Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Personal Challenge ~ Hedgewitch

Hello toads, toadettes and any passing tadpoles, hedgewitch here. Isadora Gruye gave me the dreaded shoulder tap last week, and asked me to tackle a huge topic, and one I could really chew on. To be precise here is what she said 

"The challenge:  the bad girl.  Take your favorite rebellious female icon and write a poem based on one of her rebel girl antics." So, I immediately wrote this one:

Circe Speaks

After twenty cups of wine
a warrior turns to a swine.
They called it witch's sorcery, poison lore;
but really, all I ever did was pour.

© joyannjones all rights reserved

Somehow that didn’t seem to be quite enough. Then I thought of some other bad girls, Medea, Zelda, Morgan La Fey, --but alas, this had to be a new poem and I've already covered those particular icons. So I decided to take a historical journey back to one of my favorite settings, the oh so frivolous world of Regency England, where wealth, dressing well and discretely gratifying the senses went hand in hand, where only the first child of any noble marriage was expected to be fathered by the husband, and where gambling, laudanum addiction, infidelity and every form of indulgence quietly went on among even the most genteel lords and ladies.

Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Public doman via wikimedia commons

There were a lot of aristocratic bad girls back then who managed to keep it between the lines and cover their tracks, but there was one who made a flaming scandal of herself and never looked back, Lady Caroline Lamb. She seemed especially appropriate because she was something of a poet herself, and also wrote a (lurid pulp) novel about her ill-starred affair with another poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron. She famously said on first meeting him, that he was ' mad, bad, and dangerous to know, ' but later the two had a passionate, poetry-dripping nine-month liaison. 

Her book, Glenarvon, was a Gothic  roman à clef,  a novel where all the characters were thinly disguised caricatures of actual people, all members of Regency high society. Not surprisingly, though the book was extremely popular, Caroline herself became the opposite. She nursed a fervid, obsessive passion for Byron long after their short affair ended, and has also been called 'the first celebrity stalker,' though I think that's a bit unkind. She died at 42, after a long physical and mental decline attributed to excessive alcohol and laudanum use, still ranting about Byron.

Here is her biography at wikipedia for those who'd like to know more.  And here is a link to one of her poems, where she calls out a famous courtesan* for blackmailing her clients with a sensational book and excusing it by comparing it to Lamb's novel about Byron. 

It's a rather sassy poem, under all that formal rhyme and dated language. Here are my favorite lines:

"..Why should I hide men's follies, whilst my own
Blaze like the gas along this talking town?
Is it being bitter to be too sincere?
Must we adulterate truth as they do beer?..."
~Lady Caroline Lamb, from Lines to Harriet Wilson

Got to love the bad girl attitude.

So, without further ado, here is my poem, as if written by the infamous Lady Caroline Lamb. I wrote it in sonnet form, to suit the historical period, though Caro (Byron's nickname for her) usually wrote in pure heroic couplets. (I wrote another, longer one in that style, which may appear on my blog at a later date.)

Caro's Sonnet

I saw your midnight eyes fix on me, love
without a speck of kindness in their glow.
I should not have loved this long, to see you prove   
my point: 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know,'

but your spoken candle threw a luring light,
the moth soul shattered its shell of silent doubt.
Then thirst and scorn gave in to lover's night
till the moth was dead, the candle guttered out.

It seemed well worth it, all the things I lost,
my place, my peace, my sanity at last
to chase your lies and never count the cost,
to drink your hate, for love emptied too fast.

The dust of that scarlet poppy fills my cup;
now all that's left me is to drink it up.

© joyannjones all rights reserved

© joyannjones

Thanks, Izy, for the great challenge! And thanks to everyone at Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads for the wonderful support and encouragement you provide.

*Harriette Wilson, about whom the famous quote 'publish and be damned,' was first coined, was mistress to the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Wellington, four Prime Ministers and apparently half the male nobility of the era. She would be another excellent example of a bad girl.


Margaret said...

OH, heart stopping, mind tingling GOOD! This whole post for me was sensational and I have some books to go find now on some very interesting women in history. I think Lady Caroline Lamb, I'm sure, is thanking you from the other side.

