What is the worst of woes that wait on age? <BR> What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow? <BR> To view each loved one blotted from life's page, <BR> And be alone on earth, as I am now.
Written after Byron had lost two of his friends, his mother, and his dog in the same six-month span, this segment of Childe Harlod's Pilgrimage reflects Byron's melancholy about the prospect of a long life with much loss. Ever one to live in the moment, Byron here points out that one of the major pitfalls of advanced age (the "worst") is watching all of one's loved ones die. Though he was only thirty when he wrote these lines, Byron ws already tired of life and ready to move on to a less painful existence.
Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure.
Here Byron concisely expresses his attitude toward socially acceptable patterns of morality. To his understanding, anything enjoyable is declared sinful by the stodgy clergy and the view of many in society, yet Byron takes this as a challenge rather than something merely to rail against. If the caretakers of men's souls want to make pleasure a sin, Byron will sin and have that much greater pleasure in the undertaking. Byron's own promiscuous life is both satirized and lionized in Don Juan, from which this quote is taken.
Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; <BR> Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.
This epigrammatic commentary upon human nature points out a flaw in the makeup of men: we often enjoy nurturing our hatred more than any other emotion, love included. Love, from Byron's perspective, is relegated to hasty relationships, either because love comes and leaves so suddenly, or because men change lovers so frequently. Hatred, however, can endure for decades with a single object. In a strange way, these lines suggest, men are more faithful to the objects of their disdain than to the objects of their desire.
Foul Superstition! howsoe’er disguis’d, <BR> Idol, saint, virgin, prophet, crescent, cross, <BR> For whatsoever symbol thou art priz’d, <BR> Thou sacerdotal gain, but general loss! <BR> Who from true worship’s gold can separate thy dross?
Byron here reflects upon the nature of religion. He focuses primarily on Roman Catholicism due in large part to his proximity to Christian symbols he finds in Muslim lands, but he mentions the crescent in order to include Islam in his indictment of organized religion. He sees hypocrisy in those religions which seek to keep adherents by using symbols in place of reality (causing “sacerdotal gain, but general loss”). Organized religion, from this perspective, mixes “true worship” with false ideas and traditions, putting superstitions in the place of genuine spiritual experiences.
Society is now one polish'd horde, <BR> Form'd of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.
Ever the socialite, Byron nonetheless had the capacity to step back and look at the society which so frequently celebrated him. Looking at society with a more objective set of eyes, someone as intelligent and energetic as Byron would inevitably find the various rituals built into social events rather tedious. In Don Juan he gives vent to this frustration by dividing social interactions into two groups: those who bore others with their tedium while claiming to be important and socially or intellectually "polished," and those who are bored by the first group's pretensions. Byron himself must have felt the pressure to act pretentiously while feeling bored by such engagements and by the posing of others.
'Tis strange -- but true; for truth is always strange; <BR> Stranger than fiction.
This famously paraphrased quotation from Don Juan acknowledges Byron's delight and wonder at the incredible nature of reality, which exceeds one's imagination and can outdo one's own creations. Always one to pursue adventure and pleasure, Byron could readily say that his own experiences--when told in the form of poetic travelogue or straight narration--struck many as fantastic. In Don Juan Byron exaggerates his amorous adventures into a satirical commentary on love, yet many of the characters and events in that work were based upon Byron's real life. If in these small ways, Byron attempts to improve on the strangeness of the truth, in a larger sense the deeper truths of reality will still startle us when we discover them.
What is the end of Fame? 'tis but to fill <BR> A certain portion of uncertain paper: <BR> Some liken it to climbing up a hill, <BR> Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour: <BR> For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill, <BR> And bards burn what they call their "midnight taper," <BR> To have, when the original is dust, <BR> A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust.
Although he became famous almost overnight with the publication of Childe Harold's Piligrimage, Byron never found satisfaction in his popularity. His earlier works had been harshly criticized, and Byron had difficulty believing his own art had improved. Meanwhile, Byron lived the adventurous, debaucherous life he dreamed of only to find it unfulfilling and empty. Here he meditates upon the worthlessness of fame as well, noting that everyone dies and turns to dust regardless of popularity, yet people work hard to gain the posthumous rewards of popularity ("A name") and possibly a poorly done portrait or sculpture. These are hardly a replacement for the living man. Why work so hard, why exert so much effort to climb, when most people either fail or are forgotten and when the rewards of Fame are so meager?
All that’s best of dark and bright <BR> Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
The speaker points out the main paradox of his subject’s beauty in these two lines. She is dark-haired, and something about her beauty reminds him of a cloudless night, yet her skin is pure white, as is her soul. He does not explain how she manages to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory concepts—she simply keeps them together, perhaps because she is so beautiful in her soul. At the same time, she only maintains what is "best" of each concept; the right balance for her is a complex mix, without too much or too little of either.
then they lifted up <BR> Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld <BR> Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died-- <BR> Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
The apocalyptic poem “Darkness” presents a vision of a world dying without a sun to sustain it. Byron pessimistically writes of the end of humanity, wherein the last two surviving people in a city are frightened to death by the horrid sight of one another, fiendishly gaunt and starved, in the meager light of the last glowing embers of society and the world.
And thus when they appear'd at last, <BR> And all my bonds aside were cast, <BR> These heavy walls to me had grown <BR> A hermitage - and all my own!
The concluding stanza of "The Prisoner of Chillon" finds the speaker ostensibly broken by his torment and isolation. Having seen two brothers die, and having been deprived of the natural beauty around him for so many years, he has grown accustomed to his captivity, naming his cell a "hermitage" now, a place for spiritual contemplation. On one level, this speaks to the prisoner's final act of giving in to his imprisonment and accepting the cell as his final destination. However, earlier indicators in the poem suggest that the prisoner has instead made his own freedom, just as ideals cannot be chained with the men who hold them. He has turned this place of terror and abandonment into a "kingdom" over which he reigns, or at least he feels that way--so, at least to him, his captors have never been able to quash his independent spirit or autonomy.
Lord Byron’s Poems Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Lord Byron’s Poems is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.