By Christopher Thomas Barber:
Traveling by furgon from the capital of Albania, Tirana, towards the YES program testing center in Fier, one is easily overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the lush Albanian hinterland. The highway towards Fier evades the jagged mountains east of Tirana, leading the passenger through the fertile microclimate of central Albania – where olive, quince, orange, pomegranate, and persimmon groves all grow alongside each other. On the way to Fier, the rolling hills of Albania’s grasslands offer the sight of traditional homesteads, sending the traveler back in time. Lord Byron, the distinguished and prolific British poet, described the Albanian landscape passionately in his writing:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
The excerpt above comes from Lord Byron’s Child Harold’s Pilgrimage, which he published from 1812-1818, following his infamous trip through Albania. The four-part, narrative poem describes the author’s adventures in the remote Western Balkans and exposes intimate reflections about his encounters with powerful tribal rulers, such as Ali Pasha Tepelena of southern Albania. Lord Byron’s highly heralded journey was a rarity at that time, as few Western foreigners had previously visited the mountainous Albanian terrain which remained under Ottoman rule.
The poet faithfully and colorfully wrote about the reflections and impressions which resonated with him, eventually traveling back to Britain in his notes and letters which would contribute to the imagery he used. Byron described how he had witnessed first-hand an ancient people and the vestiges of their deep cultural roots. Much of Byron’s descriptions illustrated the surrounding environment, allowing him to use mountains, cliffs, rivers, and fauna to captivate the reader:
Morn dawns; and with it stern Albania’s hills,
Dark Suli’s rocks, and Pindus’ inland peak,
Rob’d half in mist, bedew’d with snowy rills,
Array’d in many a dun and purple streak,
Arise; and, as the clouds among the break,
Disclose the dwelling of the mountaineer:
Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,
Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear,
And gathering storms around convulse the closing year.
Despite the global success of Lord Byron’s writing, through which he effortlessly imparted his talents on the 19th century literature scene, the most remarkable element of the poet was his willingness and inclination to seek out new cultures and lands. Similar to Lord Byron, Albanian students striving to pass all three testing rounds and to become YES Program participants share the same passion and fervor for cross-cultural experiences. We can only hope that after studying in the US for 10 months, Albanian participants of the US government-sponsored YES Program will pass on their experiences to their family and friends, bridging cultural divisions and fostering international relations.
Additional excerpt from Lord Byron’s Child Harold’s Pilgrimage:
LAND of Albania! where Iskander rose,
Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,
And he, his namesake, whose oft-baffled foes
Shrunk from his deeds of chivalrous emprize:
“Land of Albania! Let me bend mine eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!
The cross descends, thy minarets arise,
And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen,
Through many a cypress grove within each city’s ken.”