Dr. Clifton Snider
Department of English
California State University, Long Beach
Lord Byron at age 25 (1813 portrait by Richard Westall)
The first two poems below appear in The Penguin Book of Homosexual
Verse (ed. Stephen Coote, pp. 192-93). They are both about a
choirboy, John Edleston (spelled “Eddleston” by Byron), whom Byron met
as a student at Cambridge and with whom he was deeply in love (see The
Columbia Anthology of
Gay Literature, ed. Byrne R. S. Fone, p. 219). Despite
Byron’s reputation as a womanizer and a world-class object of
heterosexual love, he was, apparently, throughout his life romantically
attached to men. His handsome servant, William Fletcher,
“was at Byron’s side from 1804, when Byron was sixteen, almost without
interval until his master died” (Fiona MacCarthy, Byron: Life and
Legend, p. 77). Byron had a deep love for
Nicolas (or Nicolo, Byron's version of his name) Giraud, “a young man
he [had] met in Greece, where he died in 1824
after joining the Greek revolt against the Turks" (see "If Sometimes in
the Haunts of Men" (1812; written for Giraud and reprinted in Fone; see
pp. 219 and 223-224; see also MacCarthy, pp. 128-29).
In Greece, the last object of his love (which was not returned) was for
his teenaged Greek page, Lukas Chalandritsanos ( MacCarthy,
pp. 499 and 501). See the poem, “On This Day I Complete My
Thirty-sixth Year” (1824), as well as "Love and Death" (1824) and
“Last Words on Greece” (1824), below. All three were written for
No specious splendour of this stone
Endears it to my memory ever;
With lustre only once it shone,
And blushes modest as the giver.
Some, who can sneer at friendship’s ties,
Have, for my weakness, oft reprov’d me;
Yet still the simple gift I prize,
For I am sure, the giver lov’d me.
He offer’d it with downcast look,
As fearful that I might refuse it;
I told him, when the gift I took,
My only fear should be, to lose it.
This pledge attentively I view’d,
And sparkling as I held it near,
Methought one drop the stone bedew’d,
And, ever since, I’ve lov’d a tear.
Still, to adorn his humble youth,
Nor wealth nor birth their treasures yield;
But he, who seeks the flowers of truth,
Must quit the garden, for the field.
‘Tis not the plant uprear’d in sloth,
Which beauty shews, and sheds perfume;
The flowers, which yield the most of both,
In Nature’s wild luxuriance bloom.
Had Fortune aided Nature’s care,
For once forgetting to be blind,
His would have been an ample share,
If well proportioned to his mind.
But had the Goddess clearly seen,
His form had fix’d her fickle breast;
Her countless hoards would his have been,
And none remain’d to give the rest.
Note: Byron received the cornelian (also spelled carnelian, "a
reddish variety of chalcedony used in jewelry," Random House Webster's College Dictionary)
from the choirboy, Edlestone.
from Childe Harold’s
Thou too art gone, thou loved and lovely one!
Whom Youth and Youth’s affections bound to me;
Who did for me what none beside have done,
Nor shrank from one albeit unworthy thee,
What is my Being! thou hast ceased to be!
Nor staid to welcome here thy wanderer home,
Who mourns o’er hours which we no more shall see--
Would they had never been, or were to come!
Would he had ne’er returned to find fresh cause to roam!
Oh! ever loving, lovely, and beloved!
How selfish Sorrow ponders on the past,
And clings to thoughts now better far removed!
But Time shall tear thy shadow from me last.
All thou couldst have of mine, stern Death! thou hast;
The Parent, Friend, and now the more than Friend:
Ne’er yet for one thine arrows flew so fast,
And grief with grief continuing still to blend,
Hath snatched the little joy that Life had yet to lend.
Sometimes in the Haunts of Men
I watched thee when the foe was at our
Ready to strike at him--or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless--rather than divide
Aught with one loved, save love and liberty.
I watched thee on the breakers, when the
Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.
I watched thee when the fever glazed thine
Yielding my couch, and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching, ne'er to rise
From thence, if thou an early grave hadst found.
The earthquake came, and rocked the
And men and nature reeled as if with wine.
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
For thee. Whose safety first provide for? Thine
And when convulsive throes denied my breath
The faultest utterance to my fading thought,
To thee--to thee--e'en in the gasp of death
My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.
Thus much and more; and yet thou lov'st me
And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.
What are to me those honours or renown
Past or to come, a new born people’s cry?
Albeit for such I could despise a crown
Of aught save laurel, or for such could die.
I am a fool of passion, and a frown
Of thine to me is an adder’s eye
To the poor bird whose pinion fluttering down
Wafts unto death the breast it bore so high;
Such is this maddening fascination grown,
So strong thy magic or so weak am I.
Louis Crompton, in Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England, has shown that Byron fled England not only because of the scandal over his affair with his half-sister, but also because of the repressive anti-same-sex laws in England, where the penalty for sodomy was death. Also, Crompton suggests that homosexual desire was one of the reasons he first went to Greece and the anti-same sex sentiment in England may account for the famous Byronic stance of lone defiance. The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, Vol. II, says that Byron was “fundamentally homosexual” (p. 285), yet that was not a fact generally taught over thirty years ago, at least not in my experience, and the latest edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2006) ignores the fact Byron was "fundamentally homosexual."