Byron, Shelley and the romantic poetry

During our long history on this earth, a lot of different people has lived and died. But, there are those who never dies completely, but continues to live on and who´s thoughts, ideas, and literature still are alive. Examples of this kind of people is Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, who are the represantives of the romantic era in Europe. Both lived what other people would call selfdestructive lives, and died very young.

Percy Shelley

Percy Shelley was born Aug 4 1792 in Sussex into a wealthy and politically prominent family. He had a stormy career at Eton College an Oxford University, and in 1811 he was expelled for writing a pamphlet called "The necessity of Atheism".
Shelley believed the Irish were being oppressed by their English rulers, and tried to rise the Irish to rebel against England.
In August 1811, he eloped with Harriet Westbrook who was only 16 years old and married her. In 1814 he abandoned her and ran away with Mary Godwin, daughter to William Godwin. Both said they didn’t believe in marriage, but got married anyway in 1816 after Shelley’s first wife Harriet had drowned herself.

The same year, Percy and his new wife Mary formed a close relationship with the poet Lord Byron in Geneva, Switzerland.
Toghether they spent the nights in Byrons villa Diodati by the Genéva lake and read poems and stories by an open fire. The young poets found eachother during long poetic and philosophical discussions, and became very close friends.
After 1818, Shelley went into permanent exile in Italy.
There he wrote a sequence of important poems, like Prometheus unbound, The witch of Atlas, Epipsychidion, and Hellas.
His poems are emotionally direct, but hard to understand with your intellect.
His most famous lyric is "Ode to the west wind" .
He had no faith in church, said that "truth can be understood by imagination alone".
In July 1822, Shelley drowned during a storm while sailing near Leghorn, Italy. He wasn’t buried, instead his wife Mary and his good friend Byron made a big fire by the water and burned his body.
Whether Shelley ever found some definite faith, philosophical or otherwise we do not know. However, Shelley always looked toward the hope of inspiration, as in the "Ode to the west wind" :

"Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy"

George Gordon Byron

Byron was the most colourful of the English romantic poets and many people find his adventurous life as interesting as his poetry. Byron´s work frankly reflected his own experiences and sentiments. His poetry is sometimes violent, sometimes tender, and frequently exotic. But the underlying theme is always Byron´s insistency that people are free to choose their own course in life.

George Gordon Byron was born in1788 in London, but he lived most of his first 10 years in Scotland with his mother. When Byron was only 3 years old his father died and at the age of 10, Byron inherited the title Lord Byron upon the death of his great-uncle. He then returned to England, where he attended Harrow School and Cambridge University.

Byron´s first book of poems, Hours of Idleness (1807), was severely criticized by the Edinburgh Review, a Scottish literary magazine. Byron replied with English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), a verse satire in which he attacked almost every notable literary figure of the day.

In 1815, Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke. Their brief, unhappy marriage ended partly because of rumours that Byron had committed incest with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Byron left England forever in 1816.

The poet settled in Italy where he carried on a long romance with the Countess Teresa Guiccioli and became involved in Italian revolutionary politics. Byron also continued his writing and published such works as the verse dramas Manfred (1817) and Cain (1821).

His last and greatest work was the long unfinished epic Don Juan. He was still writing this poem when he decided to join the Greeks in their war of independence from the Turks and this happened in 1823. Unfortunately he did not live to see the success of the revolution. Byron died after a brief illness on April 19, 1824 in Missolonghi, Greece.

Byron´s masterpiece, Don Juan. makes an epic hero of the legendary lover. However, the hero has weaknesses that place him in the comic epic tradition rather than in the classical epic tradition. But the most important element in the epic is the manner in which Byron tells the story. His tone changes continuously ,ranging from forceful to sentimental, cynical, self-mocking and self-assured. But whatever the tone, Byron expresses his anger at the deceptions and cruelties that people practise on one another. That attitude is the main force behind all his poetry.


There be none of Beauty´s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean`s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lulled winds seem dreaming.

And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o´er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant´s asleep.
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Smmer´s ocean.

© 1998 Freeway
Writers: Jessica Eriksson ( and Ida Zetterlund (
HTML by: Lars Corneer (