Open main menu

Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/587

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



River, that rollest by the ancient walls,
Where dwells the Lady of my love, when she
Walks by thy brink, and there perchance recalls
A faint and fleeting memory of me:


What if thy deep and ample stream should be
A mirror of my heart, where she may read
The thousand thoughts I now betray to thee,
Wild as thy wave, and headlong as thy speed!


What do I say—a mirror of my heart?
Are not thy waters sweeping, dark, and strong?
Such as my feelings were and are, thou art;
And such as thou art were my passions long.

  1. [There has been some misunderstanding with regard to this poem. According to the statement of the Countess Guiccioli (see Works of Lord Byron ed. 1832, xii. 14), "Stanzas to the Po" were composed about the middle of April, 1819, "while Lord Byron was actually sailing on the Po," en route from Venice to Ravenna. Medwin, who was the first to publish the lines (Conversations, etc., 1824, 4to, pp. 24-26), says that they were written when Byron was about to "quit Venice to join" the Countess at Ravenna, and, in a footnote, explains that the river referred to is the Po. Now, if the Countess and Medwin (and Moore, who follows Medwin, Life, p. 396) are right, and the river is the Po, the "ancient walls" Ravenna, and the "Lady of the land" the Guiccioli, the stanzas may have been written in June (not April), 1819, possibly at Ferrara, and the river must be the Po di Primaro. Even so, the first line of the first stanza and the third and fourth lines of the ninth stanza require explanation. The Po does not "roll by the ancient walls" of Ravenna; and how could Byron be at one and the same time "by the source" (stanza 9, line 4), and sailing on the river, or on some canalized tributary or effluent? Be the explanation what it may—and it is possible that the lines were not originally designed for the Countess, but for another "Lady of the land" (see letter to Murray, May 18, 1819)—it may be surmised that "the lines written last year on crossing the Po," the "mere verses of society," which were given to Kinnaird (see letter to Murray, May 8, 1820, and Conversations of Lord Byron with Lady Blessington, 1834, p. 143), were not the sombre though passionate elegy, "River, that rollest," but the bitter and somewhat cynical rhymes, "Could Love for ever, Run like a river" (vide post, p. 549).]