Childe Harold's Pilgrimage "Of Its Own Beauty Is The Mind Diseased"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"Of Its Own Beauty Is The Mind Diseased"

Context: Canto IV, the last part of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, was written in Venice and published six years after the first two cantos, with Canto III in between, appearing in 1816. Though resembling the other parts in being a narrative in verse, it is a more mature work, carrying its message by indirection and inference, and requiring a greater acquaintance with the history and sights of Italy. While Byron does mention some of the famous places, on many occasions he is led down a poetic bypath to some personal reaction. The mention of ruins along the Appian Way near Rome and the remains of a fountain there, remind Byron of the legend of two lovers Numa and Egeria, who met secretly in the near-by grotto that provides water for it. After six stanzas about the beauties of the surroundings and the delights of the love they shared, Byron is moved to an apostrophe to love in general. He calls it a feeling that in the young runs to waste and only produces "weeds of dark luxuriance," "rank at the core, though tempting to the eye." Here he is probably thinking of his own unfortunate marriage, that ended in a never-explained separation after the birth of a daughter, Ada (to whom he sent a loving greeting at the end of the preceding canto). Then, in development of his theme, Byron discusses love as "an unseen seraph," and declares, "no habitant of the earth art thou." Love is something that has never been looked on by man, but is only a creation of his mind, like the gods and goddesses with whom the Greeks peopled their Olympus, in such shapes and images as their minds needed, and as untrue to life and to Nature as are most creations of poets and painters. The rest of Byron's thoughts on love, beyond the one here quoted, are melancholic and pessimistic. Few find the love they seek, and to most it ends in heart ache. But not for that reason should we abandon the gift of thought; we should try to exert it, even though the divine faculty is from birth "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined," as Shakespeare declares in Macbeth.

Of its own beauty is the mind diseased,
And fevers into false creation:–where,
Where are the forms the sculptor's soul hath seized?
In him alone. Can Nature show so fair?
Where are the charms and virtues which we dare
Conceive in boyhood and pursue as men,
The unreach'd Paradise of our despair,
Which o'er-informs the pencil and the pen,
And overpowers the page where it would bloom again?