Byron and the Difficulty of Beginning Lecture in Melbourne

I’m giving a talk at the University of Melbourne in March 2018.  It’s called ‘Byron and the Difficulty of Beginning’, and it’s about the trouble Byron had starting his poems.  The problem wasn’t beginning to write, but writing beginnings.  Byron repeatedly returned to the beginnings of his poems in the process of composition and rewrote them.  He also tried to defer responsibility for beginnings in various ways, for example by inserting lines translated from other poets, or reused from earlier drafts.  In the talk, I offer a number of examples of this kind of difficulty, drawn from across Byron’s writing life, and then suggest that as he developed as a poet he came to see beginning less as a technical problem and more as an existential condition. On this reading, a poem like Don Juan is all beginning – not only does it revel in the repeated opportunities for beginning offered by its multiple cantos, it multiplies those opportunities and connects them to a general condition of provisionality, which it suggests is the common state of all human endeavours.