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The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/Epistle to Augusta

EPISTLE TO AUGUSTA.[1]

I.

My Sister! my sweet Sister! if a name
Dearer and purer were, it should be thine.
Mountains and seas divide us, but I claim
No tears, but tenderness to answer mine:
Go where I will, to me thou art the same—
A loved regret which I would not resign.[2]
There yet are two things in my destiny,—
A world to roam through, and a home with thee.[3]


II.

The first were nothing—had I still the last,
It were the haven of my happiness;
But other claims and other ties thou hast,[4]
And mine is not the wish to make them less.
A strange doom is thy father's son's, and past[5]
Recalling, as it lies beyond redress;
Reversed for him our grandsire's[6] fate of yore,—
He had no rest at sea, nor I on shore.


III.

If my inheritance of storms hath been
In other elements, and on the rocks
Of perils, overlooked or unforeseen,
I have sustained my share of worldly shocks,
The fault was mine; nor do I seek to screen
My errors with defensive paradox;[7]
I have been cunning in mine overthrow,
The careful pilot of my proper woe.


IV.

Mine were my faults, and mine be their reward.
My whole life was a contest, since the day
That gave me being, gave me that which marred
The gift,—a fate, or will, that walked astray;[8]
And I at times have found the struggle hard,
And thought of shaking off my bonds of clay:
But now I fain would for a time survive,
If but to see what next can well arrive.


V.

Kingdoms and Empires in my little day
I have outlived, and yet I am not old;
And when I look on this, the petty spray
Of my own years of trouble, which have rolled
Like a wild bay of breakers, melts away:
Something—I know not what—does still uphold
A spirit of slight patience;—not in vain,
Even for its own sake, do we purchase Pain.


VI.

Perhaps the workings of defiance stir
Within me—or, peihaps, a cold despair
Brought on when ills habitually recur,—
Perhaps a kinder clime, or purer air,
(For even to this may change of soul refer,[9]
And with light armour we may learn to bear,)
Have taught me a strange quiet, which was not
The chief companion of a calmer lot.[10]


VII.

I feel almost at times as I have felt
In happy childhood; trees, and flowers, and brooks,
Which do remember me of where I dwelt,
Ere my young mind was sacrificed to books,[11]
Come as of yore upon me, and can melt
My heart with recognition of their looks;
And even at moments I could think I see
Some living thing to love—but none like thee.[12]


VIII.

Here are the Alpine landscapes which create
A fund for contemplation;—to admire
Is a brief feeling of a trivial date;
But something worthier do such scenes inspire:
Here to be lonely is not desolate,[13]
For much I view which I could most desire,
And, above all, a Lake I can behold
Lovelier, not dearer, than our own of old.[14]


IX.

Oh that thou wert but with me!—but I grow
The fool of my own wishes, and forget
The solitude which I have vaunted so
Has lost its praise in this but one regret;
There may be others which I less may show;—
I am not of the plaintive mood, and yet
I feel an ebb in my philosophy,
And the tide rising in my altered eye.[15]


X.

I did remind thee of our own dear Lake,
By the old Hall which may be mine no more.
Leman's is fair; but think not I forsake
The sweet remembrance of a dearer shore:
Sad havoc Time must with my memory make,
Ere that or thou can fade these eyes before;
Though, like all things which I have loved, they are
Resigned for ever, or divided far.


XI.

The world is all before me; I but ask
Of Nature that with which she will comply—
It is but in her Summer's sun to bask,
To mingle with the quiet of her sky,
To see her gentle face without a mask,
And never gaze on it with apathy.
She was my early friend, and now shall be
My sister—till I look again on thee.


XII.

I can reduce all feelings but this one;
And that I would not;—for at length I see
Such scenes as those wherein my life begun—[16]
The earliest—even the only paths for me—[17]
Had I but sooner learnt the crowd to shun,
I had been better than I now can be;
The Passions which have torn me would have slept;
I had not suffered, and thou hadst not wept.


XIII.

With false Ambition what had I to do?
Little with Love, and least of all with Fame;
And yet they came unsought, and with me grew,
And made me all which they can make—a Name.
Yet this was not the end I did pursue;
Surely I once beheld a nobler aim.
But all is over—I am one the more
To baffled millions which have gone before.


XIV.

And for the future, this world's future may[18]
From me demand but little of my care;
I have outlived myself by many a day;[19]
Having survived so many things that were;
My years have been no slumber, but the prey
Of ceaseless vigils; for I had the share
Of life which might have filled a century,[20]
Before its fourth in time had passed me by.


XV.

And for the remnant which may be to come[21]
I am content; and for the past I feel
Not thankless,—for within the crowded sum
Of struggles, Happiness at times would steal,
And for the present, I would not benumb
My feelings farther.—Nor shall I conceal
That with all this I still can look around,
And worship Nature with a thought profound.


