Yesterday I wrote another Lord Byron inspired poem – this one from the point of view of his mother, Catherine Gordon Byron. It’s based on a true story. When he was a small boy (5 or 6) he was walking home from grammar school when he was overtaken and stranded by a sudden blizzard. One version of the story has him sheltering under a table stone in the graveyard (a kind of grave marker common in that area that is like a stone table – probably modeled after ancient passage graves). Another version has little George Gordon Byron sleeping over that night at a friend’s house. Whatever happened, it could very easily ended badly – and you can imagine his mother gave him an earful when he finally got home!
I find it so easy to identify with Catherine. She was a poor single mother of a rambunctious boy. Her husband had impoverished her, run off, then died. She moved from London back home to Aberdeen Scotland where she had family. It wasn’t until the boy’s great uncle died that he inherited his title – but zero money.
So, here’s the poem:
CATHERINE IN DECEMBER
This morning she ignores the maid-of-all-work listlessly
moving dust from one stick of cheap furniture to another.
Outside the frozen window snow has cloaked the rose canes
in her rented garden. The raw wind howls undiminished.
She has not slept all night, keeping watch for her lost child
as a blizzard lashes the streets of Aberdeen like a scold’s tongue.
Her parents, her sisters, her darling wayward husband – now the boy,
swept from her life as if her very love contained a fatal taint.
There are no tears left in her. Her worn mind paints her baby’s fate:
overtaken on his long walk through town from grammar school to home.
How far had Geordie gotten? How long had he survived? How long
before some stranger finds him cold on the frozen cobblestones?
The maid has dropped her tasks and exited the room, leaving hearth
unswept and fire dwindling on the grate. Catherine twists
her fingers in her sodden handkerchief. Walking stiffly to the window
she looks out into a white abyss and bargains with the great god Death.
What terms were set she never told a soul. Her boy returned by supper,
having sheltered at a schoolmate’s house until the snow had cleared.
She lived to see him grown and titled but not to see his fame. Not to see
his children. Not to know he died a hero under warm Grecian sun.