File:Lord Byron - Childe Harold's Pilgimage - Dugdale edition.jpg

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a lengthy narrative poem in four parts written by Lord Byron. It was published between 1812 and 1818 and is dedicated to "Ianthe". The poem describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man who, disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands. In a wider sense, it is an expression of the melancholy and disillusionment felt by a generation weary of the wars of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The title comes from the term childe, a medieval title for a young man who was a candidate for knighthood.


The poem contains elements thought to be autobiographical, as Byron generated some of the storyline from experience gained during his travels through Portugal, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea between 1809 and 1811.[1] The "Ianthe" of the dedication was the term of endearment he used for Charlotte Harley, the 13-year-old daughter of Lady Oxford (the artist Francis Bacon's great-great-grandmother).[2]

Despite Byron's initial hesitation at having the first two cantos of the poem published because he felt it revealed too much of himself,[3] it was published, at the urging of friends, by John Murray in 1812, and brought both the poem and its author to immediate and unexpected public attention. Byron later wrote, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous".[4]

Byronic heroEdit

The work provided the first example of the Byronic hero.[5] The idea of the Byronic hero is one that consists of many different characteristics. The hero must have a rather high level of intelligence and perception as well as be able to easily adapt to new situations and use cunning to his own gain. It is clear from this description that this hero is well educated and by extension is rather sophisticated in his style. Aside from the obvious charm and attractiveness that this automatically creates, he struggles with his integrity, being prone to mood swings or bipolar tendencies. Generally, the hero has a disrespect for any figure of authority, thus creating the image of the Byronic hero as an exile or an outcast. The hero also has a tendency to be arrogant and cynical, indulging in self-destructive behaviour which leads to the need to seduce women. Although his sexual attraction through being mysterious is rather helpful, this sexual attraction often gets the hero into trouble. The character of the Byronic hero has appeared in novels, films and plays ever since.


The poem has four cantos written in Spenserian stanzas, which consist of eight iambic pentameter lines followed by one alexandrine (a twelve syllable iambic line), and has rhyme pattern ABABBCBCC.


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Childe Harold became a vehicle for Byron's own beliefs and ideas; indeed in the preface to book three Byron acknowledges the fact that his hero is just an extension of himself. According to Jerome McGann, by masking himself behind a literary artifice, Byron was able to express his view that "man's greatest tragedy is that he can conceive of a perfection which he cannot attain".[6]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Heffernan, James AW, Cultivating Picturacy, Baylor UP, p. 163 .
  2. Peppiatt, Michael (1996) Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0297816160
  3. MacCarthy, Fiona (2002), Byron: Life and Legend, John Murray, p. 139, ISBN 071955621X .
  4. Spengler-Axiopoulos, Barbara (01.07.2006) (in German), Der skeptische Kosmopolit, NZZ, .
  5. cf. ¶ 3 in the article on the topic from the Norton Anthology of English Literature
  6. McGann, ed, Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, ed. with Introduction, Apparatus, and Commentaries. 7 Vols. Clarendon Press, The Oxford English Texts series, 1980-1993

External linksEdit



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