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Poet, celebrity, and revolutionary, Lord (George Gordon) Byron was one of the most influential and controversial figures of the first half of the nineteenth century, his distinctive, deeply felt work comprising one of the enduring high points of Romantic literature. From “Manfred,” with its evocation of the figure that came to be called the “Byronic hero,” to the melancholy “Childe Harold,” to the satirical masterpiece “Don Juan” (presented here in judiciously selected form), this Modern Library Paperback Classic...
Poet, celebrity, and revolutionary, Lord (George Gordon) Byron was one of the most influential and controversial figures of the first half of the nineteenth century, his distinctive, deeply felt work comprising one of the enduring high points of Romantic literature. From “Manfred,” with its evocation of the figure that came to be called the “Byronic hero,” to the melancholy “Childe Harold,” to the satirical masterpiece “Don Juan” (presented here in judiciously selected form), this Modern Library Paperback Classic includes all of the essential Byron.
It would have pleased Lord Byron to know that, having been the most renowned, imitated, and execrated of the major romantic poets, he is now, almost two centuries later, the least honored and the most ignored and deplored of that select few. For he thrived on giving of-fense. He was a sexy, swaggering contrarian whose wisecrack answer to the earnest inquiry of Concerned Virtue, “What are you rebelling against?” would have been the same as Marlon Brando’s: “What have ya got?”
As with Brando, behind the mask of the rebel shaking his fist at prim respectability was the furrowed brow of a sensitive guy not afraid to cry, a misunderstood teenage werewolf or, better yet, a vampire—a possibility he darkly hinted at in his letters.* Byron pictured himself (under the alias of Childe Harold) wandering about the Alps at mid-night alternately exulting in thunderstorms and crying tears of secret melancholy. Generations of readers have thrilled with a sympathetic vibration to that particular passage (“Child Harold, Canto 3, stanzas xcii–xcvii). But the storm passes and the poet moves to other scenes, other feelings, other roles. He roars at the ocean—a splendid roar
(Canto 4, stanza clxxix); he luxuriates among the odalisques of his harem or runs off with someone else’s, then addresses songs to her— such songs! lyrics of irresistible seductiveness—following which he joins his gentlemen friends for brandy and cigars and brags to them of his exploits on the tilting grounds of love, a perfect cad. Those who prize sincerity in poets and would hold them to their word, as to a marriage vow, cannot but take exception to such will-o’-the- wisp fickleness of purpose. That was the Prosecution’s chief charge against Lord Byron back when; that is its charge now. And now it is a graver charge, for the one sin a poet cannot be forgiven in our age is lying in the confessional of his poetry. Read any of his poems titled “Stanzas for Music”; for instance, the one that begins:
I speak not, I trace not, I breathe not thy name,
There is grief in the sound, there is guilt in the fame:
But the tear which now burns on my cheek may impart
The deep thoughts that dwell in that silence of heart.
The sound is so smooth that the comma-spliced phrases glide by almost without making sense. Indeed, some of his best-loved lyrics don’t bear thinking about at all. “She walks in Beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies.” What or who is being likened to the night, she or beauty?
To ask such a question is to be deaf to the poem. As well ask the meaning of the viola’s recurring theme in Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, or of a kiss. Byron’s love lyrics are pure blarney, part of the apparatus of seduction of the nineteenth century’s most accomplished make-out artist. One doesn’t ask for good sense from such entertainers but rather intoxication, which together with love is one of the favorite themes of their songs. “Oh, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” an internationally popular song of Byron’s time, was written by Thomas Moore, his best friend, professional rival, biographer, and literary executor, and it was the beau ideal and bull’s-eye of poetic aspiration: a “parlor song” of lilting melody, elegant diction, sweet sentimentality, and unexceptionable good taste. Moore, who was also an accomplished performer, was the most successful purveyor of such goods in the early Romantic era, but Byron wrote a couple of dozen almost as endearing and enduring, including one addressed to Moore himself, which he wrote, drunk, on a Carnival night in Venice:
So we’ll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.
