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The Poetry of Lord Byron

Here is a rarity: an ambitious project to present the entire body of Lord Byron's poetry in audiobook form. And yes, it's going to take us a while! The first two volumes are in release; you'll find details on the Lord Byron page. The third volume is in progress, and you'll find information about it right here as soon as it's released.

The idea is to follow his development as a poet, partly chronologically, partly thematically. So, for example, the poems he published in his first four books are grouped together in volumes one, two, and three of this series. Then we'll move on to his satires, and then to Childe Harold, and so forth through his amazingly prolific career. It's going to be a fascinating journey!

So, what's on which volume? Which poems have been recorded where?

For your convenience, we've provided a complete track listing of the set to date in PDF format.

The Love Affairs of Lord Byron

Before we get into the meat of this page - the volumes of Lord Byron's non-dramatic poetry detailed below - why not stop off for a little scandal? Byron was nothing if not scandalous in his time, and some of the darker allegations - ranging from utter caddishness to outright incest - remain attached to his name, for good or ill and regardless of truth or untruth, to this day! Francis Gribble takes us through the messy life of one of the first true modern celebrities, in the tradition People Magazine and reality television have established so thoroughly.

When Lord Byron published Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, he woke up one moring to find himself famous. Not long after that, when the word of his separation from Lady Byron got out, he woke up one morning to find himself infamous. Ever since then, his name has been linked inextricably with great lyric poetry and great sexual scandal. Women found him irresistible; he found them irresistible, and the resulting fireworks flared through the skies of the English upper classes of the Regency with tremendous color and enormous noise.
Francis Gribble explores these aspects of Byron's life with the care and judgment of a skillful biographer combined with the curiousity and pique of a gossip columnist. He deals carefully with his sources and his evidence, but is not afraid to follow wherever they may lead, whether to the cultured warmth and pleasures of Byron's Venetian mistress, the Countess Guiccioli, or the depths of Lady Byron's cold and measured hatred and her whispered accusations of incest. Through it all, he traces one constant thread: the one and only woman Byron loved throughout his life. Enjoy!

What the Critics Say

"Sure of entertainment and an evening spent in the agreeable companionship of a man whose mellow judgments of people's actions are his own and firmly planted on the comprehending basis of a member of society at large, one sits down to Mr. Gribble's new book with pleasant anticipations. One knows he will be taken into a world vividly recaptured by an alert and perceiving mind, and that he will get sagacious comment and real interpretation none the worse for the sause piquant with which it is served." (The Bookman, December 1910)

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume I: Fugitive Pieces

George Gordon, later Lord Byron, published Fugitive Pieces in 1806 when he was only 18 years old. It was printed, but Byron's friends, particularly Reverend Thomas Beecher, advised him that it contained poems that were scandalously amorous, particularly the poem "To Mary". Byron suppressed it by having all the copies destroyed - or so he thought. As it happened, Thomas Beecher himself kept his copy, and there were three other copies that were not destroyed.

Reverend Beecher's opinion was certainly correct, though his advice was inexcusable. The amorous poetry in this volume, particularly "To Mary", is some of the most erotic serious poetry in English up to that time. Byron was an intensely emotional, intensely sexual young man, and his poetry shows it very clearly. It also shows the work of a young man with the makings of not only a serious poet, but a skillful satirist and humorist as well. While many of the poems are deeply romantic, indeed rather melodramatic effusions of the sort one would expect from the young man who would become a founder of the Romantic movement, others read more like Ogden Nash - witty, lively and skillfully done in happy, bouncing rhymes and meters, not at all what one might expect.

This recording of the volume Fugitive Pieces is based on the original volume as later published in limited-edition form. For that reason, the reader who knows Byron's poetry well will notice that some of the texts used here differ, sometimes markedly, from the versions more commonly found. Byron revised and republished these early poems several times under several titles, most notably Pieces on Various Occasions and Hours of Idleness. Later titles in this series, which aims to present the whole of Byron's poetry, will use the later versions of these same poems. In some cases the two versions are nearly identical.

