Image: © Olena Danylovych
Author: Olena Danylovych
Foreword, ‘A Song from Solitude’
This poem was inspired by Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,’ and also follows hero on their travels as they undergo an introspective journey. Unlike Childe Harold, the protagonist of ‘A Song from Solitude’ is a woman, Diana, who finds herself alone after leaving her homeland and consequently being unable to relate to others. Just like Childe Harold is based on Byron’s own personal history, so Diana’s beginnings are reminiscent of my own, though they have been exaggerated for poetic effect.
Though there are many similarities between ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ and ‘A Song from Solitude,’ they are ultimately two very different poems. I have relied on the same poetic structure, following the introspective journey of our heroine as she travels through Grasmere and Chamonix, and placing some importance on the literary-historical significance of the locations, as well as on the experience of both picturesque and sublime landscapes. However, my focus rather on the interrelation between writing and social connectivity; whether having an audience inspires writing, or writing inspires an audience, I cannot say, though firmly believe that writing requires an audience (real or imagined). Therefore, writing and connectivity are necessarily linked to Diana’s journey, and influenced by the landscapes she travels through.
I had intended to include multiple references to the ‘Two-Lakes Romanticism’ course as a whole, though at some point the poem developed a life of its own. The most obvious connection is Diana’s itinerary, as it is inspired by our trips to Grasmere and Chamonix. I had also intended for Diana to develop a more equal relation towards Nature throughout the narrative, inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘co-presence’ with her surroundings. The ethics of our relationship to Nature is something I had not given much thought to before, and was, for me, an important take-away from the course. However, this point was not developed in depth in the poem. Overall, the poem is inspired by texts we studied, the trips we went on, and what I learned throughout.
A Song from Solitude
Oh, Muse, who has inspired many a verse,
Who flies to poets worthier than I,
Yet one who falters, as if under a curse,
When paper, with my pen, I deign to dignify.
Yet come this once, and glean that inward eye,
Help put words the soundless song in me,
Through which one can but little comfort spy,
And though it of a modest value be,
It may yet find its place, not vanish into history.
Some time ago, in lands not far from here,
There was a youth who, spurning company,
Would seek the solitude of woods and meres,
Avoiding peers, choosing a lonesome destiny.
For her – for yes, our fable’s heroine’s a she –
There was no home, no one to call a friend;
When as a babe she left her mother-country,
She launched into her journey without end,
And thus she spent her life in other people’s land.
Diana she was called, though called by few,
For only loneliness did her those travels bring;
Always a recluse, forever passing through,
Without capacity for mutual understanding.
It was not hatred of her fellow beings
That lead her to deny those clay-cold bonds;
Nor was her solitude particularly freeing,
Nor did the landscapes to her thoughts respond.
Deprived of connectivity, she roamed a vagabond
And so it chanced, one day like any other,
When lounging on a bank in sad reflection,
Diana, watching folk and flowers stir,
Was struck with a perceptive apprehension –
The sudden answer to that tireless question
That oft had danced upon her silent lip.
To write, she thought, would bring about redemption;
Providing meaning to that endless drip
Of life that would not stop for her, nor she for it.
To Grasmere, then, she followed in the steps
Of those who came before and left their legacy.
In truth, those hills a valued treasure kept:
There was a William, and with him Dorothy,
Who walked those paths, forever spilling poetry;
One was the fount, the other – dutiful receptacle,
Producing art through mutual reciprocity.
And while this practice rendered many sceptical,
There’s something to be said for love and writing, above all.
Yet, while their words were powerful and clear,
Not even they could truthfully communicate
The beauty and the wonder of Grasmere –
Those rolling hills, those trails, which all create
Impressions of protection. Diana stood within
That luscious nest, surveying Heaven’s gate,
Which was the closest to divinity she’d been,
A place of peaceful reign, of love incarnate;
Enraptured and transfixed, she fell to earth prostrate.
Yet she was not alone! Though from her infancy
She had not had affinity with any other,
She now was found, treated with empathy.
A kindly soul, a shepherd, wanderer, brother,
Was crossing those soft hills and saw her falter,
And though he used to walk a lonely way,
He now was found, no more alone than her.
Together they walked home in fading day,
In such a happiness, that none can truly say.
Yet Diane’s journey had only just begun,
For she still wished to write a worthy tale,
A mighty pilgrimage, a story to be sung.
There were still things to see, and mounts to scale;
Ferocious landscapes, crags, and plunging vales.
She would not stay, not for the world, nor him
Who ere had saved her. She left the dales
That gave her many comforts, on a whim,
And for the Alps she set, leaving her sole companion.
Far in the distance she had seen those peaks,
That now did tower and press upon her head,
And yet, resolved, she climbed to Chamonix,
Obsessed with all the histories it held;
Here Wordsworth came, and Mary Shelley tread,
All equally impressed by palaces of stone,
The icy pinnacles that to the Heavens spread
And wither every heart, and chill each bone.
Against those heights, who could not help but feel alone?
While Grasmere’s dales with soft embrace surround you,
The alpine tracks compel you to the top,
Where nothing lives, and solitude reigns true;
Only yourself, the emptiness, the drop –
Enough for any mortal to give up.
All Nature’s appalling magnificence
Did not expand her soul – near made it stop.
Aware of her small insignificance,
Diane descended, yearning for mortal, mutual existence.
So she, who never knew a friend or home,
Who used to wander lonely, land to land,
And destined felt to cross the world alone,
Had found someplace to make her final stand.
She went at once to those green, Northern lands,
Those gentle views, and enveloping hills
Where there awaited that lone, patient friend.
Ascending Alps had brought her little thrill,
While great, warmth and connection are far greater still.
It may not be a shock to some, that I
Am she, Diane, the self-same wanderer,
The one who travelled wide, and low, and high,
And after seeking danger and adventure,
Has deemed relation as the foremost treasure.
I shall not climb those isolating summits,
When friends and gentle hills inspire me more;
To Grasmere’s welcome hug I now submit,
Which, with this song, I hope never to forget.