Friday, June 27, 2014

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors

So We'll Go No More A-Roving
By George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

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 outwears 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. 

I fell in love with this poem when I was a romantic schoolgirl, probably for its music and its muted melancholy. Of the Romantic poets, Byron wasn't my favourite. I think most people now consider Keats to have been the greatest of them, and I agree. I also have a very soft spot for Shelley's passionately freedom-loving voice. However, Byron could certainly make great verbal music. For example (from "The Destruction of Sennacherib"):

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

That stirs even a pacifist like me! It is actually the rhythm of it which so stirs the blood, but I most love the sonorous beauty of the language.

The music of "We'll Go No More A-Roving" is gentler, slower, but just as beautiful.

Now that I am no longer a romantic young girl, I don't think the poet was talking about strolling in the moonlight; and I'm amused to read online interpretations suggesting that the poem refers to scaling back his social life, refusing a few party invitations.

it seems to me that he is making excuses to his lover that he can no longer rise to the occasion, or at least not so often as he used to. Never has it been so prettily expressed!

Handsome Byron seemed the epitome of a romantic poet, and his affairs were scandalous in his day. (The Wikipedia link on his name, above, goes into detail.) He left England to live abroad because his free-living, free loving lifestyle was so disapproved of at home. I think it's rather sweet that even he had to confess to becoming less lustful in middle age, or at any rate less virile.

"It's not your fault, dear," he says. "Your attractions haven't faded. It's just that I'm not as young as I used to be."

Well, that's my interpretation anyway. 

Whether or not you agree, do please enjoy the musical words and lovely metaphors!

You can read more of his poetry at The Poetry Archive or purchase his works via Amazon.


  1. Great laughter here. And perhaps there, once, as well. Along with the sighs. We--the royal we or the we of Heart and Mind (body)---surely sighed. Thanks for giving us this poem today, long a favorite.

  2. for me, Shelley was the most musical to my ears when i'd read his poetry outloud. he epitomized romanticism; The fountains mingle with the rivers the rivers with the oceans/the winds of heaven mix forever with a sweet emotion./Nothing in the world is single all things by a law devine/into one another's being mingle, why not i with thine//
    See the mountains kiss high heaven and the waves clasp one another/ no sister flower would be forgiven if it disdained its brother//And the sunlight grasps the earth and the moon beams kiss the sea/what is all this kissing's worth if thou kiss not me?

    1. I don't disagree. As I said, I have a very soft spot for Shelley's glorious verses. They were all very musical, those Romantics.

  3. ha he need only wait...the blue pill has now arrived....well that is an interesting interpretation...for me it speaks of progression of love...a concept nearly foreign in the age we are does change as it ages and as we age....i dunno...maybe he was talking about his limp noodle...then again, hopefully love goes beyond the physical...

  4. I love this selection, Rosemary, and I certainly resonated with the sentiments. These days, no one could be half as attractive to me as my couch and a good movie, cackle.........I love your Honoring our poetic ancestors feature - we need to continue to pay homage to those who first inspired us. Thanks so much for keeping them in our thoughts.

  5. Byron is by far my favourite poet. I haven't read a great deal of his work, but the Childe Harold quartet draws me back again and again. I love the casual way he comes up with the most amazing rhyme combinations in his Spenserian Stanza and the way that the story line becomes more and more autobiographical. He is the one I would pay homage to if I knew how to. Nice that you feature him.

    1. How to pay homage? Interesting question! Perhaps reading him a lot, as you do, is the best way. What more could any poet desire than to be read forever? His works are still in print and he is universally acknowledged as a great poet; we should all be so lucky! (But few of us will.) Although he is not my very favourite, that doesn't mean I don't love his work, which was often magnificent. I must go back and re-read Childe Harold! Thanks for the reminder. :)

    2. Yes, you're right: reading is a way of honouring.
      Another way of course is using a particular poet's preferred stanza form and I realize I have used a lot of Byron's Alexandrine addition to the S.Stanza, in my off-line poetry writing. I suppose that could be considered honouring as well. They play such a part in our poetry make-up, don't they? The poets going before us I mean. Thank you again for this regular series. It involves a lot of work for you.

    3. Well, I get great enjoyment out of this work! *Smiles*.

      Yes, allowing them to influence us is another kind of homage for sure, and learning from the way they wrote — those "towering dead" as Dylan Thomas called them (who is one himself now). I think it's good that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. They enrich our poetic sensibilities and make so many more options available to us for having tried them first.

  6. I loved this poem through the voice of Joan Baez so many years ago.Her interpretation was just so lovely- she captured, in a very young voice, the bittersweet core of the piece.

    1. Oh, I love Joan Baez but have not heard that. Will search for it. Thank you.

  7. This is a beautiful poem, Rosemary!

  8. Thank you for sharing a bit of Byron's poetry and for your interpretation of the first poem. It is both interesting and exciting to see how time and maturity allow us to read poems differently.

  9. You raise an interesting to page homage indeed. I think perhaps, just the way you're doing...posting poems by favourite poets, such as Byron and Shelley...and others that don't get the "airing" they should. The more often their work is posted in places like Poets United, it's still read and discussed, and they continue to live through the rest of us. I think that's a rich way of keeping them with us. Thanks Rosemary.

  10. Hi, Rosemary,
    This is a great look back. I enjoy your interpretation, too. I was forcibly immersed in Byron as a young literature major, but never quite became engaged. I'm glad you shared this glimpse of his wit and style. Maybe I'll look further...
    Steve K.

    1. It astounds me that some of us go on to become poets ourselves, despite school's best efforts to ruin it for us.

  11. Dear Rosemary Great Choice and just right for this time of the year.'The term Romanticism had different connotations till I studied English Literary Poetry as a subject. 'Romantic Age' was the period in the History of English Literature when writers turned towards' Nature' to write about 'Humanity flowers clouds oceans trees and the human emotions as 'love in its true form' Out of the 'drawing room' came the Lords and Ladies and we got 'Daffodils' and so many other classics, the poem I wish to share 'She walks in Beauty' by Lord Byron

    1. Ah yes, another famous and beautiful poem. You'll be glad to know it was shared here in 2011, in Kim Nelson's "Classic Poetry" series:

  12. I was in love with Byron when I was 14. I had a picture of him on my desk. This interpretation of yours Rosemary is so obviously correct. I cannot believe it had never occured to me. In fact it makes the reading of this lovely poem more tender and sad. Thank you .

    1. I think many young girls, in his own time and later, have fallen in love with Byron; I see him as like a pop star of his day. And if you're a sucker for a pretty face, as I am ... and then there was the foot, the sad home life in his youth, the rebelliousness, the final heroism....

      I'm glad you think my interpretation valid. We can't know for certain, but examining the poem reveals a lot of detail about the body or casing (sheath/breast) wearing out despite the energy it contains (sword/soul) remaining vibrant, suggesting a physical rather than emotional failure.


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