Lara: Canto the First

Original Text: 
Byron, Works, 17 vols. (London: John Murray, 1832-33). PR 4351 M6 1832 ROBA.
290Much to be lov'd and hated, sought and fear'd.
291Opinion varying o'er his hidden lot,
292In praise or railing ne'er his name forgot;
293His silence form'd a theme for others' prate;
294They guess'd--they gaz'd--they fain would know his fate.
295What had he been? what was he, thus unknown,
296Who walk'd their world, his lineage only known?
297A hater of his kind? yet some would say,
298With them he could seem gay amidst the gay;
299But own'd that smile, if oft observ'd and near,
300Wan'd in its mirth and wither'd to a sneer;
301That smile might reach his lip but pass'd not by,
302None e'er could trace its laughter to his eye.
303Yet there was softness too in his regard,
304At times, a heart as not by nature hard,
305But once perceiv'd, his spirit seem'd to chide
306Such weakness as unworthy of its pride,
307And steel'd itself, as scorning to redeem
308One doubt from others' half withheld esteem;
309In self-inflicted penance of a breast
310Which tenderness might once have wrung from rest;
311In vigilance of grief that would compel
312The soul to hate for having lov'd too well.
XVIII
313There was in him a vital sign of all:
314As if the worst had fall'n which could befall,
315He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
316An erring spirit from another hurl'd;
317A thing of dark imaginings, that shap'd
318By choice the perils he by chance escap'd;
319But 'scap'd in vain, for in their memory yet
320His mind would half exult and half regret.
321With more capacity for love than earth
322Bestows on most of mortal mould and birth,
323His early dreams of good outstripp'd the truth,
324And troubled manhood follow'd baffled youth;
325With thought of years in phantom chase misspent,
326And wasted powers for better purpose lent;
327And fiery passions that had pour'd their wrath
328In hurried desolation o'er his path,
329And left the better feelings all at strife
330In wild reflection o'er his stormy life;
331But haughty still and loth himself to blame,
332He call'd on Nature's self to share the shame,
333And charg'd all faults upon the fleshly form
334She gave to clog the soul and feast the worm;
335Till he at last confounded good and ill,
336And half mistook for fate the acts of will.
337Too high for common selfishness, he could
338At times resign his own for others' good,
339But not in pity, not because he ought,
340But in some strange perversity of thought,
341That sway'd him onward with a secret pride
342To do what few or none would do beside;
343And this same impulse would, in tempting time,
344Mislead his spirit equally in crime;
345So much he soar'd beyond, or sunk beneath,
346The men with whom he felt condemn'd to breathe,
347And long'd by good or ill to separate
348Himself from all who shared his mortal state.
349His mind abhorring this had fix'd her throne
350Far from the world, in regions of her own:
351Thus coldly passing all that pass'd below,
352His blood in temperate seeming now would flow:
353Ah! happier if it ne'er with guilt had glow'd,
354But ever in that icy smoothness flow'd!
355'T is true, with other men their path he walk'd,
356And like the rest in seeming did and talk'd,
357Nor outrag'd Reason's rules by flaw nor start,
358His madness was not of the head, but heart;
359And rarely wander'd in his speech, or drew
360His thoughts so forth as to offend the view.
XIX
361With all that chilling mystery of mien,
362And seeming gladness to remain unseen,
363He had (if 't were not nature's boon) an art
364Of fixing memory on another's heart.
365It was not love perchance, nor hate, nor aught
366That words can image to express the thought;
367But they who saw him did not see in vain,
368And once beheld, would ask of him again.

Notes

289] Written in May and June of 1814 and first published in August. The last of a series of three sensational verse-tales (The Giaour, published in 1813, and The Corsair, in 1814, are the other two) featuring a central figure now usually called "the Byronic hero." The portrait of Lara is in the first of its two parts. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1814
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.488.