Three kinds of study have been performed on Byron. There is the biographical study—the very valuable examination of Byron’s psychology and the events in his life; Escarpit’s 1958 work is an example of this kind of study, and biographers to this day continue to speculate about Byron’s life.
Equally valuable is the study of Byron as a figure important in the history of ideas; Russell and Praz have written studies of this kind.
Finally, there are studies that primarily consider Byron’s poetry. Such literary studies are valuable, however, only when they avoid concentrating solely on analyzing the verbal shadings of Byron’s poetry to the exclusion of any discussion of biographical considerations.
A study with such a concentration would be of questionable value because Byron’s poetry, for the most part, is simply not a poetry of subtle verbal meanings.
Rather, on the whole, Byron’s poems record the emotional pressure of certain moments in his life. I believe we cannot often read a poem of Byron’s, as we often can one of Shakespeare’s, without wondering what events or circumstances in his life prompted him to write it.
No doubt the fact that most of Byron’s poems cannot be convincingly read as subtle verbal creations indicates that Byron is not a “great” poet.
It must be admitted too that Byron’s literary craftsmanship is irregular and often his temperament disrupts even his lax literary method (although the result, an absence of method, has a significant purpose: it functions as a rebuke to a cosmos that Byron feels he cannot understand).
If Byron is not a “great” poet, his poetry is nonetheless of extraordinary interest to us because of the pleasure it gives us.
Our main pleasure in reading Byron’s poetry is the contact with a singular personality. Reading his work gives us illumination—self-understanding—after we have seen our weaknesses and aspirations mirrored in the personality we usually find in the poems.
Anyone who thinks that this kind of illumination is not a genuine reason for reading a poet should think carefully about why we read Donne’s sonnets.
It is Byron and Byron’s idea of himself that hold his work together (and that enthralled earlynineteenth-century Europe).
Different characters speak in his poems, but finally it is usually he himself who is speaking: a far cry from the impersonal poet Keats.
Byron’s poetry alludes to Greek and Roman myth in the context of contemporary affairs, but his work remains generally of a piece because of his close presence in the poetry.
In sum, the poetry is a shrewd personal performance, and to shut out Byron the man is to fabricate a work of pseudocriticism.