Byron, Lord

  Poetry & Prose    Books / People

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron FRS, known simply as Lord Byron, was an English poet, peer, and politician who became a revolutionary in the Greek War of Independence, and is considered one of the historical leading figures of the Romantic movement of his era.

I love not man the less, but Nature more.
Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.
The dew of compassion is a tear.
Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.
For truth is always strange; stranger than fiction.
Adversity is the first path to truth.
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, ‘Tis woman’s whole existence.
Friendship is Love without his wings!
All who would win joy, must share it; happiness was born a twin.
Sorrow is knowledge, those that know the most must mourn the deepest, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.


Legacy and influence

Stained glass at Ottawa Public Library features Charles Dickens, Archibald Lampman, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Shakespeare, Thomas Moore
Byron is considered to be the first modern-style celebrity. His image as the personification of the Byronic hero fascinated the public,[37] and his wife Annabella coined the term “Byromania” to refer to the commotion surrounding him.[37] His self-awareness and personal promotion are seen as a beginning to what would become the modern rock star; he would instruct artists painting portraits of him not to paint him with pen or book in hand, but as a “man of action.”[37] While Byron first welcomed fame, he later turned from it by going into voluntary exile from Britain.[26]

Biographies were distorted by the burning of Byron’s memoir in the offices of his publisher, John Murray, a month after his death and the suppression of details of Byron’s bisexuality by subsequent heads of the firm (which held the richest Byron archive). As late as the 1950s, scholar Leslie Marchard was expressly forbidden by the Murray company to reveal details of Byron’s same-sex passions.[144]

The re-founding of the Byron Society in 1971 reflected the fascination that many people had with Byron and his work.[145] This society became very active, publishing an annual journal. Thirty-six Byron Societies function throughout the world, and an International Conference takes place annually.

Byron exercised a marked influence on Continental literature and art, and his reputation as a poet is higher in many European countries than in Britain or America, although not as high as in his time, when he was widely thought to be the greatest poet in the world.[26] Byron’s writings also inspired many composers. Over forty operas have been based on his works, in addition to three operas about Byron himself (including Virgil Thomson’s Lord Byron). His poetry was set to music by many Romantic composers, including Beethoven, Schubert, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Carl Loewe. Among his greatest admirers was Hector Berlioz, whose operas and Mémoires reveal Byron’s influence.

Byronic hero
The figure of the Byronic hero pervades much of his work, and Byron himself is considered to epitomise many of the characteristics of this literary figure.[37] Scholars have traced the literary history of the Byronic hero from John Milton, and many authors and artists of the Romantic movement show Byron’s influence during the 19th century and beyond, including the Brontë sisters.[37][147] His philosophy was more durably influential in continental Europe than in England; Friedrich Nietzsche admired him, and the Byronic hero was echoed in Nietzsche’s superman.[148]

The Byronic hero presents an idealised, but flawed character whose attributes include: great talent; great passion; a distaste for society and social institutions; a lack of respect for rank and privilege (although possessing both); being thwarted in love by social constraint or death; rebellion; exile; an unsavory secret past; arrogance; overconfidence or lack of foresight; and, ultimately, a self-destructive manner. These types of characters have since become ubiquitous in literature and politics.


She Walks in Beauty
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.

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.

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This work epitomises a particular kind of Romantic poem: that is, a poem idolising (and idealising) a woman’s beauty.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

In other words, the female subject of the poem is as beautiful as a cloudless, starry night.

And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

The woman’s beauty is partly a result of the contrasts between dark (we learn later on she has ‘raven’ hair, i.e. black) and bright (her eyes may be bright blue, but her skin may also be pale, conforming to the Western idea of beauty at the time).

Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

Her beauty mellows or softens the contrasts between these light and dark extremes, like the bright stars against the dark night sky (a sight which ‘gaudy day’, when the sun is shining showily and brightly, denies to us).

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.

Look at the assonance in those first four lines! We have shade, ray, nameless, grace, waves, and raven. What Byron is essentially saying is that the woman’s beauty is precise: if the balance of light and dark in her features were slightly different, it would risk ruining her beauty (‘Had’ in the second line should be read as ‘Would have’). The thoughts in the woman’s head, behind that beautiful face, must be of how pure and dear she is.

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.

The woman’s cheek and brow are now singled out for praise: soft and calm and yet also ‘eloquent’, as if the woman’s beauty is so strong that it can almost be said to ‘speak’. Goodness and beauty often dwell together according to the poets, and this woman is no different: she is calm and innocent. It’s as if these qualities not only go hand in hand with beauty, but help to inspire it.

‘She Walks in Beauty’: analysis

In the last analysis, this is a quintessential romantic poem (a male poet praising a woman’s beauty) but also a Romantic poem, belonging to the movement in literature and art known as Romanticism. The mood is of praise for the woman’s natural beauty, and the ways in which her prettiness is in harmony with the natural world of the starry sky and the night time. Indeed, the key aspect of ‘She Walks in Beauty’ is the contrast between light and dark throughout, and the way in which the woman’s beauty finds a way of reconciling these two apparent opposites. She has dark hair, but a (presumably) lighter skin tone and soft eyes.

‘She Walks in Beauty’ is a deft but ultimately rather conventional poem in praise of a woman’s beauty. The woman is everything we might expect a conventional love poet to praise: beautiful, pure, serene. We get none of the realistic disavowals of traditional beauty that Shakespeare offers in his famous Sonnet 130, but instead a full-on endorsement of her aesthetic qualities. She might pick her toenails or only change her underwear once a month for all we know, because Byron doesn’t fill us in on the little details. Nor does he let the woman speak: she is a mute object of admiration. The closest we get to sensing her individual personality is when her thoughts are mentioned – and even then, the thoughts are only (Byron assumes) of how pure and beautiful she is.


READING LIST &c.

WRITERS POETS
PHILOSOPHERS PSYCHOLOGISTS

POLITICAL FIGURES

FICTIONNON-FICTION .
Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost

Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) was a French writer, philosopher and political activist. She is known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.
The Second Sex

1984
1984

Delta of Venus
Delta of Venus

A Room of one's own
A Room of One’s Own