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The poet George Gordon, known as
Lord Byron (1788-1824), was one of the Romantic movement's most important and
Byron was born in London on January 22, 1788. His father died three years later.
His childhood was dominated by a sternly Calvinist mother, a nurse who sexually
abused and beat him, and painful medical treatment for his club foot. He began
his schooling in Aberdeen, Scotland.
He succeeded to the title and estates of his granduncle William, 5th Baron Byron, upon William's death in 1798. Lord Byron adopted the name Noel as his third given name in 1822, in order to receive an inheritance from his mother-in-law.
In compensation for his deformity he prided himself on his physical prowess, particularly in swimming. While at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge he gained a reputation for atheism, radicalism and loose-living, keeping a bear as a pet for a time.
In 1809 Byron took his seat in the House of Lords. Also in 1809 he began two years of travel in Portugal, Spain, Malta, Albania, Greece, and Turkey, involving himself in self-consciously romantic adventures. He swam across the Hellespont like Leander in the Greek legend, and dressed in Albanian costume.
Lionized in society by his new found literary fame, and pursued by various women (including Lady Caroline Lamb), in 1815 Byron decided to marry Anna Isabella Milbanke, a naive and inexperienced young woman. After giving birth to a daughter, Augusta Ada, Byron's only legitimate child, Lady Byron left her husband, despairing of ever reforming him. In 1816, Byron agreed to legal separation from his wife. Rumors about his incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, which produced a daughter, Medora, and doubts about his sanity led to his being ostracized by society. Deeply embittered, Byron left England in 1816 and never returned.
Byron then met up with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (the future Mary Shelley) in Switzerland. Along with Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont, and Byron's doctor, Polidori, they spent the summer together entertaining each other with horrific stories from their imaginations. These stories were the seed of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. A child was produced from his relationship with Claire Clairmont around this time, but Allegra, as she was named, died in infancy.
He next travelled to Italy where, after a period of sexual promiscuity with all kinds of women, he eventually fell in love with Countess Teresa Guiccioli, the 19-year-old wife of an elderly Italian nobleman. After following her to Pisa in 1821, he finally became uncomfortable in the role of tolerated lover.
When his good friend Shelley died by drowning in 1822, he decided to throw himself into the cause of Greek independence from the Turks. He not only recruited a regiment for the cause of Greek independence but contributed large sums of money to it. The Greeks made him commander in chief of their forces in January 1824.
In Greece he also had a disappointed passion for a youth, Loukas, and began to feel his age, expressed poignantly in the lyric "On this Day I complete my Thirty-Sixth Year". He contracted malaria, was bled several times by his doctors, and died at Missolonghi on April 19, 1824.
Some examples of Byron's work:
A Very Small Part of Canto II of 'Don Juan'
But sunk again upon his bleeding knee
Who long had been his mates upon the sea;
Save one, a corpse, from out the famish'd three,
And down he sunk; and as he sunk, the sand
He fell upon his side, and his stretch'd hand
And, like a wither'd lily, on the land
He knew not, for the earth was gone for him,
For his congealing blood, and senses dim;
He knew not, till each painful pulse and limb,
For all was doubt and dizziness; he thought
And felt again with his despair o'erwrought,
And then once more his feelings back were brought,
Seem'd almost prying into his for breath;
Recall'd his answering spirits back from death;
Each pulse to animation, till beneath
Around his scarce-clad limbs; and the fair arm
And her transparent cheek, all pure and warm,
His dewy curls, long drench'd by every storm;
The gentle girl and her attendant, -- one
And more robust of figure, -- then begun
Light to the rocks that roof'd them, which the sun
That sparkled o'er the auburn of her hair --
In braids behind; and though her stature were
They nearly reach'd her heel; and in her air
Were black as death, their lashes the same hue,
Deepest attraction; for when to the view
Ne'er with such force the swiftest arrow flew;
Like twilight rosy still with the set sun;
Ever to have seen such; for she was one
(A race of mere impostors, when all's done --
One should not rail without a decent cause:
I ne'er saw justice done, and yet she was
Yield to stern Time and Nature's wrinkling laws,
Her dress was very different from the Spanish,
For, as you know, the Spanish women banish
Around them (what I hope will never vanish)
Her dress was many-colour'd, finely spun;
But through them gold and gems profusely shone:
Flow'd in her veil, and many a precious stone
But of inferior materials: she
Her hair had silver only, bound to be
Was coarser; and her air, though firm, less free;
With food and raiment, and those soft attentions,
And have ten thousand delicate inventions:
A thing which poesy but seldom mentions,
Lest they should seem princesses in disguise;
Of clap-trap which your recent poets prize;
They shall appear before your curious eyes,
And still a sort of fisherman was he;
Added to his connection with the sea,
A little smuggling, and some piracy,
Like Peter the Apostle, -- and he fish'd
And sometimes caught as many as he wish'd;
He sought in the slave-market too, and dish'd
(One of the wild and smaller Cyclades)
And there he lived exceedingly at ease;
A sad old fellow was he, if you please;
The greatest heiress of the Eastern Isles;
Her dowry was as nothing to her smiles:
She grew to womanhood, and between whiles
The cliff, towards sunset, on that day she found,
Don Juan, almost famish'd, and half drown'd;
Yet deem'd herself in common pity bound,
Was not exactly the best way to save,
Or people in a trance into their grave;
Unlike the honest Arab thieves so brave,
(A virgin always on her maid relies)
And when, at last, he open'd his black eyes,
And their compassion grew to such a size,
Upon the moment could contrive with such
Some broken planks, and oars, that to the touch
A mast was almost crumbled to a crutch;
For Haidée stripped her sables off to make
And warm, in case by chance he should awake,
She and her maid -- and promised by daybreak
Juan slept like a top, or like the dead,
Just for the present; and in his lull'd head
Throbb'd in accursed dreams, which sometimes spread
Who smooth'd his pillow, as she left the den
And turn'd, believing that he call'd again.
