Don Juan – George Gordon Byron

Difficile est proprie communia dicere 

HOR. Epist. ad PisonI 

Bob Southey! You’re a poet–Poet-laureate, 

And representative of all the race; 

Although ’tis true that you turn’d out a Tory at 

Last–yours has lately been a common case; 

And now, my Epic Renegade! what are ye at? 

With all the Lakers, in and out of place? 

A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye 

Like “four and twenty Blackbirds in a pye;II 

“Which pye being open’d they began to sing” 

(This old song and new simile holds good), 

“A dainty dish to set before the King,” 

Or Regent, who admires such kind of food; 

And Coleridge, too, has lately taken wing, 

But like a hawk encumber’d with his hood, 

Explaining Metaphysics to the nation– 

I wish he would explain his Explanation.III 
You, Bob! are rather insolent, you know, 

At being disappointed in your wish 

To supersede all warblers here below, 

And be the only Blackbird in the dish; 

And then you overstrain yourself, or so, 

And tumble downward like the flying fish 

Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob, 

And fall, for lack of moisture quite a-dry, Bob!IV 
And Wordsworth, in a rather long “Excursion” 

(I think the quarto holds five hundred pages), 

Has given a sample from the vasty version 

Of his new system to perplex the sages; 

‘Tis poetry–at least by his assertion, 

And may appear so when the dog-star rages– 

And he who understands it would be able 

To add a story to the Tower of Babel.V 
You–Gentlemen! by dint of long seclusion 

From better company, have kept your own 

At Keswick, and, through still continu’d fusion 

Of one another’s minds, at last have grown 

To deem as a most logical conclusion, 

That Poesy has wreaths for you alone: 

There is a narrowness in such a notion, 

Which makes me wish you’d change your lakes for Ocean.VI 
I would not imitate the petty thought, 

Nor coin my self-love to so base a vice, 

For all the glory your conversion brought, 

Since gold alone should not have been its price. 

You have your salary; was’t for that you wrought? 

And Wordsworth has his place in the Excise. 

You’re shabby fellows–true–but poets still, 

And duly seated on the Immortal Hill.VII 
Your bays may hide the baldness of your brows– 

Perhaps some virtuous blushes–let them go– 

To you I envy neither fruit nor boughs– 

And for the fame you would engross below, 

The field is universal, and allows 

Scope to all such as feel the inherent glow: 

Scott, Rogers, Campbell, Moore and Crabbe, will try 

‘Gainst you the question with posterity.VIII 
For me, who, wandering with pedestrian Muses, 

Contend not with you on the winged steed, 

I wish your fate may yield ye, when she chooses, 

The fame you envy, and the skill you need; 

And, recollect, a poet nothing loses 

In giving to his brethren their full meed 

Of merit, and complaint of present days 

Is not the certain path to future praise.IX 
He that reserves his laurels for posterity 

(Who does not often claim the bright reversion) 

Has generally no great crop to spare it, he 

Being only injur’d by his own assertion; 

And although here and there some glorious rarity 

Arise like Titan from the sea’s immersion, 

The major part of such appellants go 

To–God knows where–for no one else can know.X 
If, fallen in evil days on evil tongues, 

Milton appeal’d to the Avenger, Time, 

If Time, the Avenger, execrates his wrongs, 

And makes the word “Miltonic” mean ” sublime ,” 

He deign’d not to belie his soul in songs, 

Nor turn his very talent to a crime; 

He did not loathe the Sire to laud the Son, 

But clos’d the tyrant-hater he begun.XI 
Think’st thou, could he–the blind Old Man–arise 

Like Samuel from the grave, to freeze once more 

The blood of monarchs with his prophecies 

Or be alive again–again all hoar 

With time and trials, and those helpless eyes, 

And heartless daughters–worn–and pale–and poor; 

Would he adore a sultan? he obey 

The intellectual eunuch Castlereagh?XII 
Cold-blooded, smooth-fac’d, placid miscreant! 

Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin’s gore, 

And thus for wider carnage taught to pant, 

Transferr’d to gorge upon a sister shore, 

The vulgarest tool that Tyranny could want, 

With just enough of talent, and no more, 

To lengthen fetters by another fix’d, 

And offer poison long already mix’d.XIII 
An orator of such set trash of phrase 

Ineffably–legitimately vile, 

That even its grossest flatterers dare not praise, 

Nor foes–all nations–condescend to smile, 

Not even a sprightly blunder’s spark can blaze 

From that Ixion grindstone’s ceaseless toil, 

That turns and turns to give the world a notion 

Of endless torments and perpetual motion.XIV 

A bungler even in its disgusting trade, 

And botching, patching, leaving still behind 

Something of which its masters are afraid, 

States to be curb’d, and thoughts to be confin’d, 

Conspiracy or Congress to be made– 

Cobbling at manacles for all mankind– 

A tinkering slave-maker, who mends old chains, 

With God and Man’s abhorrence for its gains.XV 

If we may judge of matter by the mind, 

Emasculated to the marrow It 

Hath but two objects, how to serve, and bind, 

Deeming the chain it wears even men may fit, 

Eutropius of its many masters, blind 

To worth as freedom, wisdom as to Wit, 

Fearless–because no feeling dwells in ice, 

Its very courage stagnates to a vice.XVI 

Where shall I turn me not to view its bonds, 

For I will never feel them?–Italy! 

Thy late reviving Roman soul desponds 

Beneath the lie this State-thing breath’d o’er thee– 

Thy clanking chain, and Erin’s yet green wounds, 

Have voices–tongues to cry aloud for me. 

