The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/Epitaph on a Beloved Friend

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The Works of Lord Byron by George Gordon Byron
Epitaph on a Beloved Friend

EPITAPH ON A BELOVED FRIEND.[1]

Ἀστὴρ πρὶν μὲν ἔλαμπες ἐνὶ ζωοῖσιν ἑῷοσ.

[Plato's Epitaph (Epig. Græe., Jacobs, 1826, p, 309), quoted by Diog. Laertius.]

Oh, Friend! for ever lov'd, for ever dear![2]
What fruitless tears have bathed thy honour'd bier!
What sighs re-echo'd to thy parting breath,
Whilst thou wast struggling in the pangs of death!
Could tears retard the tyrant in his course;
Could sighs avert his dart's relentless force;
Could youth and virtue claim a short delay,
Or beauty charm the spectre from his prey;
Thou still hadst liv'd to bless my aching sight,
Thy comrade's honour and thy friend's delight.
If yet thy gentle spirit hover nigh
The spot where now thy mouldering ashes lie,
Here wilt thou read, recorded on my heart,
A grief too deep to trust the sculptor's art.
No marble marks thy couch of lowly sleep,
But living statues there are seen to weep;
Affliction's semblance bends not o'er thy tomb,
Affliction's self deplores thy youthful doom.
What though thy sire lament his failing line,
A father's sorrows cannot equal mine!
Though none, like thee, his dying hour will cheer,
Yet other offspring soothe his anguish here:
But, who with me shall hold thy former place?
Thine image, what new friendship can efface?
Ah, none!—a father's tears will cease to flow,
Time will assuage an infant brother's woe;
To all, save one, is consolation known,
While solitary Friendship sighs alone.

Harrow, 1803.[3]


  1. [The heading which appears in the Quarto and P. on V. Occasions was subsequently changed to "Epitaph on a Friend." The motto was prefixed in Hours of Idleness. The epigram which Bergk leaves under Plato's name was translated by Shelley (Poems, 1895, iii. 361)—

    "Thou wert the morning star
     Among the living,
    Ere thy fair light had fled;
    Now having died, thou art as
     Hesperus, giving
    New splendour to the dead."

    There is an echo of the Greek distich in Byron's exquisite line, "The Morning-Star of Memory."]

  2. EPITAPH ON A BELOVED FRIEND.

    Oh Boy! for ever lov'd for ever dear!
    What fruitless tears have wash'd thy honour'd bier;[i]
    What sighs re-echoed to thy parting breath,
    Whilst thou wert struggling in the pangs of death.
    Could tears have turn'd the tyrant in his course,
    Could sighs have check'd his dart's relentless force;[ii]
    Could youth and virtue claim a short delay,
    Or beauty charm the spectre from his prey,
    Thou still had'st liv'd to bless my aching sight,
    Thy comrades honour, and thy friend's delight:
    Though low thy lot since in a cottage born,
    No titles did thy humble name adorn,
    To me, far dearer, was thy artless love,
    Than all the joys, wealth, fame, and friends could prove.
    For thee alone I liv'd, or wish'd to live,
    (Oh God! if impious, this rash word forgive,)
    Heart-broken now, I wait an equal doom,
    Content to join thee in thy turf-clad tomb;
    Where this frail form compos'd in endless rest,
    I'll make my last, cold, pillow on thy breast;
    That breast where oft in life, I've laid my head,
    Will yet receive me mouldering with the dead;
    This life resign'd, without one parting sigh,
    Together in one bed of earth we'll lie!
    Together share the fate to mortals given,
    Together mix our dust, and hope for Heaven.

    Harrow, 1803.— [4to. P. on V. Occasions.]


    ^  i. —— have bath'd thy honoured bier.—[P. on V. Occasions.]
    ^  ii. Could tears retard.—[P. on V. Occasions.]
     Could sighs avert.—[P. on V. Occasions.]

  3. [The words, "Southwell, March 17," are added, in a lady's hand, on p. 9 of the annotated copy of P. on V. Occasions in the British Museum. The conjecture that the "beloved friend," who is of humble origin, is identical with "E——" of the verses on p. 4, remains uncertain.]