I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?
Lord Byron, in a letter to Thomas Moore, 5 July 1821
Prometheus, first published in 1816
1 Titan! to whose immortal eyes
2 The sufferings of mortality,
3 Seen in their sad reality,
4 Were not as things that gods despise;
5 What was thy pity’s recompense?
6 A silent suffering, and intense;
7 The rock, the vulture, and the chain,
8 All that the proud can feel of pain,
9 The agony they do not show,
10 The suffocating sense of woe,
11 Which speaks but in its loneliness,
12 And then is jealous lest the sky
13 Should have a listener, nor will sigh
14 Until its voice is echoless.
15 Titan! to thee the strife was given
16 Between the suffering and the will,
17 Which torture where they cannot kill;
18 And the inexorable Heaven,
19 And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
20 The ruling principle of Hate,
21 Which for its pleasure doth create
22 The things it may annihilate,
23 Refus’d thee even the boon to die:
24 The wretched gift Eternity
25 Was thine–and thou hast borne it well.
26 All that the Thunderer wrung from thee
27 Was but the menace which flung back
28 On him the torments of thy rack;
29 The fate thou didst so well foresee,
30 But would not to appease him tell;
31 And in thy Silence was his Sentence,
32 And in his Soul a vain repentance,
33 And evil dread so ill dissembled,
34 That in his hand the lightnings trembled.
35 Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
36 To render with thy precepts less
37 The sum of human wretchedness,
38 And strengthen Man with his own mind;
39 But baffled as thou wert from high,
40 Still in thy patient energy,
41 In the endurance, and repulse
42 Of thine impenetrable Spirit,
43 Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
44 A mighty lesson we inherit:
45 Thou art a symbol and a sign
46 To Mortals of their fate and force;
47 Like thee, Man is in part divine,
48 A troubled stream from a pure source;
49 And Man in portions can foresee
50 His own funereal destiny;
51 His wretchedness, and his resistance,
52 And his sad unallied existence:
53 To which his Spirit may oppose
54 Itself–and equal to all woes,
55 And a firm will, and a deep sense,
56 Which even in torture can descry
57 Its own concenter’d recompense,
58 Triumphant where it dares defy,
59 And making Death a Victory.
By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept, 1815
We sat down and wept by the waters
Of Babel, and thought of the day
When our foe, in the hue of his slaughters,
Made Salem’s high places his prey;
And ye, oh her desolate daughters!
Were scattered all weeping away.
While sadly we gazed on the river
Which rolled on in freedom below,
They demanded the song; but, oh never
That triumph the stranger shall know!
May this right hand be withered for ever,
Ere it string our high harp for the foe!
On the willow that harp is suspended,
Oh Salem! its sound should be free;
And the hour when thy glories were
But left me that token of thee:
And ne’er shall its soft tones be blended
With the voice of the spoiler by me!
ENGLISH BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWERS (EXCERPT), published 1809
