Don Juan, by George Byron

Canto the Seventeenth.

The world is full of orphans: firstly, those

     Who are so in the strict sense of the phrase

(But many a lonely tree the loftier grows

     Than others crowded in the forest’s maze);

The next are such as are not doomed to lose

     Their tender parents in their budding days,

But merely their parental tenderness,

Which leaves them orphans of the heart no less.

The next are ‘only children’, as they are styled,

     Who grow up children only, since the old saw

Pronounces that an ‘only’ ‘s a spoilt child.

     But not to go too far, I hold it law

That where their education, harsh or mild,

     ‘Transgresses the great bounds of love or awe,

The sufferers, be’t in heart or intellect,

Whate’er the cause are orphans in effect.

But to return unto the stricter rule

    (As far as words make rules), our common notion

Of orphans paints at once a parish school,

     A half-starved babe, a wreck upon life’s ocean,

A human (what the Italians nickname) ‘mule’,

     A theme for pity or some worse emotion;

Yet, if examined, it might be admitted

The wealthiest orphans are to be more pitied.

Too soon they are parents to themselves; for what

     Are tutors, guardians, and so forth, compared

With Nature’s genial genitors, so that

    A child of Chancery, that Star Chamber ward

(I’ll take the likeness I can first come at),

     Is like a duckling by Dame Partlett reared

And frights, especially if ’tis a daughter,

The old hen by running headlong to the water.

There is a commonplace book argument,

    Which glibly glides from every vulgar tongue

When any dare a new light to present:

    ‘If you are right, then everybody’s wrong.’

Suppose the converse of this precedent

    So often urged, so loudly and so long:

‘If you are wrong, then everybody’s right.’

Was ever everybody yet so quite?

Therefore I would solicit free discussion

    Upon all points, no matter what or whose,

Because as ages upon ages push on,

    The last is apt the former to accuse

Of pillowing its head on a pincushion,

    Heedless of pricks because it was obtuse.

What was a paradox becomes a truth or

A something like it, as bear witness Luther.

The sacraments have been reduced to two

    And witches unto none, though somewhat late

Since burning aged women (save a few,

    Not witches, only bitches, who create

Mischief in families, as some know or knew,

    Should still be singed, but slightly let me state)

Has been declared an act of inurbanity,

Malgé Sir Matthew Hale’s great humanity.

Great Galileo was debarred the sun,

    Because he fixed it, and to stop his talking

How earth could round the solar orbit run,

    Found his own legs embargoed from mere walking.

The man was well nigh dead, ere men begun

    To think his skull had not some need of caulking,

But now it seems he’s right, his notion just,

No doubt a consolation to his dust.

Pythagoras, Locke, Socrates — but pages

     Might be filled up, as vainly as before,

With the sad usage of all sorts of sages,

     Who in his lifetime each was deemed a bore.

The loftiest minds outrun their tardy ages;

    This they must bear with and perhaps much more.

The wise man’s sure when he no more can share it, he

Will have a firm post-obit on posterity.

If such doom waits each intellectual giant,

 We little people in our lesser way

To life’s small rubs should surely be more pliant,

    And so for one will I, as well I may.

Would that I were less bilious — but oh fie on’t!

    Just as I make my mind up everyday

To be a totus teres stoic, sage,

The wind shifts and I fly into a rage.

Temperate I am, yet never had a temper;

    Modest I am, yet with some slight assurance;

Changeable too, yet somehow idem semper;

 Patient, but not enamoured of endurance;

Cheerful, but sometimes rather apt to whimper;

    Mild, but at times a sort of Hercules furens;

So that I almost think that the same skin

For one without has two or three within.

Our hero was in canto the sixteenth

    Left in a tender moonlight situation,

Such as enables man to show his strength

    Moral or physical On this occasion

Whether his virtue triumphed, or at length

    His vice — for he was of a kindling nation —

Is more than I shall venture to describe,

Unless some beauty with a kiss should bribe.

I leave the thing a problem, like all things.

    The morning came, and breakfast, tea and toast,

Of which most men partake, but no one sings.

    The company, whose birth, wealth, worth have cost

My trembling lyre already several strings,

    Assembled with our hostess and mine host.

 The guests dropped in, the last but one, Her Grace,

The latest, Juan with his virgin face.

Which best is to encounter, ghost or none,

    ’Twere difficult to say, but Juan looked

As if he had combated with more than one,

    Being wan and worn, with eyes that hardly brooked

The light that through the Gothic windows shone.

    Her Grace too had a sort of air rebuked,

Seemed pale and shivered, as if she had kept

A vigil or dreamt rather more than slept.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31