* Recently that hint has been taken up by the novelist Tom Holland, who has portrayed
Byron as a vampire in his three horror novels, Lord of the Dead, Slave of My Thirst, and Deliver
Us from Evil.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the First
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the Second
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the Third
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the Fourth
On Leaving Newstead Abbey
The First Kiss of Love
Reply to Some Verses of J. M. B. Pigot, Esq., on the Cruelty of His Mistress
To the Sighing Strephon
Lachin Y Gair
To a Lady
"I would I were a careless child"
"When I rov'd a young Highlander"
Fragment, Written Shortly after the Marriage of Miss Chaworth
Lines Inscribed upon a Cup Formed from a Skull
Inscription on the Monument of a Newfoundland Dog
"Well! thou art happy"
To a Lady, on Being Asked My Reason for Quitting England in the Spring
Stanzas Written in Passing the Ambracian Gulf
"The spell is broke, the charm is flown!"
The Girl of Cadiz
Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos
"Maid of Athens, ere we part"
Farewell to Malta
Epistle to a Friend
"Away, away, ye notes of Woe!"
"One struggle more, and I am free"
"And thou art dead, as young and fair"
Lines to a Lady Weeping
"Remember thee! remember thee!"
"Thou art not false, but thou art fickle"
Sonnet, To Genevra
Sonnet, To the Same
Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte
Stanzas for Music ("I speak not," etc.)
Stanzas for Music ("There's not a joy," etc.)
Stanzas for Music ("There be none of Beauty's daughters")
A Fragment ("could I remount," etc.)
Sonnet to Lake Leman
On Sam Rogers
Stanzas to the Po
Stanzas ("Could Love for ever")
Stanzas Written on the Road Between Florence and Pisa
Last Words on Greece
On This Day I Complete My Thirty-sixth Year
[Love and Death]
"She walks in Beauty"
"The Harp the Monarch Minstrel swept"
"If that high world"
"The wild gazelle"
"Oh! weep for those"
"On Jordan's banks"
"Oh! snatched away in Beauty's bloom"
"My soul is dark"
"I saw the weep"
"Thy days are done"
Song of Saul Before His Last Battle
"All Is Vanity, Saith the Preacher"
"When coldness wraps this suffering clay"
Vision of Belshazzar
"Sun of the sleepless!"253
"Were my bosom as false as thou deem'st it to be"
Herod's Lament for Mariamne
On the Day of the Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus
By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept
The Destruction of Sennacherib
"A Spirit passed before me"
"By the Waters of Babylon"
Fare Thee Well
Stanzas to Augusta ("When all around grew drear and dark")
Stanzas to Augusta ("Though the day of my Destiny's over")
Lines to Mr. Hodgson
Translation of the Nurse's Dole in the Medea of Euripides
"So we'll go no more a-roving"
To Mr. Murray ("To book the reader, you, John Murray")
To Thomas Moore
Epistle from Mr. Murray to Dr. Polidori
Epistle to Mr. Murray ("My dear Mr. Murray")
To Mr. Murray ("Strahan, Tonson, Lintot of the times")
Epigram, from the French of Rulhieres
On My Wedding-Day
My Boy Hobbie O
Lines, Addressed by Lord Byron to Mr. Hobbouse on His Election for Westminster
Epigram ("The world is a bundle of hay")
English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers
The Vision of Judgment
From Don Juan: Canto the First
From Don Juan: Canto the Second
From Don Juan: Canto the Third
From Don Juan: Canto the Fourth
From Don Juan: Canto the Seventh
From Don Juan: Canto the Ninth
From Don Juan: Canto the Eleventh
From Don Juan: Canto the Twelfth
From Don Juan: Canto the Thirteenth
From Don Juan: Canto the Fourteenth
From Don Juan: Canto the Fifteenth
From Don Juan: Canto the Sixteenth
From Don Juan: Canto the Seventeenth
From The Bride of Abydos
From The Corsair
The Prisoner of Chillon
Index of Titles
Posted July 24, 2006
The design for the Modern Library's 'Selected Poetry of Byron' is superb in craft. The font type and size is perfect for an enjoyable read and the pages are smooth for leafing. The selection of this work segregates his very best from out the congregation of excellent poems. This is a must have for anyone who desires to read only the greatest of his works or just to have them in a seperate volume. The disadvantages of this volume are that it excludes cantos from 'Don Juan', all but one of his plays, and many of his poems. In order to include 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' and 'Don Juan' the work excludes many of his short poems and all of his translations.
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Posted May 28, 2011
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