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The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/Lines on hearing that Lady Byron was Ill

< The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)‎ | Poetry‎ | Volume 4

LINES ON HEARING THAT LADY BYRON WAS ILL.[1]

And thou wert sad—yet I was not with thee;
And thou wert sick, and yet I was not near;
Methought that Joy and Health alone could be
Where I was not—and pain and sorrow here!
And is it thus?—it is as I foretold,
And shall be more so; for the mind recoils
Upon itself, and the wrecked heart lies cold,
While Heaviness collects the shattered spoils.
It is not in the storm nor in the strife
We fed benumbed, and wish to be no more,
But in the after-silence on the shore,
When all is lost, except a little life.


I am too well avenged!—but 'twas my right;
Whate'er my sins might be, thou wert not sent
To be the Nemesis who should requite—[2]
Nor did Heaven choose so near an instrument
Mercy is for the merciful!—if thou
Hast been of such, 'twill be accorded now.
Thy nights are banished from the realms of sleep:—[3]
Yes! they may flatter thee, but thou shalt feel
A hollow agony which will not heal,
For thou art pillowed on a curse too deep;
Thou hast sown in my sorrow, and must reap
The bitter harvest in a woe as real!
I have had many foes, but none like thee;
For 'gainst the rest myself I could defend,
And be avenged, or turn them into friend;
But thou in safe implacability
Hadst nought to dread—in thy own weakness shielded,
And in my love, which hath but too much yielded,
And spared, for thy sake, some I should not spare;
And thus upon the world—trust in thy truth,
And the wild fame of my ungoverned youth—
On things that were not, and on things that are—
Even upon such a basis hast thou built
A monument, whose cement hath been guilt!
The moral Clytemnestra of thy lord,[4]
And hewed down, with an unsuspected sword,
Fame, peace, and hope—and all the better life
Which, but for this cold treason of thy heart,
Might still have risen from out the grave of strife,
And found a nobler duty than to part.
But of thy virtues didst thou make a vice,
Trafficking with them in a purpose cold,
For present anger, and for future gold—
And buying others' grief at any price.[5]
And thus once entered into crooked ways,
The early truth, which was thy proper praise,[6]
Did not still walk beside thee—but at times,
And with a breast unknowing its own crimes,
Deceit, averments incompatible,
Equivocations, and the thoughts which dwell
In Janus-spirits—the significant eye
Which learns to lie with silence—the pretext[7]
Of prudence, with advantages annexed—
The acquiescence in all things which tend,
No matter how, to the desired end—
All found a place in thy philosophy.
The means were worthy, and the end is won—
I would not do by thee as thou hast done!

September, 1816.
[First published, New Monthly Magazine,
August, 1832, vol. xxxv. pp. 142, 143.]

  1. ["These verses," says John Wright (ed. 1832, x. 207), "of which the opening lines (1-6) are given in Moore's Notices, etc., (1830, ii. 36), were written immediately after the failure of the negotiation ... [i.e. the intervention] of Madame de Staël, who had persuaded Byron 'to write a letter to a friend in England, declaring himself still willing to be reconciled to Lady Byron' (Life, p. 321), but were not intended for the public eye." The verses were written in September, and it is evident that since the composition of The Dream in July, another "change had come over" his spirit, and that the mild and courteous deprecation of his wife as "a gentle bride," etc., had given place to passionate reproach and bitter reviling. The failure of Madame de Staël's negotiations must have been to some extent anticipated, and it is more reasonable to suppose that it was a rumour or report of the "one serious calumny" of Shelley's letter of September 29, 1816, which provoked him to fury, and drove him into the open maledictions of The Incantation (published together with the Prisoner of Chillon, but afterwards incorporated with Manfred, act i. sc. 1, vide post, p. 91), and the suppressed "lines," written, so he told Lady Blessington (Conversations, etc., 1834, p. 79) "on reading in a newspaper" that Lady Byron had been ill.]
  2. [Compare—

    "... that unnatural retribution—just,
    Had it but been from hands less near."

    Childe Harold, Canto IV. stanza cxxxii. lines 6, 7,
    Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 427.]

  3. [Compare—

    "Though thy slumber may be deep,
    Yet thy Spirit shall not sleep.

    · · · · ·

    Nor to slumber nor to die,
    Shall be in thy destiny."

    The Incantation, lines 201, 202, 254, 255,
    Manfred, act i. sc. 1, vide post, pp. 92, 93.]

  4. [Compare "I suppose now I shall never be able to shake off my sables in public imagination, more particularly since my moral ... [Clytemnestra?] clove down my fame" (Letter to Moore, March 10, 1817, Letters, 1900, iv. 72). The same expression, "my moral Clytemnestra," is applied to his wife in a letter to Lord Blessington, dated April 6, 1823. It mav be noted that it was in April, 1823, that Byron presented a copy of the "Lines," etc., to Lady Blessington (Conversations, etc., 1834, p. 79).]
  5. [Compare—

    "By thy delight in others' pain."

    Manfred, act i. sc. 1, line 248, vide post, p. 93.]

  6. [Compare—

    "... but that high Soul secured the heart,
    And panted for the truth it could not hear."

    A Sketch, lines 18, 19, Poetical Works, 1900, iii. 541.]

  7. [Compare Childe Harold, Canto IV. stanza cxxxvi lines 6-9, Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 430.]