Byron and Andric in Sintra: Searching for a Moment of Fervor and Forgetfulness

By Pajin, Dusan | Serbian Studies, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Byron and Andric in Sintra: Searching for a Moment of Fervor and Forgetfulness


Pajin, Dusan, Serbian Studies


   Oh! let that eye, which, wild as the gazelle's,
   Now brightly bold or beautifully shy,
   Wins as it wanders, dazzles where it dwells,
   Glance o'er this page, nor to my verse deny
   That smile for which my breast might vainly sigh,
   Could I to thee be ever more than friend:
   This much, dear maid, accord; nor question why
   To one so young my strain I would commend,
   But bid me with my wreath one matchless lily blend. (2)

Ivo Andric (1892-1975--Nobel Prize for literature, 1961), wrote some short stories, one of these being "Byron in Sintra." Andric started the story with the fact that Byron visited Sintra in July 1809. On July 2, Byron embarked at Falmouth and sailed for Lisbon with John Cam Hobhouse. After Portugal, they crossed Spain, and via Gibraltar and Malta, reached Greece. In Greece Byron began Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage, which he continued in Athens. In March 1810, he sailed with Hobhouse for Istanbul, visited the site of Troy, and swam the Hellespont (following Leander, who swam the same route)-evening after evening--to meet his beloved hero.

Byron's journey made a lasting impression on him. First the Portuguese and Spanish, and then the Greeks' free and open frankness, contrasted strongly with English manners of his class in those times. He delighted in the sunshine and the moral tolerance of the people. Byron was back in London by July 1811.

When I first read Andric's story "Byron in Sintra" in the early 1980s, I knew nothing about these details from Byron's biography. I thought that the whole story was fiction--including the name of the place "Sintra." What was important for me, however, was the story itself, and specifically, the encounter between Byron and the "Little creature"--an anonymous Portuguese girl, whom he met by chance, walking through a park in Sintra. (3) In this story Andric explains that only Byron used to call the girl he met near Sintra "Little creature" (Serbian: Malo stvorenje), as no one else knew of the episode. He did not know her name, and it was his way to keep the sweet memory of her alive, for a year, or so; after that time, the "Little creature" started to fade "like a dream in the morning." The encounter of Byron and the "Little creature" happened when Byron went with his company from Lisbon to Sintra, and left them to go to a big park for a long walk by himself. Suddenly, on one of the paths, he met a girl who was standing beside a stone object. She was in a white dress, with a semi-African face, and with clever eyes, full of health and joy. They exchanged greetings. She was smiling and looking him straight in the eyes which, along with her lips, fascinated him. Suddenly he realized that he was ablaze from inside, and felt that on this green peak he had found all that he was ever seeking. Byron felt that in those moments he had all that our dreams promise, but actual life always denies it. While he was walking around her he was fascinated by her eyes, by the smell of her body, by her hair, and by her dress. He felt as if his senses were operating with great intensity, and at the same time enriching and nullifying him as a person. Now he could say what self-transcendence is. Suddenly, he heard the voices of his companions coming closer to the area, and he left the girl--who was a bit puzzled--without a good-bye. After a short walk, he joined his company and went back to Lisbon. He kept the memory to himself for about a year's time, with the scene coming back to him in certain moments when he felt the full sensual fever that he experienced in the actual encounter. And then, the Little creature started to fade away just like a dream as we reach morning. For Byron, ordinary life came back with its encounters, and animosities, as before, or with even more intensity.

Andric says that Byron was fascinated by "Little creature's" simple brownish face, and her bright and intelligent eyes, full of health and joy. All of his senses seemed to be fully open, taking big gulps of the whiteness of the white of her eyes, her dress, her body, and the scent of her hair. …

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