The Corsair "The Weak Alone Repent"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"The Weak Alone Repent"

Context: The Romantic Movement in its revolt against the cruel realities of life had two representative types. One was a sensitive figure driven to despair and retiring from the world to seek the solitude of Nature. He was first represented fictionally in Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). The other was a powerful personality who refused to become a victim and rebelled against social injustice, best represented by The Robbers (1781) by Goethe's friend, Schiller. This Titan-like character can be easily symbolized by a pirate, at odds with authority and supreme when alone on the bridge of his craft, like the William Ernest Henley character who could proclaim: "I am the master of my fate;/ I am the captain of my soul." In another land, José de Espronceda (1818–1842) sometimes called the Spanish Byron, and an outstanding representative of Romanticism in his country, is remembered for his vigorous and melodic "Song of the Pirate." Both these representative types of Romanticism can be found in the poetry of Byron, the sensitive, nature-seeking man in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and the pirate in both The Bride of Abydos and The Corsair. Lord Conrad of The Corsair is described as a cynical daredevil with a glance that not only terrifies, but pierces into the heart of a man. Juan has prepared the ship under its red flag of piracy for a foray against an unnamed enemy, and he, Gonsalvo, and the crew await the return of their cruel, remorseless chief whose name strikes terror on every coast. However, as Byron declares, "None are all evil," and this cursing villain has one soft spot. He loves Medora. Yet, as he steals away to tell her farewell, he wonders whether his fate or his folly has provided a possibility that she may still redeem him. Nevertheless, he spurns her pleas to share with her the joys of peace, and departs for the raid. The second canto opens as Seyd the Pacha is assembling a Moslem fleet at Coron Bay to destroy the pirate lair. Before him is brought a "captive Dervise from the pirate's nest." The man reports how he was captured and then escaped; but when given food, he shuns the salt "which, once partaken, makes even contending tribes in peace unite." The suspicious Pacha orders him seized as a spy. Off comes Conrad's disguise to reveal a coat of mail underneath. But, though he fights bravely and wins the admiration of the Pacha's daughter, Gulnare, he is finally wounded and imprisoned. Still he will not plead for mercy; only a coward expresses regret. But Gulnare saves him by stabbing the Pacha and helping him aboard a ship. There, when she finds he does not love her, she uses the same dagger on herself. In the end, Lord Conrad reaches the Pirate Isle alive. Medora, alive, had not been able to persuade him, but the sight of her body on the bier touches his heart. He disappears, and at the conclusion the poet declares: "He left a Corsair's name to other times,/ Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes." In the Pacha's prison, describing "proud Conrad, fetter'd and alone," the poet says:

'T were vain to paint to what his feelings grew–
It even were doubtful if their victim knew.
There is a war, a chaos of the mind,
When all its elements convulsed, combined,
Lie dark and jarring with perturbèd force,
And gnashing with impenitent Remorse;
That juggling fiend–who never spake before–
But cries "I warn'd thee!" when the deed is o'er.
Vain voice! the spirit burning but unbent,
May writhe, rebèl–the weak alone repent!