kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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So we'll go no more a-roving — a Poetry Friday post

Last week, I took the book Wildly Romantic: The English Romantic Poets: The Mad, the Bad, and the Dangerous out of my local library. It provides biographies of Samuel Taylor Coleridge; William Wordsworth; George Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley; and John Keats, explaining how their lives intersected (or not) with one another and with other writers of that time period. I heartily commend the book to anyone interested in an overview of the English Romantic poets, and will be ordering a copy for my personal library because I liked it so well.

After each chapter of information, the book provides several poems by the featured poets that relate to the notion or theme of each chapter. One of the poems in the book has been echoing in my head ever since I read the book, and a few times I've caught myself repeating the opening stanza aloud just because it popped up. (Turns out it's not only music that plays on brainradio, but rhythmic poetry as well.)

In an effort to divest myself of this particular earworm, or at least share the joy of it, I'm posting Byron's poem, "So We'll Go No More A-Roving". With a bit of discussion afterwards.

So We'll Go No More A-Roving
by George Gordon, 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.

Mechanically speaking, what we have here is three stanzas, each cross-rhymed (ABAB CDCD EFEF), using a version of a ballad form.

Byron included the poem in a letter he'd written to Thomas Moore. Byron was at the time living in self-imposed exile in Italy, where he'd been living a life of renowned dissipation. But at the time he wrote this poem, it was Lent, and he was attempting to recover from all the wanton excesses in wine, women and song that had come with Carnivale.

The phrase "So we'll go no more a-roving so late into the night" is lifted in its entirety from the chorus of a Scots song called "The Jolly Beggar", which was published in a collection in 1776, and has the following words:
and we'll gang nae mair a rovin', a rovin in the night
And we'll gang nae mair a rovin', let the moon shine sae bright
We'll gang nae mair a rovin'

Or if you prefer the Anglicized version, which has been performed by Irish bands as well:
We'll go no more a roving, a roving in the night
We'll go no more a roving, let the moon shine so bright
We'll go no more a roving

You can listen to the Irish band Planxty sing their version of the Jolly Beggar in its entirety, if you're so inclined.

Also popular at that time was the sea shanty "The Maid of Amsterdam", which includes the chorus "I'll go no more a-rovin' with you, fair maid". The original version of the song is probably from as early as 1630 and Thomas Heywood's The Rape of Lucrece, but lyrics have been adapted over the years and the song was sung by American sailors as well as Brits, and this tune apparently remains popular amongst the pirate-cruise crowd. You can watch a talented (non-piratical) gentleman sing the entire song a cappella using "Yank" in the lyrics as representing the U.S. version in the following YouTube video, if you're so inclined:

In the case of both songs, the phrase "go a-roving" is associated with sexual shenanigans. Whether the sword to which he refers in the second stanza is a weapon made of steel or a reference to the male anatomy is therefore entirely open to interpretation, methinks, based on (1) Byron's account of his need to recover and (2) the general associations of the phrase with sexual activity.

Not that that occurred to me until just now, when I was typing this up. I've been thinking of it more as a poem about quitting wandering and staying home, a purpose which it serves only marginally, really, since it's at the very least about cutting down on the partying. And friends, I haven't been partying, apart from the very occasional pity party. Still, as Gloria Estefan might say, "the rhythm is gonna get you" when it comes to this poem. Although as of now, it's been completely supplanted by "The Maid of Amsterdam".

And now, I'm off to my own ru-i-in at the middle school for my school visit.

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Tags: analysis of poems, byron, poetry, poetry friday
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