George Gordon Noel Byron (Lord, 1788-1824) was the 6th baron of Rochdale, and a London-born poet of Scottish decent, said to embody the Romantic tradition.
While John Keats and Percy Shelley might be a bit more popular today and are usually regarded in the U.K. and North America as somewhat deeper, Byron is remembered for his effortless, effective rhyme.¹
His verse often deals with a particular type of melancholic hero, one lamenting some past sin or travesty, yet remaining steadfast and defiant toward the future.
But Byron also had his grandiose, archetypal moments, as evident in Prometheus (1816):
Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;
Moreover, Byron, with unusual versatility, was quite capable of light, lyrical moments, as we see in She Walks in Beauty (1815), a poem said to be inspired by setting eyes upon a mourning widow:
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 mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Short, stout and limping with a club foot, he was, nonetheless, a ladies man. Married, permanently separated and involved in numerous romantic liaisons, after the destruction of his marriage he spoke of his honeymoon as a “treaclemoon.”
Following the death of his friend Shelley – he’d lived with the Shelleys in 1815 at Lake Geneva – Byron lived in Venice for two years. After that, he joined the Greek army in 1823 to fight for Greek independence and died of fever in Missolonghi in 1824. His body was shipped back to Newstead Abbey, England after he’d received full military honors in Greece.
¹ From Wikipedia: The six most well-known English authors are, in order of birth and with an example of their work:
- William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
- William Wordsworth – The Prelude
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- George Gordon, Lord Byron – Don Juan “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage“
- Percy Bysshe Shelley – Prometheus Unbound “Adonais” “Ode to the West Wind” “Ozymandias“
- John Keats – Great Odes “Hyperion” “Endymion“
- What if Byron and the Shelleys had live tweeted from the Villa Diodati? (blogs.spectator.co.uk)
- When We Two Parted (enichols1.wordpress.com)
- A Lost Poem by Lord Byron (qqduckus.wordpress.com)
- Stupid ass romantics with a capital R (princecharlesthesecond.wordpress.com)
- Swim with Lord Byron in the Bay of Poets (timelessitaly.wordpress.com)
- Remembering Lord Byron (servingbard.wordpress.com)
- She walks in beauty by Lord Byron (dreamlifecreation.wordpress.com)
- Book Diva Review: Lord Byron’s Novel (bookdiva.wordpress.com)