I can’t help comparing Byron’s poems to those of Keats and Shelley. Like them, he liked writing about Greek mythology, gave long descriptions of nature, and had an obsession with death. Byron seemed to write more about lost love than they did. He also lived longer than them and produced a lot more writing. Perhaps due to this, he moved on from the familiar themes into new territory. Compared to them, he was also something of a bad boy and gave us the Byronic anti-hero. The protagonists of his poems and plays are often deeply flawed, yet still sympathetic characters. (Byron even makes us feel sympathy for the Biblical Cain.)
There’s also his humor, which delighted me all the more because it was so unexpected. Unlike Keats and Shelley, Byron knew how to be funny. “Beppo” is full of humorous digressions much like his more famous poem Don Juan. “The Vision of Judgement” in which King George III is judged at Heaven’s gate is also funny. “Lines Addressed to a Young Lady” in which Byron apologizes for almost shooting a woman, then proceeds to flirt with her is rather audacious. “The Blues”, an unfinished play which pokes fun at bluestockings, was also funny in parts. I think his best work overall is Don Juan, specifically cantos 1-8 and 16.
Of his short poems, “Darkness” stood out. I mean, it’s dark even for Lord Byron. It’s a nightmare about what would happen if light suddenly disappeared from the world. Everyone descends into savagery. There’s a scene in which a dog guards the corpse of his master from those who would eat it. I also quite liked “To Augusta”, a poem Byron wrote to his sister in which he psychoanalyzes himself in a melancholy way.
This collection also included parliamentary speeches Byron gave against anti-poor and anti-Catholic bills, which I think gave some additional incite into his character.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Lord Byron (not including quotes from Don Juan which I cover in other posts):
The spectres whom no exorcism can bind,
The cold — the changed — perchance the dead — anew
The mourn’d, the loved, the lost — too many! yet how few!
-Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto IV, Stanza 24
Thy very weeds are beautiful, thy waste
More rich than other climes’ fertility;
Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm which cannot be defaced.
-Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto IV, Stanza 26
Each year brings forth its millions; but how long
The tide of generations shall roll on,
And not the whole combined and countless throng
Compose a mind like thine? Though all in one
Condensed their scattered rays, they would not form a sun.
-Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto IV, Stanza 39
And circumstance, that unspiritual god
And miscreator, makes and helps along
Our coming evils with a crutch-like rod,
Whose touch turns hope to dust — the dust we all have trod.
-Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto IV, Stanza 125
Think’st thou that I could bear to part
With thee, and learn to halve my heart?
-The Bride of Abydos, Canto I, Stanza 11
And night’s descending shadows hide
That field with blood bedew’d in vain.
-The Bride of Abydos, Canto II, Stanza 2
But Grief should be the Instructor of the wise;
Sorrow is Knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
-Manfred, Act I, Scene I
He who is only just is cruel; who
Upon the earth would live, were all judged justly?
-Marino Faliero, Act V, Scene I
To me the scorner’s words were as the wind
Unto the rock.
-Marino Faliero, Act V, Scene I
hide thy tears —
I do not bid thee not to shed them — ’twere
Easier to stop Euphrates at its source
Than one tear of a true and tender heart —
-Sardanapalus Act IV, Scene I
All the sins
We find in others, Nature made our own;
All our advantages are those of Fortune;
Birth, wealth, health, beauty, are her accidents,
And when we cry out against Fate, ’twere well
We should remember Fortune can take nought
Save what she gave
Our fame is in men’s breath, our lives upon
Less than their breath; our durance upon days,
Our days on seasons; our whole being on
Something which is not us! So, we are slaves,
The greatest as the meanest – nothing rests
Upon our will; the will itself no less
Depends upon a straw than on a storm;
And when we think we lead, we are most led,
And still towards Death, a thing which comes as much
Without our act or choice as birth, so that
Methinks we must have sinned in some old world,
And this is Hell: the best is, that it is not
-The Two Foscari, Act II, Scene I
Suspicion is a heavy armor, and
With its own weight impedes more than protects.
-Werner, Act I, Scene I
An exile, saddest of all prisoners,
Who has the whole world for a dungeon strong,
Seas, mountains, and the horizon’s verge for bars,
Which shut him from the sole small spot of earth
Where — whatsoe’er his fate — he still were hers,
His country’s, and might die where he had birth.
-Prophecy of Dante, Canto IV
When the impatient thirst of light and air
Parches the heart ; and the abhorred grate,
Marring the sunbeams with its hideous shade.
Works through the throbbing eyeball to the brain
With a hot sense of heaviness and pain ;
And bare, at once. Captivity displayed
Stands scoffing through the never-opened gate.
-The Lament of Tasso, Stanza 1
That thou wert beautiful, and I not blind,
Hath been the sin which shuts me from mankind;
-The Lament of Tasso, Stanza 2
As the sword is the worst argument than can be used, so should it be the last.
-Parliamentary Speech made during the Debate on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, February 27, 1812