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Mazeppa Byron Analysis Essay

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Mazeppa Analysis

Author:Poetry of George Gordon, Lord ByronType:PoetryViews: 1902

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'Twas after dread Pultowa's day,

When fortune left the royal Swede -

Around a slaughtered army lay,

No more to combat and to bleed.

The power and glory of the war,

Faithless as their vain votaries, men,

Had passed to the triumphant Czar,

And Moscow�s walls were safe again -

Until a day more dark and drear,

And a more memorable year,

Should give to slaughter and to shame

A mightier host and haughtier name;

A greater wreck, a deeper fall,

A shock to one - a thunderbolt to all.


Such was the hazard Of the die;

The wounded Charles was taught to fly

By day and night through field and flood,

Stained with his own and subjects' blood;

For thousands fell that flight to aid:

And not a voice was heard to upbraid

Ambition in his humbled hour,

When truth had nought to dread from power,

His horse was slain, and Gieta gave

His own - and died the Russians� slave.

This too sinks after many a league

Of well sustained, but vain fatigue;

And in the depth of forests darkling,

The watch-fires in the distance sparkling -

The beacons of surrounding foes -

A king must lay his limbs at length.

Are these the laurels and repose

For which the nations strain their strength?

They laid him by a savage tree,

In outworn nature�s agony;

His wounds were stiff, his limbs were stark,

The heavy hour was chill and dark;

The fever in his blood forbade

A transient slumber's fitful aid:

And thus it was; but yet through all,

Kinglike the monarch bore his fall,

And made, in this extreme of ill,

His pangs the vassals of his will:

All silent and subdued were they,

As owe the nations round him lay.


A band of chiefs! - alas! how few,

Since but the fleeting of a day

Had thinned it; but this wreck was true

And chivalrous: upon the clay

Each sate him down, all sad and mute,

Beside his monarch and his steed;

For danger levels man and brute,

And all are fellows in their need.

Among the rest, Mazeppa made

His pillow in an old oak's shade -

Himself as rough, and scarce less old,

The Ukraine's hetman, calm and bold:

But first, outspent with this long course,

The Cossack prince rubbed down his horse,

And made for him a leafy bed,

And smoothed his fetlocks and his mane,

And slacked his girth, and stripped his rein,

And joyed to see how well he fed;

For until now he had the dread

His wearied courser might refuse

To browse beneath the midnight dews:

But he was hardy as his lord,

And little cared for bed and board;

But spirited and docile too,

Whate'er was to be done, would do.

Shaggy and swift, and strong of limb,

All Tartar-like he carried him;

Obeyed his voice, and came to call,

And knew him in the midst of all.

Though thousands were around, - and night,

Without a star, pursued her flight, -

That steed from sunset until dawn

His chief would follow like a fawn.


This done, Mazeppa spread his cloak,

And laid his lance beneath his oak,

Felt if his arms in order good

The long day's march had well withstood -

If still the powder filled the pan,

And flints unloosened kept their lock -

His sabre's hilt and scabbard felt,

And whether they had chafed his belt;

And next the venerable man,

From out his haversack and can,

Prepared and spread his slender stock

And to the monarch and his men

The whole or portion offered then

With far less of inquietude

Than courtiers at a banquet would.

And Charles of this his slender share

With smiles partook a moment there,

To force of cheer a greater show,

And seem above both wounds and woe;-

And then he said -'Of all our band,

Though firm of heart and strong of hand,

In skirmish, march, or forage, none

Can less have said or more have done

Than thee, Mazeppa! On the earth

So fit a pair had never birth,

Since Alexander's days till now,

As thy Bucephalus and thou:

All Scythia's fame to thine should yield

For pricking on o'er flood and field.'

Mazeppa answered - " Ill betide

The school wherein I learned to ride!

Quoth Charles -'Old Hetman, wherefore so,

Since thou hast learned the art so well?

Mazeppa said - "Twere long to tell;

And we have many a league to go,

With every now and then a blow,

And ten to one at least the foe,

Before our steeds may graze at ease,

Beyond the swift Borysthenes:

And, sire, your limbs have need of rest,

And I will be the sentinel

Of this your troop.' -'But I request,'

Said Sweden's monarch, 'thou wilt tell

This tale of thine, and I may reap,

Perchance, from this the boon of sleep;

For at this moment from my eyes

The hope of present slumber flies.'

