Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III


Lord Byron wrote his third canto of Childe Harold as he travelled through Belgium and up the Rhine to Switzerland, having left England under a cloud of public disapproval. The theme of rejection and failure, and the poet’s reactions to these, are a strong theme running through the work: Byron/Harold (the distinction between them is blurred in this canto) leaves England keenly feeling his separation from his muse and daughter. A visit to Waterloo inspires thoughts of frustration at the vanity of Napoleon’s military ambition, contrasted with praise for an English officer, but these ultimately lead to despair at the futility of war. Yet Byron feels moved to praise two battles that supported political independence (Morat and Marathon), and a young French soldier killed in the defence of his homeland. As the poet’s journey terminates in Switzerland he is led to praise Rousseau. Through the course of the poem Nature reflects the poet’s turmoil, the mountains, avalanches, glaciers and storms being seen as a realisation of the sublime. 

How does the work relate to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

Two aspects of the work clearly relate to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the idea of solitude – both the poet and the Monster reject society – and the idea of the mountainous location reflecting inner turmoil. Mary and Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont were travelling towards Switzerland at the same time, and some of their letters home were included in the Six Weeks’ Tour published in 1817. So there is a feeling of the Shelley party and the Byron party converging on the Villa Diodati, writing their way there through increasingly exciting landscapes and ideas, working towards the climax of the ghost-story challenge that produced the vampire story and Mary Shelley’s novel.

Full title:
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Canto the third.
1816, London
Lord Byron
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Created by: Lord Byron

A poem in Spenserian stanzas by Lord Byron (1788-1824), Cantos I and II appeared in 1812, Canto III in 1816 and ...