Mar 23, 2006

ENGL 231
Sam Lively
Romantic paper
The Monster of the Upper Sky
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were – I have not seen
As others saw – I could not bring
My passions from a common spring
-Edgar Allan Poe ("Alone")
It is ironic that the poet's isolation is part of what makes him compelling to so many people. It may be the artistic expression of a "pity party," a ceremony of misery that somehow brings pleasure. The Byronic hero (who drives Lord Byron's dramatic poems and has migrated to a number of other works) suffers under such isolation, but does so with an entirely different attitude. In the dramatic poem, Manfred, Byron magnifies the suffering to a suitably romantic extreme. In it, he portrays Manfred not as a simpering victim, but as monster with only himself and his fate to blame.
Manfred is a tortured young nobleman, seeking relief through his mastery of the dark arts of sorcery. A terrible wrongdoing haunts his memory; forgetfulness and death are his goals. He describes himself by means of his guiding star:
… a star condemn’d,
The burning wreck of a demolish’d world,
A wandering hell in the eternal space (44-46, Act I)
This description certainly has elements of self-pity and victimization; fate can be blamed for his condemnation and the wreckage of his life. Yet the sentiments here are much more powerful than moping: hell implies an active torment. After Manfred summons the spirits of nature to do his bidding, the spirit of his guiding star expands on his previous description:
The hour arrived – and it became
A wandering mass of shapeless flame,
A pathless comet, and a curse,
The menace of the universe;
Still rolling on with innate force,
Without a sphere, without a course,
A bright deformity on high,
The monster of the upper sky! (116-123, Act I)
Manfred breaks from the mold of tragic victims in this portrayal: he is not in danger, but dangerous; he is not pitiful but spectacular in his plight; he is not cursed, but is a curse. He is not bound to any path of fated misery, but is a free-roaming inferno, unable or unwilling to restrict himself, and perhaps without a greater power to contain him.
Manfred does not seek any to contain him. He refuses subjugation to spirits and does not condescend to lesser men. In response to the friendly injunction of a fellow man to befriend humans, he says:
I could not tame my nature down…
And be a living lie – who would become
A mighty thing amongst the mean, and such
The mass are: I disdained to mingle with
A herd, though to be a leader – and of wolves.
The lion is alone, and so am I (116, 119-123, Act III)
Though Manfred's loneliness is part of his anguish, it is self-imposed, not for any lack in himself, but for his superiority. The one being he desired relationship was the woman he wronged and indirectly destroyed (Byron dances around the exact situation, but it strikes of Byron's own affair with his half-sister). It is this vulnerability that links him to humanity, and ironically it is his own unrestricted power, "rolling on with innate force" that strikes at his weakness. He likens himself to the deadly Saharan dust storm called the Simoom:
The red-hot breath of the most lone Simoom,
Which dwells but in the desart, and sweeps o’er
The barren sands which bear no shrubs to blast,
And revels o’er their wild and arid waves,
And seeketh not, so that it is not sought,
But being met is deadly (128-133, Act III)
Such is Manfred's plight: his innate destructiveness makes any relationship tragic, yet he is too human not to want one. He is his own tormentor, but he will not deny himself. He seeks death as his relief, and will accept no other: not even penitence, offered by the Church. He achieves his death, his victory the absence of redemption and the making of his own way, even as a "wandering hell."
Byron constructs in Manfred a terrifying object; his existence is a horrifying one, but, in its horror, commands awed attention. He is all at once the fire and the tinder: he exists to destroy himself. He is the "monster of the upper sky" that draws all eyes upward, until he burns to nothingness. None would aspire to become him, but all find a form of fascination with him.

Works cited:
Poe, Edgar Allan. "Alone." Lays of the New Land.
Gordon, George. "Manfred." Norton Anthology of English Literature.