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About this poet

George Gordon Byron was born on January 22, 1788, in Aberdeen, Scotland, and inherited his family's English title at the age of ten, becoming Baron Byron of Rochdale. Abandoned by his father at an early age and resentful of his mother, who he blamed for his being born with a deformed foot, Byron isolated himself during his youth and was deeply unhappy. Though he was the heir to an idyllic estate, the property was run down and his family had no assets with which to care for it. As a teenager, Byron discovered that he was attracted to men as well as women, which made him all the more remote and secretive.

He studied at Aberdeen Grammar School and then Trinity College in Cambridge. During this time Byron collected and published his first volumes of poetry. The first, published anonymously and titled Fugitive Pieces, was printed in 1806 and contained a miscellany of poems, some of which were written when Byron was only fourteen. As a whole, the collection was considered obscene, in part because it ridiculed specific teachers by name, and in part because it contained frank, erotic verses. At the request of a friend, Byron recalled and burned all but four copies of the book, then immediately began compiling a revised version—though it was not published during his lifetime. The next year, however, Byron published his second collection, Hours of Idleness, which contained many of his early poems, as well as significant additions, including poems addressed to John Edelston, a younger boy whom Byron had befriended and deeply loved.

By Byron's twentieth birthday, he faced overwhelming debt. Though his second collection received an initially favorable response, a disturbingly negative review was printed in January of 1808, followed by even more scathing criticism a few months later. His response was a satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which received mixed attention. Publicly humiliated and with nowhere else to turn, Byron set out on a tour of the Mediterranean, traveling with a friend to Portugal, Spain, Albania, Turkey, and finally Athens. Enjoying his new-found sexual freedom, Byron decided to stay in Greece after his friend returned to England, studying the language and working on a poem loosely based on his adventures. Inspired by the culture and climate around him, he later wrote to his sister, "If I am a poet ... the air of Greece has made me one."

Byron returned to England in the summer of 1811 having completed the opening cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a poem which tells the story of a world-weary young man looking for meaning in the world. When the first two cantos were published in March of 1812, the expensive first printing sold out in three days. Byron reportedly said, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous."

His fame, however, was among the aristocratic intellectual class, at a time when only cultivated people read and discussed literature. The significant rise in a middle-class reading public, and with it the dominance of the novel, was still a few years away. At 24, Byron was invited to the homes of the most prestigious families and received hundreds of fan letters, many of them asking for the remaining cantos of his great poem—which eventually appeared in 1818.

An outspoken politician in the House of Lords, Byron used his popularity for public good, speaking in favor of workers' rights and social reform. He also continued to publish romantic tales in verse. His personal life, however, remained rocky. He was married and divorced, his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke having accused him of everything from incest to sodomy. A number of love affairs also followed, including one with Claire Clairmont, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelleys sister-in-law. By 1816, Byron was afraid for his life, warned that a crowd might lynch him if he were seen in public.

Forced to flee England, Byron settled in Italy and began writing his masterpiece, Don Juan, an epic-satire novel-in-verse loosely based on a legendary hero. He also spent much of his time engaged in the Greek fight for independence and planned to join a battle against a Turkish-held fortress when he fell ill, becoming increasingly sick with persistent colds and fevers.

When he died on April 19, 1824, at the age of 36, Don Juan was yet to be finished, though 17 cantos had been written. A memoir, which also hadn't been published, was burned by Byron's friends who were either afraid of being implicated in scandal or protective of his reputation.

Today, Byron's Don Juan is considered one of the greatest long poems in English written since John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The Byronic hero, characterized by passion, talent, and rebellion, pervades Byron's work and greatly influenced the work of later Romantic poets.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III [excerpt]

George Gordon Byron, 1788 - 1824
                    XXXIV

There is a very life in our despair,
Vitality of poison,—a quick root
Which feeds these deadly branches; for it were
As nothing did we die; but Life will suit
Itself to Sorrow's most detested fruit,
Like to the apples on the Dead Sea's shore,
All ashes to the taste: Did man compute
Existence by enjoyment, and count o'er
Such hours 'gainst years of life,—say, would he name threescore?

                    XXXV

The Psalmist number'd out the years of man:
They are enough; and if thy tale be true,
Thou, who didst grudge him even that fleeting span,
More than enough, thou fatal Waterloo!	
Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
Their children's lips shall echo them, and say—
"Here, where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!"
And this is much, and all which will not pass away.

                    XXXVI

There sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men,
Whose spirit antithetically mixt
One moment of the mightiest, and again
On little objects with like firmness fixt,
Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,	
Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;
For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek'st
Even now to re-assume the imperial mien,
And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene!

                    XXXVII

Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou!
She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name
Was ne'er more bruited in men's minds than now
That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame,
Who wooed thee once, thy vassal, and became
The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert	
A god unto thyself; nor less the same
To the astounded kingdoms all inert,
Who deem'd thee for a time whate'er thou didst 

assert.

                    XXXVIII

Oh, more or less than man—in high or low,
Battling with nations, flying from the field;
Now making monarchs' necks thy footstool, now
More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield:
An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,
But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,
However deeply in men's spirits skill'd,
Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war,
Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.

                    XXXIX

Yet well thy soul hath brook'd the turning tide
With that untaught innate philosophy,
Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,
Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.
When the whole host of hatred stood hard by,
To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smiled
With a sedate and all-enduring eye;—
When Fortune fled her spoil'd and favourite child,
He stood unbow'd beneath the ills upon him piled.

                    XL

Sager than in thy fortunes: for in them
Ambition steel'd thee on too far to show
That just habitual scorn, which could contemn
Men and their thoughts; 'twas wise to feel, not so
To wear it ever on thy lip and brow,
And spurn the instruments thou wert to use
Till they were turn'd unto thine overthrow;
'Tis but a worthless world to win or lose;
So hath it proved to thee, and all such lot who choose.	

                    XLI

If, like a tower upon a headlong rock,
Thou hadst been made to stand or fall alone,
Such scorn of man had help'd to brave the shock;
But men's thoughts were the steps which paved thy throne,
Their admiration thy best weapon shone;
The part of Philip's son was thine, not then
(Unless aside thy purple had been thrown)
Like stern Diogenes to mock at men;
For sceptred cynics earth were far too wide a den.

                    XLII

But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
Of aught but rest; a fever at the core,
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore.

                    XLIII

This makes the madmen who have made men mad
By their contagion; Conquerors and Kings,
Founders of sects and systems, to whom add
Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things
Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs,
And are themselves the fools to those they fool;
Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings
Are theirs! One breast laid open were a school
Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule:

                    XLIV

Their breath is agitation, and their life
A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
And yet so nursed and bigotted to strife,	
That should their days, surviving perils past,
Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste
With its own flickering, or a sword laid by,
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously.

                    XLV

He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow.
He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
Must look down on the hate of those below.
Though high above the sun of glory glow,
And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits led.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

George Gordon Byron

George Gordon Byron

George Gordon Byron was the author of Don Juan, a satirical novel-in-verse that is considered one of the greatest epic poems in English written since John Milton’Paradise Lost.

by this poet

poem
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
poem
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
poem

Start not—nor deem my spirit fled:
   In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
   Whatever flows is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaff'd, like thee:
   I died: let earth my bones resign;
Fill up—thou canst not injure me;
   The worm hath fouler lips than