Childe Harold's Pilgrimage "Quiet To Quick Bosoms Is A Hell"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"Quiet To Quick Bosoms Is A Hell"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which appeared in 1812, offered a kind of facile versifying that so caught the popular fancy that, as Byron said, he became famous overnight. The book was a romanticized travelogue based on his own trip to Greece and Turkey after graduation. After its publication, he made a marriage that he soon considered incompatible, and he left his wife five weeks after the birth of their child, to spend the summer in Switzerland with Shelley. Here he wrote the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a much improved example of his poetry that contained a famous description of the Battle of Waterloo, of 1815. Standing on that battlefield, the poem's romantic hero thinks of what happened there. A rebel against conventions himself, unhappy among people, and at peace only with nature, Harold recreates that revelry in Brussels on the eve of the battle, the sound of the first cannon shot, the figures in the fight: the Duke of Brunswick who hurried to the battlefield and died in the fighting, and the many others who, after the night of dancing and gaiety, marched away at dawn to destruction. He declares Napoleon "greatest nor the worst of man," who might still be in power except that his lack of balance, while it brought him power, made impossible any hope of maintaining it. He might have endured if he had stood like a tower on a rock. But there are people, Byron mused, perhaps thinking of himself, who crave high adventure and are exhausted by doing nothing. Such a love of action is fatal to anyone who possesses it. In Napoleon's case, he became "conqueror and captive of the world," still feared even though in exile, an example of how a favorite of Fortune can stand unbowed under misfortune. Harold goes on to think what might have happened if Napoleon had shown more regard for human beings whom he had scorned but employed. He had used man's admiration only for his pleasure and advancement, and had failed to follow "stern Diogenes," who disregarded and mocked men and their opinions. Stanza 42 expresses the belief of the author, through the lips of Harold, that this feeling of adventure was very deep in the conquered French leader of Waterloo.

But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
Of aught but rest; a fever at the core
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore.