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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Number 309: George Gordon, Lord Byron excerpt from "Childe Harold"

Excerpt from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.-

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Stops with the shore;-upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknell'd, uncoffin'd, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths-thy fields
Are not a spoil for him-thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth's destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send'st him, shivering in thy playful spray,
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth: there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake,
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee, and arbiter of war;
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the armada's pride, or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee-
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters washed them power while they were free,
And many a tyrant since: their shores obey
The stranger, slave or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts:-not so thou,
Unchangeable, save to thy wild waves' play-
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow-
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time
Calm or convulsed-in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving; boundless, endless and sublime-
The image of eternity-the throne
Of the invisible; even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, ocean! And my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward: from a boy
I wanton'd with thy breakers-they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror-'twas a pleasing fear,
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane - as I do here.

--- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Hap Notes: Well, to be honest, I was taking a week off of the blog for Thanksgiving and yesterday I was watching Turner Classic Movies (a constant at my house) and I saw Virginia Mayo in "The Girl From Jones Beach."

In the movie, Mayo plays a teacher in the film and Ronald Reagan plays a photographer/ad man. Reagan wants Mayo to pose for a fashion shoot (I'm truncating the plot) so he enrolls as a Czech foreign student in Mayo's American Citizenship class. Well, of course, Reagan asks her out (he's a handsome devil but his Czech accent is pretty horrible), snippets of Shakespeare quotes fly pretty thick and fast and as they are sitting on Jones Beach in the evening, Mayo quotes today's poem. As she recited it I thought,"Hey! Why haven't I ever used this poem before?" Answer: because it is an excerpt (which I tend to shy away from since it's not the entire poem) from "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." What she says is "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean roll" and one supposes that the audience at the time (1949) knew what poem she was quoting... maybe.

Childe Harold is a long poem which is contained in four cantos. The whole poem is pretty wonderful in parts and you can read it here:
The poem gave rise to that mythic guy that all women want – that man who is handsome, dashing, sensitive, resourceful and a bit of a rebel. You know – fiction. Byron was worried about publishing it because he felt it was too autobiographical and this tells you worlds about Byron, his ego and his real life heroics.

Today's excerpt is particularly stirring. The ocean, the poet says, yields up both beauty and power. Byron compares the ocean to a beast and the almighty and tells us that man's might is a paltry thing when compared to the huge and powerful sea and gives us numerous stirring examples.

Here is where we have talked about Byron before:

and here:

(The picture in the masthead today is Virginia Mayo, just in case you did not recognize her.)

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