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume II: Hours of Idleness

For those who love Byron's poetry, the value of this work is not so much the poetry itself as the promise of what is to come, it is fascinating to see how his power as a poet is constantly growing and to see how his enormously romantic heart and soul goes about fashioning itself. Though a young man, he often writes as if he were old, musing on days gone by, especially his schoolboy life at Harrow. He tries his hand at several genres: classical translation, narrative poetry, love poetry, philosophical musings.

George Gordon, Lord Byron, published his first book of poetry in 1806 when he was only 18 years old. However, Byron suppressed it by having all the copies destroyed - or so he thought. There were four copies that were not destroyed. However, Byron later republished almost all of those poems, and added more, in January 1807, under the title Poems on Various Occasions. Then, in the early summer of 1807, he republished most of those poems and added still more, under the title of Hours of Idleness. And finally, in 1808, he went through the process again, selecting some of the poems he had already published and adding a few more; this time, the title was Poems Original and Translated.

As if that isn't complicated enough, he also changed the texts of most of the poems each time around, sometimes only slightly, other times quite significantly. It would be unfair to ask the listener to buy multiple copies of the same poem. Furthermore, within the confines of an audiobook, it is just not possible to trace all the changes Byron made in the poems. Therefore, this recording is a collection of the poems included in the 1807 and 1808 publications, and does not include the poems published in 1806--those are all in Volume I of this series--and it uses the last version of each poem as Byron finally left it after any and all revisions.

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume III: Early Poems

As in the first two volumes of this series, our interest in these poems is not so much the poetry itself as the promise of what is to come. In these poems, mostly written in the years just before Byron left England to tour in Europe, it is fascinating to see how his power as a poet is constantly growing and to see how his enormously romantic heart and soul goes about fashioning itself. He is on the brink of the experiences that will lead to his major breakthrough with Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (volume five of this series.) He is also leading up to his joyous joust with the literary establishment that will be voiced in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.

What sort of poems are these? They are the work of an enormously talented young man, whose skills as a poet are starting to bear significant fruit. He has all the preoccupations common to young men, particularly the charms of the opposite sex. He is clumsy from time to time, sometimes rather in love with his own voice. Though a young man, he often writes as if he were old, musing on days gone by, especially his schoolboy life at Harrow. He tries his hand at several genres: classical translation, narrative poetry, love poetry, philosophical musings. He is beginning to show the bitterness that will frequently appear in his later poems, particularly in emotional outbursts such as his “Inscription on the Monument of a Newfoundland Dog”. He is showing constantly growing technical skill, as in the clever rhythms of his “Fill The Goblet Again”. Most importantly, he is beginning to express ideas that are truly his own.

Above all, here we have the romantic heart of the young man rapidly growing up to be the Lord Byron that we know from his later work. Enjoy!

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume IV: The Satires

In this, the fourth volume of this series, we hear the poetry in which Byron began to make his mark on the world. Though his major breakthrough with Childe Harold is yet to come, his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers was a definite hit in its time, establishing Byron as a known poet and ensuring that his reputation as a literary bad-boy was off to a good start.

English Bards and Scotch Reviewers was his first major satire and one of his most effective; we can't help seeing that the "Scotch Reviewers" who had harshly criticized Byron find themselves on the losing end of the battle.

However, Byron's satirical shots didn't end with the reviewers. He took on the literary lions of the day - a remarkable feat for so young a writer - and scored well there too, though later in his life he deeply regretted having been so harsh on his fellow poets. He continued to lambast the poets of his time in Hints from Horace, in which he takes on the task of admonishing the rest of the poets of his world to do things his way while showing up quite a few of them for having committed, in Byron's view, the crime of writing bad verse. For the modern reader or listener, this volume is a useful antidote to the image of Byron we take from his romantic poetry. Byron wasn't always the dreamy romantic, head in the clouds and heart on fire. He could be, as here, as sharp, as pointed, and as firmly rooted in the polemics of this world as any other satirist in the English tradition from Pope to Swift and beyond. Satire was not his major gift, but it was a real one, and we can hear it in these poems and thereby learn to know the other side of Lord Byron. Enjoy!

