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English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

George Gordon, Lord Byron

474. Epistle to Augusta

MY sister! my sweet sister! if a name

Dearer and purer were, it should be thine;

Mountains and seas divide us, but I claim

No tears, but tenderness to answer mine:

Go where I will, to me thou art the same—

A loved regret which I would not resign.

There yet are two things in my destiny,—

A world to roam through, and a home with thee.

The first were nothing—had I still the last,

It were the haven of my happiness;

But other claims and other ties thou hast,

And mine is not the wish to make them less.

A strange doom is thy father’s son’s, and past

Recalling, as it lies beyond redress;

Reversed for him our grandsire’s fate of yore,—

He had no rest at sea, nor I on shore.

If my inheritance of storms hath been

In other elements, and on the rocks

Of perils, overlook’d or unforeseen,

I have sustain’d my share of worldly shocks,

The fault was mine; nor do I seek to screen

My errors with defensive paradox;

I have been cunning in mine overthrow,

The careful pilot of my proper woe.

Mine were my faults, and mine be their reward.

My whole life was a contest, since the day

That gave me being, gave me that which marr’d

The gift,—a fate, or will, that walk’d astray;

And I at times have found the struggle hard,

And thought of shaking off my bonds of clay:

But now I fain would for a time survive,

If but to see what next can well arrive.

Kingdoms and empires in my little day

I have outlived, and yet I am not old:

And when I look on this, the petty spray

Of my own years of trouble, which have roll’d

Like a wild bay of breakers, melts away:

Something—I know not what—does still uphold

A spirit of slight patience;—not in vain,

Even for its own sake, do we purchase pain.

Perhaps the workings of defiance stir

Within me,—or perhaps a cold despair,

Brought when ills habitually recur,—

Perhaps a kindlier clime, or purer air,

(For even to this may change of soul refer,

And with light armour we may learn to bear),

Have taught me a strange quiet, which was not

The chief companion of a calmer lot.

I feel almost at times as I have felt

In happy childhood; trees, and flowers, and brooks,

Which do remember me of where I dwelt

Ere my young mind was sacrificed to books,

Come as of yore upon me, and can melt

My heart with recognition of their looks;

And even at moments I could think I see

Some living thing to love—but none like thee.

Here are the Alpine landscapes which create

A fund for contemplation—to admire

Is a brief feeling of a trivial date;

But something worthier do such scenes inspire;

Here to be lonely is not desolate,

For much I view which I could most desire,

And, above all, a lake I can behold

Lovelier, not dearer, than our own of old.

Oh that thou wert but with me!—but I grow

The fool of my own wishes, and forget

The solitude, which I have vaunted so,

Has lost its praise in this but one regret;

There may be others which I less may show!—

I am not of the plaintive mood, and yet

I feel an ebb in my philosophy,

And the tide rising in my alter’d eye.

I did remind thee of our own dear Lake,

By the old Hall which may be mine no more.

Leman’s is fair; but think not I forsake

The sweet remembrance of a dearer shore;

Sad havoc Time must with my memory make,

Ere that or thou can fade these eyes before;

Though, like all things which I have loved, they are

Resign’d for ever, or divided far.

The world is all before me; I but ask

Of Nature that with which she will comply—

It is but in her summer’s sun to bask,

To mingle with the quiet of her sky,

To see her gentle face without a mask,

And never gaze on it with apathy.

She was my early friend, and now shall be

My sister—till I look again on thee.

I can reduce all feeling but this one;

And that I would not;—for at length I see

Such scenes as those wherein my life begun.

The earliest—even the only paths for me—

Had I but sooner learnt the crowd to shun,

I had been better than I now can be;

The passions which have torn me would have slept;

I had not suffer’d and thou hadst not wept.

With false Ambition what had I to do?

Little with Love, and least of all with Fame;

And yet they came unsought, and with me grew,

And made me all which they can make—a name.

Yet this was not the end I did pursue;

Surely I once beheld a nobler aim.

But all is over—I am one the more

To baffled millions which have gone before.

And for the future, this world’s future may

From me demand but little of my care;

I have outlived myself by many a day;

Having survived so many things that were;

My years have been no slumber, but the prey

Of ceaseless vigils; for I had the share

Of life which might have fill’d a century,

Before its fourth in time had pass’d me by.

And for the remnant which may be to come

I am content; and for the past I feel

Not thankless,—for within the crowded sum

Of struggles, happiness at times would steal,

And for the present, I would not benumb

My feelings farther—Nor shall I conceal

That with all this I still can look around,

And worship Nature with a thought profound.

For thee, my own sweet sister, in thy heart

I know myself secure, as thou in mine.

We were and are—I am, even as thou art—

Beings who ne’er each other can resign:

It is the same, together or apart,

From life’s commencement to its slow decline

We are entwined—let death come slow or fast,

The tie which bound the first endures the last!