I’ll admit it. I never gave Lord Byron a scrap of respect. It started with the name. I couldn’t get past “Lord” and its absurd notion of hereditary privilege. Whenever I needed a whipping boy for the excesses of Romanticism, Byron was my flagellant.
Along comes Edna O’Brien, who’s written a new biography called Byron in Love. I could listen to Edna O’Brien read the phone book. She read snatches of her biography and this legendary poem in an On Point interview with Tom Ashbrook. She describes the poet as both beautiful and lame, with a complicated sense of self embracing “deformity transformed” and an “under look” that women found irresistible. He may have been the model for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
I knew he was a monster, but I never considered Byron as a person with a disability. Maybe I should give him another chance.
She Walks In Beauty, Like the Night
by George Gordon, Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!