Eugene Onegin (1825), in One Really Terrible Sonnet

Eugene OneginThis book is #35 on my Classics Club List.

Pushkin’s Euegene Onegin, what can I say?
He was a great looker, a fine young dandy;
an aristocrat, all work and no play,
danced the mazurka and drank much brandy.
Most readers, they prefer Tanya though;
lovely girl, Pushkin’s finest creation,
‘Russian spirit’, quite why I don’t know
Just the thing to inspire an emerging nation.
Pushkin, he loved Byron and Shakespeare;
Russian aristos they knew English and French
But not their mother tongue, it’s decidedly queer
an appetite for Europe, Pushkin wanted to quench.
How to sum up this novel in just one word?
All the characters are wealthy and extremely – bored.

The atrocious poem above took me far longer to compose than I care to admit. But although it’s quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever written in my life (seriously – I’ve got some stories about seahorses that I wrote when I was seven years old; this poem makes them look like Shakespeare), it was a useful exercise. Continue reading

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818), by George Gordon, Lord Byron

childeharoldThis book is #44 on my Classics Club list, and #2 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Hands up everyone who, like me, thought that Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was going to be about, oh, I don’t know, a young soon-to-be-knight tramping around Europe and going on grand adventures? I feel like there should be a big sign at the end of the book saying, ‘HA HA. Sucked in’.

Don’t get me wrong, Byron’s first major work is absolutely wonderful – just not in the way I was expecting. It’s been so long since I’ve read poetry that I had more or less forgotten the whole point of the Romantics was less about plot and more about Nature, the individual, the human mind with all its ingenious and imperceptible little nooks and crannies. So I went in expecting some sort of storyline, and found something completely different. Continue reading

Classics Club Meme: Favourite Literary Period

classicsclub1This month The Classics Club asked a very interesting question: what is your favourite “classic” literary period and why?

Now, for someone who has devoted their life to studying literature, that sort of question is a little like asking a marine biologist what their favourite kind of fish is. Or asking a music lover what their favourite Beatles song is. Or asking just about anybody what their favourite episode of Friends is. (Because who doesn’t like Friends?) Continue reading

Romantics in Rome

ColosseumViewOut

Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness …

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’

John Keats, one of the best-known poets of the Romantic era, died in Rome in 1821. Not long after, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote these beautiful and heartbreaking lines, which encourage the reader to visit Keats’ grave in Rome. Since then, Keats’ final resting place has fascinated generations of visitors. A few weeks ago, I decided to visit it and try to grasp its significance for myself.

Keats left England for Italy in 1820. In a little house on the Spanish Steps, he spent his final months with his friend Joseph Severn, fighting the illness that would eventually claim him. Today the house is a museum, devoted to the writing of Keats and his contemporaries. Continue reading

Just Like a Greek Drama

Parthenon

The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!

-Lord Byron, ‘The Isles of Greece’

Now that I’m back home and going through the depressing delightful process of sorting through the pictures from my trip, I have a feeling the last leg of my journey through Europe will take more than a few weeks to find its way onto the internet. Today I’d like to share just a few little bits and pieces from the country that gave the Western world so much in terms of culture: Greece.

Greek mythology is full of juicy stories and amusing anecdotes. Greek drama became the basis upon which Western civilisation crafted their own plays for hundreds of years. And then, of course, there’s the philosophers, statesmen, and poets that the ancient city of Athens produced. By all accounts, if you had to pick somewhere in the pre-Christian world, ancient Attica was the place to be. So a visit to modern-day Athens is necessarily steeped in centuries of history, not to mention the expectations of the thousands of tourists that flock there yearly. Continue reading