Treasure Island

George Gordon Byron

(22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824 / London, England)

Don Juan: Canto the Eighth


The town was taken--whether he might yield
Himself or bastion, little matter'd now:
His stubborn valour was no future shield.
Ismail's no more! The Crescent's silver bow
Sunk, and the crimson Cross glar'd o'er the field,
But red with no redeeming gore: the glow
Of burning streets, like moonlight on the water,
Was imag'd back in blood, the sea of slaughter.

All that the mind would shrink from of excesses;
All that the body perpetrates of bad;
All that we read, hear, dream, of man's distresses;
All that the Devil would do if run stark mad;
All that defies the worst which pen expresses;
All by which Hell is peopl'd, or as sad
As Hell--mere mortals, who their power abuse--
Was here (as heretofore and since) let loose.

If here and there some transient trait of pity
Was shown, and some more noble heart broke through
Its bloody bond, and sav'd perhaps some pretty
Child, or an aged, helpless man or two--
What's this in one annihilated city,
Where thousand loves, and ties, and duties grew?
Cockneys of London! Muscadins of Paris!
Just ponder what a pious pastime war is.

Think how the joys of reading a Gazette
Are purchas'd by all agonies and crimes:
Or if these do not move you, don't forget
Such doom may be your own in aftertimes.
Meantime the taxes, Castlereagh, and debt,
Are hints as good as sermons, or as rhymes.
Read your own hearts and Ireland's present story,
Then feed her famine fat with Wellesley's glory.

But still there is unto a patriot nation,
Which loves so well its country and its King,
A subject of sublimest exultation--
Bear it, ye Muses, on your brightest wing!
Howe'er the mighty locust, Desolation,
Strip your green fields, and to your harvests cling,
Gaunt famine never shall approach the throne--
Though Ireland starve, great George weighs twenty stone.

But let me put an end unto my theme:
There was an end of Ismail--hapless town!
Far flash'd her burning towers o'er Danube's stream,
And redly ran his blushing waters down.
The horrid war-whoop and the shriller scream
Rose still; but fainter were the thunders grown:
Of forty thousand who had mann'd the wall,
Some hundreds breath'd--the rest were silent all!

In one thing ne'ertheless 'tis fit to praise
The Russian army upon this occasion,
A virtue much in fashion now-a-days,
And therefore worthy of commemoration:
The topic's tender, so shall be my phrase:
Perhaps the season's chill, and their long station
In Winter's depth, or want of rest and victual,
Had made them chaste--they ravish'd very little.

Much did they slay, more plunder, and no less
Might here and there occur some violation
In the other line; but not to such excess
As when the French, that dissipated nation,
Take towns by storm: no causes can I guess,
Except cold weather and commiseration;
But all the ladies, save some twenty score,
Were almost as much virgins as before.

Some odd mistakes, too, happen'd in the dark,
Which show'd a want of lanterns, or of taste--
Indeed the smoke was such they scarce could mark
Their friends from foes--besides such things from haste
Occur, though rarely, when there is a spark
Of light to save the venerably chaste:
But six old damsels, each of seventy years,
Were all deflower'd by different grenadiers.

But on the whole their continence was great;
So that some disappointment there ensu'd
To those who had felt the inconvenient state
Of "single blessedness," and thought it good
(Since it was not their fault, but only fate,
To bear these crosses) for each waning prude
To make a Roman sort of Sabine wedding,
Without the expense and the suspense of bedding.

Some voices of the buxom middle-ag'd
Were also heard to wonder in the din
(Widows of forty were these birds long cag'd)
"Wherefore the ravishing did not begin!"
But while the thirst for gore and plunder rag'd,
There was small leisure for superfluous sin;
But whether they escap'd or no, lies hid
In darkness--I can only hope they did.

Suwarrow now was conqueror--a match
For Timour or for Zinghis in his trade.
While mosques and streets, beneath his eyes, like thatch
Blaz'd, and the cannon's roar was scarce allay'd,
With bloody hands he wrote his first despatch;
And here exactly follows what he said:
"Glory to God and to the Empress!" ( Powers
Eternal!! such names mingled! ) "Ismail's ours

Methinks these are the most tremendous words,
Since "MENE, MENE, TEKEL," and "UPHARSIN,"
Which hands or pens have ever trac'd of swords.
Heaven help me! I'm but little of a parson:
What Daniel read was short-hand of the Lord's,
Severe, sublime; the prophet wrote no farce on
The fate of nations; but this Russ so witty
Could rhyme, like Nero, o'er a burning city.

He wrote this Polar melody, and set it,
Duly accompanied by shrieks and groans,
Which few will sing, I trust, but none forget it--
For I will teach, if possible, the stones
To rise against Earth's tyrants. Never let it
Be said that we still truckle unto thrones;
But ye--our children's children! think how we
Show'd what things were before the World was free!

That hour is not for us, but 'tis for you:
And as, in the great joy of your millennium,
You hardly will believe such things were true
As now occur, I thought that I would pen you 'em;
But may their very memory perish too!
Yet if perchance remember'd, still disdain you 'em
More than you scorn the savages of yore,
Who painted their bare limbs, but not with gore.

And when you hear historians talk of thrones
And those that sate upon them, let it be
As we now gaze upon the mammoth's bones,
And wonder what old world such things could see,
Or hieroglyphics on Egyptian stones,
The pleasant riddles of futurity--
Guessing at what shall happily be hid,
As the real purpose of a pyramid.

Reader! I have kept my word--at least so far
As the first Canto promised. You have now
Had sketches of love, tempest, travel, war--
All very accurate, you must allow,
And Epic, if plain truth should prove no bar;
For I have drawn much less with a long bow
Than my forerunners. Carelessly I sing,
But Phoebus lends me now and then a string.

With which I still can harp, and carp, and fiddle.
What further hath befallen or may befall
The hero of this grand poetic riddle,
I by and by may tell you, if at all:
But now I choose to break off in the middle,
Worn out with battering Ismail's stubborn wall,
While Juan is sent off with the despatch,
For which all Petersburgh is on the watch.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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