Elton John sang of Marilyn Monroe, “I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid.” I didn’t know her either, but I clearly remember the day she died, because it was my third birthday, August 5, 1962. Of course, I didn’t know it then, but I do remember it clearly – mostly because I remember the joy. What a stark and sad contrast to her August 5th when she took her life after 36 short years.
She also shares a strange kinship with poet Lord Byron who also died at the young age of 36. Like Marilyn, his mesmerizing face, riotous living, many love affairs, and tragic death has made him a romantic, fascinating figure. His mystique was so iconic that even today, an alluringly dark, mysterious, and moody man is said to be Byronic.
Lord Byron did not take his own life, but he left us with a poem he wrote on his thirty-sixth birthday just a few weeks before he died. In it, he says that since he can no longer rouse the hearts of others, he has nothing left but to seek a “soldier’s grave” in the “land of honourable death.” Like Hemingway, he had traveled to a foreign country to fight a war which wasn’t his own.
The perspective of time has provided a fuller context. Both Marilyn Monroe and Lord Byron are now understood to have possessed an introspective inner life that was eclipsed by their charisma and lifestyle. Each expressed an inner longing to be loved and to love unconditionally, absent the trappings of their fame and allure.
In 60 years, I haven’t learned much, but this I know: No measure of fame can substitute for the immeasurable love of God. The human heart intuitively longs to give and receive a love based on the priceless worth of the soul which can only be realized in the union of the creation and his Creator. We chase hard after self-esteem when self-worth is what we already possess.
I don’t know how many more birthdays I will see on earth, but my single prayer is that God will help me to love Him with all that I am, and to love my neighbor as myself. On the day I die, may that be my legacy.
L E A R N M O R E
’Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!
~Lord Byron, from On This The Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year
George Gordon was born on Jan. 22, 1788, in London. His great-uncle, from whom he inherited his title, was known as “wicked” Lord Byron; and his father, an army officer, was called “mad Jack.” Born with an abnormally formed foot, he was sensitive about his appearance all his life. When he was 3 years old his father died, leaving the boy and his mother nearly penniless.
Byron succeeded to the title of baron when he was 10. The honor brought with it a half-ruined estate, Newstead Abbey, and a moderate income. At 17 he entered Cambridge University. He read much literature but cared little for other subjects. Determined to overcome his physical disability, Byron became a good rider, swimmer, boxer, and marksman.
His first collection of poetry, published when he was 19, was a volume called Hours of Idleness. It was attacked by the Edinburgh Review.Byron responded with a satire entitled English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. His travels in Europe and the Middle East inspired his first long poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The first two sections were published in 1812, and he became famous almost overnight. Women sought him out, and young men copied his fashion style of wearing an open collar and flowing cravat.
In 1815 he married Anne Milbanke. They had one daughter but soon separated. The public reacted unfavorably to Byron’s often scandalous conduct, and in a fit of temper he left England for Italy. There he wrote additional cantos for Childe Harold; Manfred, a verse play; and Don Juan, a half-romantic, half-humorous poetic version of the old Spanish story. Byron became interested in Greece’s struggle to free itself from Turkish rule, and he went to Greece to help organize the revolt. He died of a fever at Missolonghi (now Mesolongion) on April 19, 1824.
ON THIS DAY I COMPLETE MY THIRTY-SIXTH YEAR
’TIS time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!
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!
The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
A funeral pile.
The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.
But ’tis not thus—and ’tis not here—
Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now,
Where glory decks the hero’s bier,
Or binds his brow.
The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.
Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!
Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!—unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.
If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!
Seek out—less often sought than found—
A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.
AT MISSOLONGHI, January 22, 1824.
Norma Jeane (sometimes spelled Jean) Mortenson was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California. During her career she used the name Norma Jean Baker and, finally, Marilyn Monroe. She spent her youth in foster homes and orphanages. Finally a job as a photographer’s model led to a movie career. Her film debut was in Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hay! in 1948, but her career blossomed in the 1950s, beginning with bit parts in The Asphalt Jungle (1950), All About Eve (1950), and a walk-on appearance in O. Henry’s Full House (1952). Her gift for comedy led to her success in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and The Seven Year Itch (1955). Part of her humor lay in the idea that her gorgeous, blonde character did not seem to understand why people thought she was beautiful or funny.
Monroe’s on-screen and offscreen lives were scrutinized by a press and public fascinated by celebrities. Her marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller were widely publicized. She was sensitive to this lack of privacy but was determined to improve her acting skill. She studied with the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg in New York City and returned to Hollywood to star in more complex films, including Bus Stop (1956), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Misfits (1961).
Monroe’s career was cut short when she died in Los Angeles from an overdose of sleeping pills on August 5, 1962. Her sudden death seemed only to enhance the mystique surrounding her image.
1 John 4:7–21
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
Sources & Resources
George Gordon Lord Byron, “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year,” in The Harvard Classics 40–42: Complete English Poetry, Chaucer to Whitman, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910), 836–837.
Jackson, Michael. “LORD BYRON.” Theology 77, no. 653 (1974): 578–582.
William Sailer et al., Religious and Theological Abstracts (Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts, 2012).
Nissley, Tom. A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year (Kindle Locations 667-672). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.