When We Two Parted

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When We Two Parted
By George Gordon Byron

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well–
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met–
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?–
With silence and tears.

In a letter to a friend in 1809, Byron wrote (probably facetiously) that he was going to Turkey to do research for a treatise “Sodomy simplified or Paederasty proved to be praiseworthy from ancient authors and modern practice”. Like all jokes, this must have had an edge of truth to be funny.

At Cambridge, Byron had fallen deeply in love with a choirboy, John Edelston. Byron wrote several poems that scholars believe were written to and about John, calling him “Thyrza”. One of the Thyrza poems, written after John had died, indicates in the words: “The pressure of the thrilling hand, the kiss, so guiltless and refined, that Love each warmer wish forbore”, that their physical contact had been restricted to hand-holding and kissing. He later referred to it as a passion “violent though pure”. Even much later in life, after the “Thyrza” poems had become very famous and popular, Byron refused to say who they were addressed to and changed the pronouns from masculine to feminine to conceal that this doomed but lifelong passion was for a man.

After two years of being Byron’s “almost constant associate since October 1805”, John had to move away from Cambridge to London and Byron wrote to a woman friend, Elizabeth Pigot, about his heartbreak, saying that he was planning to live with his “protégé” after he had completed his studies, which would “put Lady E. Butler & Miss Ponsonby to the Blush, Pylades & Orestes out of countenance, & want nothing but a Catastrophe like Nisus and Euryalus, to give Johnathon & David the ‘go by’ “. These are all same-sex passionate relationships.

However, some time later John wrote a very courteous and formal letter to Byron asking for his help in getting a job. They had never met again.

While Byron was on his travels in Turkey, Albania, and Greece he wrote to Matthews frequently about his sexual conquests of boys using a coded term based on Latin “plen. et optabil. –Coit.” (Frequent and desired intercourse). He reported that he was amusing himself with “a Sopha to tumble upon” with a Greek boy called Eustathius who had “ambrosial curls hanging down his amiable back”.

It has been argued (with very little evidence)that while in the East, Byron was a lover of Ali Pasha or his son, Veli Pasha, rulers of Albania and the Peloponessus. They were very friendly and hospitable to Byron and Veli Pasha did give him a beautiful white horse.

Byron’s relationships with friends of both sexes seem to have been shadowed by jealousy and possessiveness. John Cam Hobhouse considered himself to be Byron’s “best friend” and in many ways was, travelling with him, assisting him legally and financially and finally burying him. There is no trace of sexuality between them.

Byron and Shelley became very close friends in the summer of 1816 in Switzerland. They sailed around Lake Leman together visiting the locations of a romantic novel written by Rousseau called “La Nouvelle Heloise”. One afternoon they exchanged roses. This was rhapsodically memorialized by Shelley in his journal where he referred to Byron, anonymously, as “my companion”.

While he was visiting Byron in Venice several years later, Shelley was shocked by Byron’s ostentatiously erotic lifestyle and remarked in a letter to a friend in England that some of his street pick-ups had “lost the gait and physiognomy of men”. This has been interpreted to mean they were cross-dressers. Shelley was also outraged that Byron bargained with parents for the services of their daughters.

The last poems Byron wrote were found among his papers after his sudden death. They indicated that he had fallen painfully and guiltily in love with a fifteen year old Greek boy named Loukas Chalandritsanos. Byron gave him money, fancy uniforms and the command of a regiment. As far as is known there was no physical contact between them.

Byron is known to have had sex with at least 300 women.

So the verdict is bisexual, although such distinctions were not explicit at the time. I think “hyper-sexual” covers it.

I’m heading back to Alabama and I guess back in the closet for a while. It’s been a good vacation, but it’s time to go back and face reality.

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

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