Love and Death, by Lord Byron

The following poem, Love and Death, was one of Lord Byron’s last pieces, when he’d begun to grow tired and weary of his life, though he was only 36 when he died. When he wrote it, he was suffering from unrequited love for his page named Lukas. Some reports call him a teenager, others a young man. Lukas was probably in the area of 19, technically still in the teen years, but an adult even by the standards of the day. Lukas didn’t love Byron back, but that didn’t stop Lukas from gladly accepting lavish gifts, the acceptance of which could have misled Byron into thinking he had a chance, especially since that was a time when gifts had significant meaning that they don’t have in the same way today.

For instance, a century later, a woman accepting gloves still pretty much betrothed her to a man, though by 1933, a gift of gloves between friends of opposite sexes was fine if they were closer friends.

Byron spent his last years helping the Greeks fight the Turks for independence. In fact, without his financial backing, Greece couldn’t have sustained the fight until they won. It is for this reason that he is forever a national hero in Greece, and that is one of the battles in this poem, the other battle being the hurt of unreturned love.

Love and Death

I watched thee when the foe was at our side,
Ready to strike at him–or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless—rather than divide
Aught with one loved, save love and liberty.

I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock
Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.

I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes,
Yielding my couch, and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching, ne’er to rise
From thence, if thou an early grave hadst found.

The earthquake came, and rocked the quivering
And men and nature reeled as if with wine.
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
For thee. Whose safety first provide for? Thine

And when convulsive throes denied my breath
The faultest utterance to my fading thought,
To thee–to thee–e’en in the gasp of death
My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.

Thus much and more; and yet thou lov’st me not,
And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.

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