Nail Bezel was for many years Professor of English at Middle East Technical University, Ankara. He is currently Head of the Department of English at Çankaya University, Ankara. His many publications include articles on Romantic and modern poetry; he is also a published poet himself.
Such is the title of this conference. Such is the title of the paper I am presenting to you. As I proposed this paper to the organising committee months ago, I could not think of a title more fit to be applied to Byron’s Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. At certain stages of preparation, it seemed to me as if I was going to revise this title. But eventually it did not become necessary. For the title applies well to the work in hand. My reading of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a work of four cantos and more than four thousand lines, is going to be a consideration of the work as whole, not going into fine distinctions, if there are some, among the cantos. Thus, relevant to the title of this paper and of this conference, I start with a very very brief quotation from Canto IV. The speaker in the poem, about whom I will have a few words to say shortly, imagines building a bark: “a little bark of hope”, (4/938). The speaker then questions: “...where should I steer?” (4/944) Then in the same stanza, the Spenserian stanza in which form this work is written, there is this concluding line: “There woos no home, nor hope, nor life, save what is here.” Now, the place of composition and the reference to “here” in the line is Italy, the setting for much of Canto IV. From thereon there is no place to steer to. But this obviously could not be an evidence that Italy is home, for he imagines building a bark to go away from it. Elsewhere in the poem there is reference to his being a stranger in Italy. So, relate this to the title of the conference and of this paper.
Now, if you have registered the above, there is the following by two eminent critics, or scholars. The first comment is this: “The timelessness of art ends the wanderings of Byron’s Pilgrim, for he comes to rest before the beauty of Rome, his search accomplished.” (Bloom, 6) The second comment is this: “He [that is, Byron, or his persona,] identifies himself with Italy.” (McGann, 39) You see, the comments do not hold. They do not hold in respect to art, for Byron or his persona, imagines building a bark for something further; and they do not hold in respect to the author as man, for Byron seeks possibilities for military glory in Italy, or in Spain, and ironically, and maybe as might be expected, ends up in Greece fighting against Turks. I should read this paper effectively enough to have a few further words on this point in the conclusion, which may contain irony, or déja vu for you; and one may involve the other, depending on circumstances and perception.
Again, in respect to the title of the conference and of this paper, I should make another point, at this particular stage. Even in respect to the first voyage to continental Europe, Byron expresses a sense of full exile from the home land, as he had to do seven years later. The following lines are from Canto I, from a lyric introduced in the narrative poem, “Childe Harold's Good Night”:
In Canto III, at the very beginning, we observe similar moods of indifference to England and a sense of lack of purpose or direction. These lines are from the beginning of Canto III. The first group of lines that I quote:
The second group of lines are these:
Now, I said just a while ago that there might be some irony pointed out at the end of this paper, relevant to how Byron comes to fight in Greece rather than in Italy or Spain. You will hear that at the end. But there is another bit of irony to be observed, the way this paper is arranged, right at this stage. Lord Byron, the man and the poet, among other things, who got his name and his title and his income and all other consequent privileges in Great Britain and used them up to the desire of what he all is, died abroad, in Greece. The irony to be pointed out at this stage of this paper is this: Byron’s dead body was taken back to England; but a burial in Poet's Corner at Westminister Abbey was very definitely refused. He was buried at some little known place. That was the way he came back to the land he did not want to come back to. (Whose is the voice which says at this moment, "So what? Naz?m wanted to lie buried in a Turkish peasant village, and now he is buried in Moscow. And Dante too, died in exile.)
Now, please consider all this in the way of an overall thematic introduction to this paper. As to the arrangement of the paper: the idea was, this paper should have two parts. Part one, after the introduction you’ve heard, would be on points such as:
(1) the notion of the “Byronic hero”
(2) Byron and the identity of the persona he seems to propose for this work, that is, Childe Harold's
(3) the feeling of space and time
(4) the way Byron writes in this work, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and the essential crucial literary and epistemological function of this manner of writing.
