George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

George Gordon Byron was born in London on 22 January, 1788. His father was English, but mother was of the Scottish origin. She was poor but noble, her name was Catherine Gordon. Byron spent his childhood in the small town of Aberdeen in the eastern coast of Scotland. Soon his father died, leaving his wife and child in more than reduced circumstances.

When Byron was ten, his great uncle died, and the boy inherited the title of Lord Byron and the family castle of Newstead Abbey. Lord Byron and his mother moved to Nottinghamshire where they got a small pension from the government.

Lord Byron was educated at Cambridge. When he was twenty-one he became a member of the House of Lords. In 1809 he went on a two-year-long voyage to Portugal, Spain, Albania, Greece and Turkey. He returned home in 1811.

In 1812 Byron published his first two parts of his major work “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” in which he described his journey to the foreign lands. Thus Byron’s literary activity began. It can be divided into four periods:

I. The London period (1812-1816)

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” (1, 2 parts) (1812)

The Corsair” (1814)

Lara” (1814)

II. The Swiss Period (1816, May-October)

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” (3 part)

Manfred” (a philosophic drama)

III. The Italian Period (1816-1823)

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” (4 part)

Don Juan” (1818-1823)

Cain” (1821)

The Vision of Judgment” (1821)

IV. The Greek Period (1823-1824)

Several lyrical poems.

All the periods of his literary activity were marked by the corresponding periods of his political life.

During the first period, which was called the London period and which brought him fame and universal acclaim after the publication of his “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” in 1812, Lord Byron delivered his Parliamentary speeches in the House of Lords. Byron was a peer of the realm. His first speech was in defence of the Luddites (industrial workers who destroyed the equipment as a protest against unemployment and low pay). His main ideas were expressed in his poem “Song for the Luddites”. Ludd — Ned Ludd, an 18th century English worker who was the first to destroy stocking frames.

Later Byron spoke in favour of the oppressed Irish people. His speeches brought him a lot of enemies from the reactionary circles. They hated him and began to persecute Byron. Moreover, Byron was unhappy in his private life. In 1815 he parted with his wife. Byron wrote his poem “When We Two Parted”.

In May 1816 Byron had to go to Switzerland where he made friends with Percy Shelley — another progressive romanticist of the time.

The Swiss period of Byron’s literary work started. After a few months in Switzerland where he wrote the third canto (part) of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” Byron went to stay in Italy where he lived till 1823. The fourth canto of his masterpiece appeared in Italy. The Italian period (1816-1823) was the most creative one. Byron wrote the tragedy of “Cain”, “Don Juan”, several satirical poems: “The Vision of Judgment” was among them.

In Italy Byron participated in the political movement for the liberation of Italy. The defeat of the “Carbonaro” uprising (1821) was a heavy blow to the great fighter for liberty. He left Italy for Greece in summer 1823. Byron went their to fight for the liberation of that country from Turkish oppression. Even during his Greek period Byron couldn’t do without writing. But he managed to write only several lyrical poems, because he died on 19 April, 1824 of a dangerous fever. He was only 36. Byron’s heart was buried in Greece, because the Greeks considered him their national hero; Byron’s body was brought to England and buried in Westminster Abbey.

ChiIde Harold’s Pilgrimages”

It is one of the first lyric-epic poems in European literature. The lyric-epic poem combines narrative with lyrics.

This is a poem about travel, history and politics. The character of Childe Harold has much in common with the author’s. In the preface to the poem Byron writes of his intention to be “either descriptive or sentimental, tender or satirical”.

This poem consists of four cantos. It is written in a nine-line stanza with the last line lengthened.

The character of Childe Harold is symbolic. Byron portrays his own outlook: demand for absolute personal freedom and rebelliousness.

In the opening lines Childe Harold is leaving his country for other countries, hoping to find Good there:

Canto the First

LXXXVI

Such be the sons of Spain, and strange her fate.

They fight for freedom, who were never free:

A kingless people for a nerveless state,

Her vassals combat when their chieftains flee,

True to the veriest slaves of Treachery;

Fond of a land which gave them nought but life,

Pride points the path that leads to Liberty

Back to the struggle, baffled in the strife,

War, war is still the cry, “War even to the knife!”

When his ship is far from England he sings “Good Night” to his Motherland. These stanzas have a different structure, they are written more in form of a ballad.

Good Night

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!

…………………………………

And now I’m in the world alone,

Upon the wide, wide sea;

But why should I for others groan,

When none will sigh for me?

Perchance my dog will whine in vain,

Till fed by stranger hands;

But long ere I come back again

He’d tear me where he stands.

With thee, my bark, I’ll swiftly go

Atwart the foaming brine;

Nor care what land thou bear’st me to,

So not again to mine.

Welcome, welcome, ye dark blue waves!

And when you fail my sight,

Welcome, ye deserts, and ye caves!

My native Land — Good night!

Then Byron moves the reader along from country to country, throughout the pilgrimage. The second canto takes the reader to Greece. This country doesn’t arouse Childe’s delight as Spain does. The Greeks do not struggle against the Turks. The greatness of Greece is in the past only, in its beautiful ruins:

Canto the Second

LXXIII

Fair Greece! sad relic of departed worth!

Immortal, though no more; though fallen, great!

Who now shall lead thy scatter’d children forth,

And long accustom’d bondage uncreate?

Not such thy sons who whilome did await,

The hopeless warriors of a willing doom,

In bleak Thermopylx’s sepulchral strait —

Oh, who that gallant spirit shall resume,

Leap from Eurotas’ banks, and call thee from the tomb?

…………………………………………………………..

Cantos the Third and the Fourth are connected with Switzerland and Italy.

The third canto was written during his Second Literary period in 1816 when he had to escape to Switzerland. The grief at being separated from his baby daughter is shown in the beautiful lyrical address that opens the Third Canto:

Is the face like my mother’s, my fair child!

Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?

When last I saw thy young blue eyes, they smiled,

And, then we parted…

Childe Harold continues his journey up the river Rhine, and on his approach to Switzerland he appears in the poem for the last time.

The Fourth Canto is devoted to Italy and its people. The poet worries about the fate of the Italian people. He calls for human liberty. The noble and glorious past of Italy is contrasted to the ignoble present.

XLII

Italia! O Italia! thou who hast

The fatal gift of beauty, which became

A funeral dower of present woes and past,

On thy sweet brow is sorrow plough’d by shame,

And annals graved in characters of flame.

O God! that thou wert in thy nakedness

Less lovely or more powerful, and couldst claim

Thy right, and awe the robbers back, who press

To shed thy blood, and drink the tears of thy distress…

Byron’s romanticism was coloured with grief at sight of the corrupting influence of absolute power — and hopes for faithful future.

George Gordon Byron was a progressive romanticist who hated every type of oppression and social injustice. He created lyric and epic poems, tales, po­litical satires and dramas.

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