Lord Byron's Poems

Lord Byron's Poems Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What imagery does Byron associate with the subject of “She Walks in Beauty”?

    The subject of “She Walks in Beauty” is described in terms of both darkness and light. She is “like the night,” but her face outshines the “gaudy day.” Her hair is black (“raven tresses”), yet her skin is pale. In her purity, she reconciles these two seemingly opposite images. But is there any substance behind the beauty?

  2. 2

    How does Byron create a post-apocalyptic landscape in “Darkness”?

    By beginning the poem as “a dream, which was not all a dream,” Byron immediately puts the reader on notice that this is an otherworldly work. He speaks of an extinguished sun and wandering stars—a cosmos in which the darkened Earth glides blindly. The only light of the landscape comes from volcanoes, the eruption of which lights the faces of the remaining people with a ghastly light. The animal world itself is changed, all full of terror and fighting for survival amid their fears. He describes the entire human race eventually dying off with but two remaining—and these two fight and kill one another. The harrowing tone contributes to this landscape, as does the blank verse.

  3. 3

    What is the primary theme of “The Prisoner of Chillon”?

    “The Prisoner of Chillon” describes an attempt of the human mind or spirit to triumph over physical confinement. The speaker is imprisoned for his religious and political defense of human liberty; his ideals are put to the test as he is himself denied liberty through his chains and the dungeon walls. He suffers through the deaths of his two brothers, but still hopes to find freedom through the tiny window opening out onto a larger world. Unfortunately, at the end, with his spirit shattered by his trials, the prisoner has acclimated himself to his confinement. An inherently free man, he no longer cares about the outside world, having established a kingdom amid his own prison cell. The primary theme of the poem is the struggle of the human spirit against oppression, whether or not this character succeeds.

  4. 4

    What is a main function of the “Sonnet of Chillon” which begins “The Prisoner of Chillon”?

    “Sonnet on Chillon” begins this lengthy poem. By way of introduction to the larger work the sonnet describes the “chainless Mind” and how it cannot be imprisoned even if the body is shackled. The prison itself is set up as a “holy place” because of what transpired there—the imprisonment of Bonnivard and two of his brothers. The sonnet concludes with an interpretation of Bonnivard’s imprisonment: it is an “appeal from tyranny to God.” This introductory sonnet thus serves to encourage the reader to root for Bonnivard against his captors, for he represents the "chainless Mind" despite what happens to him in prison.

  5. 5

    How is Don Juan a mock epic?

    The epic-length Don Juan opens with a half-hearted apology by Byron to “better” writers for his own literary shortcomings. He rejects the epic tradition of beginning the story in the middle, by overtly stating he will start with the circumstances of his hero’s birth. Don Juan himself is no epic hero: he is innocent and engages in more misadventure than adventure; his “conquests” are amorous in nature and usually instigated by the women. Although he fights in a battle and proves his courage, Don Juan ultimately creates for himself a home in England to settle and raise his young charge—there is no glorious return to his homeland for Don Juan. In this sense, Byron also is mocking his own life and liaisons.

  6. 6

    In what ways is Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage autobiographical?

    Each canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage describes key parts of Byron's real-life journeys through Europe. In fact, Byron worked on each section of the poem as he was traveling. Although Byron initially denied Childe Harold’s autobiographical connection to himself, he later admitted that he would no longer hold to that device. Each location of Childe Harold’s journey—Portugal, Spain, Greece, Albania, Switzerland, and Italy—is described on the basis of Byron’s own experiences in those specific places. And, in turn, the poet's feelings and reflections are recorded in the poem essentially as his own, with Childe Harold disappearing from the scene, subsumed into Byron's perspective.

  7. 7

    What are some political reflections in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage?

    Although ostensibly a travelogue, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage contains a great deal of political diatribe. Byron has harsh words for his own England, which he believes has been tepid in its alliance with Spain against France. He castigates the events of Cintra, when defeated French soldiers were allowed by England to return to their homeland with arms and spoils of war intact. He decries the oppression of the Greeks by Turkey, but admits that (to his mind) many Greeks have become inured to servitude. He concludes the poem in Italy, where the Italians (as did the Greeks) all too often forgot to maintain the memory and honor the work of those great people who established their cultural greatness in earlier centuries. Byron's meditation on centuries of Roman emperors also leads him to the conclusion that every great empire will one day fall; political power is ephemeral.

  8. 8

    What is the tone of “When We Two Parted”?

    “When We Two Parted” is mournful in its depiction of a lost love. The separation alone would have been cause enough for sorrow, but this pain on the part of the speaker is compounded by the feeling that his beloved has betrayed their relationship. Although they parted as lovers who could not remain together, they become estranged through the beloved’s infidelity. The speaker mourns even more because their love had been a secret and he must mourn alone; the tone is one of lonely sadness.

  9. 9

    What does Byron use to create the tone in “When We Two Parted”?

    Since there is very little imagery in the poem, the speaker’s mournful tone is made clear with the language, such as his repetition of “silence and tears” in the first and last stanzas. His beloved’s infidelity is made the more harsh when he describes her as having grown “cold” toward him. He draws the picture of the two of them meeting several years hence, but saying nothing, since their former relationship can never be publicly acknowledged.

  10. 10

    What is the focus of Byron’s admiration in “She Walks in Beauty”?

    The subject of “She Walks in Beauty” is depicted as having as her highest virtue a purity that transcends conflicts and contrasts. Byron focuses his physical description of the woman on her face, yet even here it is her brightness of eye and clarity of countenance which display her inner beauty. She is a faithful and virtuous woman, perhaps because she is simple and untroubled by controversy, but this is the source of her beauty and the reason Byron (and others) admire her.