December 17, 2017

“Strange but true” — there are quotes by Lord Byron you probably didn’t know you knew…

Although Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron) is one of the most famous of all English poets, few of us can recite a lot of lines from his poems.

Thanks to some popular modern biographies, Ken's Russell's movie Gothic (1986), the BBC drama Byron (2003), and other movies and TV shows, many people are aware that Byron had an outrageously wild personal life.

It was a life crammed full of sex (including affairs with both male and female lovers and probably 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 proto-rock ‘n’ roll star reputation than his poetry.

There are some lines from Byron poems which are familiar to almost everyone.

The best-known is “She walks in beauty, like the night,” the opening words of his poem “She Walks in Beauty” (published in 1815).

Another bit of verse written by Byron popularized two idiomatic expressions you undoubtedly know and have probably used, though you may not know they come from one of his poems.

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

So, while few people know it, they are paraphrasing a quotation by Byron when they use those phrases — both of which could aptly be applied to aspects of Byron’s personal life.

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