Many of our posts have engaged with issues of media and mediation. Oftentimes, we set out to explore the relationship between the location of a given Romantic era text and the connection between that location and the work’s meaning. In the era following Kittler’s Discourse Networks, Paul Magnuson’s Reading Public Romanticism, and Siskin and Warner’s This is Enlightenment Volume, scholars are asking where we find a text, or “in what” does it occur.
With this brief frame in mind, I want to remobilize some of the questions currently being asked by scholars of the Romantic period in order to examine Lord Byron’s celebrity. In Elizabeth Barret Browning’s 1824 elegy “Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron,” the young poet explores the nature of poetic identity. This post will suggest that Barret Browning’s work shows another use, or perhaps a way to re-purpose, the larger issues currently being explored by scholars. Where does Barret Browning locate “Byron”? In what does his legacy reside? What work does “Byron” allow a young female writer to do?
Name not his Name
“ — I am not now
That which I have been.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning turns to these lines from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in order to begin her elegiac poem “Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron”. While Barrett Browning’s poem re-contextualizes these lines from Childe Harold, it is also keenly aware of the impact grammatical intricacies can have on the construction and presentation of self. As E.W. Orr points out, in this new context, Byron’s own words describe his “passage from this life”. However, Barrett Browning’s epigraph does far more than simply mourn the death of a fellow poet; it frames a work which can be seen as a meditation on the nature of poetic identity. Barrett Browning, who was a young woman beginning to find her poetic voice at the time of composition, blurs the line which separates Byron the man from the “fictitious personage” he created: “He was, and is not! Græcia’s trembling shore, / Sighing through all her palmy groves, shall tell / That Harold’s pilgrimage at last is o’er-”. Jane Stabler’s recent work claims that this passage reveals that, for Barrett Browning, Byron represents a “violent collision of presence and absence”. That is, the first line of the poem recognizes the ways in which Byron both occupies and distances himself from his work. While it is indeed tempting to analyze the claim that Lord Byron “was” and “is not”, Barrett Browning complicates such a reading by suggesting that Childe Harold, not Byron himself, may be the referent for “He”. Harold, as the imaginative creation of Byron the poet indeed “was” and “is not” alive in the same manner as Byron. Yet, the idea that “Harold’s pilgrimage at last is o’er” brings Byron and his creation closer together. I believe that Barrett Browning does not use these lines to state that Harold’s pilgrimage has ended because of the author of his journeys is now dead, but, rather to make a much larger point about Byron’s shifting identities – his “absence and presence”.
While Barrett Browning begins by linking Byron and Childe Harold, the second and third stanzas move away from the discussion of the relationship between Byron and his poetic creations. Within the second stanza, Barrett Browning recasts the poet as the champion of Greek independence. The speaker calls upon the Greeks to mourn “That generous heart where genius thrill’d divine, / Hath spent its last most glorious throb for thee”. It is this selfless heart which spent “its last most glorious throb” fighting for the Greeks that the third stanza attempts to draw attention to: “Britannia’s Poet! Græcia’s hero, sleeps! / And Freedom, bending o’er the breathless clay, / Lifts up her voice, and in her anguish weeps!” These lines simultaneously depict Byron as Greek freedom fighter and “Britania’s poet!”. Despite his permanent departure from England in 1816, after his separation proceedings, as well as his desire to “shake the dust of England from his shoes”, Barrett Browning attempts to renationalize Byron.
In the fourth and final stanza, the speaker begins to find the tenor of the poem too much to bear and describes the journey of Byron’s body back to England for burial: “Soon, ’midst the shriekings of the tossing wind, / The ‘dark blue depths’ he sang of, shall have bore / Our all of Byron to his native shore!” The emphasis on the term “all” reinforces the importance of Byron’s name and his physical body. These lines mark the first and only time that “Byron” actually appears in the text. However, as the previous stanzas and the varying identities which they describe reveal, Byron has already been embodied as a creation of his own imagination, as Greek liberator, and as the poetic voice of Britain. Byron’s name and physical body – as well as his body of work – become sites of meaning which are susceptible to and, at times, court numerous different identities.
Barrett Browning’s interest in Byron’s name emerges again in“Stanzas Occasioned by a Passage in Mr. Emerson’s Journal, Which States that on the Mention of Lord Byron’s Name, Captain Demetrius, An Old Roumeliot, Burst Into Tears”. This lengthy title performs two key functions. First, it reveals just how far Byron’s fame spread. Second, and more importantly, the title reveals Barrett Browning’s distance from the event which her poem attempts to capture. That is, the poem is “occasioned by” her reading Emerson’s description of an old sailor’s reaction to the mention of Byron’s name. Although Barrett Browning assumes the role of Captain Demetrius, the reader must recognize that she is still present within the poem. Or, in other words, she is both present and absent. The opening of the poem emphasizes the importance of “Byron”: “Name not his name, or look afar – / For when my spirit hears / That name, its strength is turned to woe – / My voice is turned to tears”. The speaker attempts to capture Captain Demetrius’ sentiments and expresses a desire to avoid emotional trauma by convincing others not to utter Byron’s name. However, “Byron” holds so many significations precisely because the poet himself has been named. Similarly to the numerous identities present in “Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron” describes, the speaker associates Byron with poetry, Greek independence, and British glory. In other words, “Byron” has become a designation that stands in for Byron the poet, Byron the Greek liberator, and Byron the celebrity. Together the two poems show that Byron seems to have “become a name”.
 Orr 34
 Stanzas to Lord Byron, lines 1-3
 Stabler Byron, Poetics and History pg 2
 Barrett Browning lines 16-17
 Barrett Browning lines 19-21
 Stabler Byron, Poetics and History pg 1
 Barrett Browning lines 30-32
 Barrett Browning Stanzas Occasioned lines 1-4
 Tennyson, Norton Critical Edition line 11