Yesterday I vigorously responded to a journalist’s cheap shot launched against Lord Byron. She contended that he treated women abominably, getting them pregnant and abandoning his kids – an allegation that couldn’t be more wrong on so many levels. I won’t repeat my refutation here but the whole flap reminded me that many years ago I wrote a poem about Byron’s firstborn child. This was a good decade before I had a computer so I had to go digging in dusty folders. No luck! I knew it had been published in one of the publications dedicated to Byron but which one? I think it might have been the Newstead Abbey Byron Society Journal but I couldn’t find it in the copies I had kept. If only I could find the publication. Then I stumbled upon an early draft in a manila folder. Hurray! But I had no recollection of the final form of the poem. So this morning, using the draft as a springboard, I rewrote the poem from scratch. Hope you enjoy:
According to a footnote on the yellowed page,
the baby likely died in infancy – the child,
offspring of a youthful poet and a chamber maid,
a babe of “flaxen locks and eyes of blue”, perfect
in so many ways his father grieved to be –
yes, it is likely baby William died.
Yet, let us just suppose that Lucy,
babe in arms, left the ruined Abbey,
took her master’s slip, a thriving William,
took him with her far across the shire, settled
for a working man – added siblings as the years
rolled by, never speaking of her firstborn’s noble father.
Then let us just suppose that Will, full grown,
goes on to run a coaching inn in Newark town,
having no suspicion of his lofty origins.
I realize it is a fantasy – yet just last summer,
in a flower shop outside of Nottingham, a shop girl
wrapped my bright bouquet of holly hocks –
Oh flaxen locks, oh perfect features – graceful fingers
working fragile tissue, tying satin ribbon. Looking up,
she asked would there be something else.
And oh the eyes, those Byron eyes.