'Well, sire, with such a hope, I'll track

My seventy years of memory back:

I think 'twas in my twentieth spring, -

Ay, 'twas, - when Casimir was king -

John Casimir, - I was his page

Six summers, in my earlier age:

A learned monarch, faith! was he,

And most unlike your majesty:

He made no wars, and did not gain

New realms to lose them back again;

And (save debates in Warsaw's diet)

He reigned in most unseemly quiet;

Not that he had no cares to vex,

He loved the muses and the sex;

And sometimes these so froward are,

They made him wish himself at war;

But soon his wrath being o'er, he took

Another mistress - or new book;

And then he gave prodigious fetes -

All Warsaw gathered round his gates

To gaze upon his splendid court,

And dames, and chiefs, of princely port.

He was the Polish Solomon,

So sung his poets, all but one,

Who, being unpensioned, made a satire,

And boasted that he could not flatterI

It was a court of jousts and mimes,

Where every courtier tried at rhymes;

Even I for once produced some verses,

And signed my odes "Despairing Thyrsis."

There was a certain Palatine,

A Count of far and high descent,

Rich as a salt or silver mine;

And he was proud, ye may divine,

As if from heaven he had been sent:

He had such wealth in blood and ore

As few could match beneath the throne;

And he would gaze upon his store,

And o'er his pedigree would pore,

Until by some confusion led,

Which almost looked like want of head,

He thought their merits were his own.

His wife was not of his opinion;

His junior she by thirty years;

Grew daily tired of his dominion;

And, after wishes, hopes, and fears,

To virtue a few farewell tears,

A restless dream or two, some glances

At Warsaw's youth, some songs, and dances,

Awaited but the usual chances,

Those happy accidents which render

The coldest dames so very tender,

To deck her Count with titles given,

'Tis said, as passports into heaven;

But, strange to say, they rarely boast

Of these, who have deserved them most.


'I was a goodly stripling then;

At seventy years I so may say,

That there were few, or boys or men,

Who, in my dawning time of day,

Of vassal or of knight's degree,

Could vie in vanities with me;

For I had strength, youth, gaiety,

A port, not like to this ye see,

But smooth, as all is rugged now;

For time, and care, and war, have ploughed

My very soul from out my brow;

And thus I should be disavowed

By all my kind and kin, could they

Compare my day and yesterday;

This change was wrought, too, long ere age

Had ta'en my features for his page:

With years, ye know, have not declined

My strength, my courage, or my mind,

Or at this hour I should not be

Telling old tales beneath a tree,

With starless skies my canopy.

But let me on: Theresa's form -

Methinks it glides before me now,

Between me and yon chestnut's bough,

The memory is so quick and warm;

And yet I find no words to tell

The shape of her I loved so well:

She had the Asiatic eye,

Such as our, Turkish neighbourhood,

Hath mingled with our Polish blood,

Dark as above us is the sky;

But through it stole a tender light,

Like the first moonrise of midnight;

Large, dark, and swimming in the stream,

Which seemed to melt to its own beam;

All love, half langour, and half fire,

Like saints that at the stake expire,

And lift their raptured looks on high,

As though it were a joy to die.

A brow like a midsummer lake,

Transparent with the sun therein,

When waves no murmur dare to make,

And heaven beholds her face within.

A cheek and lip - but why proceed?

I loved her then - I love her still;

And such as I am, love indeed

In fierce extremes - in good and ill.

But still we love even in our rage,

And haunted to our very age

With the vain shadow of the past,

As is Mazeppa to the last


'We met - we gazed - I saw, and sighed,

She did not speak, and yet replied;

There are ten thousand tones and signs

We hear and see, but none defines -

Involuntary sparks of thought,

Which strike from out the heart o�erwrought,

And form a strange intelligence,

Alike mysterious and intense,

Which link the burning chain that binds,

Without their will, young hearts and minds

Conveying, as the electric wire,

We know not how, the absorbing fire.

