Byron Spends the Night with Spanish Ladies

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage continues… Spain is beset by war, and Harold is on his way to Seville (Sevilla). I recommend first reading the stanzas and going back a second time to enjoy my excessive commentary.


Full swiftly Harold wends his lonely way
Where proud Sevilla triumphs unsubdued:
Yet is she free? the Spoiler’s wished-for prey!
Soon, soon shall Conquest’s fiery foot intrude,
Blackening her lovely domes with traces rude.
Inevitable hour! ‘Gainst fate to strive
Where Desolation plants her famished brood
Is vain, or Ilion, Tyre might yet survive,
And Virtue vanquish all, and Murder cease to thrive

Ilion = Ilos was the founder of Illium or Illion, also known as Troy, which of course was destroyed by the Greeks.

Tyre = An ancient seaport. Despite being an island city fortified with walls, Alexander the Great managed to conquer it in a siege in 332 B.C. He built a causeway allowing him to bring his catapults (ballistas) within firing range.


But all unconscious of the coming doom,
The feast, the song, the revel here abounds;
Strange modes of merriment the hours consume,
Nor bleed these patriots with their country’s wounds:
Nor here War’s clarion, but Love’s rebeck sounds;
Here Folly still his votaries inthralls;
And young-eyed Lewdness walks her midnight rounds:
Girt with the silent crimes of Capitals,
Still to the last kind Vice clings to the tott’ring walls.

I’m sure other egregious anecdotes from history can attest to this unfortunate phenomenon: elites party while their countrymen die in war.

More trumpeting

More trumpeting (Photo credit: ianbckwltr)

clarion = a clarion is a medieval trumpet. As the familiar adjective, it means:  “brilliantly clear <her clarion top notes>; also : loud and clear <a clarion call to action>.

Detail from "Virgin among Virgins" (...

Detail from “Virgin among Virgins” (1509), by Gerard David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

rebeck = a rebeck or rebec is a medieval, three-stringed instrument. See angel.

votaries = devotees / admirers / worshippers

inthralled = enthralled

In “The Making of the Poets, Byron and Shelley in Their Time” by Ian Gilmour, there is a great chapter describing the details of Byron’s grand tour, which, thanks to its juicy details, serves as the equivalent of a “VH1 – Behind the Pilgrimage” special. Here’s what happened in Seville:

“Owing to ‘the Grand Junta being settled here’, Hobhouse recorded, Seville had ‘30,000 more than ordinary inhabitants’, so he, Byron and the servants ended up ‘all in one little room’ in the house of two attractive Spanish ladies. From them, Byron soon found the ‘reserve [was] not the characteristic of … Spanish Belles’, who were ‘form’d for all the witching arts of love’. The night before he left, one of them, who was shortly to be married, invited Byron to ‘come to bed to’ her, an invitation made all the more enticing, presumably, by Byron’s overcrowded bedroom. But the lady wanted his ring as well, which he refused to give her. The resulting discord was perhaps part of the reason why Byron did not precede her future husband to bed. Although a few months later he wrote in Childe Harold that ‘Brisk confidence still best with woman copes’, another part of it may have been that never having made love to a lady of his own class — in that very limited sense he was still a virgin — Byron got stage fright. In any case he accepted a three-foot lock of the lady’s hair while rejecting the rest of her. Keeping quiet about the ring to his mother, he cheerfully told her that his ‘virtue’ had induced him to decline the lady’s invitation, an assertion which may have raised Catherine’s eyebrows.”


Not so the rustic—with his trembling mate
He lurks, nor casts his heavy eye afar,
Lest he should view his vineyard desolate,
Blasted below the dun hot breath of War.
No more beneath soft Eve’s consenting star
Fandango twirls his jocund castanet:
Ah, Monarchs! could ye taste the mirth ye mar,
Not in the toils of Glory would ye fret;
The hoarse dull drum would sleep, and Man be happy yet!

“the dun hot breath of War” – Dun is a word not commonly heard in the United States. It has several meanings, but to dun is to demand payment, in a persistent, pestering way. My guess is that here dun means pestering / plaguing; in the sense that war constantly demands payment in lives.

Eve = evening

Fandango = a Spanish dance, here personified. The dance is accompanied by guitars and castanets.

jocund = cheerful; merry; gay; blithe; glad

castanet = “either of a pair of concave pieces of wood held in the palm and clicked together, usually to accompany dancing” []


How carols now the lusty muleteer?
Of Love, Romance, Devotion is his lay,
As whilome he was wont the leagues to cheer,
His quick bells wildly jingling on the way?
No! as he speeds, he chants “Vivā el Rey!”
And checks his song to execrate Godoy,
The royal wittol Charles, and curse the day
When first Spain’s queen beheld the black-eyed boy,
And gore-faced Treason sprung from her adulterate joy.

Muleteer = one who drives mules; pronounced with three syllables. lay= song

execrate = to curse.

Goya's Manuel Godoy, Duke of Alcudia, Prince o...

Goya’s Manuel Godoy, Duke of Alcudia, Prince of the Peace, 1801. Godoy was Prime Minister of Spain during the 1808 Napoleonic invasion of Spain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Godoy = a most hated man! Byron, in his notes writes, “It is to this man that the Spaniards universally impute the ruin of their country.”

wittol = a man who knows of his wife’s infidelity and puts up with it, in this case, King Charles (Carlos)

Viva La Rey = “Long Live the King” / King Ferdinand the VII.

I’m going to have to leave it there for now, owing to the fact that developments in the Peninsular War are more complicated that I expected. I need to do a little more research.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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