Formal Description of Lord Byron's "Darkness"
Lord Byron’s lengthy poem “Darkness” is a narrative poem structured around a dream sequence and premonition. Although the poem follows the plotline of the speaker’s nightmare, the language also becomes lyrical and emotional as he stresses his fears. “Darkness” is composed of eighty-two lines measured in iambic pentameter. Despite this common Romantic format, however, the poem does not contain the rhymed lines that one might expect. Rather, Byron wrote the poem mostly in blank verse. The only rhyme of the poem occurs at lines 41 and 42, when Byron writes, “Gorging himself in gloom; no love was left; /All earth was but one thought, — and that was death.” Although this line occurs in the middle of the poem, its concentration on death allows this rhyme to make sense. Byron also, somewhat unusually, chooses not to break the poem into stanzas. Rather, he creates an unbroken succession with few pauses aside from punctuation.
“Darkness” relies heavily upon self-enclosed lines in order to portray the speaker’s vision in a narrative style. Although several lines are connected via enjambment, most of Byron’s thoughts are complete. For example, in the first line, he writes, “I had a dream, which was not all a dream” (1). All the following lines are written with standard punctuation, almost like a prose piece. Despite maintaining standard language throughout the poem, Byron often utilizes caesura, or a structural pause within a line, to emphasize important pieces. He usually creates these pauses through hyphens. Examples include lines 10-13, when Byron writes, “And [men] did live by watchfires —, and the thrones / The palaces of crowned kings, — the huts . . . / Were burnt for beacons . . . .” This theme continues throughout the remainder of the poem whenever a significant line occurs, particularly whenever the speaker is describing the destruction of something.
In contrast with his pessimistic theme, Byron employs mostly soft sounds throughout “Darkness.” Even the title itself is gentle. Several lines contain consonance, or repeated consonant sounds, such as in line 72: “Seasonless, treeless, herbless, manless, lifeless . . . (71). Although s is a soft sound, it can also be considered an aspirate semivowel in that it forces the reader to take a breath and concentrate more heavily on the whispering, unsettling nature of the poem. Byron does not make much use of assonance, but he does repeat several words throughout his lines, such as “feeble” in line 62 or “died” in lines 66 and 67. Alliteration occurs frequently throughout the closing lines “The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave/ The moon their mistress had expired before/ The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air” (80-82). These techniques allow Byron to emphasize which words he considers important.
Overall, “Darkness,” although technically a narrative poem, retains many of the lyrical elements typical of Romantic poetry. The dark language and songlike quality throughout emphasize the emotional dream the speaker has experienced, and the soft sounds give the language a dreamlike, almost sleepy quality.
Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.
Lord Byron's "Darkness"
Explication of Lord Byron's "Darkness"
Biography of Lord Byron