Lord Byron (1788 – 1824) has been easily the most recurrent authority in this column, over its 24 years of existence.
Like Byron, also known as George Gordon Byron, the thrust of the column has been critical of the personages of the times, their designs and devices.
It has, of course, risen nowhere near the majestic heights of Byron’s epics and elegies. But it’s done its thing, close enough to the author’s satisfaction.
You recall the Lizard of the Iroko. They have said that when the Lizard jumped from the Iroko tree, he expected that someone – even only one person – would praise him. But no one did. Regardless, he did his pushups. He nodded satisfactorily. He said, ‘If no one will praise me, I will praise myself.’
Byron is easily in his element in the often cited elegy, ‘So We’ll Go No More a Roving.’ Rendered only 12 lines, in three stanzas, it is scandalously wild and beautiful. It mirrors the author. Byron died young, aged only 36.
One of the finest English poets of all time, his passing was a factor of his unremitting romantic idealism, which he attempted to sublimate on the warfront.
When you have nothing to die for at home, then die for your neighbour, he famously said. And he went on to fight for the Greek, in their war of independence. He caught a bad fever. He died. It does not get more romantic than that. This Romantic artist famously said, ‘None are left to please, when none are left to love.’
He was fatalistic and iconoclastic. He made fearful statements and asked difficult questions. ‘I will have nothing to do with your immortality,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘We are miserable enough in this life, without the absurdity of speculating upon another.
If men are to live, why die at all? And if they die, why disturb the sweet and sound sleep that ‘knows no waking’?’
Iconoclastic to the borderlines of blasphemy, Lord Baron led what can only be described as an outrageously dissipated life. His affair with his married half-sister, Augusta Leigh was easily the pick of the basket, in a life steeped in salacious escapades. They are believed to have had a daughter in 1814.
Then there was the married Lady Caroline Lamb, Lady Frances Webster and Lady Oxford. And, no doubt, he was torn between this life and migration into disciplined adult space. ‘So We’ll Go No More a Roving’ depicts the tension between the brazen debauched youthful lifestyle, on the one hand, and the desire to live differently, on the other. ‘So we’ll go no more a roving, so late into the night/ though the heart is still loving and the moon be still as bright.’
We must leave behind the things we desire to do, although everything else about them may seem so perfect. Hence, ‘Though the night was made for loving/ and the day returns too soon/ yet we’ll go no more a roving/ By the light of the moon.’
It should also be said of Byron that the pleasure loving Don Juan in his poem by this title is not just the dissolute Spanish nobleman after whom the epic verse is named. It is self-reflection.
Hence, while the nobleman was an obsessive seducer and charmer of women, Byron rather casts him as a man hugely beloved of women and, certainly, more coated by them than coating them.
As ‘No More a Roving’ suggests, all this must rest, if it will not end. ‘For the sword outwears its sheath/ And the soul wears out the breast,’ the poet says. Wole Soyinka would perhaps think differently, ‘For the sheath outwears its sword,’ would seem more apt.
That’s why Sadiku in The Lion and the Jewel boasts, ‘Okeke came to me. Like a snake, he came. Like a rag, he went. A limp rag.’
Whatever the case, in order not to depart like Okeke, ‘The heart must pause to breathe/ And love itself have a rest.’ And this column too. ‘So we’ll go no more a roving, so late into the night, though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright.’
Dr Muluka is a strategic communication advisor.www.barrackmuluka.co.ke