1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Sw***, "The Pilgrim's Lament on the Death of Lord Byron" Imperial Magazine 6 (September 1824) 847-49.



Methought I heard, in pensive strain,
A weary wanderer thus complain:—
"The night was dark, my way was far,
I gladly hail'd one brilliant star,
And fondly hop'd that star should throw
Along my path its radiant glow:
But treach'rous, as too oft the gleam
Of earthly promises, it shed
A fitful, tho' a lovely beam,
Betraying where it should have led.

"Yet still, with pilgrim-steps, I trod
The beaten, tho' the toilsome road,
And solac'd by a constant ray
That inly beam'd to cheer my way,
A light that ever, ever shone,
My path was track'd, my haven won.
But ere that haven won, I saw,—
And, even as I tell, I shiver,—
I saw that beauteous star withdraw,
And set in awful shades forever.

"'Twas so — there came upon my ear
The sounds of fierce contention near;
And soon my scarcely piercing sight
Discern'd, amid the shades of night,
Two furious foes, whose angry mood
Predicted coming deeds of blood.
The haughty threat, the madman's rave,
The tyrant here might well betray,
While nobler tokens mark'd the slave
Resolv'd to cast his chains away.

"Tho' nobly born, and nobly now
Determin'd never more to bow,
For many a year, the one had been
A wretched vassal, base and mean;
Till rous'd by long-abus'd control,
In native majesty of soul,
He stood, amid the gloom, unaw'd,
Where hop'd the despot, tho' in vain,
To make the rebel own him 'lord,'
And wear his slavish bonds again.

"The menace on the lips of fear
Yet courage kindling by despair,
The panting breath, the' greedy eye
Of avarice in agony,
Bespoke forewarnings of an hour
Ordain'd to crush the tyrant's pow'r,
While, Moslem-like, against the star
That balk'd his perfidy, he rail'd;
And bless'd the moon, whose crescent-car
Had borne her where the darkness veil'd.

"Not thus his foe, who seem'd as one
Of those who fought at Marathon:
His ample brow reveal'd the soul
Where noble passions conscious roll;
And clad in potent honour's might,
The hero hail'd each beam of light.
And now forth sprang each thirsty sword,
And now the deadly fight began,
The tyrant aiming to be lord,
The vassal struggling to be man.

"And now that star which, heretofore,
An evil aspect only wore,
Beam'd forth as if an angel's eye
Were looking down in sympathy;
It almost seem'd, so true it shone,
For past offences to atone:
And thus, like some blest spirit's smile
Approving some ennobling aim,
Its mingling radiance awhile
Enliven'd freedom's glorious flame.

"But scarce had beam'd its cheering light
On liberty's reviving sight,
Scarce tyranny began to throw
His curses on the dazzling glow,
When suddenly an awful cloud
Involv'd it in a death-like shroud
So quick, so dark, so black, so chill,
Like judgment's unexpected rod,
It came so solemnly and still—
That cloud was sure the hand of God!

"Alas! I hop'd that splendid light,—
Now quench'd, for ever quench'd in night—
When first I saw its steady blaze
Succeed its ill-expended rays,
And shine in freedom's cause so true,
Ere long should guide the pilgrim too.
Lamenting thus, I rais'd my eyes
To where its lustre once had been,
And saw its beams, with glad surprise,
Supplied by stars till now unseen.

"The ills I fancied mast ensue
When such a glorious light withdrew,
That freedom's growing nerve should fail,
And proud oppression yet prevail—
Not one of all I fear'd befell;
The cause of freedom prosper'd well.
Reprov'd, I bow'd my head and blush'd,
To own the moment's thought as mine,
That heaven would see its offspring crush'd,
Tho' ev'ry star should cease to shine."

The pilgrim paus'd — I saw a tear
Had check'd his fervid utt'rance here—
"Think not," said he, "this tribute given
To any glittering star of heaven;
The star I told thee of was one
That yet amongst them might have shone,
But track'd its low erratic way
When brightest, but of little worth,
Oft sparkling only to betray
A useless, wand'ring star of earth.

"I mourn a wretched man of wo,
Who only seem'd to live to shew
That birth, and wealth, and mighty mind,
And nigh the worship of his kind,
Without religion's pure control,
Could bring no sunshine to the soul.
I view'd him passion-bound to earth,
Yet, when I saw his arm appear,
Outstretch'd in aid of freedom's birth.
I hop'd his freedom too was near.

"But, no! — as if pure liberty
Polluted by his touch would be,
As if some pow'r had struck the blow
That fear'd the friend might prove a foe,
He sank — nor would I wither now
One fragrant flow'r that wreath'd his brow—
But yet I mourn the life mispent,
The mischief unretriev'd in death,
The couch where no kind angel bent
With healing troth on balmy breath.
I mourn" — and here the pilgrim sigh'd—
"To think how BYRON liv'd — and died!"