(The heart will slip, even as the tongue and pen),
Enjoining silence strict to Zoë, who
She being wiser by a year or two:
And Zoë spent hers, as most women do,
Fast in his cave, and nothing clash'd upon
And the young beams of the excluded sun,
And need he had of slumber yet, for none
And started from her sleep, and, turning o'er
And handsome corpses strew'd upon the shore;
And call'd her father's old slaves up, who swore
With some pretence about the sun, that makes
And 't is, no doubt, a sight to see when breaks
With mist, and every bird with him awakes,
I've seen him rise full oft, indeed of late
Which hastens, as physicians say, one's fate;
In health and purse, begin your day to date
Her own was freshest, though a feverish flush
From heart to cheek is curb'd into a blush,
That overpowers some Alpine river's rush,
And near the cave her quick light footsteps drew,
And young Aurora kiss'd her lips with dew,
Mistake you would have made on seeing the two,
All timidly, yet rapidly, she saw
And then she stopp'd, and stood as if in awe
And wrapt him closer, lest the air, too raw,
Who die in righteousness, she lean'd; and there
As o'er him the calm and stirless air:
Since, after all, no doubt the youthful pair
And that a shipwreck'd youth would hungry be;
And felt her veins chill'd by the neighbouring sea;
I can't say that she gave them any tea,
The coffee made, would fain have waken'd Juan;
And without word, a sign her finger drew on
And, the first breakfast spoilt, prepared a new one,
A purple hectic play'd like dying day
Of sufferance yet upon his forehead lay,
And his black curls were dewy with the spray,
Hush'd as the babe upon its mother's breast,
Lull'd like the depth of ocean when at rest,
Soft as the callow cygnet in its nest;
But the fair face which met his eyes forbade
Had further sleep a further pleasure made;
For Juan, so that even when he pray'd
And look'd upon the lady, in whose cheek
As with an effort she began to speak;
Although she told him, in good modern Greek,
Being no Grecian; but he had an ear,
So soft, so sweet, so delicately clear,
The sort of sound we echo with a tear,
By a distant organ, doubting if he be
By the watchman, or some such reality,
At least it is a heavy sound to me,
And Thou Art Dead, As Young and Fair
And thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth;
And form so soft, and charms so rare,
Too soon return'd to Earth!
Though Earth receiv'd them in her bed,
And o'er the spot the crowd may tread
In carelessness or mirth,
There is an eye which could not brook
A moment on that grave to look.
I will not ask where thou liest low,
Nor gaze upon the spot;
There flowers or weeds at will may grow,
So I behold them not:
It is enough for me to prove
That what I lov'd, and long must love,
Like common earth can rot;
To me there needs no stone to tell,
'T is Nothing that I lov'd so well.
Yet did I love thee to the last
As fervently as thou,
Who didst not change through all the past,
And canst not alter now.
The love where Death has set his seal,
Nor age can chill, nor rival steal,
Nor falsehood disavow:
And, what were worse, thou canst not see
Or wrong, or change, or fault in me.
The better days of life were ours;
The worst can be but mine:
The sun that cheers, the storm that lowers,
Shall never more be thine.
The silence of that dreamless sleep
I envy now too much to weep;
Nor need I to repine
That all those charms have pass'd away,
I might have watch'd through long decay.
The flower in ripen'd bloom unmatch'd
Must fall the earliest prey;
Though by no hand untimely snatch'd,
The leaves must drop away:
And yet it were a greater grief
To watch it withering, leaf by leaf,
Than see it pluck'd to-day;
Since earthly eye but ill can bear
To trace the change to foul from fair.
I know not if I could have borne
To see thy beauties fade;
The night that follow'd such a morn
Had worn a deeper shade:
Thy day without a cloud hath pass'd,
And thou wert lovely to the last,
Extinguish'd, not decay'd;
As stars that shoot along the sky
Shine brightest as they fall from high.
As once I wept, if I could weep,
My tears might well be shed,
To think I was not near to keep
One vigil o'er thy bed;
To gaze, how fondly! on thy face,
To fold thee in a faint embrace,
Uphold thy drooping head;
And show that love, however vain,
Nor thou nor I can feel again.
Yet how much less it were to gain,
Though thou hast left me free,
The loveliest things that still remain,
Than thus remember thee!
The all of thine that cannot die
Through dark and dread Eternity
Returns again to me,
And more thy buried love endears
Than aught except its living years.
On This day I Complete My Thirty - Sixth Year
'Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze--
A funeral pile.
The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.
But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
Where glory decks the hero's bier,
Or binds his brow.
The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.
Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!
Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.
If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:--up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!
Seek out--less often sought than found--
A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.