I saw, and sighed - in silence wept,

And still reluctant distance kept,

Until I was made known to her,

And we might then and there confer

Without suspicion - then, even then,

I longed, and was resolved to speak;

But on my lips they died again,

The accents tremulous and weak,

Until one hour. - There is a game,

A frivolous and foolish play,

Wherewith we while away the day;

It is - I have forgot the name -

And we to this, it seems, were set,

By some strange chance, which I forget:

I reck'd not if I won or lost,

It was enough for me to be

So near to hear, and oh! to see

The being whom I loved the most. -

I watched her as a sentinel,

(May ours this dark night watch as well!)

Until I saw, and thus it was,

That she was pensive, nor perceived

Her occupation, nor was grieved

Nor glad to lose or gain; but still

Played on for hours, as if her win

Yet bound her to the place, though not

That hers might be the winning lot.

Then through my brain the thought did pass

Even as a flash of lightning there,

That there was something in her air

Which would not doom me to despair;

And on the thought my words broke forth,

All incoherent as they were -

Their eloquence was little worth,

But yet she listened - 'tis enough -

Who listens once will listen twice;

Her heart, be sure, is not of ice,

And one refusal no rebuff.


I loved, and was beloved again -

They tell me, Sire, you never knew

Those gentle frailties; if 'tis true,

I shorten all my joy or pain;

To you 'twould seem absurd as vain

But all men are not born to reign,

Or o'er their passions, or as you

Thus o'er themselves and nations too.

I am - or rather was - a prince,

A chief of thousands, and could lead

Them on where each would foremost bleed;

But could not o'er myself evince

The like control - but to resume:

I loved, and was beloved again;

In sooth, it is a happy doom,

But yet where happiest ends in pain. -

We met in secret, and the hour

Which led me to that lady's bower

Was fiery expectation's dower.

My days and nights were nothing - all

Except that hour which doth recall

In the long lapse from youth to age

No other like itself - I'd give

The Ukraine back again to live

It o'er once more - and be a page,

The happy page, who was the lord

Of one soft heart, and his own sword,

And had no other gem nor wealth

Save nature's gift of youth and health.

We met in secret - doubly sweet,

Some say, they find it so to meet;

I know not that - I would have given

My life but to have called her mine

In the full view of earth and heaven;

For I did oft and long repine

That we could only meet by stealth.


'For lovers there are many eyes,

And such there were on us; the devil

On such occasions should be civil -

The devil! - I'm loth to do him wrong,

It might be some untoward saint,

Who would not be at rest too long,

But to his pious bile gave vent -

But one fair night, some lurking spies

Surprised and seized us both.

The Count was something more than wroth -

I was unarmed; but if in steel,

All cap from head to heel,

What 'gainst their numbers could I do?

'Twas near his castle, far away

From city or from succour near,

And almost on the break of day;

I did not think to see another,

My moments seemed reduced to few;

And with one prayer to Mary Mother,

And, it may be, a saint or two,

As I resigned me to my fate,

They led me to the castle gate:

Tleresa's doom I never knew,

Our lot was henceforth separate.

An angry man, ye may opine,

Was he, the proud Count Palatine;

And he had reason good to be,

But he was most enraged lest such

An accident should chance to touch

Upon his future pedigree;

Nor less amazed, that such a blot

His noble 'scutcheon should have got,

While he was highest of his line

Because unto himself he seemed

The first of men, nor less he deemed

In others' eyes, and most in mine.

'Sdeath! with a page - perchance a king

Had reconciled him to the thing;

But with a stripling of a page -

I felt - but cannot paint his rage.


"'Bring forth the horse!" - the horse was brought;

In truth, he was a noble steed,

A Tartar of the Ukraine breed,

Who looked as though the speed of thought

Were in his limbs; but he was wild,

Wild as the wild deer, and untaught,

With spur and bridle undefiled -

'Twas but a day he had been caught;

And snorting, with erected mane,

And struggling fiercely, but in vain,

In the full foam of wrath and dread

To me the desert-born was led:

They bound me on, that menial throng,

Upon his back with many a thong;

They loosed him with a sudden lash -

Away! - away! - and on we dash! -

Torrents less rapid and less rash.


