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© Sarah Allegra

"Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its ...
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© Sarah Allegra

"Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!"

Excerpts from On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year, by George Gordon, Lord Byron

195 years ago today, George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous and infamous Romantic poet, died of what was probably malaria in Messolonghi, Greece, only 36 years old. Why was the British Lord-turned-rockstar poet in the damp, wetlands of Messolonghi? He was fighting a war. At the time, the Greek citizens were under attack and invasion by the Turks and desperately needed help. Byron had read all the Greek classics in school, learned Greek and had fallen in love with its people and culture when he travelled there several years before. Though he had no military training or experience, he decided that he had to do SOMETHING to help save the Greeks, so he went there, not knowing exactly what would happen.

His fellow British were mainly indifferent about the war; it wasn’t their problem and they saw no reason to help fund the Greek’s defenses. Byron had left Britain in 1816 after years of scandal and most British people were glad to see the most brilliant wordsmith the world has ever seen leave. But they were still fascinated with him, eagerly gobbling up every scrap of gossip, true or not, about him, while simultaneously actively snubbing him if their paths did cross. When word spread that Byron had almost single-handedly taken up the Greek cause, it was met with a slight curiosity and suspicion about what Byron hopes to gain from his involvement. In truth, he sincerely only wanted Greece to be free and was helping however he could. He poured what would be millions of dollars of his own, personal money into the Greek cause, while writing compelling letters to other wealthy British citizens and political leaders, trying to get them to contribute as well. The results were tepid at best.

And then, the glorious sun king of poetry died.

The Greeks, who already loved him, almost turned him into a saint. There are statues of him all over Greece and even today, he’s still considered a national hero, complete with a Byron Day celebrated every year. To the British, he had become a martyr and all previous negative views on him were instantly erased. The government coughed up enough money to help the Greeks win the war and maintain their independence. When Byron’s body was transported back to England (against his wishes to be buried in Greece, though his lungs and larynx were left there, as he had used his voice to save them) the crowds who gathered to view his body overwhelmed every church his body stopped in on his way to its final destination. Locks of his hair were snipped off, in the 19th century version of throwing your bra or panties at a sex symbol celebrity. He was denied burial with Britain’s other most famous poets for the scandals he had caused in life (mostly true but a few more salacious ones made up) and it was only the chapel at one of the schools he had attended that agreed to take him in, in his family’s longtime vault.

Byron lived life on his own terms. Despite mental health problems, frequent suicidal ideation, being born with a painfully deformed right foot, having lovers die, an abusive mother, being sexually and physically abused as a child and his own country turning its back on him, he is still one of the most beloved English writers in history. And rightly so. He loved other men romantically at a time when he could have been hung for it. He loved deep and hard, even when his eternal soulmate turned out to be his half-sister Augusta. But she loved him back with equal passion and ferocity, and as two consenting adults, I see no reason that it’s anyone else’s business that they loved each other.

This image reminds me of Byron today, on the anniversary of his death, for many reasons. For the mental healthcare he should have received but didn’t exist yet. For the physical healthcare that also didn’t exist. For the despair he sank into when he was forced to leave his country, everyone he had ever known and loved, and never return. For the call he heard and he alone answered from Greece. For the help that his martyrdom created for Greece, enabling what he had wished for all along: freedom.

We are all fighting different internal battles that will rarely be seen by others. It might be mental health, invisible physical illnesses, PTSD, addiction or simply a problem we haven’t confessed to anyone. We all need help, and asking for it can be the scariest thing to do. But it’s worth it. You’re worth it. Byron would have thought so too. If you’re feeling like nobody will understand whatever you’re going through, try reading some of Byron’s poetry. He understood pain better than most and he would have understood what you’re going through too. Keep fighting, because Byron never gave up no matter how unimaginably horrible things got. You can be the hero you long to be. Byron did it, and so can you. Awake your spirit, as he would say, and fight.

Thank you to the ever-patient Dedeker Winston for posing in my cramped bathroom and waiting far too long to receive the finished image. I am, as always, grateful for your help in bringing my ideas to life!

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7 Comments |
livioferrari PRO+
 
livioferrari April 21, 2019
Nice work.
mttomimages
 
mttomimages June 18, 2019
Saw this powerful image come up for a vote in the Soft Tones Contest. Gladly voted for it. :)
elledescartes PRO+
 
elledescartes July 24, 2019
This is often how I wonder If my Alzheimer's patients see themselves
BrunoHeeb PRO
 
BrunoHeeb November 20, 2019
The perfect shot, absolutely amazing
kevinpartridge
 
kevinpartridge July 11, 2020
Amazing
Dougieb PRO
 
Dougieb September 21, 2023
💯💯🤷‍♂️
andilockettjohnson
 
andilockettjohnson November 11, 2023
Wow! Just wow! I feel this beautiful photo. Thank you for sharing.
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