The Cornelian

LordByron3The poem below appears in The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (ed. Stephen Coote, pp. 192-93).  “The Cornelian” is about a choirboy, John Edleston (spelled “Eddleston” by Byron), whom Byron met as a student at Cambridge and with whom he was deeply in love (see The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, ed. Byrne R. S. Fone, p. 219).  Despite Byron’s reputation as a womanizer and a world-class object of heterosexual love, he was, apparently, throughout his life romantically attached to men.  Louis Crompton, in Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England, has shown that Byron fled England not only because of the scandal over his affair with his half-sister, but also because of the repressive anti-same-sex laws in England, where the penalty for sodomy was death.  expoAlso, Crompton suggests that homosexual desire was one of the reasons he first went to Greece and the anti-same sex sentiment in England may account for the famous Byronic stance of lone defiance.  The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, Vol. II, says that Byron was “fundamentally homosexual” (p. 285), yet that was not a fact generally taught over thirty years ago, at least not in my experience, and the latest edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2006) ignores the fact Byron was “fundamentally homosexual.”

The Cornelian
No specious splendour of this stone
    Endears it to my memory ever;
With lustre only once it shone,


    And blushes modest as the giver.

Some, who can sneer at friendship’s ties,
    Have, for my weakness, oft reprov’d me;
Yet still the simple gift I prize,
    For I am sure, the giver lov’d me.

He offer’d it with downcast look,
    As fearful that I might refuse it;
I told him, when the gift I took,
    My only fear should be, to lose it.

This pledge attentively I view’d,
    And sparkling as I held it near,
129206699892370848_dbeac859-4c06-4f11-bd27-579462390b88_103725_273Methought one drop the stone bedew’d,
    And, ever since, I’ve lov’d a tear.

Still, to adorn his humble youth,
    Nor wealth nor birth their treasures yield;
But he, who seeks the flowers of truth,
    Must quit the garden, for the field.

‘Tis not the plant uprear’d in sloth,
    Which beauty shews, and sheds perfume;
The flowers, which yield the most of both,
    In Nature’s wild luxuriance bloom.

Had Fortune aided Nature’s care,
d4952936r    For once forgetting to be blind,
His would have been an ample share,
    If well proportioned to his mind.

But had the Goddess clearly seen,
    His form had fix’d her fickle breast;
Her countless hoards would his have been,
    And none remain’d to give the rest.


Note: Byron received the cornelian (also spelled carnelian, “a reddish variety of chalcedony used in jewelry,” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary) from the choirboy, Edlestone.
The photographs are by William von Gloeden, one of my favorite early historical photographers of male nudes.  This post combines two of my favorite things: the poetry of Byron and the photography of von Gloeden.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

2 responses to “The Cornelian

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: