Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a lengthy narrative poem written by the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron when at Kinsham. It was published between 1812 and 1818. The poem describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man who, disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands; in a wider sense, it is an expression of the melancholy and disillusionment felt by a generation weary of the wars of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The title comes from the term childe, a medieval title for a young man who was a candidate for knighthood.
The poem is quite autobiographical, and the earlier portion of the work is based upon Byron's travels through the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea between 1809 and 1811. Despite the fact that Byron did not think the poem was all that good, feeling it revealed too much of himself, it was an instant sensation when published by John Murray, and made Byron famous in England practically overnight. Byron stated that he woke up one day and "found myself famous." Women, especially, swooned over the poem, fascinated by the character of Childe Harold, his foreboding, and his nameless vices. Lord Byron quickly became the darling of the influential female aristocrats of the day; they recognized bits of Childe Harold in him, and he felt compelled to live up to this reputation.
The work introduced the concept of the Byronic hero, which is still somewhat popular today and shows up in novels, films and plays on a regular basis. The Byronic hero is usually described as an outsider, and with a contradictory nature; sometimes cruel, sometimes kind, devoted but unfaithful, and never contented, but eternally seeking out new sensations.
Childe Harold became a vehicle for Byron's own beliefs and ideas; indeed in the preface to book three Byron acknowledges the fact that his hero is just an extension of himself. According to Jerome McGann, by masking himself behind a literary artifice, Byron was able to express his view that "man's greatest tragedy is that he can conceive of a perfection which he cannot attain".