Context: Between the composition of the beginning and the end of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage stretches a space of six years. In the first two cantos, published in 1812, is seen the spontaneity of a young man of the Romantic Movement, enjoying adventurous experiences in oriental lands and writing about them in facile verse. The publication brought immediate fame to Byron. Canto III, after a four-year interval, shows a great advance in technique, and its description of the Battle of Waterloo helps to make it the best part of the poem. With Canto IV came another change. The poet dispensed with Childe (Young Lord) Harold as a spokesman, and made himself and his opinions the subject of the poem. But the travelogue, which provides the continuity for the entire work, is combined with a review of Italian history and literature, full of indirect references. Some are recognizable to the general reader, such as "The Bard of Hell," for Dante, but many readers will be doubtful about "The Bard of Chivalry," or the reference to "he who lies in a tomb in Arqua," or "the Roman friend of Rome's least-mortal mind" (Aervius Sulpicius), the "Goddess loves in stone," or "the hyaena bigots." However, Byron does include many memorable bits in this canto in unforgettable poetic descriptions of Nature, notably the six magnificent stanzas near the end, beginning: "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll." Harold and his human prototype frequently voice their dislike of humanity and their joys of solitary communion with Nature. Byron's search for Liberty and his hatred of despots and tyrants who deprive men of their freedom are the occasions for highly colored lines, as are his feelings of a Romanticist who has lived too long and seen everything, and his belief that all is temporary and doomed to destruction. However, the passing years, even while destroying, give a patina of beauty to what they destroy. And in the case of people and their productions, Time, while avenging, acts as a balance to establish true values.
Oh, Time! the beautifier of the dead,Adorner of the ruin, comforterAnd only healer when the heart hath bled–Time! the corrector where our judgments err,The test of truth, love–sole philosopher,For all besides are sophists–from thy thrift,Which never loses though it doth defer–Time, the avenger, unto thee I liftMy hands, and eyes, and heart, and crave of thee a gift.