Well done!

Susan said...

Dear Joy,
You had me with "Circe Speaks" about only pouring. Cracked me up into little cackles! Then the essay itself took me in until I sobered to ponder all the bad girls--so much more interesting to Literature than the good and idle ones on the pedestals. Ultimately they are powerless, led on and then dropped and held up as examples to the young who hide their desire, pretending to know better. So--your poem, allowing Caro to speak, came out of the morass as a true Joy: "a luring light" and its inevitable mothly death, the lastingness of hate, the scarlet poppy. Thank you for the sonnet and the entire narrative! Love.

hedgewitch said...

Thanks, lades. So true that being held up as a bad example by people who did much the same, only took more trouble to conceal it, seems to be the fate of bad girls. I had a lot of fun with this, so again, thanks to Izy for providing a great challenge.

Kerry O'Connor said...

This is a wonderful feast for literary addicts, the story, the notorious characters and the poetry itself.
Your sonnet is a perfection of structure, and you have observed the voice of Lamb so well. I thought the final quatrain and couplet excelled at bringing the message home. I defy anyone who has loved and lost to remain unmoved by those pangs of sorrow.
'..for love emptied too fast.'

Herotomost said...

Its hard enough just to write a sonnet that sings. But throw on top the richness and emotion in this one and the background of the subject matter and you get a cocktail that I will get drunk on every single time regardless of the morning after consequences. Really good response to the challenge. Aristocratic bad girls...gotta love them.

Margaret said...

Just curious... has anyone ever read Caroline Lamb's biography by Paul Douglass?

And Joy, I printed this whole post out and am tucking it away with my favorite poetry. :) It is just so unfair, really... I mean look at Prince Henry and his latest escapades... and what do we do? smile and say "Oh, well, he's adorable." (at least I do)

Marian said...

ah, is it sassy if i refer to you as an overachiever? i just love this. sonnets are so difficult and this one is perfect, for her voice, for the time, and for today, too. thanks so much for sharing this whole post, Joy, it's a pleasure to read and experience.

Maude Lynn said...

This entire post is just a delight! Two outstanding poems AND trashy history? I love it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Joy = agree with MZ here - wonderful poems and great telling of fascinating history. I really like Byron but sounds like he was, you know, a man.

The close of the sonnet is especially moving. You use the couplet very well so that it does sum up but doesn't sound too pat. A lot of fun, if sad--very well done. Thanks much. k.

Grandmother Mary said...

Good girls don't make history, do they? And this bad girl was deliciously bad. Thanks for introducing her and what a terrific sonnet tribute you wrote. But, I'm with Susan- you had me at "Circe Speaks"!

Helen said...

Your sonnet is like a lovely crescendo ... ending in perfection!

Donna Summer and "Bad Girls" is now cycling through my brain!

Dulcina said...

Once I heard a guy saying I like bad girls; good ones are nuns, well, just kidding.
Nice post, especially I've enjoyed your two poems, showing the consequences of falling in love with wicked gals, poor innocent men!

Scarlet said...

What a challenge and of course Joy, you did not disappoint. Thanks for introducing me to Lady C. Lamb and her book.

I love your sonnet form, written in her voice specially the third stanza...I drink to this ~ Cheers ~

Fireblossom said...

I'm not going to read the other comments until I've written this, so if I repeat what anyone's said already, please make allowances.

First, @ Isadora, this was a great challenge, and well aimed. Hedge is just the gal for this task!

I like the first, shorter piece, very much. A whole story is told in four lines. There is an insouciant shrug to it; if she led that horse to water (with the warrior aboard), then if it drank, is that her fault? Not her fault, but her doing, and glorious as well, if you ask me.

Now then, your second piece. First of all, I love the name Caroline (my middle name) and its shorter sister Caro. It's a sweet name and one that might easily lend itself to bewitching a poet like Byron. I can see, after reading this, and the Wiki, and the snarky poem you linked and quoted from, how these two fiery souls might have kindled together, if briefly. Am thinking, though, that Lady Caroline was every bit as mad, bad, and dangerous to know as the man she said it about.

