How To Be Like Byron

Bright butterfly, why do you fade
Into that duller, browner shade
That strays into the flame at night?
You’ve lost your nature’s vibrant light
And seek it in another source.
For you, I’ll heartily endorse
A colorful biography
To help you live by, dogma-free.

To satisfy your passion’s thirst
One thing’s important, first things first:
You need to drink a lot of wine.
A human skull will do just fine
To use as your libation cup—
Then men won’t dare call you a ‘yup.’
A good skull’s hard to come by, true,
But don’t let things like “laws” stop you.
From bones where vital headstones mock us,
Frame vessels for the blood of Bacchus.

Second, take up the boxing sport,
And solve your problems out of court
By giving cads a bloody lip.
Then learn the skill of marksmanship,
So if you have to fight a duel
You’re sure to kill the other fool.
(But first get him to sign a waiver—
The modern world just doesn’t savor
Defending honor anymore.
A gun will settle an old score
More tidily than lawyers’ suits:
Let undertakers fit disputes.)

Next take up swimming lessons and
Traverse vast waterways by hand.
Lord Byron once went hellesponting,
And though the salty smell is daunting,
In this small world you’ll form close bonds
By treating oceans like they’re ponds.

In playing a Byronic actor,
We can’t forget that famous factor
(It is no superfluity):
An itch for promiscuity!
This mission to become debased,
Though, follows rules of proper taste—
Don’t prey on adolescent boys
(A prison cell will bring no joys).
Pass over pick-up lines to hook
A woman—cast ‘the underlook.’

A life where so much sin is crammed
Is honest when you think you’re damned.
Say gloomy stuff like “man’s a devil,”
And in your melancholy revel.
Bad conduct, when low creeds agree,
Avoids the term, ‘hypocrisy.

But while you’re sinning, learn from novels:
There’s Rochester—he never grovels.
Onegin has great pistol aim.
Cruel Heathcliff swaggers to acclaim.
Ape Ahab for his hunting skill—
All men need some white whale to kill.
The 19th century is rife
With antiheroes full of strife.

Your reputation will, of course,
Rest ultimately on the force
Of your good poetry, if any,
And hopefully it earns a penny.
For, of this life, there’s one small glitch:
It’s hard to live if you aren’t rich.
So get some money and a castle—
Stop being someone’s wage-slave vassal.
Then soon your character will grow
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”



Ardor and Atoms

Pure hydrogen can only light the sun,
But kindles not the candlewick undone.
Plutonium will just destroy the earth,
With little force upon my cosmic mirth.

Gold shines a luster on an ugly form,
Though Midas knew that beauty doesn’t warm.
Lead poisons everything that comes too near—
A cure for one who’d gladly disappear.

Rich oxygen inspires the airy soul,
But won’t balloon a buried heart of coal.
A noble gas perfumes devotion’s slave
Who cannot smell a solid thing to crave.

The elements, for me, have but one use:
To bear the chemistry of love’s abuse.



Andrew Benson Brown was a graduate student at George Mason University before taking too many classes outside his discipline coincided with the reality of Debt. He now works as a children’s caseworker in rural Missouri. In his spare time he reads obscure classics, writes things of little market value, and exercises far more than is befitting for a modern intellectual.

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21 Responses

  1. James Sale

    There’s a formidable combination of talents at work in Andrew Benson Brown’s work. First, a deep eruditon and familiarity with classics and their attendant biographies. Next, there is a wicked wit and mordant sensibility that blows up the pretensions which it encounters. And all of that would not in itself be enough – but there is also a fluency of style that is remarkable: he manages within the tight strictures of form and rhyme to sound entirely colloquial and as one person speaking to another. Then – he stretches it and we get those wonderful and unlikely rhymes that we also find in his American Revolution mock-epic: hellesponting/daunting, for example, an excellent and unexpected pararhyme precisely on target to make us laugh. I am going to watch the poetic career of ABB with great interest! Well done – fabulous writing.

    • Gail Root

      You took the words right out of my mouth!–Not so, alas. I am not so adept a critic. You did identify those qualities I most enjoy in Mr. Andrew Benson Brown’s poetry–‘fluency of style’ and colloquial congeniality.

      And, there’s also the sympathetic satisfaction of symbolically skewering an epic sinner.

      • Andrew Benson Brown

        Thank you, James, for your warm appreciation and analysis of my work. I am deeply indebted to you. I of course have a long way to go in my ‘poetic career’ before my skill is on a par with many of the more experienced poets at the SCP. But I will keep on trucking.

        Also glad you liked it, Gail. I must say that, yes, I am quite sympathetic towards the man. While Byron was an epic sinner, as you say, he was not a shallow hedonist on the one hand, nor an atheistic radical like Shelley, though he flirted with skepticism. From his earliest work, Childe Harold, he demonstrates a disenchantment with the life of pleasure, and other semi-autobiographical characters in his works like Manfred and Cain reflect the moral and conceptual preoccupations he wrestled with from his Calvinist upbringing. As Dr. Salemi says below, many people hated him, but the pastors in their pulpits were not particularly concerned with taking a nuanced view and almost certainly did not actually read him.

