George Gordon Byron
Don Juan: Canto The Fifteenth
Ah!--What should follow slips from my reflection;
Whatever follows ne'ertheless may be
As à-propos of hope or retrospection,
As though the lurking thought had follow'd free.
All present life is but an interjection,
An 'Oh!' or 'Ah!' of joy or misery,
Or a 'Ha! ha!' or 'Bah!'-- a yawn, or 'Pooh!'
Of which perhaps the latter is most true.
But, more or less, the whole's a syncope
Or a singultus - emblems of emotion,
The grand antithesis to great ennui,
Wherewith we break our bubbles on the ocean,--
That watery outline of eternity,
Or miniature at least, as is my notion,
Which ministers unto the soul's delight,
In seeing matters which are out of sight.
But all are better than the sigh supprest,
Corroding in the cavern of the heart,
Making the countenance a masque of rest,
And turning human nature to an art.
Few men dare show their thoughts of worst or best;
Dissimulation always sets apart
A corner for herself; and therefore fiction
Is that which passes with least contradiction.
Ah! who can tell? Or rather, who can not
Remember, without telling, passion's errors?
The drainer of oblivion, even the sot,
Hath got blue devils for his morning mirrors:
What though on Lethe's stream he seem to float,
He cannot sink his tremors or his terrors;
The ruby glass that shakes within his hand
Leaves a sad sediment of Time's worst sand.
And as for love--O love!--We will proceed.
The Lady Adeline Amundeville,
A pretty name as one would wish to read,
Must perch harmonious on my tuneful quill.
There's music in the sighing of a reed;
There's music in the gushing of a rill;
There's music in all things, if men had ears:
Their earth is but an echo of the spheres.
The Lady Adeline, right honourable;
And honour'd, ran a risk of growing less so;
For few of the soft sex are very stable
In their resolves--alas! that I should say so!
They differ as wine differs from its label,
When once decanted;--I presume to guess so,
But will not swear: yet both upon occasion,
Till old, may undergo adulteration.
But Adeline was of the purest vintage,
The unmingled essence of the grape; and yet
Bright as a new Napoleon from its mintage,
Or glorious as a diamond richly set;
A page where Time should hesitate to print age,
And for which Nature might forego her debt--
Sole creditor whose process doth involve in 't
The luck of finding every body solvent.
O Death! thou dunnest of all duns! thou daily
Knockest at doors, at first with modest tap,
Like a meek tradesman when, approaching palely,
Some splendid debtor he would take by sap:
But oft denied, as patience 'gins to fail, he
Advances with exasperated rap,
And (if let in) insists, in terms unhandsome,
On ready money, or 'a draft on Ransom.'
Whate'er thou takest, spare a while poor Beauty!
She is so rare, and thou hast so much prey.
What though she now and then may slip from duty,
The more's the reason why you ought to stay.
Gaunt Gourmand! with whole nations for your booty,
You should be civil in a modest way:
Suppress, then, some slight feminine diseases,
And take as many heroes as Heaven pleases.
Fair Adeline, the more ingenuous
Where she was interested (as was said),
Because she was not apt, like some of us,
To like too readily, or too high bred
To show it (points we need not now discuss)--
Would give up artlessly both heart and head
Unto such feelings as seem'd innocent,
For objects worthy of the sentiment.
Some parts of Juan's history, which Rumour,
That live gazette, had scatter'd to disfigure,
She had heard; but women hear with more good humour
Such aberrations than we men of rigour:
Besides, his conduct, since in England, grew more
Strict, and his mind assumed a manlier vigour;
Because he had, like Alcibiades,
The art of living in all climes with ease.
His manner was perhaps the more seductive,
Because he ne'er seem'd anxious to seduce;
Nothing affected, studied, or constructive
Of coxcombry or conquest: no abuse
Of his attractions marr'd the fair perspective,
To indicate a Cupidon broke loose,
And seem to say, 'Resist us if you can'--
Which makes a dandy while it spoils a man.
They are wrong--that's not the way to set about it;
As, if they told the truth, could well be shown.
But, right or wrong, Don Juan was without it;
In fact, his manner was his own alone;
Sincere he was--at least you could not doubt it,
In listening merely to his voice's tone.
The devil hath not in all his quiver's choice
An arrow for the heart like a sweet voice.
By nature soft, his whole address held off
Suspicion: though not timid, his regard
Was such as rather seem'd to keep aloof,
To shield himself than put you on your guard:
Perhaps 'twas hardly quite assured enough,
But modesty's at times its own reward,
Like virtue; and the absence of pretension
Will go much farther than there's need to mention.
