Friday, June 29, 2007

Sometimes you can, sometimes you canto -- a Poetry Friday post

Today, an excerpt from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, A Romaunt by George Gordon,
Lord Byron. Byron was born in 1788 and died in 1824. He was one of the finest poets in
Regency England, and known as one of the High Romantics despite his avowed dislike of
Romanticism.

Byron had a rather, um, "colorful" life. Although his name is evoked as one of the greatest
lovers, he was truly a narcissist, and his actual sexual preferences were a bit out of the ordinary. For example, he had an incestuous affair with his half-sister, the only of his relationships in which he moved outside his usual narcissistic sphere. As a boy, he was seduced by his governess. In college, he had homosexual relationships. He later was an active revolutionary in Italy and Greece. He embarked on a string of infamous affairs, ultimately marrying a virtuous lady in order to escape one of his mistresses. That relationship suffered due to his continued incest with his half-sister and his preference for sodomy (his wife would have preferred something a bit more "conventional"). All of this information was widely known, and Byron eventually quit England for good in 1816. Byron lived in Italy and Greece, took up with a Greek countess whose family revolted against the Austrians, and, weary of life, sought a soldier’s death at age 36 (after a brief fling with his page boy).

Byron achieved fame as a poet while still living in England, in 1812, when he published his
verse travelogue, what are now Cantos I and II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. He
wrote Canto III of the work in 1816, while living in Geneva (and under the influence of Percy
Bysshe Shelley). In 1817, he spent an orgiastic season among the women of Venice, and wrote
Canto IV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Canto IV is our subject today.

You may recall that I posted
stanza CLCCVIII of Canto IV
last summer. It remains one of my very favorite from this
work, beginning (as it does): "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,/There is a rapture on the lonely shore,/ There is society where none intrudes,/ By the deep Sea, and music in its roar". (And hey, if you don’t recall -- or want to read it again – there’s a link for you).

Here are two earlier stanzas from the work, numbers 137 and 138:

&emsp CXXXVII

&emsp But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
&emsp My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
&emsp And my frame perish even in conquering pain;
&emsp But there is that within me which shall tire
&emsp Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire;
&emsp Something unearthly which they deem not of,
&emsp Like the remembered tone of a mute lyre,
&emsp Shall on their softened spirits sink, and move
In hearts all rocky now the late remorse of love.

&emsp CXXXVIII

&emsp The seal is set. — Now welcome, thou dread power!
&emsp Nameless, yet thus omnipotent, which here
&emsp Walkest in the shadow of the midnight hour
&emsp With a deep awe, yet all distinct from fear;
&emsp Thy haunts are ever where the dead walls rear
&emsp Their ivy mantles, and the solemn scene
&emsp Derives from thee a sense so deep and clear
&emsp That we become a part of what has been,
And grow unto the spot, all-seeing but unseen.



The verses are all loveliness, in my opinion. And perhaps not quite what you were expecting if you read Byron’s bio first. Canto IV marked the start of Byron’s "high romance" phase, which was more firmly established by his wonderful Don Juan.

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