Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

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Byron was already an established writer by 1812, but with this work he replaced Sir Walter Scott as England’s most popular poet. His audience was eager for material dealing with the Near East, and this he supplied. Of particular interest were his vivid descriptions of Albania, which Byron was one of the first Englishmen to visit.

The poem also created the popular Byronic hero--proud, brilliant, and attractive, but also bored, gloomy, lonely, disillusioned, and isolated from the rest of humanity. This figure, who narrates the poem, provides much of whatever unity the wide-ranging poem possesses.

This hero offers moral and personal reflections as he travels, thus combining the poetry of landscape and travel with the confessional and the meditative. He contrasts the power and permanence of nature with the insignificance and transience of man. Waterloo will fade from the memory; Venice will crumble into the sea. The tone of the poem is therefore somber: Byron’s tour passes through a fallen and decayed world.

Yet it is a world capable of redemption. If Waterloo and Venice will not endure, Marathon, Shylock, and Othello will. Through noble deeds and great art, mankind can achieve immortality.

Bibliography:

Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Works. Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge. 13 vols. New York: Octagon Books, 1966. Originally published between 1898 and 1904 in thirteen volumes, this is a complete collection of all Byron’s poetry and prose, along with extensive introductions and notes, both by the editor and by Byron himself. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage appears in volume 2.

Crane, David. The Kindness of Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. A study of Byron’s reputation after death, exploring bitter and conflicting accounts by the wife he divorced and the sister he seduced.

Gleckner, Robert F. Byron and the Ruins of Paradise. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967. A critical discussion of Byron’s viewpoint, as seen through his poetry. Byron’s views of natural beauty and human failings are emphasized. Two chapters are dedicated to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, an excellent example of these feelings.

Jump, John D., ed. Byron: A Symposium. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. A collection of essays on Byron and his poetical works, by various authors. “The Poet of Childe Harold,” by Francis Berry, emphasizes the stylistic devices of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and other works Byron wrote during the same period, in relation to the works of his contemporaries and of later writers.

MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. A biography that re-examines the life of the poet in the light of MacCarthy’s assertion that Byron was bisexual, a victim of early abuse by his nurse.

Marchand, Leslie A. Byron’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. A general introduction to Byron’s poetry, intended for twentieth century students and general readers. This book places Byron’s work in the context of the literary tradition he followed, the works of his contemporaries, and the historical times in which Byron lived.

Thorslev, Peter L. The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962. A study of the alienated antihero common in Romantic poetry, essentially created by Byron, especially in Childe Harold. Emphasis is placed on the historical background of Byron’s times.

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