Childe Harold's Pilgrimage home

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Notes

 by Lord Byron

Stanzas 14-31

[Portugal]

Lisbon
View of Lisbon

14.

On, on the vessel flies, the land is gone,
And winds are rude in Biscay's sleepless bay.
Four days are sped, but with the fifth, anon,
New shores descried make every bosom gay;
And Cintra's mountain greets them on their way.
And Tagus dashing onward to the deep,
His fabled golden tribute bent to pay;
And soon on board the Lusian pilots leap,
And steer 'twixt fertile shores where yet few rustics reap.

Lusian = Portuguese.

15.

Oh, Christ! it is a goodly sight to see
What Heaven hath done for this delicious land!
What fruits of fragrance blush on every tree!
What goodly prospects o'er the hills expand!
But man would mar them with an impious hand:
And when the Almighty lifts his fiercest scourge
'Gainst those who most transgress his high command,
With treble vengeance will his hot shafts urge
Gaul's locust host, and earth from fellest foemen purge.

Gaul's locust host = Napoleon's imperial army.

16.

What beauties doth Lisboa first unfold!
Her image floating on that noble tide,
Which poets vainly pave with sands of gold,
But now whereon a thousand keels did ride,
Of mighty strength, since Albion was allied,
And to the Lusians did her aid afford,
A nation swoll'n with ignorance and pride,
Who lick, yet loathe, the hand that waves the sword,
To save them from the wrath of Gaul's unsparing lord.

Albion being England, the Lusians being the Portuguese, and the Gauls being the French, and, all told, not very complimentary to the Lusians. But it gets worse.

17.

But whoso entereth within this town,
That sheening far celestial seems to be,
Disconsolate will wander up and down,
'Mid many things unsightly to strange ee,
For hut and palace now show filthily;
The dingy denizens are reared in dirt;
No personage of high degree
Doth care for cleanness of surtout or shirt,
Though shent with Egypt's plague, unkempt, unwashed; unhurt.

The meaning of the last line presumably being that despite their filthy habits, and the consequent threat of disease, they were unharmed. And worse still:

18.

Poor, paltry slaves! yet born 'midst noblest scenes -
Why, Nature, waste thy wonders on such men?
Lo! Cintra's glorious Eden intervenes
In variegated maze of mount and glen.
Ah, me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,
To follow half on which the eye dilates
Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken
Than those whereof such things the bard relates,
Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium's gates?

Dante's Paradiso.

19.

The horrid crags, by toppling convent crowned,
The cork-trees hoar that clothe the shaggy steep,
The mountain-moss by scorching skies imbrowned,
The sunken glen, whose sunless shrubs must weep,
The tender azure of the unruffled deep,
The orange tints that gild the greenest bough,
The torrents that from cliff to valley leap,
The vine on high, the willow branch below,
Mixed in one mighty scene, with varied beauty glow.

Alexander Pope: Where order in variety we see, / And where, tho' all things differ, all agree.

20.

Then slowly climb the many-winding way,
And frequent turn to linger as you go,
From loftier rocks new loveliness survey,
And rest ye at our 'Lady's house of woe';
Where frugal monks their little relics show,
And sundry legends to the stranger tell:
Here impious men have punished been, and lo!
Deep in yon cave Honorius long did dwell,
In hope to merit Heaven by making earth a Hell.

Byron later notes that he misunderstood the name of the convent, taking Peña (rock) for Pena (woe). Peu importe. He also conflates the two convents he saw.

21.

And here and there, as up the crags you spring,
Mark many rude-carved crosses near the path:
Yet deem not these devotion's offering -
These are memorials frail of murderous wrath:
For whereso'er the shrieking victimhath
Poured forth his blood beneath the assassin's knife
Some hand erects a cross of mouldering lath;
And grove and glen with thousand such are rife
Throughout this purple land, where law secures not life.

There are various different interpretations put on the crosses, but Byron was clearly told that they marked the spot of a murder.

21a.

Unhappy Vathek! In an evil hour
'Gainst nature's voice seduced to deed accurst,
Once Fortune's minion, now thou feel'st her power!
Wrath's vials on thy lofty head have burst,
In wit - in genius - as in wealth the first,
How wondrous bright thy blooming Morn arose
But thou wert smitten with unhallowed thirst
Of nameless crime, and thy sad day must close
In scorn, and Solitude unsought - the worst of woes.

Byron here references Willaim Beckford, who lived at Montserrat close by Cintra for a time. Vathek was the name of his popular gothic novel.

