Childe Harold's Pilgrimage  home

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 by Lord Byron


A word of explanation:

The stanzas marked with an alphabetic letter (eg 7a) are interpolations from existing texts edited out by Byron's friends or publisher, which are nevertheless authentic, and which serve to clarify and add interest to the text as a whole, as Peter Cochran* so rightly observes.

Notes on Byron's departure from England

[Thoughts on leaving England and sea voyage]


Oh, thou! in Hellas deemed of heavenly birth,
Muse! formed or fabled at the minstrel's will!
Since shamed full oft by later lyres on earth,
Mine dares not call thee from thy sacred hill;
Yet there I've wandered by thy vaunted rill;
Yes! sighed o'er Delphi's long deserted shrine,
Where save that feeble fountain, all is still;
Nor mote my shell awake the weary Nine
To grace so plain a tale - this lowly lay of mine.

Hellas is Greece. The 'weary Nine', the muses (of poetic inspiration). Byron had indeed visited the shrine of Delphi, now partly built over, he tells us in a note, its sacred caves used for a cow-house.


Whilome in Albion's isle there dwelt a youth
Who ne in virtue's ways did take delight;
But spent his days in riot most uncouth,
And vexed with mirth the drowsy ear of Night.
Ah, me! in sooth he was a shameless wight,
Sore given to revel and ungodly glee;
Few earthly things found favour in his sight
Save concubines and carnal companie,
And flaunting wassailers of high and low degree.

Albion's isle is England. The effect of Byron's use of archaisms is to distance what is recounted from the censorious present, and himself, though the import of what he says about the behaviour of Childe Harold accords exactly with his own behaviour. 


Childe Harold was he hight - but whence his name
And lineage long, it suits me not to say;
Suffice it, that perchance they were of fame,
And had been glorious in another day:
But one sad losel soils a name for aye,
However mighty in the olden time;
Nor all that heralds rake from coffined clay,
Nor florid prose, nor honeyed lies of rhyme,
Can blazon evil deeds, or consecrate a crime.


Childe Harold basked him in the noon-tide sun,
Disporting there like any other fly;
Nor deemed before his little day was done
One blast might chill him into misery.
But long ere scarce a third of his passed by,
Worse than adversity the Childe befell;
He felt the fulness of satiety;
Then loathed he in his native land to dwell,
Which seemed to him more lone than Eremite's sad cell.


For he through Sin's long labyrinth had run,
Nor made atonement when he did amiss,
Had sighed to many though he loved but one,
And that loved one, alas! could n'er be his.
Ah, happy she! to 'scape from him whose kiss
Had been pollution unto aught so chaste;
Who soon had left her charms for vulgar bliss,
And spoiled her goodly lands to gild his waste,
Nor calm domestic peace had ever deigned to taste.

The analysis of his loves (and unloves) fits his own experiences with Anne Chaworth, who became Anne Chaworth Musters despite Byron's desperate love for her, except that it was not he (Byron) who was to 'spoil her goodly lands to gild his waste'.


And now Childe Harold was sore sick at heart,
And from his fellow bacchanals would flee;
'Tis said, at times the sullen tear would start,
But Pride congealed the drop within his ee:
Apart he stalked in joyless reverie,
And from his native land resolved to go,
And visit scorching climes beyond the sea;
With pleasure drugged he almost longed for woe,
And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below.

Yes, he would even go down into Hades (hell) for a change of scene.


The Childe departed from his father's hall:
It was a vast and venerable pile;
So old, it seemed only not to fall,
Yet strength was pillared in each massy aisle.
Monastic dome! condemned to uses vile!
Where Superstition once had made her den
Now Paphian girls were known to sing and smile;
And monk's might deem their time was come agen,
If ancient tales say true, nor wrong these holy men.

Newstead Abbey was originally a monastery. Byron refers to stories of monks pursuing not-so-holy practices.


Of all his train there was a henchman page
A dark-eyed boy, who loved his master well
And often would his pranksome prate engage
Childe Harold's ear, when his proud heart did swell -
With sable thoughts that he disdained to tell.
Then would he smile on him, as Alwin smiled,
When aught that from his young lips archly fell
The gloomy film from Harold's eye beguiled;
And pleased the Childe appeared nor eer the boy reviled.

The 'darked haired boy' was Robert Rushton. The 'sable thoughts' almost certainly invitations to indulgence in homosexual acts. We can understand why this stanza was excised.


Him and one yeoman only did he take
To travel Eastward to a far countree;
And though the boy was grieved to leave the lake
On whosee firm banks he grew from Infancy,
Ergsoons his lettle heart beat merrily
With hope of foreign nations to behold,
And many things right marvellous to see,
Of which our lying voyagers oft have told,
In many a tome as true as Mandeville's of old.

 The yeoman is Old Murray. Manderville's Travels were substantially fantastic inventions.


Yet oft-times in his maddest mirthful mood
Strange pangs would flash along Childe Harold's brow;
As if the memory of some deadly feud
Or disappointed passion lurked below.
But this none knew, nor haply cared to know;
For his was not that open, artless soul
That feels relief by bidding sorrow flow,
Nor sought he friend to counsel or condole,
Whate'er this grief mote be, which he could not control.