Part two of this paper was meant to read certain passages of the work with you to illustrate how the observations in part one may be observed in the work itself and witness and experience them with you rather than just comment on them. These passages were to cover experiences - narrative poetry in Spain, Greece, Albania and Turkey in one group, the product of the first continental journey, treated in the first two cantos, and those related in Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy, also dealing with such figures as Napoleon, Rousseau, and the scenes and artistic historical associations in mind in Italy.
But you see, not at my back, but right before me through you, I hear time’s winged chariot hurrying by. This paper may end with the intended part one only; this is also one way to see what Byron is writing about; you’re going through the moment with slight control over the whole. Point one was to be the notion of the Byronic hero. The notion and the term coined, by whosoever, contains almost all, the man and the poet we are concerned with; for, obviously, we would not have been concerned here today unless he had put himself into his own words. The notion and the fact the Byronic hero is the gist of what Byron is as legend, as fact and now as history.
Now my own words: To me, the Byronic hero is Manfred and Cain, primarily. But this is not fair; it is anything you read by Byron at any moment with a sense of the whole; it breathes in Byron’s writing throughout as the air you breathe is now and here and in all instances. One thing that does not at all appeal to me about commentary on poetry is to use someone else’s poem to write in figurative language about it. You realise, I am in that sort of pitfall. Now some lines and phrases manifesting the Byronic hero in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, in the way of calling back to the mind:
One might call this alienation or high-bornness, or the problem of low or high birth. For a full covering of passages illustrating the Byronic hero, the remaining time of this conference would not suffice. Still, a few more phrases, referring to the what I call the “negative impulse” in the Byronic hero. Here are the phrases, only from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: Living “in riot most uncouth”; “ungodly glee”; “concubines and carnal company” (I,2...); he “felt the fullness of satiety:/Then loath’d he in his native land to dwell” (I, 34-35); he “resolv’d to go,/ And visit scorching climes beyond the sea;/ With pleasure drugg’d he almost long’d for woe...” (I, 51-53); “Strange pangs would flash along Childe Harold's brow” (I, 65); “A sister whom he lov’d, but saw her not/ Before his weary pilgrimage begun”(I, 84-85); “I have thought/ Too long and darkly” (III, 55-56); [I] “feed on bitter fruits without accusing Fate” (III, 63); “Proud though in desolation” (III, 107).
Such are a few glimpses of the kaleidoscopic image of what the Byronic hero is. Still, these few quotations are far from doing justice to such a notion. But they will bring back to the mind at least a partial image. The next point to be taken up, when such is the case with the Byronic hero, is whether Childe Harold is a persona or a projection of Byron himself and the implications and consequences that follow. I consider this an important point, for such awareness affects our observation of the mechanism and the significance of the whole work. It is a matter of who it is that travels, observes the sites and scenes, and then tells us of his own response to such sites and scenes. Any reader of Byron’s works such as Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Manfred, or Don Juan, or any commentator on any of these works is inevitably faced with the notion of the Byronic hero, which we touched upon briefly, and with the matter of the relationship between Byron the author and his characters; in other words, whether these characters are various projections of Byron himself, and if so, to what extent. I have the following comment on Byron and Don Juan the character: “But I think it fair to argue that in most of Don Juan the persona and the man himself are so mixed and fused, the ‘real’ Byron and the projected Byron so deliberately identified that it is quite impossible to disentangle them.” (Hirsch, Jr., 455). At the expense of becoming redundant, I read a quote on Childe Harold by Sir Walter Scott, Byron’s own contemporary: “Childe Harold may not be, nor do we believe he is, Lord Byron’s very self, but he is Lord Byron’s picture, sketched by Lord Byron himself.” (Rutherford, 138)
Now to me, this makes sense. However, Byron himself made a note relevant to this point in the preface to the first Canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. I do not have information as to when this preface was added and whether Scott saw it in the very early edition. This is what Byron noted: “A fictitious character is introduced for the sake of giving some connexion to the piece; which, however, makes no pretension to regularity.” (McGann, 4) I find the disclaimer, “no pretension to regularity”, of ultimate significance as I intend to discuss in the last section of this paper. Although Byron notes that he introduces “a fictitious character”, as he indicates himself also, there is no “regularity”, there are sudden and unexpected shifts from self, self-experience and self-expression to the name Harold, which are mostly unconvincing as narrative devices. Thus, Byron handles Childe Harold as a handy figure which he can ignore when he finds it convenient to do so. The name "Harold" sounds merely as a superficial tag. However, this device at times leads to shifting perspectives, so that Byron-Childe Harold's identity becomes fluid, evasive, to achieve which may be the main function of Childe Harold the persona.
