The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/Stanzas to the Po



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.


Time may have somewhat tamed them,—not for ever;
Thou overflow'st thy banks, and not for aye
Thy bosom overboils, congenial river!
Thy floods subside, and mine have sunk away:


But left long wrecks behind, and now again,[2]
Borne in our old unchanged career, we move:
Thou tendest wildly onwards to the main,
And I—to loving one I should not love.


The current I behold will sweep beneath
Her native walls, and murmur at her feet;
Her eyes will look on thee, when she shall breathe
The twilight air, unharmed by summer's heat.


She will look on thee,—I have looked on thee,
Full of that thought: and, from that moment, ne'er
Thy waters could I dream of, name, or see,
Without the inseparable sigh for her!


Her bright eyes will be imaged in thy stream,—
Yes! they will meet the wave I gaze on now:
Mine cannot witness, even in a dream,
That happy wave repass me in its flow!


The wave that bears my tears returns no more:
Will she return by whom that wave shall sweep?—
Both tread thy banks, both wander on thy shore,
I by thy source, she by the dark-blue deep.[3]


But that which keepeth us apart is not
Distance, nor depth of wave, nor space of earth,
But the distraction of a various lot,
As various as the climates of our birth.


A stranger loves the Lady of the land,[4]
Born far beyond the mountains, but his blood
Is all meridian, as if never fanned
By the black wind that chills the polar flood.[5]


My blood is all meridian; were it not,
I had not left my clime, nor should I be,[6]
In spite of tortures, ne'er to be forgot,
A slave again of love,—at least of thee.


'Tis vain to struggle—let me perish young—
Live as I lived, and love as I have loved;
To dust if I return, from dust I sprung,
And then, at least, my heart can ne'er be moved.

June, 1819.
[First published, Conversations of Lord Byron, 1824, 4to, pp. 24-26.]

  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).]
  2. But left long wrecks behind them, and again,
    Borne on our old unchanged career, we move;
    Thou tendest wildly onward to the main.—[Medwin.]

  3. I near thy source ——.—[Medwin.]
  4. A stranger loves a lady ——.—[Medwin.]
  5. By the bleak wind——.—[Medwin.]
  6. I had not left my clime;—I shall not be.—[Medwin.]