Lord Byron: “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”
Early Life • Born George Gordon Byron in London, England in 1788 • Descendent of King James I • When Byron was 10 years old, his uncle died, giving him the title of “Baron” (a rank in British nobility) and entitling him to a large estate • First published poems were written when he was only 14 years old, but were recalled and burned due to their “amorous” nature
Personal Life • His mother said of him, “He has no indisposition that I know of but love, desperate love, the worst of all maladies in my opinion.” • Carried on numerous affairs with married women, fathering at least one illegitimate child • Accumulated substantial amount of debt in order to carry on his “lavish” lifestyle • Considered to be one of the first “modern-style” celebrities, constantly followed by the press and appearing in gossip columns
Byronic Hero • Literary term the “Byronic Hero” refers to a character that pervades much of Byron’s work. Much like the poet himself, this character has “great talent, great passion, a distaste for society and social institutions, a lack of respect for rank and privilege (although they possess both), being thwarted in love by social constraint or death, rebellion, exile, an unsavory secret past, arrogance, overconfidence or lack of foresight, and, ultimately, a self-destructive manner. • Examples: • Severus Snape, from the Harry Potter series • Dr. House, from the T.V. series House • Batman, from the comic series Batman
Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. 1818 Romantic Poetry
Industrial Revolution • Late 18th century movement toward the mechanization of industry in Western countries • Characterized by the move (both ideologically and population-wise) from the country to the city • Strong emphasis on reason and science • Coincided with many revolutions taking place in various countries (for example, France and America)
Romanticism • Artistic, literary, and ideological movement against the Industrial Revolution • Stressed imagination over reason, natural over artifice • Romantic poets preferred personal, simple, emotional poems over formal, witty poems of the past • Poems were more private, spontaneous, and lyrical • Often turned to an inner dream world as a reaction against the ugliness of the Industrial Revolution
When We Two Parted by Lord Byron 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, And light is thy fame: I hear thy name spoken, And share in its shame. They name thee before me, A knell to mine ear; A shudder comes o'er me— Why wert thou so dear? They know not I knew thee, Who knew thee too well: Long, long shall I rue thee, Too deeply to tell. 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.
Group Discussion Questions • 1. How is this poem representative of Romantic poetry? • 2. How does Byron use the notion of morning in the second stanza differently than other poets? • 3. What do you think the “shame” at the end of the second stanza refers to? • 4. Why did Byron write this poem? • 5. Do you think this poem, or poems like this, are relevant today?
Foreshadowing: Frankenstein • Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), was one of the preeminent poets of the British Romantic Poetry movement, along with Lord Byron. • In Romanticism, there was also a move toward supernatural, medieval horror stories, again as a reaction to the bleak rationalism of the Industrial Revolution. • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein originated as an oral story told by the author while she and her husband spent a weekend at Lord Byron’s villa in Switzerland.
During that trip, Percy Blysshe Shelley wrote: “Lord Byron gets up at two. I get up, quite contrary to my usual custom . . . at 12. After breakfast we sit talking till six. From six to eight we gallop through the pine forest which divide Ravenna from the sea; we then come home and dine, and sit up gossiping till six in the morning. I don't suppose this will kill me in a week or fortnight, but I shall not try it longer. Lord B.'s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it. . . . [P.S.] I find that my enumeration of the animals in this Circean Palace was defective . . . . I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane.”