Byron's Corsair and Pushkin comparisons

2024-02-18 @Literature

Corsair, the orientalist poem makes for Byron’s longest I’ve read to this point. Two thousand lines, three Cantos, a minor epic. No, not really. Rather, a romance. Featured are the sea (Aegean), pirates/privateers, raids, the sultan, a harem and the similarly elaborate props.

Much, however, concerns inner dialogue. Isolation, conflicting morality, devotion, romance, traces of stoic philosophy all play a role. Rhymed pentameter couplets. Sometimes tercets to throw you off.

Beautiful visuals, beautiful melody, especially where matters: at the beginning and culminating stretches, at key interludes and diversions. Some theatrical dialogue exchange.

Especially appreciative of the slightly ambiguous philosophical finale. Per my take anyway.

But I’ve never felt passionate over Byron’s output overall, however quintessential of 18th century Romanticist movement. Though prefer the longer poems, among which, besides for Corsair, read The Prisoner of Chillon and the satirical A Vision of Judgement. Otherwise, mostly shorter lyric and sketches. Not too much.

What interests me is the amount of influence Byron exerted: on Pushkin in particular. Pushkin as far as references Byron inline; sometimes quotes.

Always preferred Pushkin to Byron. And in contrast to the latter, I’ve read magnitudes more of Pushkin. Бахчисарайский Фонтан and Кавказский Пленник easily owe to the Corsair. Pushkin savoured Orientalism. Pushkin’s Poltava was arguably not ignorant of Byron’s Mazepa. And Pushkin’s magnum Onegin draws from Byron’s magnum Childe Harold.

Clear evidence of commonality. Both also wrote satires. Pushkin’s Гавриилиада feels very kindred to Byron’s Vision of Judgement, both bold biblical expressions.

And I heavily prefer Pushkin’s shorter verse to Byron’s. But limiting to Orientalism, Pushkin produced the famous Caucasian odes (ie Кавказ, Обвал); Делибаш, Кинжал, Черная шаль; and how about Cleopatra whom Pushkin lauds in the same-named unfinished poem as well as the mostly prosaic Египетские Ночи? Timeless.

I probably need read more of Byron’s opus for the fairest comparison.

Who should enjoy the Corsair? Anyone with a taste for any other of Byron’s longer verse. Especially the sensationalist. Also anyone who enjoys the tale in verse tradition: Coleridge, Chaucer, Spenser, Edgar Poe, possibly Tennyson. Shelley … doesn’t necessarily lend, being the more meditative and existential poet.

The thematic, the Orientalism, this style of poetry, were in-demand merchandise in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tracing probably to Galland’s Thousand Nights translation. Is that a fare statement? Has the 20th century produced anything similar?

Questions, comments? Connect.