“Don Juan,” one of Byron’s well-known major works, is a satirical poem based on the Legend of Don Juan, traditionally a story about a wealthy libertine who dedicated himself to seducing women of all ages. However, Byron’s poetic version has a unique twist, recounting the tale from the perspective that Don Juan, rather than being a womaniser, is in fact an innocent man who is easily seduced by women. Although this “Epic Satire,” as Byron himself described it, was not completed before his death, it aroused much controversy, being equally criticised for its content as it was praised for its genius.
Another of Byron’s lengthy poems is “Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage,” a narrative poem split into four parts. Following the journey and thoughts of a “childe” (a young man who is a candidate for knighthood, in medieval terms) who is searching for a distraction abroad from the wearysome life of luxury and debauchery, the semi-autobiographical poem reflects the sentiment felt by the people who survived the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Being the first poem which featured the idea of a Byronic Hero, “Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage” is a key work to understand the origins of this character type.
The year of 1813 saw the publishing of one of Byron’s most celebrated collections, The Jewish Melodies. “She Walks in Beauty” is the opening poem of the collection and is presumed to have been inspired by Mrs. John Wilmot, whose magnificent beauty impressed Byron on meeting her. The poem illustrates the external and internal beauty of his subject, an unnamed woman whose internal innocence is reflected in her soft visage, while depicting a contrast of darkness and light. “She Walks in Beauty” is an excellent example of the magic that Byron, a true master of poetry, could conjure in his works.
“The Destruction of Sennacherib” is another poem from Byron’s Jewish Melodies collection. It is based on the Biblical account of the night when Sennacherib attempted to besiege Jerusalem, which resulted in many lost lives on the Assyrian side. Byron’s genius illustrates the power of death and the great fall of Sennacherib from a position of majesty and strength to a cold, dead body strewn on the ground next to his loyal steed. A combination of rhythm and powerful imagery brings the scene of the aftermath, as it were, to life.
Heart-wrenching and moving, “When We Two Parted’ is a lyric poem about the parting of two lovers as told from the point of view of the man who has been left by his mistress. It is a classic situation that is known to most people at some point in their lives, and so simply and honestly described that every line pulls at the heart-strings. It is thought that Byron, who had been courting Lady Frances Annesley, wrote the poem out of jealousy in relation to the scandalous relationship between her and the Duke of Wellington.
Dream psychology was a concept of great interest to Romantic authors, so it is not surprising that Byron wrote a poem titled ‘The Dream.” This poem is not one of his shortest, consisting of 8 long stanzas and one final succinct stanza, in which Byron recounts a nocturnal dream that came to him. “The Dream” is yet another semi-autobiographical poem, this time recalling Byron’s interest in his neighbour and distant cousin, Mary Anne Chaworth.