Europe has slaves–allies–kings–armies still, 

And Southey lives to sing them very ill.XVII 

Meantime–Sir Laureate–I proceed to dedicate, 

In honest simple verse, this song to you, 

And, if in flattering strains I do not predicate, 

‘Tis that I still retain my “buff and blue”; 

My politics as yet are all to educate: 

Apostasy’s so fashionable, too, 

To keep one creed’s a task grown quite Herculean; 

Is it not so, my Tory, ultra-Julian?

Don Juan – George Gordon Byron

Canto The First 

I want a hero: an uncommon want, 

When every year and month sends forth a new one, 

Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant, 

The age discovers he is not the true one; 

Of such as these I should not care to vaunt, 

I’ll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan, 

We all have seen him, in the pantomime, 

Sent to the Devil somewhat ere his time.II 

Vernon, the butcher Cumberland, Wolfe, Hawke, 

Prince Ferdinand, Granby, Burgoyne, Keppel, Howe, 

Evil and good, have had their tithe of talk, 

And filled their sign-posts then, like Wellesley now; 

Each in their turn like Banquo’s monarchs stalk, 

Followers of fame, “nine farrow” of that sow: 

France, too, had Buonaparté and Dumourier 

Recorded in the Moniteur and Courier.III 

Barnave, Brissot, Condorcet, Mirabeau, 
Pétion, Clootz, Danton, Marat, La Fayette 

Were French, and famous people, as we know; 

And there were others, scarce forgotten yet, 

Joubert, Hoche, Marceau, Lannes, Desaix, Moreau, 

With many of the military set, 

Exceedingly remarkable at times, 

But not at all adapted to my rhymes.IV 

Nelson was once Britannia’s god of War, 
And still should be so, but the tide is turn’d; 

There’s no more to be said of Trafalgar, 

‘Tis with our hero quietly inurn’d; 

Because the army’s grown more popular, 

At which the naval people are concern’d; 

Besides, the Prince is all for the land-service, 

Forgetting Duncan, Nelson, Howe, and Jervis.V 

Brave men were living before Agamemnon 
And since, exceeding valorous and sage, 

A good deal like him too, though quite the same none; 

But then they shone not on the poet’s page, 

And so have been forgotten: I condemn none, 

But can’t find any in the present age 

Fit for my poem (that is, for my new one); 

So, as I said, I’ll take my friend Don Juan.VI 

Most epic poets plunge “in medias res” 
(Horace makes this the heroic turnpike road), 

And then your hero tells, whene’er you please, 

What went before–by way of episode, 

While seated after dinner at his ease, 

Beside his mistress in some soft abode, 

Palace, or garden, paradise, or cavern, 

Which serves the happy couple for a tavern.VII 

That is the usual method, but not mine– 
My way is to begin with the beginning; 

The regularity of my design 

Forbids all wandering as the worst of sinning, 

And therefore I shall open with a line 

(Although it cost me half an hour in spinning), 

Narrating somewhat of Don Juan’s father, 

And also of his mother, if you’d rather….CC 

My poem’s epic, and is meant to be 
Divided in twelve books; each book containing, 

With love, and war, a heavy gale at sea, 

A list of ships, and captains, and kings reigning, 

New characters; the episodes are three: 

A panoramic view of Hell’s in training, 

After the style of Virgil and of Homer, 

So that my name of Epic’s no misnomer.CCI 

All these things will be specified in time, 
With strict regard to Aristotle’s rules, 

The Vade Mecum of the true sublime, 

Which makes so many poets, and some fools: 

Prose poets like blank-verse, I’m fond of rhyme, 

Good workmen never quarrel with their tools; 

I’ve got new mythological machinery, 

And very handsome supernatural scenery.CCII 

There’s only one slight difference between 
Me and my epic brethren gone before, 

And here the advantage is my own, I ween, 

(Not that I have not several merits more, 

But this will more peculiarly be seen); 

They so embellish, that ’tis quite a bore 

Their labyrinth of fables to thread through, 

Whereas this story’s actually true.CCIII 

If any person doubt it, I appeal 
To history, tradition, and to facts, 

To newspapers, whose truth all know and feel, 

To plays in five, and operas in three acts; 

All these confirm my statement a good deal, 

But that which more completely faith exacts 

Is, that myself, and several now in Seville, 

Saw Juan’s last elopement with the Devil.CCIV 

If ever I should condescend to prose, 
I’ll write poetical commandments, which 

Shall supersede beyond all doubt all those 

That went before; in these I shall enrich 

My text with many things that no one knows, 

And carry precept to the highest pitch: 

I’ll call the work “Longinus o’er a Bottle, 

Or, Every Poet his own Aristotle.”CCV 

Thou shalt believe in Milton, Dryden, Pope; 
Thou shalt not set up Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey; 

Because the first is craz’d beyond all hope, 

The second drunk, the third so quaint and mouthy: 

With Crabbe it may be difficult to cope, 

And Campbell’s Hippocrene is somewhat drouthy: 

Thou shalt not steal from Samuel Rogers, nor 

Commit–flirtation with the muse of Moore.CCVI 

Thou shalt not covet Mr. Sotheby’s Muse, 

His Pegasus, nor anything that’s his; 

Thou shalt not bear false witness like “the Blues” 

(There’s one, at least, is very fond of this); 

Thou shalt not write, in short, but what I choose: 

This is true criticism, and you may kiss– 

Exactly as you please, or not–the rod; 

But if you don’t, I’ll lay it on, by G{-}d!