And none did love him - though to hall and bower
He gathered revellers from far and near,
He knew them flatt'rers of the festal hour;
The heartless parasites of present cheer.
Yea! none did love him - not his lemans dear -
But pomp and power alone are woman's care,
And where these are, light Eros finds a feere,
Maidens, like moths, are ever caught by glare,
And Mammon wins his way where Seraphs might despair.

Lemans and feeres are consorts. The stanza well describes his carousings with friends at Newstead, where he was himself the prime mover.


Childe Harold had a mother - not forgot,
Though parting from that mother he did shun;
A sister whom he loved, but saw her not
Before his weary pilgrimage begun:
If friends he had, he bade adieu to none.
Yet deem not thence his breast a breast of steel;
Ye, who have known what 'tis to doat upon
A few dear objects, will in sadness feel
Such partings break the heart they fondly hope to heal.


His house, his home, his heritage, his lands,
The laughing dames in whom he did delight,
Whose large blue eyes, fair locks, and snowy hands,
Might shake the saintship of an anchorite,
And long had fed his youthful appetite;
His goblets brimmed with every costly wine,
And all that mote to luxury invite,
Without a sigh he left, to cross the brine,
And traverse Paynim shores, and pass Earth's central line.

Paynim shores are Islamic shores. He never in fact crossed the equator.


The sails were filled, and fair the light winds blew,
As glad to waft him from his native home;
And fast the white rocks faded from his view,
And soon were lost in circumambient foam:
And then, it may be, of his wish to roam
Repented he, but in his bosom slept
The silent thought, nor from his lips did come
One word of wail, whilst other sate and wept,
And to the reckless gales unmanly moaning kept.


But when the sun was sinking in the sea
He seized his harp, which he at times could string,
And strike, albeit with untaught melody,
When deemed he no strange ear was listening:
And how his fingers o'er it he did fling,
And tuned his farewell in the dim twilight.
While flew the vessel on her snowy wing,
And fleeting shores receded from his sight,
Thus to the elements he poured his last 'Good Night'.


'Adieu, adieu! my native shore
Fades o'er the waters blue;
The night-winds sigh, the breakers roar,
And shrieks the wild seamew.
Yon sun that sets upon the sea
We follow in his flight;
Farewell axhile to him and thee,
My native Land - Good Night!


'A few short hours and He will rise
To give the Morrow birth;
And I shall hail the main and skies
But not my mother Earth.
Deserted is my own good hall,
Its hearth is desolate;
Wild weeds are gathering on the wall;
My dog howls at the gate.


'Come hither, hither, my little page!
Why dost thou weep and wail?
Or dost thou dread the billows' rage,
Or tremble at the gale?
But dash the tear-drop from thine eye;
Our ship is swift and strong:
Our fleetest falcon scarce can fly
More merrily along.'


'Let winds be shrill, let waves roll high,
I fear not wave nor wind;
Yet marvel not, Sir Childe, that I
Am sorrowful in mind;
For I have from my father gone,
A mother whom I love,
And have no friend, save these alone,
But thee - and one above.


'My father blessed me fervently,
Yet did not much complain;
But sorely will my mother sigh
Till I come back again.' -
'Enough, enough, my little lad!
Such tears become thine eye;
If I thy guileless bosom had
Mine own would not be dry.


My mother is a high born dame
And much misliketh me
She saith my riot bringeth shame
On all my ancestry.
I had a sister once I ween
Whose tears perhaps will flow
But her fair face I have not seen
These three long years and moe.


'Come hither, hither, my staunch yeoman,
Why dost thou look so pale?
Or dost thou dread a French foeman?
Or shiver at the gale?' -
'Deem'st thou I tremble for my life?
Sir Childe, I'm not so weak;
But thinking on an absent wife
Will blanch a faithful cheek.


My spouse and boys dwell near thy hall,
Along the bordering lake,
And when they on their father call,
What answer shall he make?' -
'Enough, enough, my yeoman good,
Thy greif let none gainsay;
But I, who am of lighter mood,
Will laugh to flee away.


'For who would trust the seeming sighs
Of wife or paramour?
Fresh feres will dry the bright blue eyes
We late saw streaming o'er.
For pleasures past I do not grieve,
Nor perils gathering near;
My greatest grief is that I leave
No thing that claims a tear.


'And now I'm in the world alone,
Upon the wide, wide sea:
But why should I for others groan,
When none will sigh for me?
Perchance my dog will whine in vain,
Till fed by stranger hands;
But long ere I come back again,
He'd tear me where he stands.

He sounds like the 'Miller of Dee': I care for nobody, no not I, and nobody cares for me. In a letter to Tom Moore of January 19th 1815, Byron had written about a dog he had who, contrary to Homeric myth, completely failed to recognise him when he returned after an absence. 


Methinks it would my bosom glad
To change my proud estate
And be again a laughing lad
With one beloved playmate
Since youth I scarce have passed an hour,
Without disgust or pain,
Except sometimes in Lady's bower
Or when the bowl I drain.


With thee, my bark, I'll swiftly go
Athwart the foaming brine;
Nor care what land thou bear'st me to,
So not again to mine.
Welcome, welcome, ye dark-blue waves!
And when you fail my sight,
Welcome, ye deserts and ye caves!
My native Land - Good Night. 


* Peter Cochran,