Lord Byron: Ideally Romantic
George Gordon Byron the 6th was as baron born in a family of men with a checkered past. His father was a chronic debtor who moved his family from place to place to avoid his creditors, and his uncle, from whom he inherited his title and a fortune, had a bad reputation as a murderer and a crook.
Born on January 22, 1788, Byron suffered from lameness since birth and was horribly abused physically as a child by his nanny, unbeknownst to his mother, and his schoolmasters. However, Byron was a good student who liked to read and became adept at writing poetry at an early age in grammar school and developed his craft over the years to become one of England’s most important poets of the Romantic era.
The poetry of the Romantic period was characterized by a love of nature, the supernatural fantasy, beauty and ideals that transcend the “real world.” Byron displays all these elements in his famous work, 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 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 has many, if not all, the elements of Romantic poetry. The woman in this poem is otherworldly in her beauty, almost as if she is a supernatural perfect angel but is also compared to nature’s interplay of darkness and starlight during the night hours. Yet the poet not only loves her for her physical beauty, the physiognomy of her countenance of the “light and dark that meet in her aspect”, but he also loves the beauty of her mind and her spirit in which she lived her days “in goodness spent.” Thus we see the idealism in this poem as expressed in the holistic description of this perfect woman.
However, Byron like his father spent all of his wealth on wanton living and became a debtor himself while still in college. But he became disillusioned with the relative hedonism of his life in England and traveled to Greece where he embraced both Greek thought and ideals and there he wrote his first famous poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, a biographical poem about his many lovers and exploits while traveling the Mediterranean countries to pursue more personal liberty and a more laid back life than he had experienced in Great Britain, for Byron had not only became Idealistic in his nature, but also gloomy because the ideals of the Romantic era were not congruent with the realities that he was experiencing in the world. Thus Byron was a bit of a paradox of a man with the two opposite contrasts in his nature. He was an idealist with a pessimistic view of life.
Near the end of his life Byron involved himself in Greece’s struggle to gain independence from the Turks by becoming a military commander but unfortunately died of a fever on April 19, 1824, probably as a result of his bloodletting treatment for his illness.