Literature Essay 2
The Light In Darkness
“Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful.” Victor Hugo
The works of art created in the Romantic period were characterized by their typically dense, bold, and dramatic contrasts. Works of this time have the capability to stimulate our senses by going to the highest of highs and then lowest of lows. The extremes allow us to capture the feeling at it’s most intense and give us but a small glimpse in the eyes of the artists. Lord Byron and Ludwig van Beethoven, as Romantic period artists, both experienced extreme melancholy and created their works as a manifestation of the contesting thoughts in their minds. Byron’s poem “Darkness” and Beethoven’s 5th symphony both create darkness as a theme of their works by cultivating darkness in their own personal selves, using light to heighten that sense of tenebrosity, and symbolizing life and death through darkness and light.
The feeling of darkness in Byron’s poem and Beethoven’s symphony both reveal the pain that the men were facing when each works were separately composed. Byron wrote “Darkness” in the summer of 1816, the year without a summer. This very literally sense of darkness sent Byron into the darkest places of his mind to create a dystopia in which the world was coming to and end in chaos, similar to how he must have been feeling and worrying about the current state of his own land. These feelings of uneasiness, fear, and discontent allowed him to create the dark view of earth, “All earth was but one thought- and that was death” (42). The seriousness of his writing suggests the disparity he is feeling having to witness the perpetual coldness of his atmosphere.
Beethoven possessed an undeniable musical genius that was reflected in his all of his works. As Beethoven aged, however, a terrible thing began to happen and he started to loose his sense of hearing. His frustration with his devastating condition was strongly reflected in his 5th symphony, compared to his earlier works which are much more pleasing and feathery. Beethoven’s hardships with his loss of hearing made him question his existence in a world in which music was his passion, but how could he experience it without his hearing? There is a new sense of anguish added power and intensity to his symphony.
Both of Byron and Beethoven’s outlets for their despair was through their art that they created. We are able to feel the artist’s mood of darkness through their use of light. They each portray light as a positive and life bringing force. When we experience the illumination aspects of the works, the darker, more prevalent, parts are apparent and that much more strong and compelling. Lord Byron’s “Darkness” calls upon the assumption that we as a human race are inherently selfish and barbaric without the sun, which signifies order and reason. The poem starts with the imagery of “The bright sun” (2) that gives us an idea of how things used to be before the earth “swung blind and blackening in the moonless air” (5). This expansive leap between the brightness of the sun and the desolate blackness of empty space is gloomy and haunting. We see this contrast later in the poem when two enemies are the last in the city to survive. Together, in the bleakness of their empty world, they try to start a fire out of dying embers. For a second they managed “for a little life, and made a flame” (63). This light symbolizes the existence of humanity as they know it and it also symbolizes their survival. As the light of the flame started to spark, so did their hope, “then they lifted up / their eyes as it grew