Sunday, April 19, 2009

painting and poet of the month

Often described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" -- a phrase coined by spurned lover Lady Caroline Lamb -- the great poet and adventurer Lord Byron (1788-1824) was always a study in contrasts. Notably handsome and virile yet afflicted with a clubfoot, he was also a womanizer who wrote poetry of depth and beauty while managing to avoid heavy sentiment. There is further speculation that Byron was bisexual and even slept with his own half-sister Augusta, with some reported personal anxiety on Byron's part that he might be the father of Augusta's child. While certain people brought out a sarcastic cruelty in Byron, he could be quite caring toward animals, especially his beloved dog Boatswain. Boatswain contracted rabies and eventually died from the disease, but Lord Byron kept vigil by his side until Boatswain passed away, despite warnings that he might be endangering his own life in being so close to a fatally rabid dog.

Byron traveled often and died in Greece on April 19, 1824, while joining the Greeks in fighting their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. This portrait of Byron in Albanian native costume was done by Thomas Phillips, and while it represents Byron as he looked circa 1813, the painting itself wasn't completed until 1835. Phillips' work can be found at the National Portrait Gallery, where Byron is very well-represented. And though he wrote verse of a much greater magnitude, this short self-reflective George Gordon Byron poem is one of my favorites:

Through life's road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragg'd to three and thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing - except, thirty-three.