Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III [excerpt]

- 1788-1824
                    XXXIV

There is a very life in our despair,
Vitality of poison,—a quick root
Which feeds these deadly branches; for it were
As nothing did we die; but Life will suit
Itself to Sorrow's most detested fruit,
Like to the apples on the Dead Sea's shore,
All ashes to the taste: Did man compute
Existence by enjoyment, and count o'er
Such hours 'gainst years of life,—say, would he name threescore?

                    XXXV

The Psalmist number'd out the years of man:
They are enough; and if thy tale be true,
Thou, who didst grudge him even that fleeting span,
More than enough, thou fatal Waterloo!	
Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
Their children's lips shall echo them, and say—
"Here, where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!"
And this is much, and all which will not pass away.

                    XXXVI

There sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men,
Whose spirit antithetically mixt
One moment of the mightiest, and again
On little objects with like firmness fixt,
Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,	
Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;
For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek'st
Even now to re-assume the imperial mien,
And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene!

                    XXXVII

Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou!
She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name
Was ne'er more bruited in men's minds than now
That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame,
Who wooed thee once, thy vassal, and became
The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert	
A god unto thyself; nor less the same
To the astounded kingdoms all inert,
Who deem'd thee for a time whate'er thou didst 

assert.

                    XXXVIII

Oh, more or less than man—in high or low,
Battling with nations, flying from the field;
Now making monarchs' necks thy footstool, now
More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield:
An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,
But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,
However deeply in men's spirits skill'd,
Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war,
Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.

                    XXXIX

Yet well thy soul hath brook'd the turning tide
With that untaught innate philosophy,
Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,
Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.
When the whole host of hatred stood hard by,
To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smiled
With a sedate and all-enduring eye;—
When Fortune fled her spoil'd and favourite child,
He stood unbow'd beneath the ills upon him piled.

                    XL

Sager than in thy fortunes: for in them
Ambition steel'd thee on too far to show
That just habitual scorn, which could contemn
Men and their thoughts; 'twas wise to feel, not so
To wear it ever on thy lip and brow,
And spurn the instruments thou wert to use
Till they were turn'd unto thine overthrow;
'Tis but a worthless world to win or lose;
So hath it proved to thee, and all such lot who choose.	

                    XLI

If, like a tower upon a headlong rock,
Thou hadst been made to stand or fall alone,
Such scorn of man had help'd to brave the shock;
But men's thoughts were the steps which paved thy throne,
Their admiration thy best weapon shone;
The part of Philip's son was thine, not then
(Unless aside thy purple had been thrown)
Like stern Diogenes to mock at men;
For sceptred cynics earth were far too wide a den.

                    XLII

But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
Of aught but rest; a fever at the core,
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore.

                    XLIII

This makes the madmen who have made men mad
By their contagion; Conquerors and Kings,
Founders of sects and systems, to whom add
Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things
Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs,
And are themselves the fools to those they fool;
Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings
Are theirs! One breast laid open were a school
Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule:

                    XLIV

Their breath is agitation, and their life
A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
And yet so nursed and bigotted to strife,	
That should their days, surviving perils past,
Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste
With its own flickering, or a sword laid by,
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously.

                    XLV

He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow.
He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
Must look down on the hate of those below.
Though high above the sun of glory glow,
And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits led.

More by George Gordon Byron

So we'll go no more a roving

So, we'll go no more a roving
    So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
    And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
    And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
    And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
    And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
    By the light of the moon.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage [I stood in Venice]

    I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
    A palace and a prison on each hand:
    I saw from out the wave her structures rise
    As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
    A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
    Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
    O'er the far times, when many a subject land
    Looked to the wingéd Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

    She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
    Rising with her tiara of proud towers
    At airy distance, with majestic motion,
    A ruler of the waters and their powers:
    And such she was--her daughters had their dowers
    From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
    Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers:
    In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

    In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
    And silent rows the songless gondolier;
    Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
    And music meets not always now the ear:
    Those days are gone--but Beauty still is here;
    States fall, arts fade--but Nature doth not die,
    Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
    The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

Don Juan [If from great nature's or our own abyss]

If from great nature's or our own abyss
  Of thought we could but snatch a certainty,
Perhaps mankind might find the path they miss—
  But then 't would spoil much good philosophy.
One system eats another up, and this
  Much as old Saturn ate his progeny;
For when his pious consort gave him stones
In lieu of sons, of these he made no bones.

But System doth reverse the Titan's breakfast,
  And eats her parents, albeit the digestion
Is difficult. Pray tell me, can you make fast,
  After due search, your faith to any question?
Look back o'er ages, ere unto the stake fast
  You bind yourself, and call some mode the best one.
Nothing more true than not to trust your senses;
And yet what are your other evidences?

