1 year ago
Sunday, August 7, 2011
It’s a poignant scene, this week’s Magpie prompt. I imagined it as a couple breaking up.
And the words of the poet Lord Byron came flooding back:
When we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.
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.
What a man was Byron, what an incredible life. In the early years of the 19th century he was what can only be described as a scoundrel and a rake, running up huge debts and chasing women -- though all the while turning out the magnificent poetry that even today causes him to be regarded as one of the greatest British poets.
Lord Byron was not just a leading figure in the movement known as Romanticism, he was romanticism itself. He travelled, as an idealist, to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence.
But it’s his adventures with women that I find interesting. As far as I can see, he could not resist going after them, whatever their social status, married or single, and they, in so many cases – even those who despised him – often couldn’t resist him.
His mother wrote to a friend about her son: “He has no indisposition that I know of but love, the worst of all maladies in my opinion.”
After his well-publicized affairs with a number of ladies of high social position, he had an even more well-publicized affair with the married Lady Caroline Lamb that shocked the British public.
She wrote: “He is mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He then broke off with her – (“When we two parted”?) -- to begin a relationship with Lady Oxford; Lady Caroline did not give up easily. She did what we today would call stalking. She would show up at his home dressed as a messenger boy just to get near him again.
Rubbing salt in the sore wound, Byron then went after Lady Caroline’s cousin, Anne Milbanke. She was something special. She was a beautiful, highly intelligent woman (some say she was a mathematical genius), and she was also an heiress. He of course treated her badly and the marriage was very unhappy. If any man today ever wonders why the movement known as feminism came into being, it’s surely because of stories like these.
After his disreputable adventures with members of the opposite sex, Byron left England. When he arrived in Greece, he assumed command of part of the army, even though he had no military experience. He had acquired an appropriately colorful uniform, above. Before the expedition could sail for the war in February of 1824, he fell ill. The usual remedy of bloodletting, along with the unsterilized medical instruments, were enough to kill him.
George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron, was indeed a scoundrel, but he was capable of some truly beautiful poetry.