So We’ll Go No More a Roving by Lord Byron

Despite the complicated and difficult life led by the then-infamous Lord George Byron, poet to So We’ll Go No More a Roving, a lot of the themes that exist in his poetry tell a familiar story to any who will read it. For Lord Byron, life was messy and filled with a great deal of trouble — it isn’t for nothing he is remembered as “Lord” Byron, and his complex relationships with his wife, his lovers, his sister, and everyone else he met are what he is strongly remembered for. And yet, his poetry remains accessible and understandable, conveying emotion and themes that still ring true for today, even for those who do not lead half a complicated a life as he did. The meanings strewn throughout So We’ll Go No More A-Roving may resonate slightly different in the modern day than it did in Byron’s, but it remains a powerful and sad commentary on something that many will experience regardless.

 

So We’ll Go No More a Roving Analysis

So we’ll go no more a-roving

So late into the night,

Though the heart still be as loving,

And the moon still be as bright.


For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul outwears 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.


So We’ll Go No More A-Roving is nothing quite like the epics and long displays of emotion that made Byron so famous in his day, but there’s a lot of meaning within these three simple stanzas. The poem is designed to be easily read and to flow off the tongue — its ABAB format is one of the most pleasant to read and understand, and it uses metaphorical imagery often. Byron evokes images of the heart and the soul, as well as a sword and sheath. This is a clever choice on his part; by pairing the metaphorical images with the literal one, it is easier to understand his meaning without it being lost entirely in non-literal exclamations.

To “rove” is to wander aimlessly, a luxury commonly afforded to young people who do not have or need a particular direction in life just yet, and this makes sense in light of the rest of the poem. The narrator is describing a situation in which they are no longer free to rove around, even though they feel that the nights are made for that particular purpose. Even today, it is common to see those who stay awake through all hours of the night to do the things that they want to do, rather than what they have to do. For the narrator it is the same — except that nothing has changed about the night itself. Their heart still desires this nightlife, and the night itself is there, but still, the time for roving has ended.

During the second, metaphorical stanza, the narrator is describing the process of aging. Eventually, a sheath that is used too often becomes worn out; it is the same, they claim, with a heart and soul that desires the night, but exist within a body that is losing its ability to enjoy itself — it too is becoming worn out. They still believe that the night itself exists for the kind of aimless wandering they’ve been enjoying, but it doesn’t matter — that period in their life is ended. It’s time to grow up, whether they want to or not, because they now need rest more than they need to rove all night.

Another interpretation could be that the poem describes a romance ended early. To describe that the heart remains “as loving” and that the night is made for that purpose could be to suggest a one-night stand between the narrator and another person, the “we” of “yet we’ll go no more a-roving.” Now that the day has returned, the narrator may be suggesting, the romance is ended, and they must both return to their lives, for he does not have it in him to continue the romance beyond that one night together.

 

Historical Context

So We’ll Go No More A-Roving, named for the first line, as the poem was never given a proper name, was written by Lord Byron in early 1817, though it was not published until thirteen years later. It is included in a letter written by Byron to his close friend Thomas Moore. In the letter, Byron describes that he is not feeling very well and describes nights of celebration; he writes about the carnival season, and how he has stayed up the past several night to enjoy himself and is now feeling the ill effects of it. He then explains that the Lenten season — the Christian tradition of preparing for the symbolic anniversary of the death of Jesus — has begun, and the nights have been replaced by “abstinence and sacred music.” Afterwards, he describes feeling as though his sword is wearing out its scabbard, and laments that this is happening to him, even though he is only twenty-nine years old. He follows this with the poem.

The letter is dated February 28, 1817, and was published by Moore, along with the poem it contained in his 1830 work, along with other letters he received from the then-late Lord Byron, and was republished some years later, in The works of Lord Byron: in verse and prose. Including his letters, journals, etc., with a sketch of his life.

By this point in his life, Lord Byron had been living in exile for nearly a year. He spent much of 1817 in Italy, particularly Venice and Rome. This, along with the contents of the letter, suggest that it is written more as a lament to his growing up than for any one person in particular. For someone who spend so much of his youth sleeping around, taking personal liberties, and enjoying the expressions of his own emotion, to discover at the age of twenty-nine that he was beginning to feel tired must have come as a surprise. This poem was meant for Moore as a way of expressing how he was feeling, perhaps in a way that he felt could not be conveyed as well through unadorned words. It seems likely that his intention was not for the poem to be published at all, and yet reading is still provides fascinating insight on the life and in the mind of Lord George Gordon Byron at the age of twenty-nine.

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