'Away! - away! - my breath was gone -

I saw not where he hurried on:

'Twas scarcely yet the break of day,

And on he foamed - away! - away! -

The last of human sounds which rose,

As I was darted from my foes,

Was the wild shout of savage laughter,

Which on the wind came roaring after

A moment from that rabble rout:

With sudden wrath I wrenched my head,

And snapped the cord, which to the mane

Had bound my neck in lieu of rein,

And, writhing half my form about,

Howled back my curse; but 'midst the tread,

The thunder of my courser's speed,

Perchance they did not hear nor heed:

It vexes me - for I would fain

Have paid their insult back again.

I paid it well in after days:

There is not of that castle gate.

Its drawbridge and portcullis' weight,

Stone, bar, moat, bridge, or barrier left;

Nor of its fields a blade of grass,

Save what grows on a ridge of wall,

Where stood the hearth-stone of the hall;

And many a time ye there might pass,

Nor dream that e'er the fortress was.

I saw its turrets in a blaze,

Their crackling battlements all cleft,

And the hot lead pour down like rain

From off the scorched and blackening roof,

Whose thickness was not vengeance-proof.

They little thought that day of pain,

When launched, as on the lightning's flash,

They bade me to destruction dash,

That one day I should come again,

With twice five thousand horse, to thank

The Count for his uncourteous ride.

They played me then a bitter prank,

'When, with the wild horse for my guide,

The bound me to his foaming flank:

At length I played them one as frank -

For time at last sets all things even -

And if we do but watch the hour,

There never yet was human power

Which could evade, if unforgiven,

The patient search and vigil long

Of him who treasures up a wrong.


'Away, away, my steed and I,

Upon the pinions of the wind.

All human dwellings left behind,

We sped like meteors through the sky,

When with its crackling sound the night

Is chequered with the northern light:

Town - village - none were on our track,

But a wild plain of far extent,

And bounded by a forest black;

And, save the scarce seen battlement

On distant heights of some strong hold,

Against the Tartars built of old,

No trace of man. The year before

A Turkish army had marched o'er;

And where the Spahi's hoof hath trod,

The verdure flies the bloody sod: -

The sky was dull, and dim, and grey,

And a low breeze crept moaning by -

I could have answered with a sigh -

But fast we fled, away, away -

And I could neither sigh nor pray -

And my cold sweat-drops fell like rain

Upon the courser's bristling mane;

But, snorting still with rage and fear,

He flew upon his far career:

At times I almost thought, indeed,

He must have slackened in his speed;

But no - my bound and slender frame

Was nothing to his angry might,

And merely like a spur became:

Each motion which I made to free

My swoln limbs from their agony

Increased his fury and affright:

I tried my voice, - 'twas faint and low,

But yet he swerved as from a blow;

And, starting to each accent, sprang

As from a sudden trumpet's clang:

Meantime my cords were wet with gore,

Which, oozing through my limbs, ran o'er;

And in my tongue the thirst became

A something fierier far than flame.


'We neared the wild wood - 'twas so wide,

I saw no bounds on either side;

'Twas studded with old sturdy trees,

That bent not to the roughest breeze

Which howls down from Siberia's waste,

And strips the forest in its haste, -

But these were few and far between,

Set thick with shrubs more young and green,

Luxuriant with their annual leaves,

Ere strown by those autumnal eves

That nip the forest's foliage dead,

Discoloured with a lifeless red,

Which stands thereon like stiffened gore

Upon the slain when battle's o'er,

And some long winter's night hath shed

Its frost o'er every tombless head,

So cold and stark, the raven's beak

May peck unpierced each frozen cheek:

'Twas a wild waste of underwood,

And here and there a chestnut stood,

The strong oak, and the hardy pine;

But far apart - and well it were,

Or else a different lot were mine -

The boughs gave way, and did not tear

My limbs; and I found strength to bear

My wounds, already scarred with cold -

My bonds forbade to loose my hold.

