”Manfred” is one of my go-to-books – dramatic poem, as Lord Byron calls it. I love “Manfred” on so many levels.
First of all, I recommend everyone to read “Manfred” aloud. The language and rhythm are beautiful. Reading aloud is an almost musical experience. Just as an example:
“We are the fools of time and terror: Days
Steal on us and steal from us; yet we live,
Loathing our life, and dreading still to die.”
I also recommend “Manfred” to those who lose their breath when they study a classical reading list and instantly get Intellectualitis. “Manfred” is short, dramatic, and still profound.
Every time I’ve read “Manfred”, I get something different from it in terms of themes, but before I go there, let me tell you about Manfred.
Manfred is a nobleman, living in a Bavarian castle high in the Alps. He is haunted by the death of his love, Astarte, and the reader gets the sense that their relationship and her death are somehow untoward. Manfred is the original Byronic hero, a literary bad boy with a chip on his shoulder.
Bereaved and distraught, Manfred calls upon seven spirits, and later a witch to get something. I use the allusive something on purpose, because I believe there are several meanings. The blurb on the back cover of my “Manfred” says, that Manfred seeks forgetfulness. I read him more sinister than that. He does use spells to summon spirits and later a witch. I think he seeks oblivion or death.
Manfred is haunted by guilt; as some critics note, Byron himself was in exile following a relationship with incestuous undertones, but he is also haunted by love. He wants to be reunited with Astarte.
Furthermore, the last scene of the dramatic poem, takes “Manfred” to a metaphysical level with Manfred arguing with an abbot, who wants to save his soul and a devilish spirit, who hastens him to die.
In all its brooding, pessimistic glory, “Manfred” leaves me elated. It is the beauty of the words and the intense realm that “Manfred” inhabits.