Byron’s Manfred and the sublime return to nature

Whether his allusions to Greek mythology visiting burial places or personally taking part in the fights as a lord, Byron’s’ poems follow an actual travelogue and carry some biographical reference and personal appreciation. His voyages and perhaps self-inserted characters, mirror his view towards sublime nature, imagination, and the sub consciousness. In Manfred, Byron expresses the romantics view of the nature in different concepts like maternal earth, usage of the settings, elemental spirits and higher powers.

The sublime “maternal earth” allows the idea of “returning to nature” and Manfred (the superhuman, moody Byronic hero who denies supernatural powers over individualism, or at least death) finds comfort resorting to it. Nature promises no bindings and a natural setting (Levy).  

“My mother Earth! /And thou fresh breaking Day, and you, ye Mountains, / Why are ye beautiful? I cannot love ye” – (Act I. Scene II)

Scene 2 opens with Manfred “upon the cliffs” alone in the mountains of Jungfrau (Swiss alps) – the setting mirrors the unconscious state of mind and misty thinking of Manfred in the middle of nature. The isolated environment paves the way towards the unknown (which is also Manfred’s unrevealed secret guilt, which can be read as incest – Act II. Scene I “I say ‘tis blood – my blood! / which ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours / When we were in our youth, and had one heart / and loved each other as we should not love”).

Manfred on the Jungfrau

Manfred is a classical figure of the Byronic Hero (Levy) ; perhaps an extreme version due to his melancholic qualities and suicidal tendencies, “Fierce thirst of death” (Act II. Scene I). Mother earth and the environment is an embodiment of Manfred and his essence that composes the complex nature of his existence and self guilt, feeling above others and secluded from society nonetheless blameworthy of his actions. The last gesture of accepting the Abbot’s hand can also be regarded as his final acceptance or conformity towards society, “returning” to standards of mankind normality.

Manfred refusing other “forces’ such as the supernatural (Witch of the alps; spirits) and accepts death because like nature, everything decays. The Elemental Spirits allude to nature (Air, Mountain, Ocean, Earth, Winds, Night, and “Destiny”); similarly describing man as “earthly bodies”, “half dust, half deity, alike to unfit/ To sink or soar” (Act I. Scene II) (Levy).

Manfred & the Witch

The limited powers of Manfred and the supernatural entities puts forward the perception of limited forces in both, suggesting a higher form of power or capacity such as sublime nature but not necessarily divine ( Manfred refuses religion thus Byron and his self inserted character (Byronic Hero) may not feel positively or greatly towards faith as a whole).

Works Cited

Levy, Michelle. “Manfred” English 376 Seminars. Simon Fraser   University.  Vancouver. 12 Oct. 2016. Seminar

Images: Albanian Dress

Manfred on the Jungfrau :

Manfred & the Witch :


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