22.

On sloping mounds, or in the vale beneath,
Are domes where whilome kings did make repair;
But now the wild flowers round them only breathe:
Yet ruined splendour still is lingering there.
And yonder towers the Prince's palace fair;
There thou, too, Vathek! England's wealthiest son,
Once formed thy Paradise, as not aware
When wanton Wealth her mightiest deeds had done
Meek Peace voluptuous lures was ever wont to shun.

More references to Beckford, Montserrat and homosexuality.

23.

Here didst thou dwell, here schemes of pleasure plan,
Beneath yon mountain's ever beauteous brow;
But now, as if a thing unblest by Man,
Thy fairy dwelling is as lone as thou!
Her giant weeds a passage scarce allow
To halls deserted, portals gaping wide:
Fresh lessons to the thinking bosom how
Vain are the pleasaunces on earth supplied;
Swept into wrecks anon by Time's ungentle tide!

24.

Behold the hall where chiefs were late convened!
Oh! dome displeasing unto British eye!
With diadem hight foolscap, lo! a fiend,
A little fiend that scoffs incessantly,
There sits in parchment robe arrayed, and by
His side is hung a seal and sable scroll,
Where blazoned glare names known to chivalry,
And sundry signatures adorn the roll,
Whereat the Urchin points and laughs with all his soul.

Byron has it that the convention of Cintra was signed at Marialva's palace, which is probably not correct. This stanza, clothed in classical allusion, replaces three others which originally detailed what happened at the Convention and who was responsible for it much more precisely.

25.

Convention is the dwarfish demon styled
That foiled the knights in Marialva's dome;
Of brains (if brains they had) he them beguiled,
And turned a nation's shallow joy to gloom.
Here Folly dashed to earth the victor's plume,
And Policy regained what arms had lost:
For chiefs like ours in vain may laurels bloom!
Woe to the conquering, not the conquered host,
Since baffled Triumph droops on Lusitania's coast.

26.

And ever since that martial synod met,
Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name;
And folks in office at the mention fret,
And fain would blush, if blush they could, for shame.
How will posterity the deed proclaim!
Will not our own and fellow-nations sneer,
To view these champions cheated of their fame,
By foes in fight o'er thrown, yet victors here,
Where Scorn her finger points through many a coming year!

27.

So deemed the Childe, as o'er the mountains he
Did take his way in solitary guise:
Sweet was the scene, yet soon he thought to flee,
More restless than the swallow in the skies:
Though here awhile he learned to moralize,
For Meditation fixed at times on him;
And conscious Reason whispered to despise
His early youth, misspent in maddest whim;
But as he gazed on truth his aching eyes grew dim.

28.

To horse! to horse! he quits, for ever quits
A scene of peace, though soothing to his soul:
Again he rouses from his moping fits,
But seeks not now the harlot and the bowl.
Onward he flies, nor fixed as yet the goal
Where he shall rest him on his pilgrimage;
And o'er him many changing scenes must roll
Ere toil his thirst for travel can assuage,
Or he shall calm his breast, or learn experience sage.

29.

Yet Mafra shall one moment claim delay,
Where dwelt of yore the Lusians luckless queen;
And church and court did mingle their array,
And mass and revel were alternate seen;
Lordlings and freres - ill sorted fry I ween!
But here the Babylonian whore hath built
A dome, where flaunts she in such glorious sheen,
That men forget the blood which she hath spilt,
And bow the knee to Pomp that loves to varnish guilt.

Byron is commenting on Queen Maria I, who left Portugal with her court in November 1807, before the arrival of the Napoleonic army.

30.

O'er vales that teem with fruits, romantic hills,
(Oh that such hills upheld a freeborn race!)
Whereon to gaze the eye with joyaunce fills,
Childe Harold wends through many a pleasant place.
Though sluggards deem it but a fooish chace,
And marvel men should quite their easy chair,
The toilsome way, and long, long league to trace,
Oh! there is sweetness in the mountain air,
And life, that bloated Ease can never hope to share.

31.

More bleak to view the hills at length recede,
And, less luxuriant, smoother vales extend;
Immense horizon-bounded plains succeed!
Far as the eye discerns, withouten end,
Spain's realms appear whereon the shepherds tend
Flocks, whose rich fleece right well the trader knows.
Now must the pastor's arm his lambs defend:
For Spain is compassed by unyielding foes,
And all must shield their all, or share Subjection's woes.