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume V: Childe Harold, Cantos I & II

This is the book that made Lord Byron (George Gordon) famous. He was a published and a known poet, but until this book took the English-speaking world by storm in 1812, he was not a famous poet.

He was, however, a celebrity. As an aristocrat whose personal life was considered shockingly scandalous - and even today would be good stuff for celebrity gossip magazines - his name was known. His previous work was received out of a mixture of literary merit and personal notoriety. This book directly capitalizes on that. Childe Harold narrates the experiences of a young nobleman, sated with the wine, women, and song of his native England, who goes forth in search of the wine, women, song, and adventure of Spain, Greece, and the Ottoman Empire.

The book is literally an armchair travelogue in rhyming couplets, quite unlike anything before or since. He expresses himself in vivid, forceful and emotional language on the landscapes, people, customs, and cultures he encounters, and shapes his experience into a deep study of that subject so favored by all the Romantic poets - himself.

This performance of the work is underscored at intervals with excerpts from the music of Byron's contemporary, John Field, often regarded as the inventor of the nocturne - a form of Romantic music very well suited to the romanticism of the poet and his work.

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume VI: Childe Harold, Cantos III & IV

With Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, cantos III and IV, Byron comes to the high point of his work and to clear and definite mastery of his art as a poet. Though he himself doubts his powers - he says his visions no longer swim so palpably before his eyes as once they did - his visions are far more palpable to us, expressed as they are with the full depth of his romantic and passionate feelings.

He continues the device of the journey of the fictional Harold, but Harold is almost a ghost; the thin disguise and facade that separates him from the poet essentially vanishes. Even the concept of his pilgrimage fades; Byron is not concerned nearly as much with places and people in this canto as he is with art and ideas. The place that means the most to him is no longer a human habitation, but the world of Nature, in which the inmost depths of his heart is relfected.

He writes, "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, there is a rapture on the lonely shore, there is society, where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more. From these our interviews, in which I steal from all I may be, or have been before, to mingle with the Universe, and feel what I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal." He spends this last portion of his pilgrimage in that special place, that realm of the spirit and the soul, where what matters is the highest achievements of art. Out of that place is his poem made.

We underscored the first two cantos of this work with nocturnes from Byron's contemporary, John Field, often considered the inventor of the form. The second two cantos bring Byron's poetry to a new level of maturity; in recognition of that, we turn to the composer who brought the nocturne to maturity: Frederic Chopin.

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume VII: Occasional Pieces

This volume of the Freshwater Seas Lord Byron set consists of 54 poems written during the years 1809-1816. Many were included in various editions of longer works, particularly the 1812 and later editions of Childe Harold; others were published in various newspapers and periodicals, especially the Morning Chronicle; a few were not published until after the author's death, sometimes long after.

The mood is as varied as were the occaions of the compositions. Quite a few echo the tone of his satires; some are merely witty bon-mots, others are more or less deeply felt expressions of emotion, ranging from perfunctory to sincere. Some show the puckish humor that makes one think that Byron and Ogden Nash were somehow cousins under the skin. Of the Romantics, it's really only Byron who shows such a comic and satiric side.

In short, here is part of the byroads-and-backwaters side of Lord Byron - poems you probably won't hear elsewhere, poems he wrote casually and sometimes never published, but poems that offer a side of him not seen elsewhere.

