Childe Harold's Pilgrimage "Let Joy Be Unconfined"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"Let Joy Be Unconfined"

Context: Though the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage brought Byron his great fame when published in 1812, it was the third canto, which did not appear until 1816, that is universally considered the finest part of the poem. It begins with words for his daughter Ada, not seen since he angrily left his wife fifteen months after their marriage. Then he ponders the effect of time on his hero who, too proud to be dominated by others, has sought independence in travel. In the course of his wanderings, Harold reaches the battlefield of Waterloo, "the grave of France," where in June, 1815, Wellington ended the power of Napoleon I. Thackeray, too, incorporated the battle into his Vanity Fair, but Byron gives it a different twist. He sees the struggle as the effort of enemies of liberty to tear to pieces the eagle of freedom. Though it resulted in the fall of one despot, it gave increased power to many rulers. Napoleon was a composite of mighty ambitions, as well as petty ones, but they were so extreme that they caused the overthrow of a great man. Stanza 21 begins on the eve of the battle, with a well-known line: "There was a sound of revelry by night." It came from the Duchess of Richmond's ball, on the night of the 15th of June. Byron describes the "fair women and brave men" dancing in Brussels, Belgium's capital. Suddenly they hear a cannon shot, "a deep sound strikes like a rising knell." Byron's description of the heedlessness of the gay dancers in the great ballroom and the sudden shock of their realization of the approaching battle, fills Stanza 22.

Did ye not hear it?–No; 't was but the wind.
Or the car rattling o'er the stony street;
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet–
But hark!–that heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before!
Arm! Arm! it is–it is–the cannon's opening roar!