Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The focus of Byron’s satire is primarily Robert Southey, who had provoked Byron’s anger by his attacks, especially in Southey’s preface to his A Vision of Judgment. Byron announced his counterattack in his own preface to The Vision of Judgment (originally signed “Quevedo Redivivus,” or “Quevedo,” a seventeenth century satirist, “Reborn”)—personal, political, literary, and “religious.” The scope of the ideas in the poem, however, transcends targeting Southey.

Southey had accused Byron of being a corrupter of morals and a “Satanic” poet. He had also spread rumors about the conduct of Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin, and Claire Claremont when they resided in Switzerland. Furthermore, Byron was particularly opposed to Southey’s smug righteousness.

Politically, the two were opposed. Earlier, Southey, as well as the other “Lake Poets,” William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, had been more idealistic and radical, turning conservative as they matured. Byron considered them political renegades, apostates from liberalism. As a “turncoat,” Southey won government approval and was appointed poet laureate. This appointment helped occasion Southey’s writing A Vision of Judgment, with its fawning flattery of George III. Byron, in the guise of Satan in his poem, indicts George III for bloody wars fought for evil causes (such as maintaining America as a colony), for intolerance,...

(The entire section is 513 words.)