We rustled through the leaves like wind,

Left shrubs, and trees, and wolves behind;

By night I heard them on the track,

Their troop came hard upon our back,

With their long gallop, which can tire

The hound's deep hate, and hunter's fire:

Where'er we flew they followed on,

Nor left us with the morning sun;

Behind I saw them, scarce a rood,

At day-break winding through the wood,

And through the night had heard their feet

Their stealing, rustling step repeat.

Oh! how I wished for spear or sword,

At least to die amidst the horde,

And perish - if it must be so -

At bay, destroying many a foe

When first my courser's race begun,

I wished the goal already won;

But now I doubted strength and speed:

Vain doubt! his swift and savage breed

Had nerved him like the mountain-roe -

Nor faster falls the blinding snow

Which whelms the peasant near the door

Whose threshold he shall cross no more,

Bewildered with the dazzling blast,

Than through the forest-paths he passed -

Untired, untamed, and worse than wild;

All furious as a favoured child

Balked of its wish; or fiercer still

A woman piqued - who has her will.


'The wood was passed; 'twas more than noon,

But chill the air, although in June;

Or it might be my veins ran cold -

Prolonged endurance tames the bold;

And I was then not what I seem,

But headlong as a wintry stream,

And wore my feelings out before

I well could count their causes o'er:

And what with fury, fear, and wrath,

The tortures which beset my path,

Cold, hunger, sorrow, shame, distress,

Thus bound in nature's nakedness;

Sprung from a race whose rising blood

When stirred beyond its calmer mood,

And trodden hard upon, is like

The rattle-snake's, in act to strike -

What marvel if this worn-out trunk

Beneath its woes a moment sunk?

The earth gave way, the skies rolled round,

I seemed to sink upon the ground;

But erred, for I was fastly bound.

My heart turned sick, my brain grew sore,

And throbbed awhile, then beat no more:

The skies spun like a mighty wheel;

I saw the trees like drunkards reel,

And a slight flash sprang o'er my eyes,

Which saw no farther. He who dies

Can die no more than then I died;

O�ertortured by that ghastly ride.

I felt the blackness come and go,

And strove to wake; but could not make

My senses climb up from below:

I felt as on a plank at sea,

When all the waves that dash o'er thee,

At the same time upheave and whelm,

And hurl thee towards a desert realm.

My undulating life was as

The fancied lights that flitting pass

Our shut eyes in deep midnight, when

Fever begins upon the brain;

But soon it passed, with little pain,

But a confusion worse than such:

I own that I should deem it much,

Dying, to feel the same again;

And yet I do suppose we must

Feel far more ere we turn to dust:

No matter; I have bared my brow

Full in Death's face - before - and now.


'My thoughts came back; where was I? Cold,

And numb, and giddy: pulse by pulse

Life reassumed its lingering hold,

And throb by throb - till grown a pang;

Which for a moment would convulse,

My blood reflowed, though thick and chill;

My ear with uncouth noises rang,

My heart began once more to thrill;

My sight returned, though dim; alas!

And thickened, as it were, with glass.

Methought the dash of waves was nigh.,

There was a gleam too of the sky

Studded with stars; - it is no dream;

The wild horse swims the wilder stream!

The bright broad river's gushing tide

Sweeps, winding onward, far and wide,

And we are half-way, struggling o'er

To yon unknown and silent shore.

The waters broke my hollow trance,

And with a temporary strength

My stiffened limbs were rebaptized.

My courser's broad breast proudly braves,

And dashes off the ascending waves,

And onward we advance

We reach the slippery shore at length,

A haven I but little prized,

For all behind was dark and drear

And all before was night and fear.

How many hours of night or day

In those suspended pangs I lay,

I could not tell; I scarcely knew

If this were human breath I drew.


'With glossy skin, and dripping mane,

And reeling limbs, and reeking flank,

The wild steed's sinewy nerves still strain

Up the repelling bank.

We gain the top. a boundless plain

Spreads through the shadow of the night,

And onward, onward, onward, seems,

Like precipices in our dreams,

To stretch beyond the sight;

And here and there a speck of white,

Or scattered spot of dusky green,

In masses broke into the light,

As rose the moon upon my right:

But nought distinctly seen

In the dim waste would indicate

The omen of a cottage gate;

No twinkling taper from afar

Stood like a hospitable star;'

Not even an ignis-fatuus rose

To make him merry with my woes:

That very cheat had cheered me then!

