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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Number 159: George Gordon, Lord Byron "So We'll Go No More A'Roving"

So, We'll Go No More a Roving

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.

-- Lord Byron (George Gordon)

Hap Notes: Byron is on my mind since I just finished slogging through a BBC made-for-television program on him. It amazed me how the writer and director could take the colorful, strange, productive and bizarre life of Byron and turn it into two hours of good costumes and boring dialog. If one knew nothing about Byron, one would suspect, from the program, that he was some sort of moody sex fiend and his character had all the sparkle of Bill Sykes (from Oliver Twist.)

Yes, it's certainly documented that he was moody, insolent, disrespectful and sexually charged (i.e. he slept with anything that moved) and he is hardly what one rears their children to become. But he wrote 17 volumes full of poetry, much of it brilliant, the majority of it good and one wonders from all the bio-pics how the guy had time to do that and continue in unabated debauchery.

Did you know that during that fateful summer that Byron stayed with the Shelleys, he also wrote a story that became the basis for a horror genre, like Mary Shelly's Frankenstein? His story, published as a post script to his poem Mazeppa, inspired the first book about vampires. It's interesting to think that during that rainy summer in 1816 at Lake Geneva, the core of two classic book characters were developed. Many think the pale, moody, aristocratic vampire is much like Byron himself.

Byron stood up for the oppressed. Back when the Luddites were breaking the looming frames in England they were being punished for their crime with death. One of the speeches Byron gave at the House of Lords was against this cruel punishment and a defense of the workers. He's a national hero in Greece because he brought money and celebrity to their cause of freedom from oppression by the Turks. He spoke out in the House of Lords for religious freedom. And he knew how to write and he wrote obsessively and diligently.

Sure, he was charming and seductive figure. Yeah, he had an appetite for sex and romance. But he was also educated, intelligent and brilliant. He was vain and had a weight problem due to his appetite for all things and his club-foot which made exercise difficult- he was always on some kind of diet and was a vegetarian who would go on meat binges and then purge. He was a very very complex creature.

In today's poem, originally sent in a letter that Byron wrote after carnival while living in Italy, we see a young man's first glimpse of party fatigue which he extrapolates to something beyond just feeling a bit over-tired after attending a few too many soirees. Again, this could be a sea shanty save for a few extraordinary lines likening the sword to a soul. Note that the soul/sword is not outworn, just the containers that hold them. The melancholy in this poem is palpable.

Ray Bradbury has a chapter in The Martian Chronicles, "And the Moon Be Still As Bright," named for the poem.

The poem has been made into song with many incarnations. Here's Joan Baez singing it:

Byron died in Greece and it is said that his heart is buried there. Because of his "wicked ways" Byron was not given a plaque in "Poet's Corner" in Westminster Abbey until 1969 even though such luminaries as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and three former Prime Ministers (Asquith, Balfour and George) had earlier campaigned for it.

Here's where we talked about Byron before:

P.S. I recently read a review of a bio of Lord Byron in a London paper where the reviewer asked if anybody even read his poetry and called it "high romantic tosh." Which, I suppose has a point. I confess I'm relieved to see that Brits are as stupid and illiterate as Americans are about poetry. Americans may finally have the edge in poetry. It should be obvious that the reason Byron's life holds any interest for us at all (there were plenty of other rich, debauched, weirdos in his time) is BECAUSE of the poetry, eh?

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