Saturday, January 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, George

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know... George Gordon, Lord Byron, was born today in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1788. Lame and bisexual, he had a miserable childhood, and left Britain as a young man to travel the eastern Mediterranean. He wrote a long poem about that trip, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and it made him an overnight success... success which he handled badly. Eventually his scandalous life made it dangerous for him to remain in Britain, and he fled to Italy, where he died at 36, deeply involved in the cause of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire and still working on his final poem, Don Juan (which, in true English fashion, is pronounced Don Joo-an - as we see from the very first stanza, where it rhymes with "true one" and "new one".)

On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year

'Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
   Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
      Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
   The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
      Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
   Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze--
      A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
   The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
      But wear the chain.

But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
   Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
Where glory decks the hero's bier,
      Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
   Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
      Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
   Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
      And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
   Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
      Of beauty be.

If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
   The land of honourable death
Is here:--up to the field, and give
      Away thy breath!

Seek out--less often sought than found--
   A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
      And take thy rest.


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