Although detected, welcome still,

Reminding me, through every ill,

Of the abodes of men.


'Onward we went - but slack and slow

His savage force at length o'erspent,

The drooping courser, faint and low,

All feebly foaming went.

A sickly infant had had power

To guide him forward in that hour!

But, useless all to me,

His new-born tameness nought availed -

My limbs were bound; my force had failed,

Perchance, had they been free.

With feeble effort still I tried

To rend the bonds so starkly tied,

But still it was in vain;

My limbs were only wrung the more,

And soon the idle strife gave o'er,

Which but prolonged their pain:

The dizzy race seemed almost done,

Although no goal was nearly won.

Some streaks announced the coming sun -

How slow, alas! he came!

Methought that mist of dawning grey

Would never dapple into day;

How heavily it rolled away -

Before the eastern flame

Rose crimson, and deposed the stars,

And called the radiance from their cars,

And filled the earth, from his deep throne,

With lonely lustre, all his own.


'Up rose the sun; the mists were curled

Back from the solitary world

Which lay around - behind - before;

What booted it to traverse o'er

Plain, forest, river? Man nor brute,

Nor dint of hoof, nor print of foot,

Lay in the wild luxuriant soil;

No sign of travel - none of toll;

The very air was mute:

And not an insect's shrill small horn,

Nor matin bird's new voice was borne

From herb nor thicket. Many a werst,

Panting as if his heart would burst,

The weary brute still staggered on;

And still we were - or seemed - alone:

At length, while reeling on our way,

Methought I heard a courser neigh,

From out yon tuft of blackening firs.

Is it the wind those branches stirs?

No, no! from out the forest prance

A trampling troop; I see them come I

In one vast squadron they advance!

I strove to cry - my lips were dumb.

The steeds rush on in plunging pride;

But where are they the reins to guide?

A thousand horse - and none to ride!

With flowing tail, and flying mane,

Wide nostrils never stretched by pain,

Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,

And feet that iron never shod,

And flanks unscarred by spur or rod,

A thousand horse, the wild, the free,

Like waves that follow o'er the sea,

Came thickly thundering on,

As if our faint approach to meet;

The sight re-nerved my courser's feet,

A moment staggering, feebly fleet,

A moment, with a faint low neigh,

He answered, and then fell!

With gasps and glazing eyes he lay,

And reeking limbs immoveable,

His first and last career is done!

On came the troop - they saw him stoop,

They saw me strangely bound along

His back with many a bloody thong.

They stop - they start - they snuff the air,

Gallop a moment here and there,

Approach, retire, wheel round and round,

Then plunging back with sudden bound,

Headed by one black mighty steed,

Who seemed the patriarch of his breed,

Without a single speck or hair

Of white upon his shaggy hide;

They snort - they foam - neigh - swerve aside,

And backward to the forest fly,

By instinct, from a human eye.

They left me there to my despair,

Linked to the dead and stiffening wretch,

Whose lifeless limbs beneath me stretch,

Relieved from that unwonted weight,

From whence I could not extricate

Nor him nor me - and there we lay

The dying on the dead!

I little deemed another day

Would see my houseless, helpless head.

And there from morn till twilight bound,

I felt the heavy hours toll round,

With just enough of life to see

My last of suns go down on me,

In hopeless certainty of mind,

That makes us feel at length resigned

To that which our foreboding years

Presents the worst and last of fears

Inevitable - even a boon,

Nor more unkind for coming soon,

Yet shunned and dreaded with such care,

As if it only were a snare

That prudence might escape:

At times both wished for and implored,

At times sought with self-pointed sword,

Yet still a dark and hideous close

To even intolerable woes,

And welcome in no shape.

And, strange to say, the sons of pleasure,

They who have revelled beyond measure

In beauty, wassail, wine, and treasure,

Die calm, or calmer, oft than he

Whose heritage was misery.

