Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It's Tuesday morning. Help! I need a reminder as to why I should like Lord Byron. I know he's considered a great Romantic poet and is revered by the Greeks for his support of their drive to nationalism, but I see his life glorified, and I just get mad.

Here's a man who created himself, not a bad feat. Born with a club foot and overweight, teased dreadfully as he was growing up, he retired to his estate, lived on crackers and water, and then surrounded himself with a coterie of freinds who gathered at wild parties, complete with dancing girls and drinking wine from a skull's head.

When his early poems were published, he became the darling of society. Women were drawn to his beauty and his passion (as well as his nobility), and it didn't matter to him that they might be married or innocent. In fact, he considered women an ornament -- women should not eat in public, he said, it mars their beauty. His liaisons contributed to his death as well; hailed as a hero for going to Greece in a time of their war for independence, he was caught in a rain storm while travelling to be with his married lover, caught a severe cold and died.

Some of the lines of his poems echo in my heart. When I was younger, I idolized him. Today, I see the context of his life and realize how many men patterned their behavior and attitudes toward women after him. So I take it nearly as a personal affront.

Fiero's treatment of Byron is far too sympathetic. She says he was
"alienated from society" (35) and that he was fascinated by the myth of Prometheus "as a symbol of triumphant individualism". My point is he made choices; Prometheus acted for the good of humanity, stealing fire/knowledge from the gods. But Byron's fire is passion without integrity. I have the feeling I'm not being fair. Give me a reason to care again about Byron. Beth

Source: Gloria K. Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition, Vol 5: Romanticism, Realism and the 19th Century World. McGraw-Hill, 2002.

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