Sunday Snippet: Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“Sorrow is knowledge, those that know the most must mourn the deepest, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.”

My mom once told me that in every relationship, one partner is always more emotionally invested than the other. The size of the differential may vary, but it always exists. This means that whenever there is a fight or if the couple breaks up, one person is going to “hurt” more than the other. The more you put into something, the more you have to lose. In theory, this works in reverse too, because while things are going well, you also have more to gain.

I’ve written several times before on this blog about a curious, paradoxical phenomenon. The more you know, the more you realize how little you know. Doubt can be painful, but certainty is absurd. A common example of this would be when you’re shopping for something. If you know very little about the product category, you’ll likely pick something in the middle of the pack and be reasonably satisfied. If you know more, you’ll inevitably doubt your decision.

You’ll wonder if you could have done better. You’ll question if you really did get the best price. Your well of knowledge has led to more sorrow. And this is only on the rather superficial and inconsequential level of picking up something at the mall. Turn your attention to more pressing and profound matters and you’ll really realize how “those that know the most must mourn the deepest.”

One of my favorite classes that I took in university focused on poets and poetry from the Romantic period. The movement in the early 19th century was led by individuals like William Wordsworth, John Keats, William Blake and Lord Byron (whose full name was George Gordon Byron).

“Adversity is the first path to truth.”

Unlike so many other poets over the years, the genius of Lord Byron was actually recognized in his own time. He is perhaps best remembered for epic poems like Don Juan, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Prometheus.

The two quotes above may lead you to believe that he had a rather grim outlook on life, but then you also encounter much more tender moments like in his shorter poem “She Walks in Beauty.”

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

Those who love the most also suffer the most when that love is lost or denied. Those who know the most must also mourn the most, more aware of the atrocities and ills of the world. But at least they are able to enjoy love to its fullest and explore the infinite body of knowledge that much deeper.

Life is a perpetual struggle. And through this struggle, we can find meaning.