For he who hath in turn run through

All that was beautiful and new,

Hath nought to hope, and nought to leave;

And, save the future, (which is viewed

Not quite as men are base or good,

But as their nerves may be endued,)

With nought perhaps to grieve:

The wretch still hopes his woes must end,

And death, whom he should deem his friend,

Appears, to his distempered eyes,

Arrived to rob him of his prize,

The tree of his new Paradise.

Tomorrow would have given him all,

Repaid his pangs, repaired his fall;

Tomorrow would have been the first

Of days no more deplored or curst,

But bright, and long, and beckoning years,

Seen dazzling through the mist of tears,

Guerdon of many a painful hour;

Tomorrow would have given him power

To rule, to shine, to smite, to save -

And must it dawn upon his grave?


'The sun was sinking - still I lay

Chained to the chill and stiffening steed,

I thought to mingle there our clay;

And my dim eyes of death had need,

No hope arose of being freed.

I cast my last looks up the sky,

And there between me and the sun

I saw the expecting raven fly,

Who scarce would wait till both should die,

Ere his repast begun;

He flew, and perched, then flew once more,

And each time nearer than before;

I saw his wing through twilight flit,

And once so near me he alit

I could have smote, but lacked the strength;

But the slight motion of my hand,

And feeble scratching of the sand,

The exerted throat's faint struggling noise,

Which scarcely could be called a voice,

Together scared him off at length.

I know no more - my latest dream

Is something of a lovely star

Which fixed my dull eyes from afar,

And went and came with wandering beam,

And of the cold, dull, swimming, dense,

Sensation of recurring sense,

And then subsiding back to death,

And then again a little breath,

A little thrill, a short suspense,

An icy sickness curdling o'er

My heart, and sparks that crossed my brain

A gasp, a throb, a start of pain,

A sigh, and nothing more.


'I woke - where was I? - Do I see

A human face look down on me?

And doth a roof above me close?

Do these limbs on a couch repose?

Is this a chamber where I lie

And is it mortal yon bright eye,

That watches me with gentle glance?

I closed my own again once more,

As doubtful that the former trance

Could not as yet be o'er.

A slender girl, long-haired, and tall,

Sate watching by the cottage wall.

The sparkle of her eye I caught

Even with my first return of thought;

For ever and anon she threw

A prying, pitying glance on me

With her black eyes so wild and free:

I gazed, and gazed, until I knew

No vision it could be, -

But that I lived, and was released

From adding to the vulture's feast:

And when the Cossack maid beheld

My heavy eyes at length unsealed,

She smiled - and I essayed to speak,

But failed - and she approached, and made

With lip and finger signs that said,

I must not strive as yet to break

The silence, till my strength should be

Enough to leave my accents free;

And then her hand on mine she laid,

And smoothed the pillow for my head,

And stole along on tiptoe tread,

And gently oped the door, and spake

In whispers - ne'er was voice so sweet!

Even music followed her light feet.

But those she called were not awake,

And she went forth; but, ere she passed,

Another look on me she cast,

Another sign she made, to say,

That I had nought to fear, that all

Were near, at my command or call,

And she would not delay

Her due return:- while she was gone,

Methought I felt too much alone.

"She came with mother and with sire -

What need of more? - I will not tire

With long recital of the rest,

Since I became the Cossack's guest.

They found me senseless on the plain.

They bore me to the nearest hut,

They brought me into life again

Me - one day o'er their realm to reign!

Thus the vain fool who strove to glut

His rage, refining on my pain,

Sent me forth to the wilderness,

Bound, naked, bleeding, and alone,

To pass the desert to a throne, -

What mortal his own doom may guess?

Let none despond, let none despair!

Tomorrow the Borysthenes

May see our coursers graze at ease

Upon his Turkish bank, - and never

Had I such welcome for a river

As I shall yield when safely there.

Comrades good night!' - The Hetman threw

His length beneath the oak-tree shade,

With leafy couch already made,

A bed nor comfortless nor new

To him, who took his rest whene'er

The hour arrived, no matter where:

His eyes the hastening slumbers steep.

And if ye marvel Charles forgot

To thank his tale, he wondered not, -

The king had been an hour asleep.


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George Gordon (Noel) Byron, Lord Byron 1788–1824

English poet, dramatist, and satirist.

