I’m about halfway through reading the Letters of Lord Byron, recently reprinted by Michael Walmer. Byron has just fled to the Continent after the scandal surrounding the end of his marriage. Among the many rumours about the breakdown of his marriage was one that accused Byron of having an affair with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. They were devoted to each other & Byron was devastated to be separated from Augusta, sending little presents back to England for Augusta’s daughters & his own little girl, Ada.
I don’t think anyone really knows whether or not they were lovers (although there have been many theories) but this poem is full of despair, misery & sadness & I find it very poignant.
Though the day of my destiny’s over,
And the star of my fate hath declined,
Thy soft heart refused to discover
The faults which so many could find;
Though thy soul with my grief was acquainted,
It shrunk not to share it with me,
And the love which my spirit hath painted
It never hath found but in thee.
Then when nature around me is smiling
The last smile which answers to mine,
I do not believe it beguiling
Because it reminds me of thine;
And when winds are at war with the ocean,
As the breasts I believed in with me,
If their billows excite an emotion
It is that they bear me from thee.
Though the rock of my last hope is shiver’d,
And its fragments are sunk in the wave,
Though I feel that my soul is deliver’d
To pain–it shall not be its slave.
There is many a pang to pursue me:
They may crush, but they shall not contemn–
They may torture, but shall not subdue me–
‘Tis of thee that I think–not of them.
Though human, thou didst not deceive me,
Though woman, thou didst not forsake,
Though loved, thou forborest to grieve me,
Though slander’d, thou never could’st shake,–
Though trusted, thou didst not betray me,
Though parted, it was not to fly,
Though watchful, ’twas not to defame me,
Nor, mute, that the world might belie.
Yet I blame not the world, nor despise it,
Nor the war of the many with one–
If my soul was not fitted to prize it
‘Twas folly not sooner to shun:
And if dearly that error hath cost me,
And more than I once could foresee,
I have found that, whatever it lost me,
It could not deprive me of thee.
From the wreck of the past, which hath perish’d,
Thus much I at least may recall,
It hath taught me that what I most cherish’d
Deserved to be dearest of all:
In the desert a fountain is springing,
In the wide waste there still is a tree,
And a bird in the solitude singing,
Which speaks to my spirit of thee.