103 Time was, ere yet in these degenerate days
104 Ignoble themes obtain’d mistaken praise,
105 When sense and wit with poesy allied,
106 No fabl’d graces, flourish’d side by side;
107 From the same fount their inspiration drew,
108 And, rear’d by taste, bloom’d fairer as they grew.
109 Then, in this happy isle, a Pope’s pure strain
110 Sought the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain;
111 A polish’d nation’s praise aspir’d to claim,
112 And rais’d the people’s, as the poet’s fame.
113 Like him great Dryden pour’d the tide of song,
114 In stream less smooth, indeed, yet doubly strong.
115 Then Congreve’s scenes could cheer, or Otway’s melt–
116 For nature then an English audience felt.
117 But why these names, or greater still, retrace,
118 When all to feebler bards resign their place?
119 Yet to such times our lingering looks are cast,
120 When taste and reason with those times are past.
121 Now look around, and turn each trifling page,
122 Survey the precious works that please the age;
123 This truth at least let satire’s self allow,
124 No dearth of bards can be complain’d of now.
125 The loaded press beneath her labour groans,
126 And printers’ devils shake their weary bones;
127 While Southey’s epics cram the creaking shelves,
128 And Little’s lyrics shine in hot-press’d twelves.
129 Thus saith the Preacher: “Nought beneath the sun
130 Is new”; yet still from change to change we run:
131 What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
132 The cow-pox, tractors, galvanism and gas,
133 In turns appear, to make the vulgar stare,
134 Till the swoln bubble bursts–and all is air!
135 Nor less new schools of Poetry arise,
136 Where dull pretenders grapple for the prize:
137 O’er taste awhile these pseudo-bards prevail;
138 Each country book-club bows the knee to Baal,
139 And, hurling lawful genius from the throne,
140 Erects a shrine and idol of its own;
141 Some leaden calf–but whom it matters not,
142 From soaring Southey down to grovelling Stott.
143 Behold! in various throngs the scribbling crew,
144 For notice eager, pass in long review:
145 Each spurs his jaded Pegasus apace,
146 And rhyme and blank maintain an equal race;
147 Sonnets on sonnets crowd, and ode on ode;
148 And tales of terror jostle on the road;
149 Immeasurable measures move along;
150 For simpering folly loves a varied song,
151 To strange mysterious dulness still the friend,
152 Admires the strain she cannot comprehend.
153 Thus Lays of Minstrels–may they be the last!–
154 On half-strung harps whine mournful to the blast.
155 While mountain spirits prate to river sprites,
156 That dames may listen to the sound at nights;
157 And goblin brats, of Gilpin Horner’s brood,
158 Decoy young border-nobles through the wood,
159 And skip at every step, Lord knows how high,
160 And frighten foolish babes, the Lord knows why;
161 While high-born ladies in their magic cell,
162 Forbidding knights to read who cannot spell,
163 Despatch a courier to a wizard’s grave,
164 And fight with honest men to shield a knave.
165 Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan,
166 The golden-crested haughty Marmion,
167 Now forging scrolls, now foremost in the fight,
168 Not quite a felon, yet but half a knight,
169 The gibbet or the field prepar’d to grace;
170 A mighty mixture of the great and base.
171 And think’st thou, Scott! by vain conceit perchance,
172 On public taste to foist thy stale romance,
173 Though Murray with his Miller may combine
174 To yield thy muse just half-a-crown per line?
175 No! when the sons of song descend to trade,
176 Their bays are sear, their former laurels fade.
177 Let such forego the poet’s sacred name,
178 Who rack their brains for lucre, not for fame:
179 Still for stern Mammon may they toil in vain!
180 And sadly gaze on gold they cannot gain!
181 Such be their meed, such still the just reward
182 Of prostituted muse and hireling bard!
183 For this we spurn Apollo’s venal son,
184 And bid a long “good night to Marmion.”
185 These are the themes that claim our plaudits now;
186 These are the bards to whom the muse must bow;
187 While Milton, Dryden, Pope, alike forgot,
188 Resign their hallow’d bays to Walter Scott.
189 The time has been, when yet the muse was young,
190 When Homer swept the lyre, and Maro sung,
191 An epic scarce ten centuries could claim,
192 While awe-struck nations hail’d the magic name;
193 The work of each immortal bard appears
194 The single wonder of a thousand years.
195 Empires have moulder’d from the face of earth,
196 Tongues have expir’d with those who gave them birth,
197 Without the glory such a strain can give,
198 As even in ruin bids the language live.
199 Not so with us, though minor bards, content
200 On one great work a life of labour spent:
201 With eagle pinion soaring to the skies,
202 Behold the ballad-monger Southey rise!
203 To him let Camoëns, Milton, Tasso yield,
204 Whose annual strains, like armies, take the field.
205 First in the ranks see Joan of Arc advance,
206 The scourge of England and the boast of France!
