‘On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year’ by Lord Byron is a ten stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The lines follow a consistent rhyme scheme. It conforms to the pattern of abab cdcd, and so on, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit.
In regards to the metrical pattern, the lines are also very well structured. The first three of each stanza are written in iambic tetrameter. This means that the lines are made up of four sets of two beats. The final line is in iambic dimeter, in which each line only has two sets of two beats. In both cases, the first beat is unstressed and the second is stressed.
The most important images of this text are those which refer to themes of glory and heroism. The last five stanzas in particular are filled with references to “manhood,” a “soldier’s grave,” dying an “honourable death” and the elements of the battle. Byron uses these images to depict a change in his demeanour and a desire to end his life as a man worthy of having lived at all.
Before beginning this piece a reader should take note of the subtitle at the beginning of the text. It notes that the poem was written on Byron’s birthday, the 22nd of January in Missolonghi, Greece. This also makes it clear that the speaker of the text is in fact Byron himself, who is writing in a tone that is sometimes solemn, sometimes inspired, about his future.
Summary of On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is no longer loved. This lack in his life makes him feel as if he is now unable to feel love himself. His main pleasure has been taken away from him, due to his age, and now he is faced to contend with what he has left.
In the following lines, it becomes clear the speaker does not see himself as having much left at all. There are worms, fungi, and grief, that’s all. He compares himself to a dying tree, which has lost its ability to produce fruit or flowers. Now, in this depressed state, the love he used to nourish in his breast (the fire) is consuming him. It is more like a funeral pyre than a source from which others can take.
The second half of the poem is different. The final five lines are more uplifting. They signal a change in the speaker’s mindset. He decides he’s not going to complain about his loss any longer. He’s going to take a hard look at himself and address how “Unworthy” he’s been up until this point. The speaker regrets his youth and knows the only thing he can do to repent for how he’s lived is find a way to gloriously end his life, like a soldier.
A great deal of “heroic” battlefield imagery is followed by the speaker asking his soul to find a grave for his body. This is where he’s going to come to a final “Rest.”
Analysis of On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year
‘T is time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!
In the first stanza of ‘On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year’ the speaker begins by stating that it’s time for his “heart” to be “unmoved.” He’s come to a time in his life, his thirty-sixth birthday, when he no longer inspires love in others. This failure makes him feel as though he is unworthy of experiencing love himself. This does not stop him from wanting true love though.
It is impossible to ignore the historical details of Byron’s life when considering these lines. He was notorious for his ever changing relationships and the ease with which he would fall in and out of love with women. The idea of willing to take away that freedom from himself would’ve been hard to accept. It is also interesting to note the self-conscious place from which these lines emerge. Due to his age, he feels that he’s no longer the same person he was in his youth. This image of Byron is quite different from the generalized, lustful image seen through the majority of his poems.
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of Love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
In the next quatrain, Byron goes on to refer to his days as “in the yellow leaf.” He feels as if his vibrancy is fading, just like an autumn leaf. The seasons of youth are ending and the progression of age is represented through the loss of “flowers and fruits,” as if he were a tree that no longer produces. This line also comes from a well-known section of Act 5 in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In this verse, Macbeth speaks on the change in his way of life and the loss of love, honour, and friendship.
Byron continues on to say that the only things he has left to him are those that come with decay and age. His company is made up of worms and grief, as well as “the canker,” a reference to a disease of fruit trees.
The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some Volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
A funeral pile.
The third stanza is dedicated to making sure the reader knows how alone he is. In his chest, there is still the “fire” though. This was the passion that previously filled his relationships. It’s still there, but now it is as “lone as some Volcanic isle.” It is nowhere for it to go and no torches for it to kindle. Instead, it burns within him, more like a “funeral pile” than the force driving his passion.
The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.
This stanza, especially the first lines are notable for the way Byron has listed them one after another without conjunction. This is known as an asyndetic list. The technique is common in Byron’s poetry, as well as with many other writers. It gives the text an added emphasis as if all of the listed items or emotions are building up upon one another with an end in sight.
He is explaining the complexities of love in this stanza. There are equal parts pain and pleasure. Love brings with it jealousy, hope, and fear. These were things he relished, but now “cannot share.” They hang around his neck like a chain, weighing him down. His passion has become more of a burden than a joy.
But ‘t is not thus—and ‘t is not here—
Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now
Where Glory decks the hero’s bier,
Or binds his brow.
The fifth stanza of ‘On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year’ takes a turn and leads the reader into the second half of the poem. He seems to come to the decision that he isn’t going to mope around and feel sorry for himself. It is not “here” that these “thoughts should shake” his soul.
Rather than become a sacrifice to his useless love, he is going to fight on. It isn’t time for him to be lifted onto the “hero’s bier” or the platform on which a coffin is placed.
The Sword, the Banner, and the Field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.
The sixth stanza continues the militaristic imagery. Here he lists out some of the elements of battle that make up his own mental image of the task at hand. There are swords, banners, the field, and all the glory one could want. He also speaks of Greece as a location for this metaphorical battle for the recovery of his purpose. Greece was a favourite amongst the Romantic poets and featured prominently in the works of Coleridge and Wordsworth.
It is through this metaphorical battle that the speaker hopes to free himself. He would like to be like the Spartans, who he sees as being as free as is possible.
Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!
This stanza begins with a single exclamatory word. It is repeated in the second line, a technique known as anaphora. It draws additional attention to the word, “Awake,” in this case, and what it means for the speaker. Byron begins the lines by asking that someone, “not Greece,” wake up. It is to his soul that he’s speaking. It is time for it to rise up out of its stupor, remember its “life-blood” or passionate past, and “strike home!”
Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!—unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of Beauty be.
This line is curious as it seems to degrade the speaker’s past decisions. He asks his soul to repress any “reviving passions.” They should be kept down and away from his mind and heart. This makes it seem as if he regrets the way he’s lived his life up until this point. Perhaps that is because it has led him to this desperate place.
He feels like he has lived an “Unworthy” life. The speaker continues to address his own soul. This time he tells it that it should be strong enough to resist the “smile or frown / Of Beauty.” The capitalization of Beauty, just like “Glory” and “Love” before it, give the force an additional agency in the world. It is depicted as an autonomous actor influencing his life.
If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the Field, and give
Away thy breath!
In the second to last stanza, the speaker asks himself what it means to regret one’s youth. These lines are also quite dramatic and allude to death as the only option for someone who has lived unworthily.
The only thing someone like the speaker can do is to fight and attempt to regain some glory for himself. He directs his soul, and anyone reading who might feel the same, to go “up to the Field, and give / Away thy breath!”
Seek out—less often sought than found—
A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy Rest.
In the final four lines, the speaker returns to the solemn tone with which he began the poem. Now that he has decided death is the only option available to him he asks himself to seek out “A solider’s grave.” Once there, he needs to look around and “choose” his own “ground” to be buried in. This is his destiny, to finally find “Rest” and repent for the way he’s lived up until now.