‘So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving’ by George Gordon, Lord Byron


So, we’ll go no more a–roving

So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving

And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul wears out 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 night of the moon.


4 thoughts on “‘So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving’ by George Gordon, Lord Byron

  1. George Gordon Byron was born in 1788 and became Lord Byron on the death of his father in 1798. He is often thought of as the “bad boy” of English Romantic poetry. The poem is based on the sixteenth-century sea shanty ‘The Maid of Amsterdam’. In many versions of the song, the words are rather risqué. Byron’s poem was included in a letter to a friend and fellow reveler, Thomas Moore. The context is one of fairly
    riotous partying!

    Byron’s letter included the following comments:

    ‘I feel anxious to hear from you, even more than usual, because you last
    indicated that you were unwell. At present, I am on the invalid regimen
    myself. The Carnival – that is, the latter part of it – and sitting up late
    o’nights, had knocked me up a little. But it is over, and it is now Lent, with all its abstinence and Sacred Music.

    ‘The mumming closed with a masked ball at the Fenice, where I went, as also to most of the ridottos etc. etc. and though I did not dissipate much upon the whole, yet I find the “sword wearing out the scabbard”, though I have but just turned the corner of twenty-nine.’

    Line 1: the word So links the poem with the extract of the letter printed above. The
    first person singular of the shanty is changed to the first person plural to include his
    Line 5: the reference to the sword echoes the image in the letter. By “sword” Byron means his spirit and the sheath is his body. The general sense of the whole stanza is that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” or that all of his reckless activity is making him feel his age.

    Stanza 2 introduces a slower pace – look particularly at the long vowels and some of the repeated consonants.

    What was involved in “roving” and why could he no longer do it?

    1. The poet was involved in roving, that is staying late night with friends drinking ,night clubing, surrounded by beautiful young girls, with them, he fornicates, almost every night. Well he couldn’t do it anymore because he became sapped. that is to say used up, energy wise, due to his involvement in excesses. Really, he was still willing to continue with his wayward life but his strength failed him. Hence, he hadn’t any choice than to face reality.

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  3. Is it just me or is this rather knowing and cynical in its tone? in the first stanza, the idea of ‘going a-roving’ by moonlight seems to conjure up a rather romantic idea of the buccaneering young rake, as it is also linked with the idea of the ‘heart’ being ‘loving’ – but the second stanza rather lowers the tone, or certainly could be seen as doing so. Its imagery can be taken as being rather more physical and worldly – the ‘sword’ is a masculine, aggressive, phallic symbol and the idea of the heart having time to breathe and ‘love itself have rest’ could evoke the idea of the exhausted lover unable to sustain sexual activity. The close near-repetition of the third stanza is therefore a commentary on the first. The word ‘loving’ as it appears in the third stanza could be seen as tainted, perhaps, or altered by the previous stanza: Byron seems to be saying that the night is for illicit sex (when the night can be for any number of other activities like rest, prayer, meditation, dreaming, etc) and then his ‘roving’ has rather less romantic connotations. The rake is almost an alley cat, the romance of the moon is reduced as it becomes a mere method of illumination of activities perhaps less savoury than the first stanza would appear to suggest.
    That this is a poem written to another man, in a private capacity might also support this interpretation…

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