Serene, accomplish'd, cheerful but not loud;
Insinuating without insinuation;
Observant of the foibles of the crowd,
Yet ne'er betraying this in conversation;
Proud with the proud, yet courteously proud,
So as to make them feel he knew his station
And theirs:--without a struggle for priority,
He neither brook'd nor claim'd superiority.
That is, with men: with women he was what
They pleased to make or take him for; and their
Imagination's quite enough for that:
So that the outline's tolerably fair,
They fill the canvas up - and 'verbum sat.'
If once their phantasies be brought to bear
Upon an object, whether sad or playful,
They can transfigure brighter than a Raphael.
Adeline, no deep judge of character,
Was apt to add a colouring from her own:
'Tis thus the good will amiably err,
And eke the wise, as has been often shown.
Experience is the chief philosopher,
But saddest when his science is well known:
And persecuted sages teach the schools
Their folly in forgetting there are fools.
Was it not so, great Locke? and greater Bacon?
Great Socrates? And thou, Diviner still,
Whose lot it is by man to be mistaken,
And thy pure creed made sanction of all ill?
Redeeming worlds to be by bigots shaken,
How was thy toil rewarded? We might fill
Volumes with similar sad illustrations,
But leave them to the conscience of the nations.
I perch upon an humbler promontory,
Amidst life's infinite variety:
With no great care for what is nicknamed glory,
But speculating as I cast mine eye
On what may suit or may not suit my story,
And never straining hard to versify,
I rattle on exactly as I'd talk
With any body in a ride or walk.
I don't know that there may be much ability
Shown in this sort of desultory rhyme;
But there's a conversational facility,
Which may round off an hour upon a time.
Of this I'm sure at least, there's no servility
In mine irregularity of chime,
Which rings what's uppermost of new or hoary,
Just as I feel the 'Improvvisatore.'
'Omnia vult belle Matho dicere - dic aliquando
Et bene, dic neutrum, dic aliquando male.'
The first is rather more than mortal can do;
The second may be sadly done or gaily;
The third is still more difficult to stand to;
The fourth we hear, and see, and say too, daily.
The whole together is what I could wish
To serve in this conundrum of a dish.
A modest hope--but modesty 's my forte,
And pride my feeble:--let us ramble on.
I meant to make this poem very short,
But now I can't tell where it may not run.
No doubt, if I had wish' to pay my court
To critics, or to hail the setting sun
Of tyranny of all kinds, my concision
Were more;--but I was born for opposition.
But then 'tis mostly on the weaker side;
So that I verily believe if they
Who now are basking in their full-blown pride
Were shaken down, and 'dogs had had their day,'
Though at the first I might perchance deride
Their tumble, I should turn the other way,
And wax an ultra-royalist in loyalty,
Because I hate even democratic royalty.
I think I should have made a decent spouse,
If I had never proved the soft condition;
I think I should have made monastic vows,
But for my own peculiar superstition:
'Gainst rhyme I never should have knock'd my brows,
Nor broken my own head, nor that of Priscian,
Nor worn the motley mantle of a poet,
If some one had not told me to forego it.
But 'laissez aller'--knights and dames I sing,
Such as the times may furnish. 'T is a flight
Which seems at first to need no lofty wing,
Plumed by Longinus or the Stagyrite:
The difficultly lies in colouring
(Keeping the due proportions still in sight)
With nature manners which are artificial,
And rend'ring general that which is especial.
The difference is, that in the days of old
Men made the manners; manners now make men--
Pinn'd like a flock, and fleeced too in their fold,
At least nine, and a ninth beside of ten.
Now this at all events must render cold
Your writers, who must either draw again
Days better drawn before, or else assume
The present, with their common-place costume.
We'll do our best to make the best on't:--March!
March, my Muse! If you cannot fly, yet flutter;
And when you may not be sublime, be arch,
Or starch, as are the edicts statesmen utter.
We surely may find something worth research:
Columbus found a new world in a cutter,
Or brigantine, or pink, of no great tonnage,
While yet America was in her non-age.
When Adeline, in all her growing sense
Of Juan's merits and his situation,
Felt on the whole an interest intense,--
Partly perhaps because a fresh sensation,
Or that he had an air of innocence,
Which is for innocence a sad temptation,--
As women hate half measures, on the whole,
She 'gan to ponder how to save his soul.
She had a good opinion of advice,
Like all who give and eke receive it gratis,
For which small thanks are still the market price,
Even where the article at highest rate is:
She thought upon the subject twice or thrice,
And morally decided, the best state is
For morals, marriage; and this question carried,
She seriously advised him to get married.
