The Major Works

by Lord Byron

Other authorsJerome J. McGann (Editor)
Paper Book, 2000





Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2000.


This volume brings together a collection of Byron's poetry and prose, including poems, letters, journals, and transcripts of conversations, and gives the reader an insight into his work and thinking.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Neutiquam_Erro
All passion, intensity and fire, Byron cuts a swathe through the Regency era's lights, literature and ladies. He does so in a style that is the most beautiful and high prose you will ever read; magnificent curving arcs of words that could have come straight from the proud mouth of an archangel (or Lucifer himself). Of course, he occasionally descends into petty back-stabbing, misogyny and generally seems to be a bit of a spoilt child with too much time on his hands, but you can forgive him that just for Childe Harold's Pilgrimage alone.

This book claims to contain most of Lord Byron's major works and it certainly is a full volume, weighing in at over 1000 pages in paperback format. The larger works include the above-mentioned Pilgrimage and Don Juan. These take up at least 700 pages themselves. The remaining space is occupied by Manfred - a rather Nietzschean work about a magician; the Giaour - a tale of unrepentant love and loss; Mazeppa - a story of a man whose fortunes fall and rise dramatically; Beppo - a Venetian affaire de cour; Cain - an intense retelling of the biblical tale with Manichean overtones, and assorted shorter poems. There are also fifty pages of assorted correspondence with various individuals. The book comes equipped with a very short introduction (for a book of 1000 pages), a chronology of Byron's life, an index and end notes. There is very little in the way of explanation of why pieces are included and the end notes are mostly helpful but often explain the obvious while leaving the obscure, obscure. If you like books that contain no analysis, this is for you, but if you want things explained you will do better with something else.

Personally, I preferred the intensity and vision of Childe Harold, Cain and the Giaour to the more sarcastic and occasionally contrived style of Don Juan. Byron is at his best describing beauty - be it nature, art or woman. And much, if not all, of what he writes about is related to the fairer sex. You should write what you know about, they say, and Byron certainly knew women - in both the intellectual and biblical sense. His love affairs raged across all of Europe and brought him condemnation from his peers - particularly his dalliance with his half-sister. His books are full of the worship of the beauty of women and he objectifies them in a way that is entirely politically incorrect in our day and age and likely was then as well. If you can get past the fact that he seems like a teenage boy in rut most of the time, his descriptive powers, characterization, wit, sheer beauty and nobility of expression are sure to please.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I have a friend who says she ranks Lord Byron above all the English Romantic poets--even above Keats. I can't agree, even though reading through this I understand why she would. She thinks Keats sometimes overwrought. I don't agree really. What can I say, he sings to me. The only poem of Keats I don't like is Edymion, his one epic poem, and one even Keats admitted was problematic. Even that has lines to relish: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."

Not that there aren't some gorgeous verse of Byron that can rank with the best of Keats--Byron's most famous poem arguably is "She Walks in Beauty"--notably it's short. As are almost all the other poems of his I'd count as favorites: "Darkness," "Prometheus," "Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte," "We'll Go No More a-Roving." "By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept," "I Would I Were a Careless Child." Byron is a more varied poet than Keats; Byron wrote in an astonishing variety of forms and lengths--I have to give him snaps for that. But maybe because of that experimental quality, unlike with Keats, I found a lot more hits than misses with Byron. To me Byron too often wore out his welcome at longer lengths. There was an exception though, and one that goes to the heart of his appeal--to me and to my friend. That poem was his epic Don Juan. It was funny, snarky, catty, witty, and like Dante, Byron is not afraid to take things to a personal level with personalities he knew--have a stanza:

He, Juan (and not Wordsworth), so pursued
His self-communion with his own high soul,
Until his mighty heart, in its great mood,
Had mitigated part, though not the whole
Of its disease; he did the best he could
With things not very subject to control,
And turn'd, without perceiving his condition,
Like Coleridge, into a metaphysician.

My friend thinks Keats all too earnest. And I admit there's something charming and refreshing in a Romantic poet that doesn't take things too seriously, that has a sense of humor. On the other hand, Don Juan, his comic masterpiece, remained uncompleted at his death. And I can't say I can put it up there quite with the epic poems I've loved, the works of Homer, Vergil, Dante--even Milton for all his flaws. I do recommend giving Byron a try. His poems deserve to be better known, and he deserves to be better known than the poet of just "She Walks in Beauty" and the man known as "mad, bad and dangerous to know."
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LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
Byron has been my favorite Romantic poet--as he was during the Romantic period--since I have been able to read with ease (say, since grad school).
His "English Bard and Scotch Reviewers" sets the standard for English Satire since Jonson and Dryden. It is very funny at the expense of an intellectual elite much less doubtful than ours today. We need another Byron.
His "Don Juan" is without equal in English literature; maybe Ariosto's similar in Italian, though I think Byron more witty, finally.
Byron's, and his Don Juan's, main literary legacy is the greatest of all Russian poems, Евгений Онегин. I have read perhaps one-fourth of Pushkin's great work in Russian, and it has struck me as a cross between Byron and Wordsworth.
Since I have spent many hours translating Latin and Renaissance Latin, I admire Byron's exact critiques of classical poets like the epigrammatic satirist Martial--"the nauseous epigram of Martial" according to Don Juan's/ Byron's mother.
I could add much, but it gets late/early.
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