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Once more upon the waters!1 yet once more!
And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
That knows his rider. Welcome to their roar!
Swift be their guidance, wheresoe'er it lead!
Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed,
And the rent canvas fluttering strew the gale,
Still must I on; for I am as a weed,
Flung from the rock, on Ocean's foam to sail
Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail.
In my youth's summer I did sing of One,2
The wandering outlaw of his own dark mind;
Again I seize the theme, then but begun,
And bear it with me, as the rushing wind
Bears the cloud onwards: in that Tale I find
The furrows of long thought, and dried-up tears,
Which, ebbing, leave a sterile track behind,
O'er which all heavily the journeying years
Plod the last sands of life,-where not a flower appears.
Since my young days of passion-joy, or pain,
Perchance my heart and harp have lost a string,
when her father saw her for the last time. On January 5, 1816, he wrote to the poet Tom Moore: “She was and is very flourishing and fat, and reckoned very large for her days,—squalls and sucks incessantly." Byron's daughter married the earl of Lovelace in 1835, and died in 1852.
1 Byron left England, April 25, 1816, never to return. He made his first foreign tour in 1809-1810.
2 Childe Harold.
And both may jar: it may be, that in vain
I would essay as I have sung to sing.
Yet, though a dreary strain, to this I cling;
So that it wean me from the weary dream
Of selfish grief or gladness-so it fling
Forgetfulness around me-it shall seem
To me, though to none else, a not ungrateful theme.
He who, grown aged in this world of woe,
In deeds, not years,1 piercing the depths of life,
So that no wonder waits him; nor below
Can love or sorrow, fame, ambition, strife,
Cut to his heart again with the keen knife
Of silent, sharp endurance: he can tell
Why thought seeks refuge in lone caves, yet rife
With airy images, and shapes which dwell
Still unimpaired, though old, in the soul's haunted cell.
'Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.2
What am I? Nothing: but not so art thou,
Soul of my thought! with whom I traverse earth,
Invisible but gazing, as I glow
Mixed with thy spirit, blended with thy birth,
And feeling still with thee in my crushed feelings' dearth.
1 "We live in deeds, not years
2 The poet finds refuge from the troubles of life in the exercise of literary imagination. Longfellow sings of "the rapture of creating." Byron's ideal, the "soul of his thought," was superior to his actual self.
Yet must I think less wildly:-I have thought
Too long and darkly, till my brain became,
In its own eddy boiling and o'erwrought,
A whirling gulf of fantasy and flame:
And thus, untaught in youth my heart to tame,
My springs of life were poisoned.1 'Tis too late!
Yet am I changed; though still enough the same
In strength to bear what time cannot abate,
And feed on bitter fruits without accusing Fate.
Something too much of this:2-but now 'tis past,
And the spell closes with its silent seal.
Long-absent HAROLD reappears at last;
He of the breast which fain no more would feel,
Wrung with the wounds which kill not, but ne'er heal;
Yet Time, who changes all, had altered him
In soul and aspect as in age: years steal
Fire from the mind as vigor from the limb;
And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.
His had been quaffed too quickly, and he found
The dregs were wormwood; but he filled again,
And from a purer fount,3 on holier ground,3
And deemed its spring perpetual; but in vain!
1 This refers bitterly to the author's neglected childhood. He blames circumstances. 2 See Hamlet, iii. ii.
3 What "fount" on what "holier ground"? Seek the answer in the stanzas following. The first sixteen stanzas are introductory and largely egotistical.
Still round him clung invisibly a chain
Which galled forever, fettering though unseen,
And heavy, though it clanked not; worn with pain,
Which pined although it spoke not, and grew keen,
Entering with every step he took through many a scene.
Secure in guarded coldness, he had mixed
Again in fancied safety with his kind,
And deemed his spirit now so firmly fixed
And sheathed with an invulnerable mind,
That, if no joy, no sorrow lurked behind;
And he, as one, might 'midst the many stand
Unheeded, searching through the crowd to find
Fit speculation; such as in strange land
He found in wonder works of God and Nature's hand.
But who can view the ripened rose, nor seek
To wear it? who can curiously behold
The smoothness and the sheen1 of beauty's cheek,
Nor feel the heart can never all 2 grow old?
Who can contemplate Fame through clouds unfold
The star which rises o'er her steep, nor climb?
Harold, once more within the vortex, rolled
On with the giddy circle, chasing Time,
Yet with a nobler aim than in his youth's fond 3 prime.
But soon he knew himself the most unfit
Of men to herd with Man; with whom he held
1 Look up the word "sheen" in your dictionary. "The sheen on their spears was like stars on the sea" (BYRON).
Little in common; untaught to submit
His thoughts to others, though his soul was quelled
In youth by his own thoughts; still uncompelled,
He would not yield dominion of his mind
To spirits against whom his own rebelled;
Proud though in desolation; which could find
A life within itself, to breathe without mankind.
Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;
Where rolled the ocean, thereon was his home;
Where a blue sky, and glowing clime, extends,
He had the passion and the power to roam;
The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's foam,
Were unto him companionship; they spake
A mutual language, clearer than the tome
Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake
For Nature's pages glassed by sunbeams on the lake.
But in Man's dwellings he became a thing Restless and worn, and stern and wearisome, 1 See Prisoner of Chillon, line 216.
Like the Chaldean, he could watch the stars,
Till he had peopled them with beings bright
As their own beams; and earth, and earth-born jars,
And human frailties, were forgotten quite :
Could he have kept his spirit to that flight,
He had been happy; but this clay will sink
Its spark immortal, envying it the light
To which it mounts, as if to break the link
That keeps us from yon heaven which wooes us to its brink.1