Nothing so difficult as a beginning
In poesy, unless perhaps the end;
For oftentimes when Pegasus seems winning
The race, he sprains a wing, and down we tend,
Like Lucifer when hurl’d from heaven for sinning;
Our sin the same, and hard as his to mend,
Being pride, which leads the mind to soar too far,
Till our own weakness shows us what we are.
But Time, which brings all beings to their level,
And sharp Adversity, will teach at last
Man — and, as we would hope — perhaps the devil,
That neither of their intellects are vast:
While youth’s hot wishes in our red veins revel,
We know not this — the blood flows on too fast;
But as the torrent widens towards the ocean,
We ponder deeply on each past emotion.
As boy, I thought myself a clever fellow,
And wish’d that others held the same opinion;
They took it up when my days grew more mellow,
And other minds acknowledged my dominion:
Now my sere fancy ‘falls into the yellow
Leaf,’ and Imagination droops her pinion,
And the sad truth which hovers o’er my desk
Turns what was once romantic to burlesque.
And if I laugh at any mortal thing,
’T is that I may not weep; and if I weep,
’T is that our nature cannot always bring
Itself to apathy, for we must steep
Our hearts first in the depths of Lethe’s spring,
Ere what we least wish to behold will sleep:
Thetis baptized her mortal son in Styx;
A mortal mother would on Lethe fix.
Some have accused me of a strange design
Against the creed and morals of the land,
And trace it in this poem every line:
I don’t pretend that I quite understand
My own meaning when I would be very fine;
But the fact is that I have nothing plann’d,
Unless it were to be a moment merry,
A novel word in my vocabulary.
To the kind reader of our sober clime
This way of writing will appear exotic;
Pulci was sire of the half-serious rhyme,
Who sang when chivalry was more Quixotic,
And revell’d in the fancies of the time,
True knights, chaste dames, huge giants, kings despotic:
But all these, save the last, being obsolete,
I chose a modern subject as more meet.
How I have treated it, I do not know;
Perhaps no better than they have treated me
Who have imputed such designs as show
Not what they saw, but what they wish’d to see:
But if it gives them pleasure, be it so;
This is a liberal age, and thoughts are free:
Meantime Apollo plucks me by the ear,
And tells me to resume my story here.
Young Juan and his lady-love were left
To their own hearts’ most sweet society;
Even Time the pitiless in sorrow cleft
With his rude scythe such gentle bosoms; he
Sigh’d to behold them of their hours bereft,
Though foe to love; and yet they could not be
Meant to grow old, but die in happy spring,
Before one charm or hope had taken wing.
Their faces were not made for wrinkles, their
Pure blood to stagnate, their great hearts to fail;
The blank grey was not made to blast their hair,
But like the climes that know nor snow nor hail
They were all summer: lightning might assail
And shiver them to ashes, but to trail
A long and snake-like life of dull decay
Was not for them — they had too little day.
They were alone once more; for them to be
Thus was another Eden; they were never
Weary, unless when separate: the tree
Cut from its forest root of years — the river
Damm’d from its fountain — the child from the knee
And breast maternal wean’d at once for ever —
Would wither less than these two torn apart;
Alas! there is no instinct like the heart —
The heart — which may be broken: happy they!
Thrice fortunate! who of that fragile mould,
The precious porcelain of human clay,
Break with the first fall: they can ne’er behold
The long year link’d with heavy day on day,
And all which must be borne, and never told;
While life’s strange principle will often lie
Deepest in those who long the most to die.
‘Whom the gods love die young,’ was said of yore,
And many deaths do they escape by this:
The death of friends, and that which slays even more —
The death of friendship, love, youth, all that is,
Except mere breath; and since the silent shore
Awaits at last even those who longest miss
The old archer’s shafts, perhaps the early grave
Which men weep over may be meant to save.
Haidee and Juan thought not of the dead —
The heavens, and earth, and air, seem’d made for them:
They found no fault with Time, save that he fled;
They saw not in themselves aught to condemn:
Each was the other’s mirror, and but read
Joy sparkling in their dark eyes like a gem,
And knew such brightness was but the reflection
Of their exchanging glances of affection.
The gentle pressure, and the thrilling touch,
The least glance better understood than words,
Which still said all, and ne’er could say too much;
A language, too, but like to that of birds,
Known but to them, at least appearing such
As but to lovers a true sense affords;
Sweet playful phrases, which would seem absurd
To those who have ceased to hear such, or ne’er heard —
All these were theirs, for they were children still,
And children still they should have ever been;
They were not made in the real world to fill
A busy character in the dull scene,
But like two beings born from out a rill,
A nymph and her beloved, all unseen
To pass their lives in fountains and on flowers,
And never know the weight of human hours.
