The Cast of CharactersWho is Childe Harold in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage? Who isthe mysterious lady in She Walks in Beauty?
•To create his hero Childe Harold, Byron drew upon a tradition from the days of chivalry. In medieval times, childe referred to a young nobleman who was a candidate for knighthood. Byron applied that title to his hero to suggest the character’s inner nobility and his pursuit of a goal. In Childe Harold’s case, however, that goal has nothing to do with knighthood. Instead, he travels the world of Byron’s own day. His “pilgrimage” is a search for meaning after being disillusioned by society, the “high life,” and the Napoleonic wars. As Byron describes him, Childe Harold is “the wandering outlaw of his own dark mind.” His travels through Europe parallel
Byron’s own; in fact, so many readers identified Childe Harold as Byron himself that Byron complained in a preface to the four-part work that his character “was never intended as an example.”
•The poem She Walks in Beauty was inspired by Lady Wilmot Horton, Byron’s cousin by marriage. Byron wrote this poem after seeing her at an evening party, where she wore a black mourning gown decorated with glittering spangles.
The Byronic HeroThe speaker in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is an unconventional outsider, a moody, passionate, mysterious wanderer through life. In short, he is a Byronic hero—an antihero, alienated and rebellious. The Byronic hero is difficult to portray because the reader must sympathize with him, yet he may be rather unpleasant. He can never be happy, even when good things happen, because that would require a perfect world. Byron himself might be considered a Byronic hero, a handsome, brooding, reckless character who came to typify the “tortured artist.”
Literary analysis: figurative language
To express the intense emotions he wished to convey, Lord Byron frequently used figurative language—language that communicates meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words. Two types of figurative language are metaphorsand similes,which make a comparison between two unlike things. A metaphor compares things directly; a simile uses the word like or as. Another type of figurative language used to express strong emotion is the apostrophe.With this figure of speech, an object, abstract quality, or absent or imaginary person is addressed directly, as if present and able to understand. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage contains an apostrophe to the ocean. As you read, be aware of these figures of speech and consider why Byron chose to use them.
Reading skill: compare and contrast poems
Poets often use a poem’s stanza structureto reflect or emphasize the poem’s main ideas. Stanzas,or groupings of lines, are used to group ideas. Byron often uses traditional stanza structures, in which all of the stanzas contain the same number of lines and often the same rhyme scheme and meter.
Traditional stanza structures include
• the quatrain,consisting of four lines
• the sestet,consisting of six lines
• the octave,consisting of eight lines
A more unusual, but still traditional, type of stanza is the Spenserian stanza,so named for the poet who created it, Edmund Spenser. In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Byron uses the
Spenserian stanza, which consists of nine iambic lines rhyming in the pattern ababbcbcc. Each of the first eight lines contains five feet (pentameter), and the ninth, called an alexandrine,contains six (hexameter). The rhyming pattern of the stanza creates unity, and the six-foot line slows the rhythm of the stanza’s ending, giving it a more dignified pace. As you read these poems, note the stanza structures and how each contributes to the poem’s meaning. For each poem, record your observations in a chart.