Still, there are definite clues as to the common identity of the two. In Canto III, Byron refers to his half-sister Augusta and his love for her as if it is Childe Harold's experience. The lines: “thus he felt,/ For there was soft remembrance, and sweet trust/ In one fond breast...” (III, 474-476) Now, in the context of how Byron’s own life and the matter of incest became part of his writing, I present to you another quotation, directly referring to Manfred but which may be applicable to Byron and his characters: “The crime of Manfred is that of Byron, incest deliberately and knowingly undertaken.” (Bloom, 10) You see, this is meant in the way of a hint that it may also apply to Childe Harold as well.
Now, one or two more points relevant to the Byron-Childe Harold identity. Point one: in the preface to the first two cantos, Byron refers to Childe Harold as “that most unamiable personage”. (McGann, 5) Point two: Byron had “reluctance to publish Childe Harold, and one reason was “his fear of revealing secrets of his private life and feelings.” (Marchand, 439-440) Now, Byron admits, in the introductory note to Canto IV, that the “separation” of Byron and Childe Harold did not work for the reader; so he writes, “I determined to abandon it altogether - and have done so.” (McGann, 122) So far so good. Still, yet still, at the end of the same canto, Canto IV of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, we have these two lines: “... My pilgrim’s shrine is won,/ And he and I must part-“. (IV, 1567- 1568) If the “he” in the line is Childe Harold the persona, the lines still indicate a distinction between Byron and the persona he creates. I hope to show that it is this combination of poet-narrator-persona, that takes and guides the reader along and through a pilgrimage. And the reader witnesses this pilgrimage through this combination of figures. For my immediate purposes, I will call this combination of poet-narrator-persona Childe Byron. There may even be a hint of “poetic justice” in this too, for Byron had first intended to call his persona Childe Burun, the last word being the original form of the name Byron. So, my calling the poet-narrator-persona combination Childe Byron is also in line with Byron’s original intention.
Now then, it is this Childe Byron that we will observe and be guided by through the spirit of places, as it relates to the topic of this conference and of this paper. But talk about only the spirit of place is not adequate in reference to pilgrimages or experiences, for there is also the dimension of time, and thus, the spirit of time. Childe Byron, on his pilgrimage, moves in space and in time. This is obvious enough. Everything works in space and in time. Thus a critic writes: “Byron was very much a genius of time and space, of the here and now.” (Langford, 20) This comment is relevant, but the notion of “time and space” in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is not confined to the “here and now”; the writing takes place simultaneously with the travel and the experience, but the mind in response to the scenes and sites moves in the scope of time with absolute freedom, depending on Byron’s overall readiing, on his mental associations, and on his emotional state at the moment of observation and writing. Thus, each reference to a physical feature of land is also full of historical references and allusions. At least one very brief quotation from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage should be cited here. In Canto IV, we have the line: “Pass not unblest the Genius of place!” (IV, 604) “The Genius of place” here is not confined to the moment only, for Byron, through Childe Byron, is not writing only what he observes, but relates the moment to the historical context.
