Eccentricity's prodigious son
As well as embodying the stereotype of the romantic hero, Byron was, in many ways, a classic warrior who fought solely for the importance of the struggle.
George Gordon Byron, widely known as Lord Byron, was the most extravagant poet of the Romantic Period; a true celebrity who made a rebellious hero of himself, at once defiant and melancholy, and that therefore, to a certain extent, eclipsed his work with his personality. This eccentricity with which he lived, surrounded by exotic pets, cynicism, sexuality, virility and decadence, made him a notable romantic paradox. On the one hand, he exalted the transcendental aspect of nature: “I live not in me, but become I / Portion of that around me; and to me / High mountains are a feeling” and on the other, he saw himself reflected in characters like Rousseau and Napoleon, possessed by “a fire / And motion of the soul” that “Preys upon high adventure.”
He was convinced that actions were far nobler than words, which led him to embark on a war that had nothing to do with him or even his nationality; and belonged, rather, to Greco-Latin values –-Far apart form Romantic ones. In the summer of 1823, Byron told his guest “the most gorgeous” Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, that “he who is only a poet has done little for mankind.” He thus strived to “prove in his own person that a poet may be a soldier.” With this in mind, he devoted himself to the Greek war of Independence against the Turks, which had begun in 1821.
Attired in a red military uniform and mounted on a sturdy horse, Byron arrived at the camp and was welcomed and praised loudly by the platoon, and like a mythical warrior, he fought for a foreign freedom that was also intrinsically his own. By doing so he embodied, at last, the Promethean spark that burned within him like a torch. By the year 1820, the poet had decreed that the true fight for freedom was separate from its specifics.
When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours,
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And is always as nobly requited;
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted.
In Byron in Our Day (1907), J. A. F Pyre quotes a line that seems to sum up the poet’s personal doctrine: “The great object of life is sensation —to feel that we exist— even though in pain.”
During the war, after having been horse-riding in the rain, Byron fell ill with pneumonia, and on April 19, 1824, during a violent electrical storm, the warrior passed away.
Shortly after his death he was proclaimed a national hero in Greece, and his spirit fueled revolutionary liberal movements. His presence in the world had left behind a knightly and bellicose archetype whose influence would transcend time and geography. War, more than poetic imagination, was the means of his revelation and his ultimate truth.
Byron meandered the margins of the world (those gardens that lie outside the center) with incomparable elegance. And his legacy, as an echo of the most inspiring extravagance, will shelter and guard all those who are worthy of such a sophisticated and complex label as eccentricity is.
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