Guide Childe Harolds Pilgrimage

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Byron, who visited the field of Waterloo as a tourist on his way to Switzerland in May , was well aware that his views on the battle were at odds with those of the majority of his countrymen. While Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Walter Scott all produced celebratory poems in the wake of Waterloo, Byron conceived his verses as way of reminding the public of the terrible toll of victory.

Next, in an ironic extension of the romance mode associated with the description of the ball, the poem evokes the heated excitement of going into battle:. The mustering squadron, and the clattering car, Went pouring forward in impetuous speed, And swiftly forming in the ranks of war … stanza Like Byron, Turner was appalled by the violence of the battle, and to this end his painting focuses not on the romance of war, but on its ghastly consequences.

His picture shows a group of grieving women, searching a pile of dead and dying bodies in the hope of finding their partners. The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License. Professor Philip Shaw traces the influence of the Battle of Waterloo on the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage , considering how Byron uses it to explore ideas of violence and sacrifice. Illustrations to Byron's works This illustration for Stanza 11 Canto 1 of Childe Harold shows the hero about to leave home and begin his journey.

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In stanzas , Byron presents a discontented Harold, bored of his debauchery and ready for change. As he wanders through his ancestral mansion, Harold feels brief pangs of remorse at the memories he leaves behind stanza 8 but soon shuts them off in favor of his departure. Finally, Harold makes an abrupt farewell before his feelings for his mother and sister cause him to rethink his journey. But these pleasures have grown stale to him, and he must move on. In stanza 12, we see how Harold responds to the rough seas he sets out upon. This song goes for ten stanzas, interrupting the poem proper but giving Harold his strongest voice in all of Canto I.

Having said his goodbyes, Harold passes the rest of the journey quickly and soon arrives in Portugal.


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Stanza 15 describes the beauty of Portugal as seen from a distance, as well as its dangerous situation in relation to hostile, Napoleon-controlled France. Stanza 16 describes the political situation, with England a lax ally of Portugal in her struggle against the French. Once Harold enters Lisbon, however, the distant beauty turns into scenes of filth. Stanzas describe the architectural, social, and human decay even as Harold finds beauty in its exotic squalor. Nearby are several crosses, and the poet notes that the proximity of the convent may lead the viewer to think they are holy shrines, but they are actually the grave-markers of victims who have been killed in the area.

Stanzas turn to the ruins of the landscape, conveying a tone of melancholy at the loss of glory throughout the land.


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  • Still, the speaker finds beauty in the desolation, if in no other sense than that they are monuments to former times. In stanzas , the poet turns his eye to the much-reviled Convention of Cintra, wherein the British authorities allowed captured French soldiers to return to their homeland, their loot intact. Even so debauched a person as Harold is can see blatant injustice and feel anger at it. His journey continues, and at his freedom Harold feels joy in traveling through heretofore unknown lands.

    He feels that, without aid, Spain is doomed to fall to France. However, he celebrates the bravery of the Spanish people and makes special note of the courage of Spanish women who, though not warriors by birth, are capable of great feats of combat when hard pressed stanzas In stanzas 64 and 65 he compares the wonders of ancient Greece with the beauties of modern Spain, still unable to get the impact of the Spanish people off of his mind even amid the splendors of the classical world.

    Childe Harold observes a Spanish tournament, complete with jousting stanzas , then goes into great detail describing a bullfight in stanzas From this bullfight, Harold draws the conclusion that Spanish men are raised amid bloodshed, thus explaining the Spanish temperament and hot desire for revenge stanza The poem took Spenser as a model, and was written deliberately in archaic language. After the conventional epic invocation, the second stanza introduces our hero: "Whilome in Albion's isle there dwelt a youth.

    Much of the poem is simply a travelogue. It describes the history, appearance and political context of the places Byron visited on his tour, and it seems likely that this kind of first-hand information was part of its appeal.

    Byron, in his preface, suggests that he guessed as much: "The following poem was written, for the most part, amidst the scenes which it attempts to describe. It was begun in Albania; and the parts relative to Spain and Portugal were composed from the author's observations of those countries. First-hand information, however, can hardly account for the poem's sudden success. Byron's awkward, symbolic method of referring to places and events must have confused his readers.

    Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Lord Byron and the Battle of Waterloo - The British Library

    So what did they respond to? The answer lies in the personality of the poet, and his relation to the character of Harold. Those who argue that Byron was the first celebrity writer talk about his careful stage-management of his public personality. While management might not be the right word, Byron was clearly curious from the start of his career about the relationship between author and man. He prefaced his first publicly released volume, Hours of Idleness , with a kind of pre-emptive apology that made heavy weather out of his youth and nobility.

    Critics rightly mocked him for this preface, but it introduced into the reader's mind the idea of Byron as a character — as a young man and a lord.

    Childe Harold's Pilgrimage [There is a pleasure in the pathless woods]

    He strikes the same note less apologetically in the preface to Childe Harold : "A fictitious character is introduced for the sake of giving some connexion to the piece; which, however, makes no pretension to regularity. It has been suggested to me by friends, on whose opinions I set a high value, that in this fictitious character, 'Childe Harold', I may incur the suspicion of having intended some real personage: this I beg leave, once for all, to disclaim — Harold is the child of imagination.

    Readers generally ignore such disclaimers, and writers have their own reasons for making them. Byron and Harold clearly had a lot in common: they were both British, noble and young; they possessed "ancient piles" and had travelled the continent.

    So what are the other characteristics of this Harold, which the public imputed to Byron? In short, he grounded the love-sick metaphysical world-weariness of Werther and Hamlet in extreme worldliness, and the Byronic hero was born.

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    Byron's poem posed his more ardent readers with a difficult challenge: they not only had to redeem his virtue but restore his sense of pleasure. And women, who themselves must have suffered from the paradoxes implied by their sexual role in society to be chaste and attractive rushed to meet the challenge. The fact that Byron married the chastest of his admirers, Annabella Millbanke whom he once described as "a very superior woman a little encumbered with virtue" , suggests that he suffered from this paradox himself.

    By adding debauchery to alienation, Byron had created a new kind of hero. I don't know whether he recognised the significance of this innovation when he conceived Childe Harold , but he certainly recognised it after the poem was published. He followed Harold with a series of "verse tales" that had little in common with it except that they allowed him to explore the character of the Byronic hero.

    Other writers responded to the creation of this new type. Macaulay's description is probably the best: "a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection". This is a guy we all recognise, from Heathcliffe to Jim Stark.

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    Rereading: Childe Harold by Lord Byron

    What's curious, though, about Byron's verse tales is that none of them play off that tension between character and writer that established the Byronic hero in the first place. It wasn't until " Beppo " in , a very different kind of poem with a different kind of hero, that Byron played again with the blurry line between fact and fiction. His real literary descendants are 20th-century novelists — writers such as JM Coetzee and Philip Roth. It's no coincidence that Disgrace 's David Lurie is a lecturer working on Byron.