The Poetic Diary of a Romantic Soul (George Gordon Byron, “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage”) - Lord George Gordon Byron

Essays on literary works - 2023

The Poetic Diary of a Romantic Soul (George Gordon Byron, “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage”)
Lord George Gordon Byron

For the first time, speaking with extreme frankness in verse about the storms and passions shaking his heart, Byron made a real revolution in the lyrics. Before him, poets mostly wrote about love and hate, joys and sufferings as generalized, abstract, and often conditional feelings. Byron, on the other hand, turned the soul inside out, giving the lyrical narrative the character of a personal diary, fully revealing the individual originality of the poetic "I". This "diary" represented a character driven by a feeling of acute rejection of the bourgeois-aristocratic society and expressing this feeling in the widest range of spiritual life - from paralyzing the soul of "world sorrow" to the most desperate, truly titanic rebellion. Rebellious and restless, longing and rebellious, restless and independent, despising European modernity and looking for true values beyond its borders, to many he seemed to be a poetic double of Byron himself. But with all his resemblance to the poet, this hero was also a collective image of a generation born for great achievements, but which did not find a worthy application of its forces in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century.

For the first time, a close-up portrait of the Byronic hero was depicted in the first songs of the poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage", which the author, after completing two more songs (this happened nine years after the start of work on the poem, when a significant part of the great poetic canvases was created), called his " the largest, richest in thought and widest in scope” work. "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" is written in the form of a free lyrical story about the wanderings of a young aristocrat, but already disillusioned with life, not devoid of some spiritual inclinations, but deprived of the opportunity to realize them.

Harold's path lies through Spain fighting the Napoleonic invasion (first song), Albania and Greece suffering under Turkish rule (second song), Switzerland, the history and nature of which in the poem are contrasted with the era of the Napoleonic wars (third song), finally, through Italy enslaved by foreigners ( fourth song). From these corners of the “pilgrimage” of the protagonist, a wide panorama of European reality at the beginning of the 19th century is formed. However, she is not at all the main subject of the artistic depiction in the work, but a personality formed by this reality and trying to find its place in it (which the poet emphasized, calling "Pilgrimage ..." "a human poem").

Orientation towards the artistic comprehension of the modern personality determined the general construction of the plot of the poem, subordinating it to the author’s internal logic, interspersing pictures from the life of different countries with descriptions of the soul of his hero, as well as reflections on nature, cultural treasures, the fate of peoples, ancient history and the current political situation in Europe. Thus, the poem is a kind of lyrical travel diary, characterized by free composition and an abundance of author's digressions. The task of a free form of narration is also served by the so-called Spencer stanza, which, according to Byron, allows for a huge variety in the expression of poetic thought.

Childe Harold's journey coincides with a period of important historical change spanning the French wars of conquest, the overthrow of Napoleon, and the political reaction that followed. This coincidence is not accidental: it is a clear indication that the internal crisis that prompts the hero to wander around the wide world with a devastated soul is a direct product of modern social life. Therefore, Harold, smitten with persistent boredom, unshakable indifference to the usual worldly temptations, in other words, the state that Byron called "the fatal disease of the mind and heart", and Pushkin - "premature old age of the soul", appeared not only as a peculiar personality, but also as the mouthpiece of his generations. This generation, born, like Harold, during the years of the French Revolution and, like him, in the years of growing up, having experienced disappointment with modern history, he immediately recognized himself in the protagonist of Byron's poem. One of the evidence for this is the fiction of the early 19th century, which responded to the appearance of Childe Harold with a long line of characters wrapped in "Harold's cloaks." Byron, that many contemporaries considered him a self-portrait of the poet. However, the author of the poem objected to such an interpretation: “I do not intend in any way to identify myself with Harold,” he declared, “I will deny any connection with him. If you can partially think that I drew him from myself, then, believe me, only partially, and I won’t even admit to this ... I would not want to be such a subject for anything in the world, how he made his hero. Indeed, the "partial" similarity (recognized, as can be seen from the above quotation, by the poet himself) should not obscure the fundamental differences between the author and his hero. Harold, introduced, according to Byron, to link different fragments of the poem and often lost from the narrator's field of vision, is a rather conventional character and devoid of development; he seems to freeze in his original state of disappointment and contemptuous indifference to the world. No doubt, this state was well known to the poet, and therefore reproduced it in many of his works, but still it was only one of the "casts" of his diverse spiritual life. And where Harold indifferently contemplates the pictures that open to his gaze, the voice of the narrator sounds, indignantly or sympathetically evaluating modernity, with pride or longing remembering the great past, passionately calling for the fight against oppressors or thoughtfully reflecting on philosophical questions. In other words, the image of the author (or lyrical hero) is the same central character of the poem, like Childe Harold, and, like Childe Harold, focuses the most important motifs of Byron's poetry.

Throughout his life, G. G. Byron put the struggle for freedom above poetic creativity. During his early glory years, he wrote in his diary: “Who would write if he had the opportunity to do something better? .. Actions, actions, actions,” I say, “and not writing, especially in verse.” However, it was in creativity, in an artistically perfect form, that the poet immortalized his desire for freedom ... “Because,” as the literary critic A. Zverev noted, “epochs pass and the events that worried Byron become distant history, and his poetry still sounds the same alarm calling for a fight against any tyranny and any injustice. Even today it shines ... a mournful star, whose beam will not be lost in the dazzling light cast by other planets lit up in the sky of poetry ... "