Moons changing had roll’d on, and changeless found
Those their bright rise had lighted to such joys
As rarely they beheld throughout their round;
And these were not of the vain kind which cloys,
For theirs were buoyant spirits, never bound
By the mere senses; and that which destroys
Most love, possession, unto them appear’d
A thing which each endearment more endear’d.
O beautiful! and rare as beautiful
But theirs was love in which the mind delights
To lose itself when the old world grows dull,
And we are sick of its hack sounds and sights,
Intrigues, adventures of the common school,
Its petty passions, marriages, and flights,
Where Hymen’s torch but brands one strumpet more,
Whose husband only knows her not a wh — re.
Hard words; harsh truth; a truth which many know.
Enough. — The faithful and the fairy pair,
Who never found a single hour too slow,
What was it made them thus exempt from care?
Young innate feelings all have felt below,
Which perish in the rest, but in them were
Inherent — what we mortals call romantic,
And always envy, though we deem it frantic.
This is in others a factitious state,
An opium dream of too much youth and reading,
But was in them their nature or their fate:
No novels e’er had set their young hearts bleeding,
For Haidee’s knowledge was by no means great,
And Juan was a boy of saintly breeding;
So that there was no reason for their loves
More than for those of nightingales or doves.
They gazed upon the sunset; ‘t is an hour
Dear unto all, but dearest to their eyes,
For it had made them what they were: the power
Of love had first o’erwhelm’d them from such skies,
When happiness had been their only dower,
And twilight saw them link’d in passion’s ties;
Charm’d with each other, all things charm’d that brought
The past still welcome as the present thought.
I know not why, but in that hour to-night,
Even as they gazed, a sudden tremor came,
And swept, as ‘t were, across their hearts’ delight,
Like the wind o’er a harp-string, or a flame,
When one is shook in sound, and one in sight;
And thus some boding flash’d through either frame,
And call’d from Juan’s breast a faint low sigh,
While one new tear arose in Haidee’s eye.
That large black prophet eye seem’d to dilate
And follow far the disappearing sun,
As if their last day! of a happy date
With his broad, bright, and dropping orb were gone;
Juan gazed on her as to ask his fate —
He felt a grief, but knowing cause for none,
His glance inquired of hers for some excuse
For feelings causeless, or at least abstruse.
She turn’d to him, and smiled, but in that sort
Which makes not others smile; then turn’d aside:
Whatever feeling shook her, it seem’d short,
And master’d by her wisdom or her pride;
When Juan spoke, too — it might be in sport —
Of this their mutual feeling, she replied —
‘If it should be so — but — it cannot be-
Or I at least shall not survive to see.’
Juan would question further, but she press’d
His lip to hers, and silenced him with this,
And then dismiss’d the omen from her breast,
Defying augury with that fond kiss;
And no doubt of all methods ‘t is the best:
Some people prefer wine —‘t is not amiss;
I have tried both; so those who would a part take
May choose between the headache and the heartache.
One of the two, according to your choice,
Woman or wine, you ’ll have to undergo;
Both maladies are taxes on our joys:
But which to choose, I really hardly know;
And if I had to give a casting voice,
For both sides I could many reasons show,
And then decide, without great wrong to either,
It were much better to have both than neither.
Juan and Haidee gazed upon each other
With swimming looks of speechless tenderness,
Which mix’d all feelings, friend, child, lover, brother,
All that the best can mingle and express
When two pure hearts are pour’d in one another,
And love too much, and yet can not love less;
But almost sanctify the sweet excess
By the immortal wish and power to bless.
Mix’d in each other’s arms, and heart in heart,
Why did they not then die? — they had lived too long
Should an hour come to bid them breathe apart;
Years could but bring them cruel things or wrong;
The world was not for them, nor the world’s art
For beings passionate as Sappho’s song;
Love was born with them, in them, so intense,
It was their very spirit — not a sense.
They should have lived together deep in woods,
Unseen as sings the nightingale; they were
Unfit to mix in these thick solitudes
Call’d social, haunts of Hate, and Vice, and Care:
How lonely every freeborn creature broods!
The sweetest song-birds nestle in a pair;
The eagle soars alone; the gull and crow
Flock o’er their carrion, just like men below.
Now pillow’d cheek to cheek, in loving sleep,
Haidee and Juan their siesta took,
A gentle slumber, but it was not deep,
For ever and anon a something shook
Juan, and shuddering o’er his frame would creep;
And Haidee’s sweet lips murmur’d like a brook
A wordless music, and her face so fair
Stirr’d with her dream, as rose-leaves with the air.
Or as the stirring of a deep dear stream
Within an Alpine hollow, when the wind
Walks o’er it, was she shaken by the dream,
The mystical usurper of the mind —
O’erpowering us to be whate’er may seem
Good to the soul which we no more can bind;
Strange state of being! (for ‘t is still to be)
Senseless to feel, and with seal’d eyes to see.