207 Though burnt by wicked Bedford for a witch,
208 Behold her statue plac’d in glory’s niche;
209 Her fetters burst, and just releas’d from prison,
210 A virgin phoenix from her ashes risen.
211 Next see tremendous Thalaba come on,
212 Arabia’s monstrous, wild and wondrous son:
213 Domdaniel’s dread destroyer, who o’erthrew
214 More mad magicians than the world e’er knew.
215 Immortal hero! all thy foes o’ercome,
216 For ever reign–the rival of Tom Thumb!
217 Since startled metre fled before thy face,
218 Well wert thou doom’d the last of all thy race!
219 Well might triumphant genii bear thee hence,
220 Illustrious conqueror of common sense!
221 Now, last and greatest, Madoc spreads his sails,
222 Cacique in Mexico, and prince in Wales;
223 Tells us strange tales, as other travellers do,
224 More old than Mandeville’s, and not so true.
225 Oh Southey! Southey! cease thy varied song!
226 A bard may chant too often and too long:
227 As thou art strong in verse, in mercy, spare!
228 A fourth, alas! were more than we could bear.
229 But if, in spite of all the world can say,
230 Thou still wilt verseward plod thy weary way;
231 If still in Berkley ballads most uncivil,
232 Thou wilt devote old women to the devil,
233 The babe unborn thy dread intent may rue:
234 “God help thee,” Southey, and thy readers too.
235 Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
236 That mild apostate from poetic rule,
237 The simple Wordsworth, framer of a lay
238 As soft as evening in his favourite May,
239 Who warns his friend “to shake off toil and trouble,
240 And quit his books, for fear of growing double”;
241 Who, both by precept and example, shows
242 That prose is verse, and verse is merely prose;
243 Convincing all, by demonstration plain,
244 Poetic souls delight in prose insane;
245 And Christmas stories tortur’d into rhyme
246 Contain the essence of the true sublime.
247 Thus, when he tells the tale of Betty Foy,
248 The idiot mother of “an idiot boy”;
249 A moon-struck, silly lad, who lost his way,
250 And, like his bard, confounded night with day;
251 So close on each pathetic part he dwells,
252 And each adventure so sublimely tells,
253 That all who view the “idiot in his glory”
254 Conceive the bard the hero of the story.
255 Shall gentle Coleridge pass unnotic’d here,
256 To turgid ode and tumid stanza dear?
257 Though themes of innocence amuse him best,
258 Yet still obscurity’s a welcome guest.
259 If Inspiration should her aid refuse
260 To him who takes a pixy for a muse,
261 Yet none in lofty numbers can surpass
262 The bard who soars to elegize an ass.
263 So well the subject suits his noble mind,
264 He brays the laureat of the long-ear’d kind.
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron,
later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, FRS (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was a British poet and a leading figure in Romanticism. Amongst Byron’s best-known works are the brief poems She Walks in Beauty, When We Two Parted, and So, we’ll go no more a roving, in addition to the narrative poems Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan. He is regarded as one of the greatest British poets and remains widely read and influential.
Byron was celebrated in life for aristocratic excesses including huge debts, numerous love affairs, and self-imposed exile. He was famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. He travelled to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence, for which Greeks revere him as a national hero. He died from a fever contracted while in Messolonghi in Greece.
On 16 July 1823, Byron left Genoa on the Hercules, arriving at Kefaloniain the Ionian Islands on 4 August. He spent £4000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet, then sailed for Messolonghi in western Greece, arriving on 29 December to join Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Greek politician with military power.During this time, Byron pursued his Greek page, Lukas Chalandritsanos, but the affections went unrequited.When the famous Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen heard about Byron’s heroics in Greece, he voluntarily resculpted his earlier bust of Byron in Greek marble.
Mavrokordatos and Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. Byron employed a fire-master to prepare artillery and took part of the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience, but before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill, and the usual remedy of bloodletting weakened him further.He made a partial recovery, but in early April he caught a violent cold which therapeutic bleeding, insisted on by his doctors, aggravated. It is suspected this treatment, carried out with unsterilised medical instrumentation, may have caused him to develop sepsis. He developed a violent fever, and died on 19 April. It has been said that had Byron lived and gone on to defeat the Ottomans, he might have been declared King of Greece. However, this is unlikely.