»  Lord Byron's "We'll Go No More A-Roving"


We'll Go No More A-Roving

by Lord Byron, 1788-1824


•  Background

This is another one of those poems famous enough to have its own entries in encyclopedias. It was written in February 1817 when the poet was just 29 years old.

Byron had settled in Venice the previous November. He had apparently enjoyed the city's annual Carnival, which would have ended on Shrove Tuesday — February 18 in that year. The poem is therefore often taken to register the deflated feelings one experiences after a spell of riotous living. It is more probable that it records a passing mood of dejection following the end of some particularly pleasurable dalliance. Byron never slowed down for long.

Here is a summary of the poet's early Venice days from Paul Johnson's Birth of the Modern:

Harassed by duns in London, Byron found he could live in Italy like a lord [sic] or a prince; in 2½ years he spent £5,000 but "more than half was laid out on the Sex — to be sure I have had plenty for the money — that's certain — I think at least 200 of one sort or another — perhaps more." He studied Armenian at a local monastery, made forays to Florence, Rome, and other towns, saw bandits guillotined, attended "the circumcision of a suckling Shylock" ("I have seen three men's heads and a child's foreskin cut off in Italy"), got himself "clapt" by a lady ("to be sure it was gratis — the first gonorrhea I have not paid for") and won a race swimming from the Lido back to his palace, beating the Chevalier Angelo Mengalda, who had swum the Danube and Beresina under fire …


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

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.