She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
Lord Byron – excerpt from She Walks in Beauty
A leading figure in the Romantic movement, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788 – 1824), was an English poet, satirist, politician and peer, whose poems and personality captured Europe’s imagination. Among his best-known poetic works are the gloomy Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the satiric Don Juan, and the short love poem She Walks in Beauty.
Byron is widely regarded as one of Britain’s best poets, known and acclaimed for his brilliant use of the English language. However, he gained further fame, or infamy, and became even better known for his flamboyance, amorous lifestyle, and the notoriety of his sexual escapades with both men and women, including allegations of an incestuous relationship with his sister.
His work often reflects a deep melancholy caused by the tension between his awareness of life’s imperfections, and his tendency to seek perfection in life’s experiences. That resulted in swings between depression and humorous mockery of the contrast between ideal life and real life, which is reflected in the contrast between his melancholic Childe Harold and the satirically realistic Don Juan, which could be viewed as two sides of the same coin that is Byron.
He traveled around Europe for years, including seven years lived in Italy, before he joined the Greeks in their war of independence from the Ottomans. He was disappointed with the Greeks of his day, and complained of his struggle to find a semblance between the Greeks he knew and the heroic ones in history books. While pondering that, he caught a fever and died in Greece at age 36.