Such being the Byronic hero, the identity of “Childe Byron” and the
notion of space time in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, in this last section
of this paper I will discuss the eventual function of this kind of writing.
And I will do it in two steps. First, I will consider what this kind of
writing means to Byron himself, with references to the text; then I will
consider the overall literary/philosophical implications of this kind of
writing. I have picked out five brief groups of lines to show what
Byron seems to expect from writing Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. First, there
is some glow that he receives, being mixed with Childe Harold the persona;
thus, this is also part of the reason why he proposes a persona. One and
half lines where this is observable: “...as I glow/ Mix’d with thy spirit.”
(III, 52-53) Second, he finds a magnified or “more intense” image
of his own in Childe Harold, and thus another reason for the persona. The
lines: “’Tis to create, and in creating live/ A being more intense, that
we endow/ With form our fancy.” (III, 46-48) are an example of this.
Third, Byron expects forgetfulness from such writing, as seen in the lines:
Fourthly, contrary to the expectation of forgetfulness, now he expects remembrance, as seen in the lines: “...I twine/ My hopes of being remembered in my line/ With my land’s language.” (IV, 76-78) Fifthly, Byron demands from Nemesis (IV, 1181), retribution on man and society through this writing, as seen in the lines:
That is the function of writing for Byron. The critical readers of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage today find something additional. This work, as may have been hinted at thus far, does not only concern the matter of travel and place, but also a constant awareness of, emphasis on the pronoun “I”, the observer, the perceiver, the one who experiences and records. Obviously, such emphasis on the observing and expressing self is a feature of Romanticism. Obviously again, it is not confined to Romanticism, again depending on the observing mind; for, we keep Shakespeare in mind as we embrace Hamlet, Leonardo da Vinci in mind as we view the Mona Lisa, and Picasso in mind as we observe La Guernica. For an instant, I come back to the title of the conference and of this paper, to the word “sense” in particular. The “sense” of place and the “sense” of displacement. In the context I am trying to establish, the word “sense” should distract, or direct, the attention from the “sense” to the “senser”, or the “sensor”; that is, to the human subject which experiences such a “sense”. For, obviously, we observe the so-called place through another agent, in this case the author, or the poet.
Now I have some remarks from critics in this direction. “Doric column, Turkish tomb-stone, Venetian palace ... all are felt as projections of an inner situation, in indivisible union with it, so that ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ are no longer antitheses, but co-exist in the artistic construct.” (Blackstone, 18) I quote this, for I agree. Another critical comment in the same direction:“The main appeal of Byron’s poetry is in the fact that it is Byron’s. To read Byron’s poetry is to hear all about Byron’s marital difficulties, flirtations, love for Augusta, friendship, travels, and political and social values.” (Frye, 53) I quote this, for I agree. Another critical comment.“...the driving force is always the poet’s desire to work out a solution to his own problems.” (Marchand, 440) I quote this, for I agree. Still another critical comment: “Ashe [Byron] recognises, the state of affairs he finds himself in is a complex product of European history, personal temperament, and circumstance, and the poem tries to maneuver the terms into a tolerable arrangement.” (Ridenour, 66) I quote this, for I agree. Thus far in this last section of this paper, I observed what Byron expected from the writing of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and how some critics and I agreed on how Byron as person comes to the front. In conclusion now, in a few words, I will express what seems to me to be the literary and epistemological significance of this kind of writing. Again, first, the invention or introduction of the persona Childe Harold gives Byron the liberty to exploit his imagination. An acknowledged autobiography would confine an author to the limits of facts. (Like the notion of map-making. Time does not allow the extension of this metaphor.) Thus, the poet-narrator- persona combination, to which I referred earlier, works as a sword with so many edges and can cut in so many ways.
