The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

By George Gordon Byron | Go to book overview

ITALIAN POEMS

[Taken as a whole the Italian Poems must be reckoned the least valuable portion of Byron's work, although one of them is interesting as showing the tendency of the poet's mind, and another is an extraordinary tour de force. Their composition extends from April of 1817 to March of 1820, the first three years of his residence in Italy, and is the fruit of his genuine love for the language and literature of that land. In the autumn of 1816 Byron left Switzerland for Italy and was soon domiciled in Venice. The first of the Italian poems, however, was the result of a visit to Ferrara, and shows how strong was the historical spirit in him. The Lament of Tasso is dated April 20, 1817. The subject seems to have had a special interest for Byron, and he has introduced it with good effect into the fourth canto of Childe Harold (stanzas xxxv. et seq.), not without a fling at Boileau in return for the famous clinquant du Tasse. Beppo was written in the autumn of 1817, in acknowledged imitation of the mock-heroic style of John Hookham Frere. At this time Byron was still engaged on the fourth canto of Childe Harold and it is a mark of his versatility that he could work at once on two poems so different in character. While finishing the solemn apostrophes of his romantic Pilgrim he was thus preluding the satirical mockery of the later Pilgrim, Don Juan. The first canto of the latter poem was, indeed, finished in September of the following year. The Ode on Venice, quite in the style and metre of the Tasso, was written in July of 1818, although not published for nearly a twelvemonth, when it appeared with Mazeppa and A Fragment. The Prophecy of Dante, both in subject and metre, was peculiarly out of Byron's range, and must be reckoned one of his absolute failures. As for the metre, the terza rima, Byron was only one of a number of English poets who have shown astonishing perversity in disregarding the principles on which its success depends, as might have been learned from the slightest attention to the manner of Dante himself and the other great Italians. Shelley Ode to the West Wind displays the same wilful ignorance and is saved from failure only by its brevity. The Prophecy of Dante was written at z in June, 1819, at the request of the Countess Guiccioli. Byron's next Italian poem proves that, if he imitated Frere in Beppo, he also went directly to the sources from which Frere himself had drawn. His translation of the first canto of Pulci Morgante Maggiore is a careful piece of work, finished in the early weeks of 1820 at Ravenna, and in its closeness to the original is really a tour de force. It is not necessary to point out the influence of such a translation on Don Juan. The last of his Italian poems was a translation of the famous Francesca of Rimini episode in the fifth canto of Dante Inferno. Writing to Murray from Ravenna, March 20, 1820, Byron says: 'Last post I sent you The Vision of Dante, -- four first cantos. Enclosed you will find, line for, line, in third rhyme(terza rima), of which your British Blackguard reader as yet understands nothing, Fanny of Rimini. You know that she was born here, and married, and slain, from Cary, Boyd, and such people already. I have done it into cramp English, line for line, and rhyme for rhyme, to try the possibility.']


THE LAMENT OF TASSO

At Ferrara, in the Library, are preserved the original MSS. of Tasso Gierusalemme and of Guarini Pastor Fido, with letters of Tasso, one from Titian to Ariosto; and the inkstand and chair, the tomb and the house of the latter. But, as misfortune has a greater interest for posterity, and little or none for the cotemporary, the cell where Tasso was confined in the hospital of St. Anna attracts a more fixed attention than the residence or the monument of Ariosto -- at least it had this effect on me. There are two inscriptions, one on the outer gate, the second over the cell itself, inviting, unnecessarily, the wonder and the indignation of the spectator. Ferrara is much decayed, and depopulated: the castle still exists entire; and I saw the court where Parisina and Hugo were beheaded, according to the annal of Gibbon.


I

Long years! -- It tries the thrilling frame to bear,
And eagle-spirit of a Child of Song,
Long years of outrage, calumny, and wrong;
Imputed madness, prison'd solitude,
And the mind's canker in its savage mood,
When the impatient thirst of light and air
Parches the heart; and the abhorrèd grate,
Marring the sunbeams with its hideous shade,
Works through the throbbing eyeball to the brain
With a hot sense of heaviness and pain. 10 And bare, at once, Captivity display'd
Stands scoffing through the never-open'd gate,

-436-

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The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Editor's Note v
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Biographical Sketch xi
  • Childe Harold's Pilgrimage - A Romaunt 1
  • Shorter Poems 83
  • Miscellaneous Poems 139
  • Domestic Pieces 207
  • Hebrew Melodies 216
  • Ephemeral Verses 223
  • Satires 240
  • Tales, Chiefly Oriental 309
  • Italian Poems 436
  • Dramas 477
  • Scene II 481
  • Act II 483
  • Scene I 483
  • Scene II 487
  • Scene IV 488
  • Act III 491
  • Scene I 491
  • Scene II 493
  • Scene III 494
  • Scene IV 495
  • Act I 499
  • Act I 499
  • Scene II 500
  • Act II 509
  • Scene I 509
  • Scene II 516
  • Act III 518
  • Scene I 518
  • Scene II 520
  • Act IV 528
  • Scene I 528
  • Scene II 533
  • Act V 538
  • Act V 538
  • Scene II 546
  • Scenf III 548
  • Scene II 549
  • Sardanapalus 550
  • Scene II 551
  • Act II 561
  • Scene I 561
  • Act III 571
  • Scene I 571
  • Act IV 578
  • Scene I 578
  • Act V 587
  • Scene I 587
  • Act I 595
  • Scene I 595
  • Act II 601
  • Scene I 601
  • Act III 608
  • Scene I 608
  • Act IV 615
  • Scene I 620
  • Scene I 620
  • Dramatis Person Æ 627
  • Dramatis Person Æ 627
  • Act II 636
  • Scene I 636
  • Scene II 639
  • Heaven and Earth 655
  • Heaven and Earth 655
  • Scene II 657
  • Scene II 658
  • Werner; Or, the Inheritance 671
  • Scene II 683
  • Scene II 683
  • Scene II 688
  • Act III 695
  • Scene I 695
  • Scene II 700
  • Scene III 701
  • Scene IV 701
  • Act IV 704
  • Scene I 704
  • Act V 713
  • Scene II 720
  • The Deformed Transformed 722
  • Scene II 723
  • Scene II 730
  • Part II 735
  • Scene I 735
  • Scene II 737
  • Scene III 738
  • Part III 742
  • Scene I 742
  • Don Juan 744
  • Notes 999
  • Indexes 1045
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