XVI.

For thee, my own sweet sister, in thy heart
I know myself secure, as thou in mine;
We were and are—I am, even as thou art—[22]
Beings who ne'er each other can resign;
It is the same, together or apart,
From Life's commencement to its slow decline
We are entwined—let Death come slow or fast,[23]
The tie which bound the first endures the last!

[First published, Letters and Journals, 1830, ii. 38-41.]

  1. [These stanzas—"than which," says the Quarterly Review for January, 1831, "there is nothing, perhaps, more mournfully and desolately beautiful in the whole range of Lord Byron's poetry," were also written at Diodati, and sent home to be published, if Mrs. Leigh should consent. She decided against publication, and the "Epistle" was not printed till 1830. Her first impulse was to withhold her consent to the publication of the "Stanzas to Augusta," as well as the "Epistle," and to say, "Whatever is addressed to me do not publish," but on second thoughts she decided that "the least objectionable line will be to let them be published."—See her letters to Murray, November 1, 8, 1816, Letters, 1899, iii. 366, note 1.]
  2. Go where thou wilt thou art to me the same
    A loud regret which I would not resign.—[MS.]

  3. [Compare—

    "Oh! that the Desert were my dwelling-place,
    With one fair Spirit for my minister!"

    Childe Harold, Canto IV. stanza clxxvii. lines 1, 2,
    Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 456.]

  4. But other cares ——.—[MS.]
  5. A strange doom hath been ours, but that is past.—[MS.]
  6. ["Admiral Byron was remarkable for never making a voyage without a tempest. He was known to the sailors by the facetious name of 'Foul-weather Jack' [or 'Hardy Byron'].

    "'But, though it were tempest-toss'd,
    Still his bark could not be lost.'

    He returned safely from the wreck of the Wager (in Anson's voyage), and many years after circumnavigated the world, as commander of a similar en)edition." (Moore). Admiral the Hon. John Byron (1723-1786), next brother to William, fifth Lord Byron, published his Narrative of his shipwreck in the Wager in 1768, and his Voyage round the World in the Dolphin, in 1767 (Letters, 1898, i. 3).]

  7. I am not yet o'erwhelmed that I shall ever lean
    A thought upon such Hope as daily mocks.—[MS. erased.]

  8. [For Byron's belief in predestination, compare Childe Harold, Canto I. stanza lxxxiii. line 9, Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 74, note 1.]
  9. For to all such may change of soul refer.—[MS.]
  10. Have hardened me to this—but I can see
    Things which I still can love—but none like thee.—[MS. erased.]

  11. Before I had to study far more useless books.—[MS. erased.]
    Ere my young mind was fettered down to books.
  12. Some living things ——.—[MS.]
  13. [Compare—

    "Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt
    In solitude, when we are least alone."

    Childe Harold, Canto III. stanza xc. lines 1, 2,
    Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 272.]

  14. [For a description of the lake at Newstead, see Dan Juan, Canto XIII. stanza lvii.]
  15. And think of such things with a childish eye.—[MS.]
  16. [Compare—

    "He who first met the Highland's swelling blue,
    Will love each peak, that shows a kindred hue,
    Hail in each crag a friend's familiar face,
    And clasp the mountain in his mind's embrace."

    The Island, Canto II. stanza xii. lines 9-12.

    His "friends are mountains." He comes back to them as to a "holier land," where he may find not happiness, but peace.

    Moore was inclined to attribute Byron's "love of mountain prospects" in his childhood to the "after-result of his imaginative recollections of that period," but (as Wilson, commenting on Moore, suggests) it is easier to believe that the "high instincts" of the "poetic child" did not wait for association to consecrate the vision (Life, p. 8).]

  17. The earliest were the only paths for me.
    The earliest were the paths and meant for me.—[MS. erased.]

  18. Yet could I but expunge from out the book
    Of my existence all that was entwined.—[MS. erased.]

  19. My life has been too long—if in a day
    I have survived ——.—[MS. erased.]

  20. [Byron often insists on this compression of life into a yet briefer span than even mortality allows. Compare—

    "He, who grown agèd in this world of woe,
    In deeds, not years, piercing the depths of life," etc.

    Childe Harold, Canto III. stanza v. lines 1, 2,
    Poetical Works, 1899, ii 218, note 1.

    Compare, too—

    "My life is not dated by years—
    There are moments which act as a plough," etc.

    Lines to the Countess if Blesstngton, stanza 4.]

  21. And for the remnants ——.—[MS.]
  22. Whate'er betide ——.—[MS.]
  23. We have been and we shall be ——.—[MS. erased.]