10 Most Famous Poems by Lord Byron

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788 – 1824), commonly known as just Lord Byron, was a British poet. He was one of the leading figures of the Romantic Movement in early 19th century England. Byron first achieved fame with the publication of the first two cantos of his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812 and his reputation further enhanced with his four highly successful poems referred to as the “Oriental Tales”. Lord Byron is often described as the most flamboyant and notorious of the major Romantics due to his indulgent life and numerous love affairs. Many of his poems are autobiographic in nature and much of his work is pervaded by the Byronic hero, an idealised but flawed character capable of great passion and talent but rebellious, arrogant and self-destructive. Lord Byron is regarded as one of the greatest English poets ever and he continues to be influential and widely read. Here are his 10 most famous poems.

#10 Mazeppa

Type:Narrative
Year:1819

Excerpt:-

'TWAS after dread Pultowa's day, 

When fortune left the royal Swede, 
Around a slaughter^ army lay, 

No more to combat and to bleed. 
The power and glory of the war, 

Faithless as their vain votaries, men, 
Had pass'd to the triumphant Czar, 

And Moscow's walls were safe again, 
Until a day more dark and drear, 
And a more memorable year, 10 

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.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

Ivan Mazepa was an influential gentleman in Ukraine in late 17th and early 18th century. This poem relates a legend from his early life according to which he had a love affair with Countess Theresa while serving as a page at the court of King John II Casimir Vasa. The Count, on discovering the affair, punishes Mazeppa by tying him naked to a wild horse and setting the horse loose. Byron mostly describes the traumatic journey of Mazeppa while being tied to the horse. The poem is acclaimed by critics for its “vigour of style and its sharp realization of the feelings of suffering and endurance”. Lord Byron is most renowned for his long narrative poems and Mazeppa is among his most well known works in the genre.


#9 The Destruction of Sennacherib

Type:Narrative
Year:1815

Poem:-

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

   Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

   For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

   And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

   And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

   And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Synopsis:-

Sennacherib was a powerful king of Assyria who laid siege on Jerusalem in 701 BC but failed to capture it. Lord Byron’s poem describes the Biblical account of Sennacherib’s attempted siege according to which the Assyrian were initially successful in the siege but the Angel of the Lord killed them in their sleep thus protecting the holy city. Among the prominent themes of the poem are death and power of the lord. The Destruction of Sennacherib was extremely popular in Victorian England and it remains one of the most famous short poems by Lord Byron.


#8 The Giaour

Type:Epic
Year:1813

Excerpt:-

No breath of air to break the wave
That rolls below the Athenian's grave,
That tomb which, gleaming o'er the cliff
First greets the homeward-veering skiff
High o'er the land he saved in vain;
When shall such Hero live again?

  Fair clime! where every season smiles
Benignant o'er those blesséd isles,
Which, seen from far Colonna's height,
Make glad the heart that hails the sight,
And lend to lonliness delight.
There mildly dimpling, Ocean's cheek
Reflects the tints of many a peak
Caught by the laughing tides that lave
These Edens of the Eastern wave:
And if at times a transient breeze
Break the blue crystal of the seas,
Or sweep one blossom from the trees,
How welcome is each gentle air
That waves and wafts the odours there!
For there the Rose, o'er crag or vale,
Sultana of the Nightingale,

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

“Giaour” is an offensive Turkish word for infidel or non-believer. Byron’s narrative poem tells a fragment of a Turkish tale through three narrators with different points of view. The titular character, the giaour, loved a woman named Leila. However, her master Hassan has her drowned after learning that she has been unfaithful to him with his enemy. The giaour is filled with anger and kills Hassan in an act of vengeance. He is then remorseful and enters a monastery. The poem is known for contrasting Christian and Muslim perceptions of love, sex, death and the afterlife through its use of three narrators. It is also noted for being one of the first works to mention vampires. The oriental narrator predicts that the giaour, due to his crime, is condemned to become a vampire after his death and kill his own dear ones by drinking their blood. Byron came to know about vampires during his travels. The Giaour was a great success when it was first published in 1813 and it remains one of Byron’s most popular poems.



