My Soul is Dark by Lord Byron

Like poetry such as My Soul is Dark, music is a powerful art form that can be used to strongly express feeling; unlike poetry, music is expressed in a language that is universal to all. Everyone is capable of reacting to different forms of music. Even when lyrics are added to the notes, the ways in which certain words are sung transcends language as a means of expression. Everyone reacts to music differently, and everyone has some form of appreciation for some kind of music, generally speaking. Lord George Gordon Byron appears to have had a particularly cathartic relationship with music, expressing his love for the craft through his poem, My Soul is Dark.


My Soul is Dark Analysis 

My soul is dark – Oh! quickly string

The harp I yet can brook to hear;

And let thy gentle fingers fling

Its melting murmurs o’er mine ear.

This is the first half of the first verse of My Soul is Dark; separated from the other by the period at its end, so that each complete thought can be analysed individually. The poem follows an ABAB rhyming pattern throughout, though the “B” and “C” of the first verse happen to rhyme as well (technically making the pattern ABABBCBC-DEDEFGFG). The first line, from which the title of the poem derives, sets us up to understand the state of the narrator; a dark soul suggests a tormented one, or an unhappy one. And the reaction of this narrator, upon realizing that they are in a state of unhappiness (The “oh!” seeming quite literal in that sense), insists that someone tune their harp and begin to play it. “Brook,” today referring to a stream, once meant the same thing as “use” or “enjoy,” so the second line can be read as “Yet I still enjoy listening to the harp.” In that way, we can understand this verse as the narrator explaining that even when everything else in life feels dark, they still enjoy and appreciate the music of the harp. The alliteration-based euphony — “melting murmurs o’er mine ear” — helps to reinforce this image; the music melts softly, gently, soothingly into their ear.

If in this heart a hope be dear,

That sound shall charm it forth again:

If in these eyes there lurk a tear,

‘Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.

The ending of the first verse describes the influence that harp’s music has on its listener. For the narrator, who’s soul is so dark, has forgotten how to hope. Their heart is cold and closed off, their brain hurts with burdens unnamed. Their tears remain unshed; they want to cry, but are incapable of it, and those unshed tears hurt them. Music, they say, “that sound,” helps the heart to remember what hope feels like, and helps to shed those tears, those burdens that weigh so heavily on their consciousness.

But bid the strain be wild and deep,

Nor let thy notes of joy be first:

I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,

Or else this heavy heart will burst;

For it hath been by sorrow nursed,

And ached in sleepless silence, long;

And now ’tis doomed to know the worst,

And break at once – or yield to song.

In the second verse of My Soul is Dark, the narrator is explaining their feeling to a minstrel, presumably the one with the harp they have sought out. What is important to the narrator is that the song they hear match the sadness in their heart, the darkness in their soul. They don’t listen to music for a sense of joy, but rather for a cathartic sense of connectedness; they need to hear sadness, because they are sad. They need to cry, and they won’t cry unless the music is sad enough to make them cry. So they instruct the singer to save the happy songs for later, and to begin with something sad and mournful.

The last few lines tell us that the narrator has sought out this singer because they can’t fight off how they are feeling any longer. They need, badly, to be able to express some of what they feel inside or they have the feeling their heart is going to simply stop from sheer exhaustion. They have not slept, they have not cried, and they need to be able to do both. The catharsis from sad music is what enables them to express these deeply buried emotions, something that they need to be able to do.

 

Historical Context

Lord Byron wrote My Soul is Dark in 1815, only a year before his self-imposed exile from England. At the time, he was famous for his work in poetry, but also because of the public scandals that followed him throughout his life. After having had an affair with a married woman, who described him as being a madman, and then meeting his half-sister for the first time in years, after which rumours of an incestuous relationship began to spread, Byron was married in 1815, but this turned out to be an unhappy marriage; Byron reportedly treated his wife poorly, continued his sexual affairs, and was left by her in 1816, by which point she too considered him insane. These scandals, as well as his increasing debts, were what resulted in his exile later that year.

Being a celebrity in 1815, word of Lord Byron’s insanity spread quickly, and he himself heard the rumours often. According to Isaac Nathan, who knew Lord Byron during the time he was in England, these rumours were amusing to Byron, who asserted that no madman could write as he could, and upon making the declaration, began to write. When he’d finished writing, he immediately had the poem published, without altering or changing a thing about it. It was written entirely in the inspiration of the moment — that poem was My Soul is Dark.

Click here for a biography of Lord Byron.

 

Final Thoughts

Amidst the chaos his life had become in 1815, Byron’s capacity to write and to express himself remained powerful. Whether or not he was insane to some capacity may well be something that can still be debated; but his power expressed through the written word is certainly a proven aspect of his character, particularly through My Soul is Dark, which so well expresses a reverent love for cathartic music… especially when considering it was written all at once, to prove what Byron’s mind was still capable of in the midst of all of the chaos.

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