The Poetry of Lord Byron Volume VIII: Turkish Tales

We hope you will enjoy these fine, old-fashioned stories that Lord Byron wrote in an old-fashioned way. He tells these tales in rhyming verse and heroic couplets, and he makes them dashing, romantic, and even melodramatic in a way that has become foreign to us with the passing of time.

These are tales of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish empire that, in Lord Byron's day, encompassed what we now know as the Middle East from Iran to Morocco, the modern nation of Turkey, and the Balkans as well--modern Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and the other Balkan nations. Byron travelled extensively in the Empire and learned about its history and customs. He then passed what he learned through his own romantic temperament and imagination, and through his fascination with men with darkly troubled souls and the women they love and who love them. In these five stories we find love and honor lost and won, hearts and cities conquered and broken, and a constant struggle to find something higher, deeper and finer in life than what comes to the common lot of humanity.

The first story, The Giaour, is about a Christian knight living in Ottoman Greece. The word "giaour" was the Ottoman term for any Christian. He falls in love with a woman from the Pacha's harem--a love unlikely to succeed.

The second story, The Bride of Abydos, is about the love of a man with a secret past for the daughter of a powerful local ruler. He reveals his secret to her, but only at the moment when war erupts between him and her father.

The Corsair picks up on an idea that appears in The Bride of Abydos--the theme of pirates and piracy, an age-old reality of the Mediterranean Sea. An Ottoman ruler decides to destroy a famous corsair, who strikes first. The corsair loses the battle, but gains the love of the ruler's daughter, who frees him--only to encounter a great tragedy.

The fourth story, Lara, both is and is not a sequel to The Corsair. Characters and themes are carried over, but with many changes, and the feeling of the story is remarkably different. Lara is a nobleman who returns to his home after many years of mysterious absence, attended only by an equally mysterious person who acts as his page. He runs afoul of another mysterious knight who seems to know too much about Lara's past. The matter comes to a trial--but the knight disappears. Was murder done? The affair breaks out in war between Lara and the local ruler, and in the end, some of the mystery is lifted--and much of it remains.

The last story, The Siege of Corinth, is about a Christian knight who turns traitor to his people and his faith when the father of the woman he loves refuses to give him her hand. A mysterious midnight encounter leads to a final confrontation between the knight and the father--a confrontation that ends in a spectacular blow for honor.

As you listen, let Lord Byron guide your mind back into an old and rich kind of storytelling and an old and rich form of poetry. Let yourself get used to what happens when a long story is told in verse--an experience not to be found in today's literature.

The Poetry of Lord Byron, Volume IX: Hebrew Melodies and Other Poems

This volume of Lord Byron’s poetry contains four sets of his poems, starting with his famous book of poetry, Hebrew Melodies, and continuing with the "Poems of the Separation," various poems he wrote in the period 1816-1823, his “Jeux d’Esprit”, and a group of poems written in homage to the great poets of Italy.

Hebrew Melodies is a collection of lyrics Byron wrote to be set to music, as indeed they were, by a composer named Isaac Nathan. Byron wrote that the set was inspired by Jewish sacred music, but he does not seem to have taken that altogether seriously, as three of the set are simply love songs with no sacred aspect to them whatsoever. One of those, "She Walks in Beauty", is very justly one of Byron's most famous poems.

Byron's extremely painful and extremely public separation from  his wife, Anne Isabella Milbanke, led him to write a number of poems, some regretful, others savage. While Anne also left writings on the matter, the unfairness of time ensures that only Byron's are known to any but scholars. The poet has had his revenge, however unjust it may be.

Throughout his life, Byron dashed off poems to his friends, in visitor's books, in books he gave to others, and so forth. As his fame grew, many of them were preserved. These are gathered here under the name of "Jeux d'Esprit" given them by his most famous editor, E. H. Coleridge.

Last but not least, Byron spent long periods in Italy and knew the language. He was greatly moved by the writings and lives of Torquato Tasso and the other Italian masters. This section presents translations, adaptations, and original poems modeled on this literature.