  2. James Sale

    Thanks Gail. Yes, there is a sympathetic satisfaction! And that reminds me that what I didn’t say was that the topic itself – Byron – is not accidental. At some deep level, Byron seems to be the master that Brown identifies with – not in terms of value system, for there they are miles apart – but in terms of an energy, a courage to confront, and most of all in the writing technique that overwhelms in its profusion and in its humour.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      I’ve been fascinated by Byron ever since first learning about him in college. While reading a thick Oxford World Classics volume of his poetry six or seven years ago, I would re-watch the BBC biopic from the early 2000s, to the point where my wife began to comment about my obsession with the man.

      Sadly, I must say that my own life is as yet sorely lacking in notable scandals and instances of beyond-average depravity. And although I am already slightly older than Byron himself was when he died, I still hold out hope that my own poetry may someday make me a gazillionaire and that Temptation may drop her handkerchief before me.

      Some of my noteworthy biographical parallels with the man include:
      1) A taste for wine (particularly of the boxed variety)
      2) While on a trip to Lake of the Ozarks last year, I did swim across one of the smaller bodies of water there. On the return lap, a friend came out to rescue me on a giant rubber ducky.
      3) That’s all, really.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Lord Byron loved hock and seltzer (German white white and soda water mixed). This also was a favorite drink of Oscar Wilde.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Lord Byron was a wonderful character and a brilliant poet. In his own day he was wildly popular, and like any rock star he attracted a lot of feminine attention. Alas, like all of us he frequently succumbed to the standard human weaknesses. But he was REAL and VITAL and ENERGETICALLY TALENTED, and he disregarded the obnoxious puritanism of those who tried to condemn him.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      He was all those things, for sure. Beyond his titillating qualities, Byron evokes a time when celebrities were not wonks, and there was a substantial basis to fame. For poor poets on the margins of contemporary Western culture, it seems astonishing that one of our own kind once occupied the status now held by vapid Youtubers and mediocrities on reality television.

      • Anna J Arredondo

        Well said, Andrew!

        I enjoyed your first poem very much, though I must admit I felt a growing defensiveness for the man as I read it (Byron has been one of my favorite poets since I discovered him back in high school [no thanks to my English teachers]; in fact, his was the first book of poetry I bought by a single poet [i.e. not an anthology]. In all likelihood, it was probably that same fat Oxford classics tome you referred to).

        My defensiveness subsided, however, as I realized such a poem must necessarily be more caricature than biography. And the subsequent discussion in the comments amply provides the admiration due him for his works, as well as a more balanced look at Byron, the man.

        Well written, and clearly well-presented subject matter, to spark such a conversation. 🙂

  4. James Sale

    Thanks Joe – I think you are agreeing with me: because I am saying that ABB has a vital energy and courage – like Byron. Indeed, if we return to my review of your poetry on these SCP pages, I suggested that Jonson, Browning AND Byron were certainly the three masters whom you had emulated in your greatest works. Regards.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      No argument here, Jim. Brown’s fine poem has a distinctly Byronesque charm. But let’s recall that despite his widespread popularity, Lord Byron was hated by large numbers of pietistic types, and even as late as Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist” he is dismissed by some characters in that book as a “common poet” of the Great Unwashed.

      The notion that a poet has to be “timeless” (like a broken clock) rather than exciting, interesting, intriguing, and rollicking seems to be a perennial delusion.

      • Andrew Benson Brown

        Byron is probably the most interesting personality in English literature, though Marlowe, Wilde, and a few of the other romantics are close competitors. In European literature, I think also of Francois Villon, and recall your fine poem on him, Dr. Salemi, in which you appreciate those qualities deemed unsavory by pietists. Byron’s influence on other writers and artists has ensured that the fascination with the man endures even to this day, to the chagrin of schoolmarms and feminists everywhere. There is even an organization called ‘The Byron Society of America,’ which is only one of several dozen such groups in existence today.

  5. Theresa Rodriguez

    Such excellent poetry Andrew, thank you! I especially liked the sonnet, very poignant, very touching. Good work!

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Glad you liked the sonnet! I mailed that one to my wife after we separated.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Andrew, you are the thinking poet’s poet and your poems are top notch. They’re a literary delight that inspire and ignite me. Thank you very much!

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Thank you, Susan. You and the other poets at the SCP are an inspiration to me as well. More thinking and reading, less brainless immersion in pop culture and social justice absurdities, is what we need.

  7. C.B. Anderson

    Great stuff, Andrew. Slick as a whistle and sharp as a pistol. Your education was not wasted.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Thanks C.B. As an exceedingly clever rhymester yourself, that means a lot.

      Unfortunately, much of the education that I paid for was indeed wasted. But I often substituted what was on the syllabi for reading what I felt like in the library.

  8. David Watt

    Tremendous poetry Andrew. I particularly enjoyed the elegant manner in which your sonnet stated timeless truths.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Thanks David. To navigate between something you and Dr. Salemi above both touch on, I think good poetry, and art in general, is a balancing act in expressing those timeless qualities relevant to every human being in all places and times, and saying it in a way that will be of interest in the present. We all know people who are thoroughly persons of their own time and place and just seem to absorb all the prejudices of their age like a sponge. ‘Old souls’ on the other hand, can often come off as ethereal and out of touch. Of course, facile people seldom realize that they’ve never had a single original thought, and pedants never imagine that they are boring. (Probably I have been in that latter group much of the time.)

      • Gail Root

        Compassion makes knowledge relevant; correcting the views of others is–only briefly–the role of a parent, or–ever and always–an intimate friend. To cross that boundary outside of those relationships is to be a cliche–the pedantic ass!

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