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From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

July 3, 2017

(Canto 4, Stanzas 27 & 28)

The Moon is up, and yet it is not Night –
Sunset divides the sky with her – a Sea
Of Glory streams along the Alpine height
Of blue Friuli’s mountains; Heaven is free
From clouds, but of all colours seems to be
Melted to one vast Iris of the West,
Where the Day joins the past Eternity;
While, on the other hand, meek Dian’s crest
Floats through the azure air – an island of the blest!

A Single Star is at her side, and reigns
With her o’er half the lovely heaven; but still
Yon sunny Sea heaves brightly, and remains
Rolled o’er the peak of the far Rhaetian hill,
As Day and Night contending were, until
Nature reclaimed her order – gently flows
The deep-dyed Brenta, where their hues instil
The odorous Purple of a new-born rose,
Which streams upon her stream, and glassed within it glows.

–George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1817

COMMENTARY: I came across these lines the other day when I learned that Donald Olson, a professor of astronomy at Texas State University, has just published an article arguing that, by happy coincidence, this month the moon and planet Jupiter are in the same alignment they were in 200 years ago when Byron wrote this effusive description of the sky. It’s a curious discovery (and striking that an Astronomy journal would devote an article to it). You can read the full story here:

https://phys.org/news/2017-06-celestial-sleuth-lord-byron-stellar.html

As for the lines themselves, I like the celestial sumptuousness. “Melted to one vast Iris of the west” and “streams upon her stream and glassed within it glows” are my two favorite lines. Though the two stanzas alone do not do justice to Child Harold, which is over 2000 lines, long, it gives a sense of Byron’s technical balance, musical complexity, and elaborate diction. It is hard to imagine a narrative poem selling 40,000 copies on the first day nowadays, but that is precisely what happened in 1816 when the first canto was published. It would take more than a lunar alignment in these corrupt, prosaic times.

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From → Nature, Uncategorized

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