Tag Archives: Lord Byron

“Song of Saul Before His Last Battle” by Lord Byron

“Suicide of Saul” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Warriors and chiefs! should the shaft or the sword
Pierce me in leading the host of the Lord,
Heed not the corse, though a king’s in your path:
Bury your steel in the bosoms of Gath!

Thou who art bearing my buckler and bow,
Should the soldiers of Saul look away from the foe,
Stretch me that moment in blood at thy feet!
Mine be the doom which they dared not to meet.

Farewell to others, but never we part,
Heir to my royalty, son of my heart!
Bright is the diadem, boundless the sway,
Or kingly the death, which awaits us today!

To understand this poem, you should be familiar with the biblical story of the death of Saul, as told in I Samuel 31. Saul is leading a battle against the Philistines, and things do not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons are slain, and the warriors flee. So Saul decides to take his own life, rather than be abused and killed by the “uncircumcised.”

Byron sees this as the ultimate heroic act, to sacrifice yourself rather than compromise your ideals. There is nothing weak about Saul’s decision to take his own life. It is totally an act of courage and bravery.

So why would this be so important to Byron? There are a couple possibilities. He could be expressing his unwavering commitment to a romantic love, vowing to die rather than allow another to pierce his heart. But I think a more plausible interpretation is that Byron is asserting his staunch adherence to his artistic ideals. Byron has a clear vision of his poetry and what he wishes to convey through his works. He would rather die than compromise his artistic integrity and create baser works intended for the Philistine masses.

I confess I looked online to see what others thought about this poem, and really did not find any out there, so these are just my personal thoughts on the poem. Feel free to let me know if you have a different impression of what Byron was trying to express. I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!

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“She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

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!

This poem is from Byron’s volume of Hebrew Melodies. So as I read this, I kept that in mind and looked for hints of Jewish mysticism woven into the verse.

The central symbol in this poem is the moon, which appears at night and possesses both “dark and bright” aspects. Byron expresses a reverence to the lunar orb and acknowledges the connection between the moon and the divine feminine. As I considered this, the Jewish mystic connection became clear.

I suspect that Byron is making a reference to the Shekhinah, which in Jewish kabbalistic tradition is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. The Shekhinah, like other goddess symbols, is associated with the moon, which represents divine light in the darkness.

The Kabbalah refers to the Shekhinah as feminine, according to Gershom Scholem. “The introduction of this idea was one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism. …no other element of Kabbalism won such a degree of popular approval.” The “feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature.”

“In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as ‘the daughter of God’. … The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The Romantic writers were deeply interested in all forms of mysticism and the occult, so it does not surprise me that Byron found inspiration in Jewish mystical tradition.

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“To Lord Byron” by John Keats

Keats

Byron, how sweetly sad thy melody,
Attuning still the soul to tenderness,
As if soft Pity with unusual stress
Had touch’d her plaintive lute; and thou, being by,
Hadst caught the tones, nor suffered them to die.
O’ershading sorrow doth not make thee less
Delightful: thou thy griefs dost dress
With a bright halo, shining beamily;
As when a cloud the golden moon doth veil,
Its sides are tinged with a resplendent glow,
Through the dark robe oft amber rays prevail,
And like fair veins in sable marble flow,
Still warble, dying swan, —still tell the tale,
The enchanting tale—the tale of pleasing woe.

Keats wrote this sonnet when he was just 19 years old. In my opinion, it’s not a great poem, but having said that, it is worth reading because we can see the beginning of what will later develop into his poetic genius.

Keats is expressing his admiration for Byron, particularly Byron’s ability to express sorrow through beauty, something Keats would later excel at. Byron is clearly an inspiration to the young poet, and you can learn a lot about artists by understanding where they drew their inspiration.

There are some truly gorgeous images conjured by this poem. My favorite is the image of the veiled moon that Keats describes as golden instead of the usual silver.

As when a cloud the golden moon doth veil,
Its sides are tinged with a resplendent glow,
Through the dark robe oft amber rays prevail,

Where this poems falls short, in my opinion, is in the language and the structure of the verse. It feels forced when you read it and the lines do not have a natural flow and rhythm. I found it very difficult to get a sense of the cadence. Still, for something written so early in his life, it’s pretty good. Certainly better than any poems I wrote at that age.

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“My Soul is Dark” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

My soul is dark – Oh! quickly string
The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
Its melting murmurs o’er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
‘Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.

