The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In Canto 1, Bryon introduces Childe Harold, a young English nobleman who has been wasting his life with drinking, idleness, and making love to unsuitable women. The woman he does love he cannot have. Despondent, he leaves his family, his family home, his heritage. and his lands to travel, albeit with no clear destination. Perhaps, he thinks, he will find happiness and some meaning to his life once he leaves England.

Leaving, he sings a mournful song—the poem “Good Night”—bidding farewell to his homeland, to his parents, and to his wife and sons. Harold encourages the young page who accompanies him over the ocean not to be afraid. When Harold lands on the shore of Portugal, he finds himself moved in strange and unexpected ways. He begins exploring the land on horseback, moving aimlessly in search of his destiny, and he wanders into the mountains northeast of Lisbon, to Cintra, the site of the Convention that allowed the defeated French army to withdraw intact. Harold comments on the disgrace of this event. He makes many such comments on political events. He also reflects on the scenery, finding the land beautiful but the people dirty and immoral. Harold laments on the sorry state of these men and women who live in such a beautiful land. He continues into Spain.

In Spain, Harold is again thrilled by the magnificence of the scenery but appalled at the depths to which the civilization has fallen. His first real understanding of human cruelty occurs in Spain, where he watches a bullfight. He watches the cruelty of the humans tormenting the bull and the courage of the beast, who cannot understand why anyone would try to hurt it. The bullfight, as always,...

(The entire section is 687 words.)