She dream’d of being alone on the sea-shore,
Chain’d to a rock; she knew not how, but stir
She could not from the spot, and the loud roar
Grew, and each wave rose roughly, threatening her;
And o’er her upper lip they seem’d to pour,
Until she sobb’d for breath, and soon they were
Foaming o’er her lone head, so fierce and high —
Each broke to drown her, yet she could not die.
Anon — she was released, and then she stray’d
O’er the sharp shingles with her bleeding feet,
And stumbled almost every step she made;
And something roll’d before her in a sheet,
Which she must still pursue howe’er afraid:
’T was white and indistinct, nor stopp’d to meet
Her glance nor grasp, for still she gazed, and grasp’d,
And ran, but it escaped her as she clasp’d.
The dream changed:— in a cave she stood, its walls
Were hung with marble icicles, the work
Of ages on its water-fretted halls,
Where waves might wash, and seals might breed and lurk;
Her hair was dripping, and the very balls
Of her black eyes seem’d turn’d to tears, and mirk
The sharp rocks look’d below each drop they caught,
Which froze to marble as it fell — she thought.
And wet, and cold, and lifeless at her feet,
Pale as the foam that froth’d on his dead brow,
Which she essay’d in vain to clear (how sweet
Were once her cares, how idle seem’d they now!),
Lay Juan, nor could aught renew the beat
Of his quench’d heart; and the sea dirges low
Rang in her sad ears like a mermaid’s song,
And that brief dream appear’d a life too long.
And gazing on the dead, she thought his face
Faded, or alter’d into something new —
Like to her father’s features, till each trace —
More like and like to Lambro’s aspect grew —
With all his keen worn look and Grecian grace;
And starting, she awoke, and what to view?
O! Powers of Heaven! what dark eye meets she there?
’T is —‘t is her father’s — fix’d upon the pair!
Then shrieking, she arose, and shrieking fell,
With joy and sorrow, hope and fear, to see
Him whom she deem’d a habitant where dwell
The ocean-buried, risen from death, to be
Perchance the death of one she loved too well:
Dear as her father had been to Haidee,
It was a moment of that awful kind —
I have seen such — but must not call to mind.
Up Juan sprung to Haidee’s bitter shriek,
And caught her falling, and from off the wall
Snatch’d down his sabre, in hot haste to wreak
Vengeance on him who was the cause of all:
Then Lambro, who till now forbore to speak,
Smiled scornfully, and said, ‘Within my call,
A thousand scimitars await the word;
Put up, young man, put up your silly sword.’
And Haidee clung around him; ‘Juan, ‘t is —
’T is Lambro —‘t is my father! Kneel with me —
He will forgive us — yes — it must be-yes.
O! dearest father, in this agony
Of pleasure and of pain — even while I kiss
Thy garment’s hem with transport, can it be
That doubt should mingle with my filial joy?
Deal with me as thou wilt, but spare this boy.’
High and inscrutable the old man stood,
Calm in his voice, and calm within his eye —
Not always signs with him of calmest mood:
He look’d upon her, but gave no reply;
Then turn’d to Juan, in whose cheek the blood
Oft came and went, as there resolved to die;
In arms, at least, he stood, in act to spring
On the first foe whom Lambro’s call might bring.
‘Young man, your sword;’ so Lambro once more said:
Juan replied, ‘Not while this arm is free.’
The old man’s cheek grew pale, but not with dread,
And drawing from his belt a pistol, he
Replied, ‘Your blood be then on your own head.’
Then look’d dose at the flint, as if to see
’T was fresh — for he had lately used the lock —
And next proceeded quietly to cock.
It has a strange quick jar upon the ear,
That cocking of a pistol, when you know
A moment more will bring the sight to bear
Upon your person, twelve yards off, or so;
A gentlemanly distance, not too near,
If you have got a former friend for foe;
But after being fired at once or twice,
The ear becomes more Irish, and less nice.
Lambro presented, and one instant more
Had stopp’d this Canto, and Don Juan’s breath,
When Haidee threw herself her boy before;
Stern as her sire: ‘On me,’ she cried, ‘let death
Descend — the fault is mine; this fatal shore
He found — but sought not. I have pledged my faith;
I love him — I will die with him: I knew
Your nature’s firmness — know your daughter’s too.’
A minute past, and she had been all tears,
And tenderness, and infancy; but now
She stood as one who champion’d human fears —
Pale, statue-like, and stern, she woo’d the blow;
And tall beyond her sex, and their compeers,
She drew up to her height, as if to show
A fairer mark; and with a fix’d eye scann’d
Her father’s face — but never stopp’d his hand.
He gazed on her, and she on him; ‘t was strange
How like they look’d! the expression was the same;
Serenely savage, with a little change
In the large dark eye’s mutual-darted flame;
For she, too, was as one who could avenge,
If cause should be-a lioness, though tame.
