Best known just as Lord Byron, British poet George Gordon Byron (1788 -1824) was a contemporary of Percy Bysshe Shelley during the English Romantic period. Byron is best known for poems like “Don Juan” and for his philandering love life.
Byron was notoriously bad at handling his finances and prone to engage in desperate and indiscriminate love affairs, which include rumors of homosexual and incestual encounters.
Byron was quite famous and beloved during the Regency period, enjoying prominence in London society and the rare appreciation not always afforded a poet’s work during their lifetime. However, his money and relationship issues eventually led to his self-imposed exile from England for the remainder of his life. He travelled Europe, tarried in Italy, but ended up dying of illness while fighting against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence. Byron’s body was returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey, but this burial was refused due to the poet’s “questionable morality.” Byron was ultimately buried in the Church of St. Mary Magdelene, with a memorial to him finally being placed in Westminster Abbey in 1969, 145 years after his death.
Aside from his most famous (and very lengthy) poem, “Don Juan,” the following two poems are among Lord Byron’s most beloved and enduring.
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 sweet 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!
And Thou art Dead, as Young and Fair
And thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth;
And form so soft, and charms so rare,
Too soon return’d to Earth!
Though Earth receiv’d them in her bed,
And o’er the spot the crowd may tread
In carelessness or mirth,
There is an eye which could not brook
A moment on that grave to look.
I will not ask where thou liest low,
Nor gaze upon the spot;
There flowers or weeds at will may grow,
So I behold them not:
It is enough for me to prove
That what I lov’d, and long must love,
Like common earth can rot;
To me there needs no stone to tell,
‘T is Nothing that I lov’d so well.
Yet did I love thee to the last
As fervently as thou,
Who didst not change through all the past,
And canst not alter now.
The love where Death has set his seal,
Nor age can chill, nor rival steal,
Nor falsehood disavow:
And, what were worse, thou canst not see
Or wrong, or change, or fault in me.
The better days of life were ours;
The worst can be but mine:
The sun that cheers, the storm that lowers,
Shall never more be thine.
The silence of that dreamless sleep
I envy now too much to weep;
Nor need I to repine
That all those charms have pass’d away,
I might have watch’d through long decay.
The flower in ripen’d bloom unmatch’d
Must fall the earliest prey;
Though by no hand untimely snatch’d,
The leaves must drop away:
And yet it were a greater grief
To watch it withering, leaf by leaf,
Than see it pluck’d to-day;
Since earthly eye but ill can bear
To trace the change to foul from fair.
I know not if I could have borne
To see thy beauties fade;
The night that follow’d such a morn
Had worn a deeper shade:
Thy day without a cloud hath pass’d,
And thou wert lovely to the last,
Extinguish’d, not decay’d;
As stars that shoot along the sky
Shine brightest as they fall from high.
As once I wept, if I could weep,
My tears might well be shed,
To think I was not near to keep
One vigil o’er thy bed;
To gaze, how fondly! on thy face,
To fold thee in a faint embrace,
Uphold thy drooping head;
And show that love, however vain,
Nor thou nor I can feel again.
Yet how much less it were to gain,
Though thou hast left me free,
The loveliest things that still remain,
Than thus remember thee!
The all of thine that cannot die
Through dark and dread Eternity
Returns again to me,
And more thy buried love endears
Than aught except its living years.