English poet George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, was born on 22 January 1788, into a family of fast-decaying nobility.
He died in Missolonghi, in Greece, on 19 April 1824, at the age of 36, from a relapsing fever (possibly malaria) as well as the poor medical practices of the time.
Lord Byron wrote the poem “On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year” in his journal three weeks after he had arrived in Greece and taken command of his ‘army of liberation’ during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. It was the final entry.
The subtitle at the beginning of the text notes that the poem was written on the 22nd of January (1824) in Missolonghi.
The poem is made up of ten quatrains and has a contemplative and solemn tone: Byron seems to renounce the youthful joys of love, choosing self-sacrifice over self-indulgence.
Here is the second stanza:
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of Love are gone;
The worm—the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone! (1)
Even though he is only 36 the poet does not see himself as having much time left and reveals that there is only grief in his life just like there are worms and fungi in a dying tree.
The reference to Autumn, representing the approach of winter and the end of the year, is also a reference to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (Act 5, Sc 3):
I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have, but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not. (2)
(1) Lord Byron
I miei giorni hanno il colore della gialla foglia
i fiori e i frutti dell’Amore sono andati
solo il verme – il cancro e la doglia
son con me restati.
Ho vissuto abbastanza. Il cammino della mia vita
è giunto al punto in cui la foglia diventa gialla e appassita
e ciò che dovrebbe accompagnare la vecchiaia,
come rispetto, affetto, obbedienza, amicizia,
io non devo più cercare, al loro posto
ricevo maledizioni, lanciate sottovoce ma profonde,
onore tributato solo a voce, e parole
che i cuori meschini, pur volendo, ma non osano negare. (Shakespeare)