But bid the strain be wild and deep,
Nor let thy notes of joy be first:
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,
Or else this heavy heart will burst;
For it hath been by sorrow nursed,
And ached in sleepless silence, long;
And now ’tis doomed to know the worst,
And break at once – or yield to song.

This poem is a great example of English Romanticism. It is an expression of inner pain and suffering that is only alleviated through the restorative power of art.

In the poem, Byron conveys a sense of deep sorrow, the type which leads to isolation and despair. The emphasis on the darkness of his soul indicates that all hope and joy are void from his being. He is cast into a state of darkness that nothing seems able to penetrate. He concedes that there is one thing that can overcome this darkness, and that is music.

Here it is important to note that music has two meanings. On one level, he is referring to music in the audible sense. Instrumental music is unique in artistic expression because the tones communicate directly with the psyche and instill emotion without the use of words. But music is also a metaphor for poetry, and I think that Byron is claiming that there are actually two ways in which he can overcome his sorrow: by either listening to music or by opening up his soul through the composition of poetry. So in the final line, when Byron states that his heart will “break at once – or yield to song,” he is asserting that he can cure himself of his internal darkness is by opening his heart and expressing his deep emotion through poetry, which is essentially what he is doing in this poem.

I relate to this poem on a deep level. There have been many times in my life where playing music and writing poetry were the only ways that I was able to deal with my inner turmoil. I guess that’s why I have always related to the Romantic poets on a visceral level. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and have a creative day.

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“When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

I realized that I had not covered much of Lord Byron’s poetry on my blog, so I figured I’d read one of his early poems today.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.               

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow—
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.              

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.         

 In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

My impression of this poem is that Byron is writing about the end of a clandestine love affair, likely with a married woman. For a romantic poet, there is nothing quite as enticing as the forbidden fruit. An intimate relationship of this nature certainly would have stirred Byron’s passion.

This poem reminds me a lot of Goethe’s early romantic work, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In fact, I would not be surprised if Goethe’s book influenced Lord Byron when he composed this piece. There are definite similarities.

In the poem, there is an emphasis on silence and things not spoken, which is the nature of an adulterous relationship. Byron is unable to speak and express his inner feelings. He must love and suffer in silence.

It appears that after the two lovers part, that Byron’s acquaintances talk about her. It seems probable that the two had the same circle of friends. Each time he hears her name, it stirs emotions—shame, longing, sadness, love. But he must remain silent and keep his feelings hidden inside. He suffers alone.

Finally, I get the sense that Byron feels he will never experience a love as intense and passionate as this one again. This was the pinnacle of romance. He will live the rest of his life unable to achieve the level of intimacy that he experienced then had to let go.

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“Prometheus” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

While flipping through my tome of works by the English Romantic writers, I came across “Prometheus” by Lord Byron, which I had not read in a very long time. I figured I should read it again.

The poem praises the god Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. The first thing to remember when reading this poem is that fire is a metaphor for knowledge and enlightenment. Essentially, Prometheus is the ancient equivalent to Lucifer. In fact, the name Lucifer has been interpreted as meaning “light bringer.” So in the same way that Lucifer gave the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to humankind, thereby making them more godlike, so Prometheus bestowed divine enlightenment on humanity.

Like Lucifer, Prometheus was punished for his transgression. Zeus bound him to a rock, where an eagle came daily to devour his liver. Prometheus’ liver grows back, and the next day, the bird returns to feast again.

Prometheus

Prometheus

From the poem, it appears that Byron sees both Zeus and God as symbols of tyranny and oppression, whereas Prometheus and Lucifer are symbols of human intellectual liberation. This is clearly shown in lines 18 – 22:

And the inexorable Heaven,
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate,
Which for its pleasure doth create
The things it may annihilate,

While the correlation between Prometheus and Lucifer is quite obvious, I will venture to put forth the possibility that Byron also viewed Prometheus as a Christ-like symbol. Both suffered for humanity: Christ on the cross and Prometheus on the rock. But Byron takes the analogy a step further by stating that Prometheus is like man, a combination of divine spirit and flesh, which also describes Christ:

Thou art a symbol and a sign
         To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
         A troubled stream from a pure source;

It’s kind of strange to imagine a symbol that could represent Christ and Lucifer at the same time, and I think this is the genius of the poem. Byron successfully creates a version of the myth that embraces the two opposing figures and exalts both of them. For Byron, the only evil is tyranny, the chaining of humanity to the rock of torture and ignorance. Christ, Lucifer, and Prometheus all sought to enlighten mankind, and all suffered as a result.

Click here to read the poem online.

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