For the next point, I will start with a quotation again. This relates to the spontaneity of experience and of expression. “...the telling and the living seemed to have occurred simultaneously, the poet in the poem can know nothing about himself beyond the stanza he is immediately writing ... He has to acquire consciousness and self-knowledge in the course of the poem.” (McGann, 48) Please allow me to cite another quotation. To me, this is the epistemological significance of the work in hand. And the conclusion of this paper. The quotation is this: “Travel is the structural principle ... It symbolises the restless movement of the spirit from object to object, as well as the writing of a poem that has no fixed plan. The very unfixedness of the goal permits the pilgrimage to continue.” (Hirsch, Jr., 457) Fine fine comment, and I quote, for I agree.
Now the literary, more epistemological than the literary, conclusion
of this paper: Childe Byron writes as he lives. See, that is what humanity
does, or rather that is what planet earth does. See, that is what the universe
does on planet earth. All right, all this is ad infinitum. See see,
it is a working metaphor, for you live and all that and write, that is,
express yourself, as you move along, as you live along. That is, from the
caveman, with his coloured designs on cave walls, to me, maybe to some
of you, you exist along, express yourself along. Now, in respect
to the word “pilgrimage” and the significance of this work, Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage: “Pilgrimage” is a journey for some purpose beyond the journey
itself. Byron’s pilgrimage is limited to itself, to what is to be experienced
here and now. Thus, it does not seek to serve a purpose beyond itself.
It is confined to the existential experience in this place, that is, a
part of this planet earth. To me, this is very appropriate, for Byron writes
of places with also a historical context. This is the formal ending
of this paper. If you are interested in the further irony in respect to
Lord Byron which I suggested in the introduction, here it is:
Blackstone, Bernard. (1970), Byron: Lyric and Romance. Writers and their work, London: Longman Group Ltd.
Bloom, Harold (ed). (1986), George Gordon, Lord Byron. Modern Critical Views. Chelsea House Publishers, New York.
Bloom, Harold. “Introduction”, in George Gordon, Lord Byron, ed. Harold Bloom.
Evans, Bergen. “Lord Byron’s Pilgrimage”, in McConnell (ed.), Byron’s Poetry.
Frye, Northrop. “Lord Byron”, in Bloom (ed.), George Gordon, Lord Byron: 53-63.
Gleckner, Robert F. (ed.) (1991), Critical Essays on Lord Byron, New York: G. K. Hall & Co.
Hirsch. E. D. Jr. “Byron and the Terrestrial Paradise”, in McConnell (ed.), Byron’s Poetry: 442-458.
Longford, Elizabeth. (1976), Byron, London: Hutchinson.
Marchand, Leslie A. “Byron in the Twentieth Century”, in Byron’s Poetry, ed. Frank D. McConnell: 431-442.
McConnell, Frank D. (ed), (1978), Byron’s Poetry, London and New York,
McConnell, Frank D. “Byron as Antipoet”, in McConnell (ed.), Byron’s Poetry: 418-431.
McGann, Jerome J. “On Reading Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, (first published in 1968) in Gleckner, Critical Essays on Lord Byron: 33-58.
McGann, Jerome J. ed. (1980), Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works: Volume II, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Page, Norman, (ed). (1984), Byron: Interviews and Recollections. London: Macmillan.
Riddenour, George M. “Byron in 1816: Four Poems from Diodatti”, in Bloom (ed.), George Gordon, Lord Byron: 65-74.
Rutherford, Andrew. (ed.), (1970), Byron: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Contains selected extracts from prose and poems; Links to Selected Letters and Journals; Biographical Information about Byron; The Corpse of Lord Byron; Poems by Byron (University of Toronto); The Secret History of Byron; The Oxford Byron Society;
The Lord Byron webpage. Topics include: Works; Chronology; Bibliography; Filmography; Gallery; The Lord Byron WebRing
Find out more about Byron at the following addresses:
Lord Byron's biography and role in the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite movement; links to Victorian history
An html version of Don Juan
An html version of Childe Harold