Her father’s blood before her father’s face
Boil’d up, and proved her truly of his race.
I said they were alike, their features and
Their stature, differing but in sex and years;
Even to the delicacy of their hand
There was resemblance, such as true blood wears;
And now to see them, thus divided, stand
In fix’d ferocity, when joyous tears
And sweet sensations should have welcomed both,
Show what the passions are in their full growth.
The father paused a moment, then withdrew
His weapon, and replaced it; but stood still,
And looking on her, as to look her through,
‘Not I,’ he said, ‘have sought this stranger’s ill;
Not I have made this desolation: few
Would bear such outrage, and forbear to kill;
But I must do my duty — how thou hast
Done thine, the present vouches for the past.
‘Let him disarm; or, by my father’s head,
His own shall roll before you like a ball!’
He raised his whistle, as the word he said,
And blew; another answer’d to the call,
And rushing in disorderly, though led,
And arm’d from boot to turban, one and all,
Some twenty of his train came, rank on rank;
He gave the word — ‘Arrest or slay the Frank.’
Then, with a sudden movement, he withdrew
His daughter; while compress’d within his clasp,
‘Twixt her and Juan interposed the crew;
In vain she struggled in her father’s grasp —
His arms were like a serpent’s coil: then flew
Upon their prey, as darts an angry asp,
The file of pirates; save the foremost, who
Had fallen, with his right shoulder half cut through.
The second had his cheek laid open; but
The third, a wary, cool old sworder, took
The blows upon his cutlass, and then put
His own well in; so well, ere you could look,
His man was floor’d, and helpless at his foot,
With the blood running like a little brook
From two smart sabre gashes, deep and red —
One on the arm, the other on the head.
And then they bound him where he fell, and bore
Juan from the apartment: with a sign
Old Lambro bade them take him to the shore,
Where lay some ships which were to sail at nine.
They laid him in a boat, and plied the oar
Until they reach’d some galliots, placed in line;
On board of one of these, and under hatches,
They stow’d him, with strict orders to the watches.
The world is full of strange vicissitudes,
And here was one exceedingly unpleasant:
A gentleman so rich in the world’s goods,
Handsome and young, enjoying all the present,
Just at the very time when he least broods
On such a thing is suddenly to sea sent,
Wounded and chain’d, so that he cannot move,
And all because a lady fell in love.
Here I must leave him, for I grow pathetic,
Moved by the Chinese nymph of tears, green tea!
Than whom Cassandra was not more prophetic;
For if my pure libations exceed three,
I feel my heart become so sympathetic,
That I must have recourse to black Bohea:
’T is pity wine should be so deleterious,
For tea and coffee leave us much more serious,
Unless when qualified with thee, Cogniac!
Sweet Naiad of the Phlegethontic rill!
Ah! why the liver wilt thou thus attack,
And make, like other nymphs, thy lovers ill?
I would take refuge in weak punch, but rack
(In each sense of the word), whene’er I fill
My mild and midnight beakers to the brim,
Wakes me next morning with its synonym.
I leave Don Juan for the present, safe —
Not sound, poor fellow, but severely wounded;
Yet could his corporal pangs amount to half
Of those with which his Haidee’s bosom bounded?
She was not one to weep, and rave, and chafe,
And then give way, subdued because surrounded;
Her mother was a Moorish maid, from Fez,
Where all is Eden, or a wilderness.
There the large olive rains its amber store
In marble fonts; there grain, and flower, and fruit,
Gush from the earth until the land runs o’er;
But there, too, many a poison-tree has root,
And midnight listens to the lion’s roar,
And long, long deserts scorch the camel’s foot,
Or heaving whelm the helpless caravan;
And as the soil is, so the heart of man.
Afric is all the sun’s, and as her earth
Her human day is kindled; full of power
For good or evil, burning from its birth,
The Moorish blood partakes the planet’s hour,
And like the soil beneath it will bring forth:
Beauty and love were Haidee’s mother’s dower;
But her large dark eye show’d deep Passion’s force,
Though sleeping like a lion near a source.
Her daughter, temper’d with a milder ray,
Like summer clouds all silvery, smooth, and fair,
Till slowly charged with thunder they display
Terror to earth, and tempest to the air,
Had held till now her soft and milky way;
But overwrought with passion and despair,
The fire burst forth from her Numidian veins,
Even as the Simoom sweeps the blasted plains.
The last sight which she saw was Juan’s gore,
And he himself o’ermaster’d and cut down;
His blood was running on the very floor
Where late he trod, her beautiful, her own;
Thus much she view’d an instant and no more —
Her struggles ceased with one convulsive groan;
On her sire’s arm, which until now scarce held
Her writhing, fell she like a cedar fell’d.