#7 So We’ll Go No More A-Roving

Type:Ballad
Year:1817

Poem:-

So, we'll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
   And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
   And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
   By the light of the moon.

Synopsis:-

One of the shortest compositions of Lord Byron, this poem consists of three stanzas, each of four lines. It was written by Byron at the age of 29 and included in a letter to his friend Thomas Moore. The poem was published in 1830, six years after the death of Byron. Lord Byron was notorious for living his life indulgently with numerous love affairs and aristocratic excesses. So We’ll Go No More A-Roving is interpreted as a poem in which he describes his tiredness from his indulgent lifestyle despite its attraction and his nature. It talks about the speaker’s age conquering his youth making it difficult for him to indulge in the tempting activity of going “a-roving” at night. The chorus of the poem is inspired from a Scottish song “The Jolly Beggar.”


#6 The Corsair

Type:Narrative
Year:1814

Excerpt:-

Ours the wild life in tumult still to range
From toil to rest, and joy in every change.
Oh, who can tell? not thou, luxurious slave!
Whose soul would sicken o'er the heaving wave;
Not thou, vain lord of wantonness and ease!
Whom slumber soothes not  pleasure cannot please 
Oh, who can tell, save he whose heart hath tried,
And danced in triumph o'er the waters wide,
The exulting sense  the pulse's maddening play,
That thrills the wanderer of that trackless way?
That for itself can woo the approaching fight,
And turn what some deem danger to delight;
That seeks what cravens shun with more than zeal,
And where the feebler faint  can only feel 
Feel  to the rising bosom's inmost core,
Its hope awaken and its spirit soar?

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

A corsair is an authorized pirate. Byron’s poem tells the tale of the corsair Conrad who decides to raid the riches of the Sultan Seyd but gets caught while trying to rescue the women in the Sultan’s harem. Gulnare, the Sultan’s favourite slave, tries to trick Syed into releasing Conrad but her plan fails. Unable to convince Conrad to kill the Sultan, she kills him herself and they successfully escape. When Gulnare and Conrad return to his home, Conrad finds that his wife Medora has died from grief, having believed him dead. Along with The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos and Lara; The Corsair is one of the four celebrated “Oriental Tales” of Lord Byron. It sold over 10,000 copies on its first day of sale and was extremely popular and influential in its time.



#5 When We Two Parted

Type:Lyric
Year:1813

Poem:-

When we two parted
   In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
   To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
   Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
   Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
   Sunk chill on my brow— 
It felt like the warning
   Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
   And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
   And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
   A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me—
   Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
   Who knew thee too well—
Long, long shall I rue thee,
   Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
   In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
   Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
   After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
   With silence and tears.

Synopsis:-

Lord Byron had a flirtation with Lady Frances Caroline Annesley, but later she was scandalously linked with Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Byron is said to have written this poem on his split with Lady Frances. When We Two Parted is a short lyric of four eight-line stanzas in which the speaker mourns the loss of a romantic relationship. The prominent theme of the poem is betrayal. It is ironic that Byron himself had numerous love affairs in his life and could well have inspired such a lyric. When We Two Parted is known for the strong feelings it is able to convey and, being a poem about a vastly relatable topic of lost love, it continues to be highly popular.


#4 Darkness

Type:Narrative
Year:1816

Poem:-

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer'd not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,
And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects—saw, and shriek'd, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;
The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

Synopsis:-

The eruption of Indonesian volcano Mount Tambora in 1815 is considered one of the greatest natural disasters ever to befall mankind. The following year, in which this poem was written, saw darkness and record-cold temperatures across Europe; and is known as “the year without a summer”. Byron’s poem, inspired by the then inexplicable darkness caused due to this eruption, uses the hellish biblical language of the apocalypse to convey to his readers the real possibility of the occurrence of the events described in the holy text. Previously read as an apocalyptic story of the last man on earth, Darkness is now regarded by many critics to be anti-biblical despite its many references to the Bible. It remains one of Byron’s most analysed poems.



