With Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, cantos III and IV, Byron comes to the high point of his work and to clear and definite mastery of his art as a poet. Though he himself doubts his powers - he says his visions no longer swim so palpably before his eyes as once they did - his visions are far more palpable to us, expressed as they are with the full depth of his romantic and passionate feelings. He continues the device of the journey of the fictional Harold, but Harold is almost a ghost; the thin disguise and facade that separates him from the poet essentaily vanishes. Even the concept of his pilgrimage fades; Byron is not concerned nearly as much with places and people in this canto as he is with art and ideas. The place that means the most to him is no longer a human habitation, but the world of Nature, in which the inmost depths of his heart is relfected.
He writes, "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal." He spends this last portion of his pilgrimage in that special place, that realm of the spirit and the soul, where what matters is the highest achievements of art. Out of that place is his poem made.
Public Domain (P)2010 Robert Bethune
Bethune reads slowly, but Audible lets you speed up the tempo without changing the pitch of the reader's voice. I listen to this at 1.5x and it sounds fine. His cadence and emphases are good; he occasionally sounds melodramatic, but this isn't inapt given the heroic style and grand scale of some passages of the poem. Bethune has a good sense of the shape of long sentences and he always sounds like he is "in" the poem; there is nothing mechanical or uncertain about his reading. The tone of his voice occasionally reminds me of a 1960s cartoon character--maybe Marvin the Martian?, but this is tolerable as well. Occasionally some passages have an unintended comic effect, though. The poem still benefits from being heard, though; I recommend this. This is a midatlantic American accent. The one strong criticism I have is of the use of piano music to punctuate certain parts of the poem, and to introduce and conclude somewhat arbitrarily created chapters in the poem. I am not against this idea, but its execution. The choices are often not tonally apt and, worse, the production values are amateurish. The piano music sometimes sounds like it came from an old movie or cassette tape, and warbles or wows a bit. If well-recorded Beethoven piano music had been used very selectively, this idea may have worked better. Now it often seems corny and distracting, though I appreciate the intent. A reading that takes hours could benefit from some musical punctuation.
Even after hours of listening, I can barely reconcile my ears to the annoying timbre of the narrator's voice (surely there is work here for a laryngologist), but he understands the contours of Byron's thought and versification and knows how to convey them to the listener. Well worth the member price.
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