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Earth Day special: Romantic, Green...and born in Aberdeen

by Rory Buccheri

statue of Lord Byron at Aberdeen's Grammar School. Courtesy of the author.

Not many know that one of the world's favourite Romantic poets was born and bred in Aberdeen.

Son of a wealthy Gordon who owned property in Broad Street (not far from Marischal College), Lord Byron was known for its witty verses, extravagance, and reputation. (''Mad, bad, dangerous to know'' would say Caroline Lamb).

Just a couple of days ago, on the 19th of April, the 99th anniversary of his death was remembered. The Aberdonian poet passed away at the age of 36 in Missolonghi, Greece, where he was dying to fight for Greek independence.

Puns aside, this is as great a time as any to remind the world that he was not just an exceptional wit, a talented swimmer, and a man as full of ideals as he was of lovers (bi pride, anyone?)

Just as his Scottish connections have been forgotten more often than they have been remembered, his take on nature, the environment and the end of the world has remained somewhat in the shadows for a long time.

For the literature nerds, he is still a secondary figure within ecocriticism - the field that sees ecological studies and humanities meet - and alas overshadowed by 'greener' Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats.

Too easy to talk about nature when you're picking a flower, walking in the woods and frolicking in the grass, right? Byron probably thought so too, which is why he focussed on something that rings closer to our age of climate disaster than it did with the people that read it 100 years later (while they invested in BP).

'Darkness' (1816) : if this doesn't convince you to recycle, I don't know what will

'Darkness' is a funky poem. If you read one poem by Byron about the environment, make it this one.

It is the result of a climate disaster event that occurred the year before, in 1815, following the explosion of Tambora, a volcano in the Indonesian isle of Suwamba.

At the time, people (scientists included) were quite aloof when it came to climate. Romantic poets, however, had that somewhat dramatic air that made them overthink pretty much everything.

We have to thank those minds if we can chart abrupt climate change events today. In fact, much of what we know about cooling and warming at a global level comes from what was observed in the late 19th century about this one particular event.

Back to Byron's poem, it was easy for him to imagine a world in which 'the sun extinguish'd', the 'waves died' and with them 'the moon expir'd' - in short, a full-blown apocalypse.

What is truly revolutionary about this poem is the way Byron perceives the distinction between animals and humans.

There is no division when we see the end of the world approaching. We either triumph together or we fail together.

This is why, albeit somewhat unpopular in Romantic criticism, this will always remain one of my favourite poems penned by Lord Byron.

Among many things, it shows us the power of the humanities in the fight against climate change.

Just like many sensitive minds back then perceived that climate could be entangled with the survival of humanity and of earth, we should keep this in mind today.

You can read Byron's 'Darkness' here.


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