#3 Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Type:Narrative
Year:1812 – 1818

Excerpt:-

Oh, thou, in Hellas deemed of heavenly birth,
   Muse, formed or fabled at the minstrel's will!
   Since shamed full oft by later lyres on earth,
   Mine dares not call thee from thy sacred hill:
   Yet there I've wandered by thy vaunted rill;
   Yes! sighed o'er Delphi's long-deserted shrine
   Where, save that feeble fountain, all is still;
   Nor mote my shell awake the weary Nine
To grace so plain a tale—this lowly lay of mine.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

This is a long narrative poem in four cantos with the first two published in 1812; the third in 1816, and the fourth in 1818. It is a loosely autobiographical account of Byron’s two year long tour of Europe from 1809 to 1811. “Childe” is a title from medieval times, designating a young noble who is not yet knighted. The poem describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man and is renowned for depicting, with unprecedented frankness, the disparity between romantic ideals and the realities of the world. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is also noted for being the first work to depict the Byronic hero, one of the most potent and relevant character archetypes in western literature. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is one of the most famous works of Lord Byron and it was on publication of its first two cantos that Byron first gained public attention and acclaim.


#2 She Walks in Beauty

Type:Lyric
Year:1813

Poem:-

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Synopsis:-

The most famous short poem of Lord Byron, She Walks in Beauty consists of three stanzas of six lines. The poem celebrates the external appearance as well as inner beauty of a woman by whom the poet is captivated. The speaker starts by admiring the harmony of the woman’s external appearance before he suggests that her perfect looks are a reflection of her inner goodness. It is said that Byron was inspired to write She Walks in Beauty after meeting his cousin by marriage, Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmot, who was in mourning and wearing a black dress. Byron was struck by her unusual beauty and wrote the poem the next morning.


#1 Don Juan

Type:Epic
Year:1819 – 1824

Excerpt:-

I want a hero: an uncommon want,
    When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
    The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
    I’ll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan—
We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
Sent to the devil somewhat ere his time.

Vernon, the butcher Cumberland, Wolfe, Hawke,
    Prince Ferdinand, Granby, Burgoyne, Keppel, Howe,
Evil and good, have had their tithe of talk,
    And fill’d their sign posts then, like Wellesley now;
Each in their turn like Banquo’s monarchs stalk,
    Followers of fame, ‘nine farrow’ of that sow:
France, too, had Buonaparte and Dumourier
Recorded in the Moniteur and Courier.

Barnave, Brissot, Condorcet, Mirabeau,
    Petion, Clootz, Danton, Marat, La Fayette,
Were French, and famous people, as we know:
    And there were others, scarce forgotten yet,
Joubert, Hoche, Marceau, Lannes, Desaix, Moreau,
    With many of the military set,
Exceedingly remarkable at times,
But not at all adapted to my rhymes.

Synopsis:-

Don Juan is a legendary fictional character known for being devoid of most moral or sexual restraints. His name is a common metaphor for a “womanizer”. Based on the legend of Don Juan, Byron’s poem reverses his traditional portrayal and instead shows him as not a womaniser but as someone easily seduced by women. The poem consists of 16 cantos with the 17th being unfinished at the time of Byron’s death in 1824. Byron is credited with inventing the expression ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ in this poem. Don Juan is considered as the masterpiece of Lord Byron and ranks as one of the most important English long poems since John Milton’s renowned work Paradise Lost. It is a variation of the epic form and Byron himself called it an “Epic Satire”. Lord Byron is so highly regarded among scholars mostly due to the satiric realism of Don Juan.



3 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Poems by Lord Byron”

  1. Why not add ‘Dark Lochnagar’, a beautiful poem which was put to song by The Corries. This would also show Byron’s connection to Scotland and Aberdeenshire in particular.
    It always amazes me that he managed to travel around so much in those times.
    I was born in a house looking out to Lochnagar (hence my love of the poem) and strangely ended up working in Hucknall – Byron’s resting place.

    Reply

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