For me, I know nought; nothing I deny,
  Admit, reject, contemn; and what know you,
Except perhaps that you were born to die?
  And both may after all turn out untrue.
An age may come, Font of Eternity,
  When nothing shall be either old or new.
Death, so call'd, is a thing which makes men weep,
And yet a third of life is pass'd in sleep.

A sleep without dreams, after a rough day
  Of toil, is what we covet most; and yet
How clay shrinks back from more quiescent clay!
  The very Suicide that pays his debt
At once without instalments (an old way
  Of paying debts, which creditors regret)
Lets out impatiently his rushing breath,
Less from disgust of life than dread of death.

'T is round him, near him, here, there, every where;
  And there 's a courage which grows out of fear,
Perhaps of all most desperate, which will dare
  The worst to know it:—when the mountains rear
Their peaks beneath your human foot, and there
  You look down o'er the precipice, and drear
The gulf of rock yawns,—you can't gaze a minute
Without an awful wish to plunge within it.

'T is true, you don't—but, pale and struck with terror,
  Retire: but look into your past impression!
And you will find, though shuddering at the mirror
  Of your own thoughts, in all their self-confession,
The lurking bias, be it truth or error,
  To the unknown; a secret prepossession,
To plunge with all your fears—but where? You know not,
And that's the reason why you do—or do not.

But what 's this to the purpose? you will say.
  Gent. reader, nothing; a mere speculation,
For which my sole excuse is—'t is my way;
  Sometimes with and sometimes without occasion
I write what 's uppermost, without delay:
  This narrative is not meant for narration,
But a mere airy and fantastic basis,
To build up common things with common places.

You know, or don't know, that great Bacon saith,
  'Fling up a straw, 't will show the way the wind blows;'
And such a straw, borne on by human breath,
  Is poesy, according as the mind glows;
A paper kite which flies 'twixt life and death,
  A shadow which the onward soul behind throws:
And mine 's a bubble, not blown up for praise,
But just to play with, as an infant plays.

The world is all before me—or behind;
  For I have seen a portion of that same,
And quite enough for me to keep in mind;—
  Of passions, too, I have proved enough to blame,
To the great pleasure of our friends, mankind,
  Who like to mix some slight alloy with fame;
For I was rather famous in my time,
Until I fairly knock'd it up with rhyme.

I have brought this world about my ears, and eke
  The other; that 's to say, the clergy, who
Upon my head have bid their thunders break
  In pious libels by no means a few.
And yet I can't help scribbling once a week,
  Tiring old readers, nor discovering new.
In youth I wrote because my mind was full,
And now because I feel it growing dull.

But 'why then publish?'—There are no rewards
  Of fame or profit when the world grows weary.
I ask in turn,—Why do you play at cards?
  Why drink? Why read?—To make some hour less dreary.
It occupies me to turn back regards
  On what I 've seen or ponder'd, sad or cheery;
And what I write I cast upon the stream,
To swim or sink—I have had at least my dream.

I think that were I certain of success,
  I hardly could compose another line:
So long I 've battled either more or less,
  That no defeat can drive me from the Nine.
This feeling 't is not easy to express,
  And yet 't is not affected, I opine.
In play, there are two pleasures for your choosing—
The one is winning, and the other losing.

Besides, my Muse by no means deals in fiction:
  She gathers a repertory of facts,
Of course with some reserve and slight restriction,
  But mostly sings of human things and acts—
And that 's one cause she meets with contradiction;
  For too much truth, at first sight, ne'er attracts;
And were her object only what 's call'd glory,
With more ease too she 'd tell a different story.

Love, war, a tempest—surely there 's variety;
  Also a seasoning slight of lucubration;
A bird's-eye view, too, of that wild, Society;
  A slight glance thrown on men of every station.
If you have nought else, here 's at least satiety
  Both in performance and in preparation;
And though these lines should only line portmanteaus,
Trade will be all the better for these Cantos.

The portion of this world which I at present
  Have taken up to fill the following sermon,
Is one of which there 's no description recent.
  The reason why is easy to determine:
Although it seems both prominent and pleasant,
  There is a sameness in its gems and ermine,
A dull and family likeness through all ages,
Of no great promise for poetic pages.

With much to excite, there 's little to exalt;
  Nothing that speaks to all men and all times;
A sort of varnish over every fault;
  A kind of common-place, even in their crimes;
Factitious passions, wit without much salt,
  A want of that true nature which sublimes
Whate'er it shows with truth; a smooth monotony
Of character, in those at least who have got any.

Sometimes, indeed, like soldiers off parade,
  They break their ranks and gladly leave the drill;
But then the roll-call draws them back afraid,
  And they must be or seem what they were: still
Doubtless it is a brilliant masquerade;
  But when of the first sight you have had your fill,
It palls—at least it did so upon me,
This paradise of pleasure and ennui.

