The Poets’ Niche
By Mark Sconce
Lord Byron, Childe of Passion
Time spent pouring over poems and their poets has convinced me of one thing certain: Any attempt to discover a connection between a poet’s behavior here on earth with the sublimity or beauty or sensitivity of his or her poetry is quite likely to fail. This month’s poet amply supports that finding. Byron’s short 37 years were filled with financial scandal after sexual scandal after-- including but not limited to incest with half-sister, Augusta. “Mad, bad—and dangerous to know,” said one jilted lady. He made Buttafuoco, even Casanova, look like pikers, yet was among England’s best ever poets, a very Romantic poet indeed! Of course it works the other way, too. Take a poet like Guest—Eddie Guest who led an exemplary life but wrote such god awful poetry back in the 30s that my dear mother, rest her soul, was driven to say, along with Dorothy Parker: “I’d rather flunk my Wassermann Test than read the poems of Eddie Guest.”
Distant relative of Charles the First, Lord Byron (no one called him George) had an ambivalent take on the aristocracy—at once, one of them, but contemptuous of so many of them. The pressure they exerted finally forced Byron to flee the country in 1816, never to return.
Adieu, adieu! my native shore
Fades o’er the waters blue;
The Night- winds sigh, the breakers roar,
And shrieks the wild sea-mew.
Yon Sun that sets upon the sea
We follow in his flight;
Farewell awhile to him and thee,
My native Land - Good Night!
Sojourning in many countries, particularly in the Levant, the shores of the Aegean, he died of a fever contracted in Missolonghi, Greece in 1824 at the age of 37 while fighting for Greek independence from Turkey. By then he had completely captivated the world with his good looks, his heroic air (Byronic) and of course his amazing poetry beginning with Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and ending with Don Juan, considered by critics his most artistically successful. But there were many, many lyric poems in-between, and we here have just a little room for some of the most famous. First, for you writers:
But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think;
‘Tis strange, the shortest letter which man uses
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper - even a rag like this - ,
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that’s his.
from Don Juan
If you love dogs, you love Byron. Remember this excellent excerpt from the Inscription on the Monument to his dear dog, Boatswain:
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour’d falls, unnoticed all his worth--
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth:
While Man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive Heaven.
And one of his most quoted poems:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
P.S. For those who care about such things:
To those who maintain that Byron had a club foot, please know that recent medical investigation and evidence reveal that the deformity resulted from a case of spina bifida.
Despite that deformity, he swam the Hellespont, after Leander, in a remarkable time of one hour and ten minutes.