Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On this day I complete my thirty-sixth year

by George Gordon, Lord Byron

’TIS time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But ’tis not thus—and ’tis not here—
Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now,
Where glory decks the hero’s bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!—unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out—less often sought than found—
A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

(At Missolonghi, January 22, 1824)

* * *

First Byron laments that now that he is old, he is no longer loved. His loves were not of a kind that lasted, and so although he still appreciates beauty, he has none himself, and so is not loved.

Then he reproaches himself for still caring about love. He should be caring about glory, he says. Death in battle will be the only cure for his strong feelings.

Interestingly enough, he died soon after writing this poem, carried away by sickness while fighting in Greece.

I'm not quite sure if he was trying to be funny in the line, "Not Greece--she is awake!" It's his style of humor, but it's a serious poem. Probably after all his funny poetry, he couldn't think of a rhyme that wasn't a little odd -- his sense of humor indulges greatly in odd rhymes.

1 comment:

Santiago said...

He also wrote a very depressing poem on his thirty-third birthday, which, if I remember correctly, was only four lines and ended with "What have these years left to me?/ Nothing, except thirty-three."