When we have made our love, and gamed our gaming,
  Drest, voted, shone, and, may be, something more;
With dandies dined; heard senators declaiming;
  Seen beauties brought to market by the score,
Sad rakes to sadder husbands chastely taming;
  There 's little left but to be bored or bore.
Witness those 'ci-devant jeunes hommes' who stem
The stream, nor leave the world which leaveth them.

'T is said—indeed a general complaint—
  That no one has succeeded in describing
The monde, exactly as they ought to paint:
  Some say, that authors only snatch, by bribing
The porter, some slight scandals strange and quaint,
  To furnish matter for their moral gibing;
And that their books have but one style in common—
My lady's prattle, filter'd through her woman.

But this can't well be true, just now; for writers
  Are grown of the beau monde a part potential:
I 've seen them balance even the scale with fighters,
  Especially when young, for that 's essential.
Why do their sketches fail them as inditers
  Of what they deem themselves most consequential,
The real portrait of the highest tribe?
'T is that, in fact, there 's little to describe.

'Haud ignara loquor;' these are Nugae, 'quarum
  Pars parva fui,' but still art and part.
Now I could much more easily sketch a harem,
  A battle, wreck, or history of the heart,
Than these things; and besides, I wish to spare 'em,
  For reasons which I choose to keep apart.
'Vetabo Cereris sacrum qui vulgarit—'
Which means that vulgar people must not share it.

And therefore what I throw off is ideal—
  Lower'd, leaven'd, like a history of freemasons;
Which bears the same relation to the real,
  As Captain Parry's voyage may do to Jason's.
The grand arcanum 's not for men to see all;
  My music has some mystic diapasons;
And there is much which could not be appreciated
In any manner by the uninitiated.

Alas! worlds fall—and woman, since she fell'd
  The world (as, since that history less polite
Than true, hath been a creed so strictly held)
  Has not yet given up the practice quite.
Poor thing of usages! coerced, compell'd,
  Victim when wrong, and martyr oft when right,
Condemn'd to child-bed, as men for their sins
Have shaving too entail'd upon their chins,—

A daily plague, which in the aggregate
  May average on the whole with parturition.
But as to women, who can penetrate
  The real sufferings of their she condition?
Man's very sympathy with their estate
  Has much of selfishness, and more suspicion.
Their love, their virtue, beauty, education,
But form good housekeepers, to breed a nation.

All this were very well, and can't be better;
  But even this is difficult, Heaven knows,
So many troubles from her birth beset her,
  Such small distinction between friends and foes,
The gilding wears so soon from off her fetter,
  That—but ask any woman if she'd choose
(Take her at thirty, that is) to have been
Female or male? a schoolboy or a queen?

'Petticoat influence' is a great reproach,
  Which even those who obey would fain be thought
To fly from, as from hungry pikes a roach;
  But since beneath it upon earth we are brought,
By various joltings of life's hackney coach,
  I for one venerate a petticoat—
A garment of a mystical sublimity,
No matter whether russet, silk, or dimity.

Much I respect, and much I have adored,
  In my young days, that chaste and goodly veil,
Which holds a treasure, like a miser's hoard,
  And more attracts by all it doth conceal—
A golden scabbard on a Damasque sword,
  A loving letter with a mystic seal,
A cure for grief—for what can ever rankle
Before a petticoat and peeping ankle?

And when upon a silent, sullen day,
  With a sirocco, for example, blowing,
When even the sea looks dim with all its spray,
  And sulkily the river's ripple 's flowing,
And the sky shows that very ancient gray,
  The sober, sad antithesis to glowing,—
'T is pleasant, if then any thing is pleasant,
To catch a glimpse even of a pretty peasant.

We left our heroes and our heroines
  In that fair clime which don't depend on climate,
Quite independent of the Zodiac's signs,
  Though certainly more difficult to rhyme at,
Because the sun, and stars, and aught that shines,
  Mountains, and all we can be most sublime at,
Are there oft dull and dreary as a dun—
Whether a sky's or tradesman's is all one.

An in-door life is less poetical;
  And out-of-door hath showers, and mists, and sleet,
With which I could not brew a pastoral.
  But be it as it may, a bard must meet
All difficulties, whether great or small,
  To spoil his undertaking or complete,
And work away like spirit upon matter,
Embarrass'd somewhat both with fire and water.

Related Poems

Mortality

O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant's affection that proved;
The husband that mother and infant that blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those that beloved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,—
We drink the same stream,and  we feel the same sun,
And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, they too would shrink;
To the life we are clinging to, they too would cling;
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumber may come;
They enjoyed, but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died, ay! they died! and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the changes they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

'Tis the wink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,—
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?