Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Poetry Corner

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By Norah Christianson

So, We’ll Go No More A Roving

By Lord Byron

So, we’ll go no more a roving
    So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
    And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
    And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
    And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
    And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
    By the light of the moon.

Marianne Faithful has read this poem, and Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, and others have sung these words on their albums. I was twenty-five when I first heard this song sung by an Irish folksinger. It was the 60’s, and I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Folksingers were everywhere—on street corners in Harvard Square, in local bars, wandering around Harvard Yard, singing in groups by the Charles River. I had just come back to the states after some years of roving in other countries —England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Egypt. (In 1957, Arthur Frommer had published a slim travel guide “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day”—my Bible. Traveling on five dollars a day was in no way luxurious, but it was a doable thing! I also worked when I could get some kind of job.) 

At any rate, I, too, wanted to be a folksinger. I had bought a guitar when I was in Spain and taught myself how to play, inventing, as it turned out, an improper tuning which, though erroneous, was not discordant (because my fingering was also improper.) I would borrow folksong vinyls from the library to listen to over and over. “Well Go No More a Rovingwas one of my favorite songs—I did not know then it was a poem by Lord Byron. In truth, I have just learned that Byron cadged it from an old Scottish ballad The Jolly Beggar,written down in 1776. Here is the refrain from that song:

          And we’ll gang nae mair a roving
                    Sae late into the night,
          And we’ll gang nae mair a roving, boys,
                    Let the moon shine ne’er sae bright.
          And we’ll gang nae mair a roving.

(As Lionel Trilling, a literary critic and writer, wrote: “The immature artist imitates. Mature artists steal.”)

We’ll Go No More a Roving” expressed what I was feeling long ago in Cambridge. I‘d roved around enough, “…the heart must pause to breathe.” I was ready for some stability. 

Byron was 29 when he wrote this poem. You don’t need to be old to feel you need to rest. To pull in. To narrow down and concentrate your activities. To regulate your enthusiasms. I am 84 now. Writing is work. As Thomas Mann said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” And though my heart is still as loving, and though the moon is still as bright, I’m feeling the need to draw in a little, perhaps give more time to my own writing, spend more time with my family, as the politicians say. And that means retiring from The Poetry Corner. 

It’s been my pleasure to bring poems to you. And the research has enriched me. But I’m looking to simplify my life. So I’ll go no more a roving in the hallowed halls of poetry, though I sincerely hope you will continue to do so on your own. 

Adieu, my friends. And remember: “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” (Percy Bysshe Shelley) Keep reading poetry. It will enhance your life!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Nora, you have been an amazing guide and have provided us with a great gift. You will be greatly missed by many.

    I hope to see you roving again soon.

    You are love, kindness and generosity.

  2. I will miss your column. It’s the first section I would read and immediately reread and then read out loud to George. . Thank you, thank you.

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