A vein had burst, and her sweet lips’ pure dyes
Were dabbled with the deep blood which ran o’er;
And her head droop’d as when the lily lies
O’ercharged with rain: her summon’d handmaids bore
Their lady to her couch with gushing eyes;
Of herbs and cordials they produced their store,
But she defied all means they could employ,
Like one life could not hold, nor death destroy.
Days lay she in that state unchanged, though chill —
With nothing livid, still her lips were red;
She had no pulse, but death seem’d absent still;
No hideous sign proclaim’d her surely dead;
Corruption came not in each mind to kill
All hope; to look upon her sweet face bred
New thoughts of life, for it seem’d full of soul —
She had so much, earth could not claim the whole.
The ruling passion, such as marble shows
When exquisitely chisell’d, still lay there,
But fix’d as marble’s unchanged aspect throws
O’er the fair Venus, but for ever fair;
O’er the Laocoon’s all eternal throes,
And ever-dying Gladiator’s air,
Their energy like life forms all their fame,
Yet looks not life, for they are still the same.
She woke at length, but not as sleepers wake,
Rather the dead, for life seem’d something new,
A strange sensation which she must partake
Perforce, since whatsoever met her view
Struck not on memory, though a heavy ache
Lay at her heart, whose earliest beat still true
Brought back the sense of pain without the cause,
For, for a while, the furies made a pause.
She look’d on many a face with vacant eye,
On many a token without knowing what;
She saw them watch her without asking why,
And reck’d not who around her pillow sat;
Not speechless, though she spoke not; not a sigh
Relieved her thoughts; dull silence and quick chat
Were tried in vain by those who served; she gave
No sign, save breath, of having left the grave.
Her handmaids tended, but she heeded not;
Her father watch’d, she turn’d her eyes away;
She recognized no being, and no spot,
However dear or cherish’d in their day;
They changed from room to room — but all forgot —
Gentle, but without memory she lay;
At length those eyes, which they would fain be weaning
Back to old thoughts, wax’d full of fearful meaning.
And then a slave bethought her of a harp;
The harper came, and tuned his instrument;
At the first notes, irregular and sharp,
On him her flashing eyes a moment bent,
Then to the wall she turn’d as if to warp
Her thoughts from sorrow through her heart resent;
And he begun a long low island song
Of ancient days, ere tyranny grew strong.
Anon her thin wan fingers beat the wall
In time to his old tune; he changed the theme,
And sung of love; the fierce name struck through all
Her recollection; on her flash’d the dream
Of what she was, and is, if ye could call
To be so being; in a gushing stream
The tears rush’d forth from her o’erclouded brain,
Like mountain mists at length dissolved in rain.
Short solace, vain relief! — thought came too quick,
And whirl’d her brain to madness; she arose
As one who ne’er had dwelt among the sick,
And flew at all she met, as on her foes;
But no one ever heard her speak or shriek,
Although her paroxysm drew towards its dose; —
Hers was a phrensy which disdain’d to rave,
Even when they smote her, in the hope to save.
Yet she betray’d at times a gleam of sense;
Nothing could make her meet her father’s face,
Though on all other things with looks intense
She gazed, but none she ever could retrace;
Food she refused, and raiment; no pretence
Avail’d for either; neither change of place,
Nor time, nor skill, nor remedy, could give her
Senses to sleep — the power seem’d gone for ever.
Twelve days and nights she wither’d thus; at last,
Without a groan, or sigh, or glance, to show
A parting pang, the spirit from her past:
And they who watch’d her nearest could not know
The very instant, till the change that cast
Her sweet face into shadow, dull and slow,
Glazed o’er her eyes — the beautiful, the black —
O! to possess such lustre — and then lack!
She died, but not alone; she held within
A second principle of life, which might
Have dawn’d a fair and sinless child of sin;
But closed its little being without light,
And went down to the grave unborn, wherein
Blossom and bough lie wither’d with one blight;
In vain the dews of Heaven descend above
The bleeding flower and blasted fruit of love.
Thus lived — thus died she; never more on her
Shall sorrow light, or shame. She was not made
Through years or moons the inner weight to bear,
Which colder hearts endure till they are laid
By age in earth: her days and pleasures were
Brief, but delightful — such as had not staid
Long with her destiny; but she sleeps well
By the sea-shore, whereon she loved to dwell.
That isle is now all desolate and bare,
Its dwellings down, its tenants pass’d away;
None but her own and father’s grave is there,
And nothing outward tells of human clay;
Ye could not know where lies a thing so fair,
No stone is there to show, no tongue to say
What was; no dirge, except the hollow sea’s,
Mourns o’er the beauty of the Cyclades.
But many a Greek maid in a loving song
Sighs o’er her name; and many an islander
With her sire’s story makes the night less long;
Valour was his, and beauty dwelt with her:
If she loved rashly, her life paid for wrong —
A heavy price must all pay who thus err,
In some shape; let none think to fly the danger,
For soon or late Love is his own avenger.
