August 15, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas
So We’ll No More Go A-Roving
By: Lord Byron (1836)[1]

So we’ll[2] go no more a roving
     So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,[3]
     And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,[4] 5
     And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
     And Love itself have rest.[5]

Though the night was made for loving,[6]
     And the day returns too soon,[7] 10
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
     By the light of the moon.[8]

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notes and commentary

  1. Written during the carnival in Venice, February 18, 1819, and sent in a letter to Thomas Moore, Byron was suffering from a fever and complained: “I find the ‘sword wearing out the scabbard,’ though I have but just turned the corner of twenty-nine.”
  2. The poet speaks to a third party, maybe a lover in particular, or lovers he has had in his life, in general. Maybe we, the readers, are included here, if we seek a universality to the verse. While a universal reading certainly lends more poignancy to the poem, it could be as simple as the narrator breaking up with a girlfriend.
  3. “Loving” is echoed below by the personification of “Love” in line 8. It seems that the latter, Cupid-like, has retired, leaving a residue of love in the heart—a memory of passion that is fading, like the old sheath below.
  4. Perhaps this metaphor is a bit tongue-and-cheek but wholly appropriate for Byron: here the sheath could be interest in intercourse, or what he is used to putting his sword into. The humor lies in the fact that there’s nothing wrong with the sword (😂) but what it is stored in. Perhaps this is the person(s) being addressed in the poem.
  5. As I approach my 52nd birthday, the melancholy of this verse strikes a chord. Here is time catching up with the lover and his hair turns grey, and he comes to the realization that his youthful days of carousing have come to an end—maybe they have a while ago, but he is just now realizing it. Byron wrote this at 29; I can imaging his precocious life and all that he did before then—he won’t do much after, as he dies in 1824.
  6. Another echo from the first stanza, yet here “loving” seems to imply sex, or even perhaps making love, in a more romantic vein.
  7. A perennial complaint of lovers, yet not anymore with this narrator. For example, see the beginning of Donne’s “The Sun Rising”: “Busy old fool, unruly sun, / Why dost thou thus, / Through windows, and through curtains call on us?”
  8. While it’s easy to see this poem as signaling the end of youthful passion, maybe it marks instead the beginning of a more mature love. Where young lovers hide their love-making by night, a more mature love can exist in the daylight, i.e., in sight of all. Whereas messing around at night, “a-roving,” might be expected but not condoned by society, it could lead to a love that is, say, sanctioned because of marriage. Could this poem be a weird proposal?