Today is Lord Byron’s 222th birthday! I’ve belonged to the International Byron Society since the 70s, joining in college, but I’d been a Byron fan since high school. That’s saying something since Lord Byron has been out of favor for probably a hundred years. Thinking back to when my passion began I can’t actually remember what sparked my initial interest. Probably it was his biography rather than his poetry that first attracted me as a teenager.
Byron was the world’s first media superstar – and like today’s superstars he invented his public image as he went along – which makes him an endlessly intriguing individual. Byron had everything the tabloids relish, then and now; he was gorgeous, scandalous, brilliant, reckless – “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, as Lady Carolyn Lamb declared him. Some have argued that Byron’s greatest work of art was his own legend.
Possibly, but it’s worth the effort to get past the glitz and glamour of the man himself to the wacky topical wit of his comic verse. Known best for his “romantic” poetry (a taste of the time in which he wrote), Byron is at his best as a comic poet. He’s a keen observer of human nature and society who’d be right at home on the “Daily Show”. Pick up a copy of “Don Juan” and dive in anywhere. Don’t be put off by the conventions of the 19th century English. Just listen to the man’s voice and play of thought. This is a guy you’d enjoy knowing.
So, Happy Birthday, Byron! Tonight friends will come over for a celebratory feast of spaghetti (because he lived the majority of his life in Italy) and Greek salad (because he died in Greece). We’ll read some poetry, his and ours. Maybe the man himself will show up in spirit to rock the party. Wouldn’t be the first time.