But let me change this theme which grows too sad,
And lay this sheet of sorrows on the shelf;
I don’t much like describing people mad,
For fear of seeming rather touch’d myself —
Besides, I ’ve no more on this head to add;
And as my Muse is a capricious elf,
We ’ll put about, and try another tack
With Juan, left half-kill’d some stanzas back.
Wounded and fetter’d, ‘cabin’d, cribb’d, confined,’
Some days and nights elapsed before that he
Could altogether call the past to mind;
And when he did, he found himself at sea,
Sailing six knots an hour before the wind;
The shores of Ilion lay beneath their lee —
Another time he might have liked to see ’em,
But now was not much pleased with Cape Sigaeum.
There, on the green and village-cotted hill, is
(Flank’d by the Hellespont and by the sea)
Entomb’d the bravest of the brave, Achilles;
They say so (Bryant says the contrary):
And further downward, tall and towering still, is
The tumulus — of whom? Heaven knows! ‘t may be
Patroclus, Ajax, or Protesilaus —
All heroes, who if living still would slay us.
High barrows, without marble or a name,
A vast, untill’d, and mountain-skirted plain,
And Ida in the distance, still the same,
And old Scamander (if ‘t is he) remain;
The situation seems still form’d for fame —
A hundred thousand men might fight again
With case; but where I sought for Ilion’s walls,
The quiet sheep feeds, and the tortoise crawls;
Troops of untended horses; here and there
Some little hamlets, with new names uncouth;
Some shepherds (unlike Paris) led to stare
A moment at the European youth
Whom to the spot their school-boy feelings bear;
A turk, with beads in hand and pipe in mouth,
Extremely taken with his own religion,
Are what I found there — but the devil a Phrygian.
Don Juan, here permitted to emerge
From his dull cabin, found himself a slave;
Forlorn, and gazing on the deep blue surge,
O’ershadow’d there by many a hero’s grave;
Weak still with loss of blood, he scarce could urge
A few brief questions; and the answers gave
No very satisfactory information
About his past or present situation.
He saw some fellow captives, who appear’d
To be Italians, as they were in fact;
From them, at least, their destiny he heard,
Which was an odd one; a troop going to act
In Sicily (all singers, duly rear’d
In their vocation) had not been attack’d
In sailing from Livorno by the pirate,
But sold by the impresario at no high rate.
By one of these, the buffo of the party,
Juan was told about their curious case;
For although destined to the Turkish mart, he
Still kept his spirits up — at least his face;
The little fellow really look’d quite hearty,
And bore him with some gaiety and grace,
Showing a much more reconciled demeanour,
Than did the prima donna and the tenor.
In a few words he told their hapless story,
Saying, ‘Our Machiavellian impresario,
Making a signal off some promontory,
Hail’d a strange brig — Corpo di Caio Mario!
We were transferr’d on board her in a hurry,
Without a Single scudo of salario;
But if the Sultan has a taste for song,
We will revive our fortunes before long.
‘The prima donna, though a little old,
And haggard with a dissipated life,
And subject, when the house is thin, to cold,
Has some good notes; and then the tenor’s wife,
With no great voice, is pleasing to behold;
Last carnival she made a deal of strife
By carrying off Count Cesare Cicogna
From an old Roman princess at Bologna.
‘And then there are the dancers; there ‘s the Nini,
With more than one profession, gains by all;
Then there ‘s that laughing slut the Pelegrini,
She, too, was fortunate last carnival,
And made at least five hundred good zecchini,
But spends so fast, she has not now a paul;
And then there ‘s the Grotesca — such a dancer!
Where men have souls or bodies she must answer.
‘As for the figuranti, they are like
The rest of all that tribe; with here and there
A pretty person, which perhaps may strike,
The rest are hardly fitted for a fair;
There ‘s one, though tall and stiffer than a pike,
Yet has a sentimental kind of air
Which might go far, but she don’t dance with vigour;
The more ‘s the pity, with her face and figure.
‘As for the men, they are a middling set;
The musico is but a crack’d old basin,
But being qualified in one way yet,
May the seraglio do to set his face in,
And as a servant some preferment get;
His singing I no further trust can place in:
From all the Pope makes yearly ‘t would perplex
To find three perfect pipes of the third sex.
‘The tenor’s voice is spoilt by affectation,
And for the bass, the beast can only bellow;
In fact, he had no singing education,
An ignorant, noteless, timeless, tuneless fellow;
But being the prima donna’s near relation,
Who swore his voice was very rich and mellow,
They hired him, though to hear him you ‘d believe
An ass was practising recitative.
’T would not become myself to dwell upon
My own merits, and though young — I see, Sir — you
Have got a travell’d air, which speaks you one
To whom the opera is by no means new:
You ’ve heard of Raucocanti? — I ’m the man;
The time may come when you may hear me too;
You was not last year at the fair of Lugo,
But next, when I ’m engaged to sing there — do go.
