1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Carlos Wilcox, in "The Religion of Taste" 1824; Remains (1828) 193-94.



But love of nature feasted high and long
Without controlling faith, while it inspires
No heavenly flame, oft feeds amid a throng
Of fancies soft and wild, far other fires,—
False feeling, airy hopes, and foul desires,
And helps to form an idler unconfined,
Or visionary, whom the truth soon tires,
Or profligate, or hater of mankind,
Or all in one, and more, a skeptic cold and blind.

All these was Byron, and was doubly these
From his unhallowed genius revelling free
Amid the charms of loveliest lands and seas:—
'Twas here he nursed the daring liberty
Of dreaming what man is, and is to be,
In spite of all the unimpassioned prose
Of truth divine, when with sweet poetry
All nature lives, luxuriates and glows,
Tempting to pleasure here, leaving to fate its close.

How did he send to Heaven defiance proud,
While bounding lightly o'er the billowy world,
Or gazing round him when the midnight cloud
Its massy folds o'er Alpine heights unfurled,
And round from cliff to cliff its light'nings hurled,
With dark red gleams now showing wood and lake,
Swept in broad waves, or in deep eddies whirled,
Now leaving all a blank, while thunders break
In one redoubling peal and all the mountains shake.

And when with all the elements at peace
He breathed the air of Italy's soft vales,
Or of the verdant shores and isles of Greece,
To him the deities of classic tales
Seemed to return to groves and hills and dales,
Their former haunts, made theirs from beauty bright
As on Arabian plains, by poisonous gales
And burning suns laid waste, the skies of night
With deities are filled for their cool placid light.

To him the Cyprian queen resumed her throne
Where once the pencil, pen, and chisel vied,
By borrowing nature's charms to raise her own;—
On roses she must feed and sleep, must glide
A form of light o'er the cerulean tide,
Or towards her temple through green shady groves
With garlands crowned, in pomp serene must guide
Her ivory chariot drawn by swans and doves,
With Graces dancing round and all her winged Loves.

Tis oft the unhallowed fancy that delights
O'er the sublime and fair of earth to glance,
To wander long where earth with heaven unites,
To sail on smooth wings o'er the blue expanse,
Or on bright clouds in a voluptuous trance,
Or soar 'mid worlds, above, below, around,
Approaching and retreating in a dance
Of light and harmony, and with that sound
Of fabled music sweet, filling the vast profound.

From flights so high, how quick can man descend,—
From realms so bright and calm, — and roll in dust,
A slave to passions that like vultures rend
Ere they devour, and from the bosom thrust
All feelings kind and pure, and wake mistrust
Of every friend, and enmity to all
The good and happy, from the cold disgust
Of senses pampered till their pleasures pall;
When at the world he murmurs, to revenge his fall.

Sick of the world, a glad farewell he sings
To all its living scenes; and, worse than vain,
Sighs without meaning for the dove's light wings,
To waft him to some island of the main,
Or far-off desert, where he may complain
To woods and waters, fortune may defy,
And there restored to nature's boasted reign,
Feel free to pour contempt on every tie,
That man to man unites, and to the God on high.

Or weary of his life, he madly throws
The burden down, or drags it on in dread
Of each day's added weight, while no repose
He looks for here, but longs to lay his head
Among the silent and forgotten dead;—
And this is greatness that the young betimes
Learn to admire; and though his joys are fled,
Still in the fancies from which sprung his crimes
They think to find their joys, as if in fairy climes.