The Poetry of Lord Byron, Volume X: The Prisoner of Chillon and Other Poems

This volume of The Poetry of Lord Byron is focused on work in which Byron dealt with certain themes that recurred throughout his career, especially personal integrity in the search for freedom and for love, and the suffering that can go with that search.

"The Prisoner of Chillon", the keynote piece of this volume, is one of Byron’s most riveting pieces. Based on the true story of Francois Bonivard, it tells its story of political repression and human endurance in the voice of the last of three brothers imprisoned in the bowels of the castle at Chillon and left to rot. It is personal rather than political; we hear of the political and religious conflict only in reference. The real story is the personal suffering of the imprisoned soul. Byron seems often to have felt oppressed, imprisoned, and exiled in his own life, and he expresses those feelings here eloquently and evocatively.

Byron actually knew very little of the story of Bonivard. He knew enough to provide a launching point  for his poem, and does not seem to have had any great interest in going beyond that. As a result, his portrait of Bonivard is best regarded as a fiction; the character is a portrait of Byron's conception of a heroic mind. Bonivard's name does not appear in the poem.

"The Age of Bronze" is Byron's sardonic look at the great-power maneuverings of his day.

"Beppo" is a comic look at the eternal triangle and how Italian mores of his day found it actually rather convenient.

"The Island" is Byron's re-imagining of the fate of the mutineers from the H. M. S. Bounty. The story was current in his day, and he used it to imagine a South Seas paradise in which a sailor from the Bounty finds love and redemption in a lovely and resourceful daughter of an island chieftain. His real interest seems to lie in unrolling a romantic adventure, and he manages it quite well.

"Mazeppa" is equally romantic. A tale of war and love, it is told as reminiscence from the youth of an old general, who went through combat, torture, and near death when he found himself in love with a warlord's wife.

The "Ode on Venice" is an elegy for Venice as Byron saw it: a city fallen on hard times from former greatness. The degradation of the Venetian Republic is contrasted with the rise of the United States as a home of freedom for mankind.

"Parisina" tells the tale of the revenge of an Italian prince on his unfaithful wife and illegitimate son. Power conquers love through brutality: an outcome that does not cause Byron to flinch.

A section of poems from 1816 includes poems of deep mystery, such as "The Dream" and "Darkness" alongside poems of regret, such as "A Fragment" and "Churchill's Grave."

Finally, Byron left us a series of poems about Napoleon Bonaparte, in which we can trace, over the span of some years, Byron's shifting feelings about the emperor, sometimes seen as a bulwark of freedom, other time seen as a victim of his own pride and power.

The Poetry of Lord Byron, Volume XI: Don Juan

The best way to appreciate this long and fascinating poem, really a novel in verse, is to just let it wash over you. Don't try to get caught up in the story, for Byron won't let you do that; don't try to figure it out, for Byron doesn't want you to do that either. Just listen to the man converse with you and enjoy his playful talk - that's why he wrote it, and that's what it's for.

For those who are otherwise unfamiliar with the work: Don Juan is a young Spanish nobleman who falls into a love affair at 16 with a married woman. To avoid being killed by her husband, he flees the country. Traveling by ship, he is shipwrecked and rescued by the beautiful daughter of a pirate. Her father finds out about their affair and sells Juan into slavery at Constantinople. Purchased by the Sultan's wife, he is expected to serve as her boy-toy, but again escapes. He is then caught up in war, and then makes his way to England, where he finds himself amid high society with three different women interested in him. At the point where Byron's incomplete text ends, he has yet again fallen into another love affair.

Where would Byron have taken him after that? Who knows? All we can be sure of is that there would have been many affairs with many lovely women yet to come.

This is, of course, the end of the journey through the poetry of Lord Byron offered in these eleven volumes of his work. In it, we see him grow, mature, come into his full powers, use his art to express himself and his life, and finally leave us with this incomplete but fascinating masterpiece.

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