‘Our baritone I almost had forgot,
A pretty lad, but bursting with conceit;
With graceful action, science not a jot,
A voice of no great compass, and not sweet,
He always is complaining of his lot,
Forsooth, scarce fit for ballads in the street;
In lovers’ parts his passion more to breathe,
Having no heart to show, he shows his teeth.’
Here Raucocanti’s eloquent recital
Was interrupted by the pirate crew,
Who came at stated moments to invite all
The captives back to their sad berths; each threw
A rueful glance upon the waves (which bright all
From the blue skies derived a double blue,
Dancing all free and happy in the sun),
And then went down the hatchway one by one.
They heard next day — that in the Dardanelles,
Waiting for his Sublimity’s firman,
The most imperative of sovereign spells,
Which every body does without who can,
More to secure them in their naval cells,
Lady to lady, well as man to man,
Were to be chain’d and lotted out per couple,
For the slave market of Constantinople.
It seems when this allotment was made out,
There chanced to be an odd male, and odd female,
Who (after some discussion and some doubt,
If the soprano might be deem’d to be male,
They placed him o’er the women as a scout)
Were link’d together, and it happen’d the male
Was Juan — who, an awkward thing at his age,
Pair’d off with a Bacchante blooming visage.
With Raucocanti lucklessly was chain’d
The tenor; these two hated with a hate
Found only on the stage, and each more pain’d
With this his tuneful neighbour than his fate;
Sad strife arose, for they were so cross-grain’d,
Instead of bearing up without debate,
That each pull’d different ways with many an oath,
‘Arcades ambo,’ id est — blackguards both.
Juan’s companion was a Romagnole,
But bred within the March of old Ancona,
With eyes that look’d into the very soul
(And other chief points of a ‘bella donna’),
Bright — and as black and burning as a coal;
And through her dear brunette complexion shone
Great wish to please — a most attractive dower,
Especially when added to the power.
But all that power was wasted upon him,
For sorrow o’er each sense held stern command;
Her eye might flash on his, but found it dim;
And though thus chain’d, as natural her hand
Touch’d his, nor that — nor any handsome limb
(And she had some not easy to withstand)
Could stir his pulse, or make his faith feel brittle;
Perhaps his recent wounds might help a little.
No matter; we should ne’er too much enquire,
But facts are facts: no knight could be more true,
And firmer faith no ladye — love desire;
We will omit the proofs, save one or two:
’T is said no one in hand ‘can hold a fire
By thought of frosty Caucasus;’ but few,
I really think; yet Juan’s then ordeal
Was more triumphant, and not much less real.
Here I might enter on a chaste description,
Having withstood temptation in my youth,
But hear that several people take exception
At the first two books having too much truth;
Therefore I ’ll make Don Juan leave the ship soon,
Because the publisher declares, in sooth,
Through needles’ eyes it easier for the camel is
To pass, than those two cantos into families.
’T is all the same to me; I ’m fond of yielding,
And therefore leave them to the purer page
Of Smollett, Prior, Ariosto, Fielding,
Who say strange things for so correct an age;
I once had great alacrity in wielding
My pen, and liked poetic war to wage,
And recollect the time when all this cant
Would have provoked remarks which now it shan’t.
As boys love rows, my boyhood liked a squabble;
But at this hour I wish to part in peace,
Leaving such to the literary rabble:
Whether my verse’s fame be doom’d to cease
While the right hand which wrote it still is able,
Or of some centuries to take a lease,
The grass upon my grave will grow as long,
And sigh to midnight winds, but not to song.
Of poets who come down to us through distance
Of time and tongues, the foster-babes of Fame,
Life seems the smallest portion of existence;
Where twenty ages gather o’er a name,
’T is as a snowball which derives assistance
From every flake, and yet rolls on the same,
Even till an iceberg it may chance to grow;
But, after all, ‘t is nothing but cold snow.
And so great names are nothing more than nominal,
And love of glory ‘s but an airy lust,
Too often in its fury overcoming all
Who would as ‘t were identify their dust
From out the wide destruction, which, entombing all,
Leaves nothing till ‘the coming of the just’-
Save change: I ’ve stood upon Achilles’ tomb,
And heard Troy doubted; time will doubt of Rome.
The very generations of the dead
Are swept away, and tomb inherits tomb,
Until the memory of an age is fled,
And, buried, sinks beneath its offspring’s doom:
Where are the epitaphs our fathers read?
Save a few glean’d from the sepulchral gloom
Which once-named myriads nameless lie beneath,
And lose their own in universal death.
I canter by the spot each afternoon
Where perish’d in his fame the hero-boy,
Who lived too long for men, but died too soon
For human vanity, the young De Foix!