Your poem is a gem. It captures her spirit, her fragility, and her moth-like compulsion to keep flying into the flame. Love emptied too fast...so often, what burns hottest is gone before one knows it, but leaves a lasting mark. I feel badly for Caro, even as I admire her and shake my head at her. You chose a PERFECT bad girl to write about, and did a truly bang-up job of both helping us get to know her, and writing a poem that captures her and makes us feel her. Really really good stuff, dear friend.

hedgewitch said...

Thanks so much everyone, for the very warm response, and I'm so happy everyone got something out of this cautionary tale of a historic bad girl.

@Kerry: Thanks so much. I really enjoyed this, and glad no one was totally bored with the history lesson.

@Margaret--I'm so gratified to know you printed this out to keep. Thank you--and I will have to look up that biography.

@Karin: You cracked me up. Yes, the man things--they are like that. I'm sure he had many good qualities, and he did write "So we'll go no more a-roving"

@Susan & Grandmother: I seldom can write a snappy short poem, so I'm so pleased you both liked it.

@Corey--I'll be happy to pour--I'm thinking something with an umbrella in it, how bout you? Glad you could enjoy the sonnet. They are always hard for me to write.

@MZ If I had my era of choice, I'd go for this one, providing I didn't have to die in childbirth and was really really rich.

@Marian Many thanks--laffin at the overacheiver. and yes, sonnets are a pain, but after awhile, they start to take over your brain and write themselves into everything--beware.

@Helen: Perfect background music, unless maybe s harpsichord piece would be better? Na.

Dulcina, Heaven, thank you most sincerely.

@Shay I forgot your middle name was Caroline!--and I know you can relate to this one, bad girl that you are. I agree, Caro was just as mad and bad, and for Byron, very dangerous to know. You know how much your comments always mean to me. Thank you for going into such detail after a long hard day at work, and for all your support, every day.

Isadora Gruye said...

I knew you would pick an icon beyond measure for this challenge, and then write a piece of stunning caliber, and a sonnet to boot!

These lines in particular:

but your spoken candle threw a luring light,
the moth soul shattered its shell of silent doubt.
Then thirst and scorn gave in to lover's night
till the moth was dead, the candle guttered out.

really captured the grrrl spirit of your chosen lady. Well done and viva la oh and thanks for completing my challenge

Susie Clevenger said...

This is amazing! You took Izy's challenge and ran with it. I enjoyed the history lesson. I was going to choose a favorite part of your sonnet, but I couldn't. My hat is off to your talent!!

hedgewitch said...

Thanks, Susan! Glad you enjoyed.

And Izy, thanks for the kind words and the great challenge--I really wanted to go with someone a bit more nasty and bloodthirsty, but settled for a more civilized (but equally bad) bad girl.After all, she wreaked as much havoc with her pen as many do with poison, voodoo dolls, shiny little derringers and other implements of destruction.

I had tons of fun with this--a great challenge.

Kay L. Davies said...

Absolutely wonderful work in response to Izy's challenge, Joy.
I went through something similar with a "mad, bad, dangerous" man when I was young, so your sonnet really resonates with me.
Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to grow up and grow old, unlike poor Lady Caro. Mightn't it be said of her that, for all her badness, she "loved not wisely, but too well"?
I also loved Circe's line "all I ever did was pour"!

Hannah said...

Sorry for the late comment Hedge!! This is just marvelous!! I SO enjoyed learning about a "bad girl," poet that I'd not read before.

Your poem is excellent the stanza about the moth is exquisite likening to painful love.

Well done, Hedge...an enjoyable challenge response!

Ella said...

This is wicked! Such fun dancing in dark shadows of alluring madness n' passion~ I love how you went about this and gathered insight for this poem!
I love these lines:

"to chase your lies and never count the cost,
to drink your hate, for love emptied too fast.

The dust of that scarlet poppy fills my cup;
now all that's left me is to drink it up."

Well done Izy and Hedge! I love the results of this challenge...passion does promise to give us many views! ;D