Byron’s Spirit

Some months ago, the Byron Society received a beautiful poem from Janet Gell-Thompson. This work vividly captures the strength of Byron’s legacy, which is not restricted to libraries and lecture halls but lives and breathes in the stones of Newstead Abbey, permeating the crumbling walls and faded corridors with a residual echo of Byron’s tempestuous sociability and brooding misanthropy.


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As a poet, Byron was an egoist in the sense that his life and surroundings often intruded into his poems – albeit perhaps not quite as much as his eagerly scandalised audience assumed. Newstead’s gothic solidity, its sweeping arches, darkened cloisters and panelled walls, and the status their possession bequeathed Byron, are woven into so much of his work, and although Byron has been dead for nearly 200 years, the physical building like its poetic counterparts lives on.


And that is what is so appealing about Gell-Thompson’s poem, which gives this ancient building a voice, imbuing it with Byron’s spirit. She reminds readers that poets are so much more than their poetry, and the flotsam of their lives offers much to those of a non-literary bent, housed in their homes, which should be visited, admired, peopled.

Byron’s Spirit – after a visit to Newstead Abbey by a colleague and her son…
By Janet M. Gell-Thompson

A lad with autism and a toy truck
Uncovered my ancient wood
Enmeshed in red velvet;
To use my table’s surface
In racetrack abuse.

He let my spirit out!
Until we breathed together.
But covered his ears
At my quintet’s playing,
Berating it as ‘noise’
As I never would.

Though he spoke his mind
As I always could,
Having spirit enough
To scowl at all attempts
To move him on.
He was dancing to his own tune….

Still, we breathed together,
Throwing that toy truck
Around the shadowed tapestry
Of the room;
Lifting the boxing gloves from their
Safe shelf so the two of us could spar.

Ignoring the truth,
As my quintet played on
That, for me, life’s music
Had long since ended.