A broken pillar, not uncouthly hewn,
But which neglect is hastening to destroy,
Records Ravenna’s carnage on its face,
While weeds and ordure rankle round the base.
I pass each day where Dante’s bones are laid:
A little cupola, more neat than solemn,
Protects his dust, but reverence here is paid
To the bard’s tomb, and not the warrior’s column.
The time must come, when both alike decay’d,
The chieftain’s trophy, and the poet’s volume,
Will sink where lie the songs and wars of earth,
Before Pelides’ death, or Homer’s birth.
With human blood that column was cemented,
With human filth that column is defiled,
As if the peasant’s coarse contempt were vented
To show his loathing of the spot he soil’d:
Thus is the trophy used, and thus lamented
Should ever be those blood-hounds, from whose wild
Instinct of gore and glory earth has known
Those sufferings Dante saw in hell alone.
Yet there will still be bards: though fame is smoke,
Its fumes are frankincense to human thought;
And the unquiet feelings, which first woke
Song in the world, will seek what then they sought;
As on the beach the waves at last are broke,
Thus to their extreme verge the passions brought
Dash into poetry, which is but passion,
Or at least was so ere it grew a fashion.
If in the course of such a life as was
At once adventurous and contemplative,
Men, who partake all passions as they pass,
Acquire the deep and bitter power to give
Their images again as in a glass,
And in such colours that they seem to live;
You may do right forbidding them to show ’em,
But spoil (I think) a very pretty poem.
O! ye, who make the fortunes of all books!
Benign Ceruleans of the second sex!
Who advertise new poems by your looks,
Your ‘imprimatur’ will ye not annex?
What! must I go to the oblivious cooks,
Those Cornish plunderers of Parnassian wrecks?
Ah! must I then the only minstrel be,
Proscribed from tasting your Castalian tea!
What! can I prove ‘a lion’ then no more?
A ball-room bard, a foolscap, hot-press darling?
To bear the compliments of many a bore,
And sigh, ‘I can’t get out,’ like Yorick’s starling;
Why then I ’ll swear, as poet Wordy swore
(Because the world won’t read him, always snarling),
That taste is gone, that fame is but a lottery,
Drawn by the blue-coat misses of a coterie.
O! ‘darkly, deeply, beautifully blue,’
As some one somewhere sings about the sky,
And I, ye learned ladies, say of you;
They say your stockings are so (Heaven knows why,
I have examined few pair of that hue);
Blue as the garters which serenely lie
Round the Patrician left-legs, which adorn
The festal midnight, and the levee morn.
Yet some of you are most seraphic creatures —
But times are alter’d since, a rhyming lover,
You read my stanzas, and I read your features:
And — but no matter, all those things are over;
Still I have no dislike to learned natures,
For sometimes such a world of virtues cover;
I knew one woman of that purple school,
The loveliest, chastest, best, but — quite a fool.
Humboldt, ‘the first of travellers,’ but not
The last, if late accounts be accurate,
Invented, by some name I have forgot,
As well as the sublime discovery’s date,
An airy instrument, with which he sought
To ascertain the atmospheric state,
By measuring ‘the intensity of blue:’
O, Lady Daphne! let me measure you!
But to the narrative:— The vessel bound
With slaves to sell off in the capital,
After the usual process, might be found
At anchor under the seraglio wall;
Her cargo, from the plague being safe and sound,
Were landed in the market, one and all,
And there with Georgians, Russians, and Circassians,
Bought up for different purposes and passions.
Some went off dearly; fifteen hundred dollars
For one Circassian, a sweet girl, were given,
Warranted virgin; beauty’s brightest colours
Had deck’d her out in all the hues of heaven:
Her sale sent home some disappointed bawlers,
Who bade on till the hundreds reach’d eleven;
But when the offer went beyond, they knew
’T was for the Sultan, and at once withdrew.
Twelve negresses from Nubia brought a price
Which the West Indian market scarce would bring;
Though Wilberforce, at last, has made it twice
What ‘t was ere Abolition; and the thing
Need not seem very wonderful, for vice
Is always much more splendid than a king:
The virtues, even the most exalted, Charity,
Are saving — vice spares nothing for a rarity.
But for the destiny of this young troop,
How some were bought by pachas, some by Jews,
How some to burdens were obliged to stoop,
And others rose to the command of crews
As renegadoes; while in hapless group,
Hoping no very old vizier might choose,
The females stood, as one by one they pick’d ’em,
To make a mistress, or fourth wife, or victim:
All this must be reserved for further song;
Also our hero’s lot, howe’er unpleasant
(Because this Canto has become too long),
Must be postponed discreetly for the present;
I ’m sensible redundancy is wrong,
But could not for the muse of me put less in ‘t:
And now delay the progress of Don Juan,
Till what is call’d in Ossian the fifth Juan.
Last updated Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at 20:47