Dirty Mondays: Byron’s “Love and Death”

Yesterday was the 185th anniversary of the irrepressible Lord Byron’s death at Missolonghi from a violent fever as he prepared to assault Lepanto.

Byron’s love for Greece – the attack on the Ottoman fort at the mouth of the Bay of Corinth was part of a wider campaign for Greek indepence, in aid of which Byron had refitted the Greek fleet out of his own pocket – was mirrored in his love for Greek boys. Indeed, as well as his lifelong attachments to women and his ongoing and somewhat self-created reputation as a Don Juan, it was the death of his friend Nicolo Giraud, who died fighting the Turks, that precipitated his final involvement in Greek affairs, and his final months were spent pining with unrequited passion for another youth, his teenaged page, Lukas Chalandritsano.

Love and Death, written in 1824, was one of Byron’s last works, and was dedicated to Lukas.

I watched thee when the foe was at our side,
     Ready to strike at him–or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless—rather than divide
     Aught with one loved, save love and liberty.

I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock
     Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
     This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.

I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes,
     Yielding my couch, and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching, ne’er to rise
     From thence, if thou an early grave hadst found.

The earthquake came, and rocked the quivering
     And men and nature reeled as if with wine.
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
     For thee. Whose safety first provide for? Thine

And when convulsive throes denied my breath
     The faultest utterance to my fading thought,
To thee–to thee–e’en in the gasp of death
     My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.

Thus much and more; and yet thou lov’st me not,
     And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
     To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.

George Gordon Byron, later Noel, 6th Baron Byron FRS (22 January 1788– 19 April 1824)

Image: Lord Byron on His Deathbed, by Joseph-Denis Odevaere, c 1826

Posted April 20, 2009 | Comments Off on Dirty Mondays: Byron’s “Love and Death”.
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