Both celebrated and vilified during his lifetime, Byron was one of the most flamboyant of the English Romantic poets. He is now perhaps best known as the creator of the figure of the "Byronic hero," a melancholy man, often with a dark past, who rejects social and religious strictures to search for truth and happiness in an apparently meaningless universe.

Biographical Information

Byron was born in London to John "Mad Jack" Byron and Catherine Gordon, a descendent of a Scottish noble family. He was born with a clubbed foot, with which he suffered throughout his life. Byron's father had married his wife for her money, which he soon squandered and fled to France where he died in 1791. When Byron was a year old, he and his mother moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, and Byron spent his childhood there. Upon the death of his great-uncle in 1798, Byron became the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale and inherited the ancestral home, Newstead Abbey in Nottingham. He attended Harrow School from 1801 to 1805 and then Trinity College at Cambridge University until 1808, when he received a master's degree. Byron's first publication was a collection of poems, Fugitive Pieces, which he himself paid to have printed in 1807, and which he revised and expanded twice within a year. When he turned twenty-one in 1809, Byron was entitled to a seat in the House of Lords, and he attended several sessions of Parliament that year. In July, however, he left England on a journey through Greece and Turkey. He recorded his experiences in poetic form in several works, most importantly in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He returned to England in 1811 and once again took his seat in Parliament. The publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold in 1812 met with great acclaim, and Byron was hailed in literary circles. Around this time he engaged in a tempestuous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, who characterized Byron as "mad—bad—and dangerous to know." Throughout his life Byron conducted numerous affairs and fathered several illegitimate children. One of his most notorious liaisons was with his half-sister Augusta. Byron married Annabella Millbank in 1815, with whom he had a daughter, Augusta Ada. He was periodically abusive toward Annabella, and she left him in 1816. He never saw his wife and daughter again. Following his separation, which had caused something of a scandal, Byron left England for Europe. In Geneva, Switzerland, he met Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Godwin Shelley,

with whom he became close friends. The three stayed in a villa rented by Byron. During this time Mary Shelley wrote her famous novel Frankenstein, and Byron worked on Canto III of Childe Harold, which was published in 1816. In 1817 Byron moved on to Italy, where he worked on Canto IV, which was published the next year. For several years Byron lived in a variety of Italian cities, engaging in a series of affairs and composing large portions of his masterpiece Don Juan as well as other poems. In 1823 he left Italy for Greece to join a group of insurgents fighting for independence from the Turks. On April 9, 1824, after being soaked in the rain, Byron contracted a fever from which he died ten days later.

Major Works

Byron is difficult to place within the Romantic movement. He spurned poetic theory and ridiculed the critical work of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Although he was a friend of Shelley, Byron was not, as his friend was, part of the mystic tradition of Romanticism. Byron's first successful work, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, is a satire in the neoclassical tradition of Alexander Pope. His Eastern verse tales—including The Bride of Abydos. A Turkish Tale and The Giaour, A Fragment of a Turkish Tale—and, especially, such poems as Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Manfred are more typically Romantic, with their portraits of outlaws and brooding heroes. Beppo, A Venetian Story dispenses with the Byronic hero and turns again to satire, as does Don Juan, a mock epic which casts a critical eye on society, presenting its title character not as the notorious womanizer of legend but as a naive victim. This complex, digressive satire, influenced by Italian burlesque poetry, was condemned on its publication as obscene and has been described by some as careless and meandering; however, most critics now regard Don Juan as Byron's masterpiece, citing its skillful rendering of a variety of narrative perspectives and its treatment of an array of topics, including politics, society, and metaphysics.

Critical Reception

Byron's poetry was extremely popular during his lifetime, although some reviewers regarded both his personal life and his writing as immoral. He was nearly forgotten by critics in the second half of the nineteenth century, and during the first half of the twentieth century, he was often ranked as a minor Romantic poet. Since then, however, his poetry has met with increasing critical interest—in particular for its employment of satire and verbal digression, for its presentation of the individual versus society, and for its treatment of guilt and innocence. Finally, Byron's place within the Romantic movement and his debt to the eighteenth-century neoclassical writers before him are a source of ongoing interpretation and reassessment.

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