June 01, 2021

#08-091: Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

oil painting of a panoramic landscape with people picnicking by a river bend, with an ancient castle in the distance on a hill to the left, and a ruined bridge across the river to the right
Harold in Italy

Note: Byron's "world-weary" Harold (a childe, not a child) sets out on a poetic cultural tour of the European continent to spice things up.

Get Ready: Can travel be the cure for a bad case of the blues--or will it just make the problem worse?

George Gordon, Lord Byron--commonly known simply as "Byron"--was a poet, but his longer poems often told stories which would stand on their own even if written in prose.

One of the best-known of these is Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Its hero is not a child, but a childe (pronounced "sheeld")--a medieval term for a young man preparing to become a knight. Harold is the prototype of what is called the "Byronic hero": a moody character who often sighs as he contemplates beauty and reflects on the hopelessness of things--somewhat like Byron himself.

The "pilgrimage" is not a journey to a holy site per se, but an aesthetic tour of the European continent. Harold starts in Spain and Portugal in "Canto I," and bemoans the foreign battles that have occurred in those pastoral countries. And this is not just a thing of the past, he notes, "For Spain is compassed by unyielding foes" even in Byron's day (France foremost).

In "Canto II," Harold visits Greece, the great beauty of which is marred by Turkish occupation. "Spirit of Freedom!" he asks, did you foresee this hour when your descendants are "Trembling beneath the scourge of Turkish hand/ From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed, unmanned."

"Canto III" takes him to the plains of Waterloo in Belgium, where the Duke of Wellington defeated the French under Napoleon: "And Harold stands upon this place of skulls/ The grave of France, the deadly Waterloo!"

At last, in "Canto IV," Harold journeys through Italy, lamenting the disappearance of that country's heroic past. "Yet, Italy!" he cries, "Mother of Arts! as once of Arms," but now she has suffered "ten thousand rents/ Of thine imperial garment..." Reaching the Colosseum in Rome, he notes that it is an "exhaustless mine/ Of contemplation" (as almost everything is for Harold!), seeing "power/ And magic in the ruined battlement."

The world-weary outlook of the "childe" was soon made the subject of satire, as everyone recognized in it Byron's own personality and point of view, try as he might to deny that Harold was he. Nevertheless, it became a touchstone for later poets, who found in it a model either to be emulated or rejected. Numerous artists and musicians were also inspired by the poem in their own works.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childe_Harold%27s_Pilgrimage

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. aesthetic
  2. compassed
  3. emulated
  4. marred
  5. per se
  6. prose
  7. prototype
  8. rent
  9. scourge
  10. world-weary

  1. as such; in itself
  2. having to do with beauty
  3. copied
  4. surrounded
  5. a model
  6. torn; ripped
  7. tired of life
  8. a whip; a lash
  9. damaged
  10. plain, not poetic, language

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 1, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. d; 3. c; 4. i; 5. a; 6. j; 7. e; 8. f; 9. h; 10. g