November 17, 2014

Strange but true / There are lines by the poet Lord Byron you probably didn’t know you knew…

Although Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron) is a very famous English poet, few of us recall many lines from his poems.

Byron’s best known bit of poesy is “She walks in beauty, like the night,” the first line from his poem “She Walks in Beauty” (published in 1815).

Thanks to movies like Ken's Russell's Gothic (1986) and the BBC drama Byron (2003), many of us are also aware that Byron had an outrageously wild personal life.

It was crammed full of sex (possibly including affairs with both male and female lovers and his own sister), drugs (opium in particular) and rocky relations with the British Establishment (which he repeatedly poked in the eye with his scandalous lifestyle and radical liberal politics).

As memorably summed up by one of his many lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

In fact, I’d guess more people are familiar with Byron’s reputation than his poetry.

However, there are some words from a Byron poem that are familiar to almost everyone, in addition to “She walks in beauty...”

On December 17, 1823, Cantos XII, XIII and XIV of Byron’s epic satirical poem Don Juan were first published.

Canto XIV contains the lines:

“‘Tis strange — but true; for Truth is always strange;
       Stranger than fiction.”

Those poetic words by Byron are generally credited as the origin of the proverbial sayings “strange but true” and “truth is stranger than fiction.”

So, although most people don’t know it, they are paraphrasing a quotation by Byron when they use those phrases — both of which could aptly be applied to Byron’s life.

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