along a motorway in winter. A short detour added twenty minutes to the drive, but provided us with two hours stretching our legs up and down the steep hill, overlooking the Rhine, at the top of which perches the ruin of Drachenfels castle.

I had heard of Drachenfels, and seen it in pictures, and had a vague notion it was connected to Romanticism in some way. Along the road up the hill we passed a booth selling trinkets and wind chimes, a mulled wine stall, a wine lounge, a beer garden, a fancy-looking restaurant, and a reptile house called Nibelungenhalle. There was even a little railway up the hill, but the trains were not running on New Year's Eve. I did not see any animatronic dragons, but have a sneaking suspicion that the sign to Fafnir's Lair might lead to one. We arrived relatively late in the day, and everything was closed or closing, so we could enjoy the quiet woods and the magnificent views without too many distractions – walking up in the sunset and back down again in the dark. There was an information panel which indicated, among other things, that the strongest connection to English Romanticism can be found in canto 3 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Byron had visited in 1816, on his way to Switzerland. I read the poem for the first time the next day.

The sensation behind the poem is familiar to me. In travelling to conferences I have often wished that my wife or children could be with me. This feeling was particularly strong in Venice. I enjoyed the quiet, damp, misty beauty of it during a February conference (in the tourist lull after carnival and before the coming of spring). It was quite literally an awesome experience, but at the same time it was tinged with regret, as I kept wishing that my loved ones were there to share it. And of course I bought them souvenirs – I don't remember what; something tacky but not too tacky, I imagine, since it had to be recognisably a souvenir and not obviously trash; something to show that while in that immensely moving city my mind had also been on them. Nothing quite as trashy, or Romantic, as wilted lilies, though.

 

The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o’er the wide and winding Rhine,
Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks that bear the vine,
And hills all rich with blossom’d trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine,
And scatter’d cities crowning these,
Whose far white walls along them shine,
Have strew’d a scene, which I should see
With double joy wert thou with me.

And peasant girls, with deep blue eyes,
And hands which offer early flowers,
Walk smiling o’er this paradise;
Above, the frequent feudal towers
Through green leaves lift their walls of gray;
And many a rock which steeply lowers,
And noble arch in proud decay,
Look o’er the vale of vintage-bowers;
But one thing want these banks of Rhine,
– Thy gentle hand to clasp in mine!

I send the lilies given to me;
Though long before thy hand they touch,
I know that they must wither’d be,
But yet reject them not as such;
For I have cherish’d them as dear,
Because they yet may meet thine eye,
And guide thy soul to mine even here,
When thou behold’st them drooping nigh,
And know’st them gather’d by the Rhine,
And offer’d from my heart to thine!

The river nobly foams and flows,
The charm of this enchanted ground,
And all its thousand turns disclose
Some fresher beauty varying round:
The haughtiest breast its wish might bound
Through life to dwell delighted here;
Nor could on earth a spot be found
To nature and to me so dear,
Could thy dear eyes in following mine
Still sweeten more these banks of Rhine!

—Paul has been reading the blog since 2008, when Janet drew his attention to a discussion about Brideshead Revisited. He currently trains translators in Brussels.

Comments

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I really enjoyed this post, and I remember many trips when I wished a family member or friend had been along with me to see the things I was seeing. I have to admit, tough, that receiving a bunch of wilted lilies from someone might dampen any great affection I had been feeling for a suitor.

AMDG

Enjoyed the poem and enjoyed your reflection, Paul. Lord Byron is of course great. I have fond memories of "Don Juan" from college.

I think the wilted lilies are very romantic in a Goth sort of way.

If you had ever sat in the adoration chapel for two hours with wilted lilies, they would lose all romance for you. And you might lose your last meal.

AMDG

"Lilies that fester..." Yes. But couldn't they just be wilted, without being rotten? That's what I envision, anyway.

no

Thanks all.

I have experience of stinking, rotting lilies, but would they not wilt elegantly if kept dry? (The way roses do)

It sounds like Janet suffered a trauma, so we'd better be careful not to trigger her.

Fair point.

Y'all are true friends.

AMDG

I'm thinking about getting an emotional support animal--but not a dog--maybe a goldfish.

AMDG

My goodness, that made me laugh.

"Enjoyed the poem and enjoyed your reflection, Paul."

Ditto. Although I wouldn't have pegged the poem as Byron at first. More wistful than most of the things by him that I've read (not that it's been all that much, mind you).

Janet, government help may be on the way--see today's SNJ. But I guess if it's an emergency you should go ahead with the fish.

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