Thursday, February 4, 2010

Analysis of Lord Byron's "Lines Inscribed Upon A Cup Formed From A Skull

I've been pulling a lot of Byron information off the Internet for a project I have been working on, and when I looked up this poem, a lot of the Google hits were pages created by students wondering what this poem means.

Apparently, a lot of teachers are assigning this without explaining it, which seems dumb to me. The poem is about what the title says. The Byron mansion, Newstead Abbey, had previously been a functioning monastery.  Byron believed the monks had buried treasure on his property.  There was no logical reason why this should be true, but Byron was constantly in debt, and he was usually drunk after ten in the morning.  He also did a lot of drugs.  These may have been factors which led him to act on the basis of delusions.

Anyway, Byron ripped up the flagging, and, of course, found no treasure.  But he did find the monks.

He interred the most of bones in a big box, to show his friends at parties, and to terrify his servants.  Byron was the first person ever to realize that acting all dark was a good way to score chicks.  His method has since been frequently imitated, but never improved upon.

So Byron kept some of the skulls in his bedroom, and he sent the biggest to a silversmith, who polished the inside of it and turned it into a big wineglass.

So, in summary, this poem is about drinking booze out of a human skull.

Go forth children, and consider yourselves educated.

Here's the text:

Start not—nor deem my spirit fled:
In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
Whatever flows is never dull.

Dull things flow from the heads of the living. People won't shut up about their problems. But Byron's skull cup flows with booze, which is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaffed like thee;
I died: let earth my bones resign:
Fill up—thou canst not injure me;
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

I lived, I loved, I got hammered. Go ahead and use my skull as a wineglass; it's better than getting chewed on by worms.

Better to hold the sparkling grape
Than nurse the earthworm's slimy brood,
And circle in the goblet's shape
The drink of gods than reptile's food.
I'd rather my skull be full of wine than full of worms and bugs.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone,
In aid of others' let me shine;
And when, alas! our brains are gone,
What nobler substitute than wine?
My wit was once contained in my head, now you can drink out of my skull, and then you'll be wittier. And when our brains are gone, what better to fill the skull with than wine?

Quaff while thou canst; another race,
When thou and thine like me are sped,
May rescue thee from earth's embrace,
And rhyme and revel with the dead.
Drink while you can, you'll soon be dead. And when you are, I hope somebody makes your skull into a wineglass so you can still come to parties.

Why not—since through life's little day
Our heads such sad effects produce?
Redeemed from worms and wasting clay,
This chance is theirs to be of use.
Throughout life, our heads are full of sadness. Digging them up and using them as wineglasses is a happier way to use them.