February 14, 2013

A Reflection On the Last Day of My 36th Year of Life

Lord Byron was born January 22, 1788, and died at the age of thirty-six in Missolonghi, Greece on April 19, 1824, (the day after Easter Sunday) during the Greek War of Independence.

The poem below was his last, written as an entry in his journal on January 22, 1824.

On this last day of my own 36th year of life (I was born February 15, 1976), I see many parallels of thought between myself and Lord Byron at this time in our lives. It may seem odd to some for someone to reflect back on one's life at the young age of 36 in such a way as this, but as Lord Byron stood on the battlefield in Greece he realized that the love which burned within him he could not share with a lover to his delight. By the time Lord Byron reached 36, he had innumerable lovers, a spectacular failure of a marriage, and both fame and notoriety. Now he was lonely and did not want to die alone, and somewhat envious of those who had found love in their lives. Yet seeing and being moved by the heroic actions of the Greeks, he shakes himself out of his longing and desire, the thoughts of feeling sorry for himself, and perhaps his sense of failure that love had passed him by, with the thought of dying an honorable death like those around him. It is almost prophetic that Lord Byron, the great romantic and lover of many, willfully chooses here at his relative young age to die a heroic death rather than live a life of sensual pleasure so available to him. Lord Byron seems to show in this haunting poem that the determination of success in one's life is how the individual perceives it, and for him it appears to be, ironically, one of sacrifice.

On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year

By George Gordon (Lord) Byron

'TIS time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze--
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
Where glory decks the hero's bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:--up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out--less often sought than found--
A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

Reprinted from Works. George Gordon Byron. London: John Murray, 1832.