Wynton Marsalis has said of Louis Armstrong that “he was so great that you could lie about how great he was and you would still not be saying enough.” The same could be said of Lord Byron’s life: you could lie about how big it was and you still would not be saying enough.
A man of public affairs and public scandals, Byron, once dubbed famously as “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” was larger than life. He was the kind of man you imagine dominating any room he entered And yet it is not his life that is important. For a poet, it never is.
Poetically and rhetorically “Solitude” is not a complicated poem… any complexity lies wholly within the man who wrote it, … and in the way of great poetry… wholly within our own selves who today read it.
What matters about Byron, ultimately, – exciting life aside – is his poetry . How did such an outwardly worldly man create such fine art? In today’s poem “Solitude,” he points to that essential quality that made him one of the greatest poets of the English language.
To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene,
Where things that own not man’s dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne’er or rarely been;
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock that never needs a fold;
Alone o’er steeps and foaming falls to lean;
This is not solitude, ’tis but to hold
Converse with Nature’s charms, and view her stores unrolled.
But midst the crowd, the hurry, the shock of men,
To hear, to see, to feel and to possess,
And roam alone, the world’s tired denizen,
With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!
None that, with kindred consciousness endued,
If we were not, would seem to smile the less
Of all the flattered, followed, sought and sued;
This is to be alone; this, this is solitude!