George Gordon Byron

A. Listen to the poem and read it.

I would I were a careless child

I would I were a careless child,
Still dwelling in my highland cave,
Or roaming through the dusky wild,
Or bounding o'er the dark blue wave;
The cumbrous pomp of Saxon pride
Accords not with the freeborn soul,
Which loves the mountain's craggy side,
And seeks the rocks where billows roll.

Fortune! take back these cultured lands,
Take back this name of splendid sound!
I hate the touch of servile hands,
I hate the slaves that cringe around.
Place me among the rocks I love,
Which sound to Ocean's wildest roar;
I ask but this – again to rove
Through scenes my youth hath known before.

Few are my years, and yet I feel
The world was ne'er designed for me:
Ah! why do dark'ning shades conceal
The hour when man must cease to be?
Once I beheld a splendid dream,
A visionary scene of bliss:
Truth! – wherefore did thy hated beam
Awake me to a world like this?

I loved - but those I loved are gone;
Had friends – my early friends are fled:
How cheerless feels the heart alone
When all its former hopes are dead!
Though gay companions o'er the bowl
Dispel awhile the sense of ill;
Though pleasure stirs the maddening soul,
The heart – the heart – is lonely still.

How dull! to hear the voice of those
Whom rank or chance, whom wealth or power,
Have made, though neither friends nor foes,
Associates of the festive hour.
Give me again a faithful few,
In years and feelings still the same,
And I will fly the midnight crew,
Where boist'rous joy is but a name.

And woman, lovely woman! thou,
My hope, my comforter, my all!
How cold must be my bosom now,
When e'en thy smiles begin to pall!
Without a sigh I would resign
This busy scene of splendid woe,
To make that calm contentment mine,
Which virtue knows, or seems to know.

Fain would I fly the haunts of men –
I seek to shun, not hate mankind;
My breast requires the sullen glen,
Whose gloom may suit a darken'd mind.
Oh! that to me the wings were given
Which bear the turtle to her nest!
Then would I cleave the vault of heaven,
To flee away and be at rest.

fain would I: I would like
turtle: turtle dove (bird similar to a pigeon)

B. Answer the questions.

  1. What does the poet dream of in the first and second stanzas? Why?
  2. How has the poet's life changed since his childhood? What does he hate?
  3. Is the poet a young or an old man? What is his attitude to life and death (stanza 3)?
  4. What feeling does the poet speak of in stanza 4? Why does he feel like that?
  5. What sort of people surround the poet? What is his attitude to them (stanza 5)?
  6. How does the poet's attitude to his beloved change? Why?
  7. What would the poet like to do (stanza 7)? What place does he think would suit him?
  8. What wish does he express at the end of the poem?
  9. What is the tone of the poem?
  10. The poet deals with several themes: love, friendship, society, loneliness, life and death. What ideas about each of them does the poem contain?

C. Read Byron's life story. How does it correspond to the contents of the poem?

Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was as famous in his lifetime for his personality cult as for his poetry. He created the concept of the 'Byronic hero' - a defiant, melancholy young man, brooding on some mysterious, unforgivable event in his past. Byron's influence on European poetry, music, novel, opera, and painting has been immense, although the poet was widely condemned on moral grounds by his contemporaries.

George Gordon, the son of Captain John Byron and Catherine Gordon, was born in London in 1788. Born with a club-foot, he limped all his life. His father stayed in France where he died three years later, possibly committing suicide. Byron spent the first ten years in his mother's lodgings in Aberdeen, Scotland.

In 1798 George succeeded to the title, Baron Byron of Rochdale, on the death of his great-uncle. Money was now available to provide Lord Byron with an education at Harrow School and Trinty College, Cambridge.

In 1807 Byron's first collection of poetry, "Hours Of Idleness" appeared. It received bad reviews. In 1809 Byron set on his grand tour where he visited Spain, Malta, Albania and Greece. His poetical account of this tour, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" (1812) established Byron as one of England's leading poets.

Lord Byron scandalized London by his numerous love affairs. His marriage on Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815 was unhappy, and they obtained legal separation the next year.

Byron left England for Europe in 1816, never to return. Among his most famous literary works of that time are the poem "The Prisoner Of Chillon", the unfinished poem "Don Juan", the drama "Manfred".

After a long creative period, Byron had come to feel that action was more important than poetry. He armed a brig and sailed to Greece to help the Greeks, who were preparing a revolt against the Turks. However, before he saw any serious military action, Byron contracted a fever from which he died on 19 April 1824.

D. Find poems by Lermontov (or by other 19th century Russian poets influenced by Byron) which express similar ideas and compare them to Byron's poem.

E. Read the translation of the poem into Russian by V.Brusov and compare it with Byron's poem.

Хочу я быть ребёнком вольным (В.Я.Брюсов)

Хочу я быть ребенком вольным
И снова жить в родных горах,
Скитаться по лесам раздольным,
Качаться на морских волнах.
Не сжиться мне душой свободной
С саксонской пышной суетой!
Милее мне над зыбью водной
Утес, в который бьет прибой!

Судьба! возьми назад щедроты
И титул, что в веках звучит!
Жить меж рабов — мне нет охоты,
Их руки пожимать — мне стыд!
Верни мне край мой одичалый,
Где знал я грезы ранних лет,
Где реву Океана скалы
Шлют свой бестрепетный ответ!

О! Я не стар! Но мир, бесспорно,
Был сотворен не для меня!
Зачем же скрыты тенью черной
Приметы рокового дня?
Мне прежде снился сон прекрасный,
Виденье дивной красоты…
Действительность! ты речью властной
Разогнала мои мечты.

Кто был мой друг — в краю далеком,
Кого любил — тех нет со мной.
Уныло в сердце одиноком,
Когда надежд исчезнет рой!
Порой над чашами веселья
Забудусь я на краткий срок…
Но что мгновенный бред похмелья!
Я сердцем, сердцем — одинок!

Как глупо слушать рассужденья —
О, не друзей и не врагов! —
Тех, кто по прихоти рожденья
Стал сотоварищем пиров.
Верните мне друзей заветных,
Деливших трепет юных дум,
И брошу оргий дорассветных
Я блеск пустой и праздный шум.

А женщины? Тебя считал я
Надеждой, утешеньем, всем!
Каким же мертвым камнем стал я,
Когда твой лик для сердца нем!
Дары судьбы, ее пристрастья,
Весь этот праздник без конца
Я отдал бы за каплю счастья,
Что знают чистые сердца!

Я изнемог от мук веселья,
Мне ненавистен род людской,
И жаждет грудь моя ущелья,
Где мгла нависнет, над душой!
Когда б я мог, расправив крылья,
Как голубь к радостям гнезда,
Умчаться в небо без усилья
Прочь, прочь от жизни — навсегда!