Versions of the Byronic Hero

Lord Byron: From Lara: A Tale

After a long absence, Count Lara, the haunted, gloomy, and
doomed hero of Byron’s 1814 poem, returns to his ancestral home,
bringing secrets with him.

                                          17

 In him inexplicably mix'd appeared
 Much to be loved and hated, sought and feared;
 Opinion varying o'er his hidden lot,
 In praise or railing ne'er his name forgot;
 His silence formed a theme for others' prate
 They guess'd — they gazed — they fain would know his fate.
 What had he been? what was he, thus unknown,
 Who walked their world, his lineage only known?
 A hater of his kind? yet some would say,
 With them he could seem gay amidst the gay;
 But own'd, that smile, if oft observed and near,
 Waned in its mirth and withered to a sneer;
 That smile might reach his lip, but passed not by,
 None e'er could trace its laughter to his eye:
 Yet there was softness too in his regard,
 At times, a heart as not by nature hard,
 But once perceiv'd, his spirit seem'd to chide
 Such weakness as unworthy of its pride,
 And steel'd itself, as scorning to redeem
 One doubt from others' half withheld esteem;
 In self-inflicted penance of a breast
 Which tenderness might once have wrung from rest;
 In vigilance of grief that would compel
 The soul to hate for having lov'd too well.

                                          18

There was in him a vital scorn of all:
 As if the worst had fall'n which could befall,
 He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
 An erring spirit from another hurled;
 A thing of dark imaginings, that shaped
 By choice the perils he by chance escaped;
 But 'scaped in vain, for in their memory yet
 His mind would half exult and half regret:
 With more capacity for love than earth
 Bestows on most of mortal mould and birth,
 His early dreams of good outstripp'd the truth,
 And troubled manhood followed baffled youth;
 With thought of years in phantom chase misspent,
 And wasted powers for better purpose lent;
 And fiery passions that had poured their wrath
 In hurried desolation o'er his path,
 And left the better feelings all at strife
 In wild reflection o'er his stormy life;
 But haughty still and loath himself to blame,
 He called on Nature's self to share the shame,
 And charged all faults upon the fleshly form
 She gave to clog the soul, and feast the worm;
 Till he at last confounded good and ill,
 And half mistook for fate the acts of will:
 Too high for common selfishness, he could
 At times resign his own for others' good,
 But not in pity, not because he ought,
 But in some strange perversity of thought,
 That swayed him onward with a secret pride
 To do what few or none would do beside;
 And this same impulse would in tempting time
 Mislead his spirit equally to crime;
 So much he soared beyond, or sunk beneath,
 The men with whom he felt condemned to breathe,
 And longed by good or ill to separate
 Himself from all who shared his mortal state;
 His mind abhorring this had fixed her throne
 Far from the world, in regions of her own;
 Thus coldly passing all that passed below,
 His blood in temperate seeming now would flow:
 Ah! happier if it ne'er with guilt had glowed,
 But ever in that icy smoothness flowed!
 'Tis true, with other men their path he walked,
 And like the rest in seeming did and talked,
 Nor outraged Reason's rules by flaw nor start,
 His madness was not of the head, but heart;
 And rarely wandered in his speech, or drew
 His thoughts so forth as to offend the view.

                                           19

With all that chilling mystery of mien,
 And seeming gladness to remain unseen,
 He had (if 'twere not nature's boon ) an art
 Of fixing memory on another's heart:
 It was not love perchance — nor hate — nor aught
 That words can image to express the thought;
 But they who saw him did not see in vain,
 And once beheld, would ask of him again:
 And those to whom he spake remembered well,
 And on the words, however light, would dwell:
 None knew, nor how, nor why, but he entwined
 Himself perforce around the hearer's mind;
 There he was stamp'd, in liking, or in hate,
 If greeted once; however brief the date
 That friendship, pity, or aversion knew,
 Still there within the inmost thought he grew.
 You could not penetrate his soul, but found,
 Despite your wonder, to your own he wound;
 His presence haunted still; and from the breast
 He forced an all unwilling interest;
 Vain was the struggle in that mental net,
 His spirit seemed to dare you to forget!

— From Lara: A Tale (1814)


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