Juan replied, with all becoming deference,
He had a predilection for that tie;
But that, at present, with immediate reference
To his own circumstances, there might lie
Some difficulties, as in his own preference,
Or that of her to whom he might apply:
That still he'd wed with such or such a lady,
If that they were not married all already.
Next to the making matches for herself,
And daughters, brothers, sisters, kith or kin,
Arranging them like books on the same shelf,
There 's nothing women love to dabble in
More (like a stock-holder in growing pelf)
Than match-making in general: 'tis no sin
Certes, but a preventative, and therefore
That is, no doubt, the only reason wherefore.
But never yet (except of course a miss
Unwed, or mistress never to be wed,
Or wed already, who object to this)
Was there chaste dame who had not in her head
Some drama of the marriage unities,
Observed as strictly both at board and bed
As those of Aristotle, though sometimes
They turn out melodrames or pantomimes.
They generally have some only son,
Some heir to a large property, some friend
Of an old family, some gay Sir john,
Or grave Lord George, with whom perhaps might end
A line, and leave posterity undone,
Unless a marriage was applied to mend
The prospect and their morals: and besides,
They have at hand a blooming glut of brides.
From these they will be careful to select,
For this an heiress, and for that a beauty;
For one a songstress who hath no defect,
For t'other one who promises much duty;
For this a lady no one can reject,
Whose sole accomplishments were quite a booty;
A second for her excellent connections;
A third, because there can be no objections.
When Rapp the Harmonist embargo'd marriage
In his harmonious settlement (which flourishes
Strangely enough as yet without miscarriage,
Because it breeds no more mouths than it nourishes,
Without those sad expenses which disparage
What Nature naturally most encourages)--
Why call'd he 'Harmony' a state sans wedlock?
Now here I've got the preacher at a dead lock.
Because he either meant to sneer at harmony
Or marriage, by divorcing them thus oddly.
But whether reverend Rapp learn'd this in Germany
Or no, 'tis said his sect is rich and godly,
Pious and pure, beyond what I can term any
Of ours, although they propagate more broadly.
My objection's to his title, not his ritual,
Although I wonder how it grew habitual.
But Rapp is the reverse of zealous matrons,
Who favour, malgre Malthus, generation -
Professors of that genial art, and patrons
Of all the modest part of propagation;
Which after all at such a desperate rate runs,
That half its produce tends to emigration,
That sad result of passions and potatoes -
Two weeds which pose our economic Catos.
Had Adeline read Malthus? I can't tell;
I wish she had: his book 's the eleventh commandment,
Which says, 'Thou shalt not marry,' unless well:
This he (as far as I can understand) meant.
'Tis not my purpose on his views to dwell
Nor canvass what so 'eminent a hand' meant;
But certes it conducts to lives ascetic,
Or turning marriage into arithmetic.
But Adeline, who probably presumed
That Juan had enough of maintenance,
Or separate maintenance, in case 'twas doom'd--
As on the whole it is an even chance
That bridegrooms, after they are fairly groom'd,
May retrograde a little in the dance
Of marriage (which might form a painter's fame,
Like Holbein's 'Dance of Death'--but 'tis the same);--
But Adeline determined Juan's wedding
In her own mind, and that 's enough for woman:
But then, with whom? There was the sage Miss Reading,
Miss Raw, Miss Flaw, Miss Showman, and Miss Knowman.
And the two fair co-heiresses Giltbedding.
She deem'd his merits something more than common:
All these were unobjectionable matches,
And might go on, if well wound up, like watches.
There was Miss Millpond, smooth as summer's sea,
That usual paragon, an only daughter,
Who seem'd the cream of equanimity
Till skimm'd - and then there was some milk and water,
With a slight shade of blue too, it might be,
Beneath the surface; but what did it matter?
Love's riotous, but marriage should have quiet,
And being consumptive, live on a milk diet.
And then there was the Miss Audacia Shoestring,
A dashing demoiselle of good estate,
Whose heart was fix'd upon a star or blue string;
But whether English dukes grew rare of late,
Or that she had not harp'd upon the true string,
By which such sirens can attract our great,
She took up with some foreign younger brother,
A Russ or Turk - the one's as good as t'other.
And then there was - but why should I go on,
Unless the ladies should go off?- there was
Indeed a certain fair and fairy one,
Of the best class, and better than her class,--
Aurora Raby, a young star who shone
O'er life, too sweet an image for such glass,
A lovely being, scarcely form'd or moulded,
A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded;
Rich, noble, but an orphan; left an only
Child to the care of guardians good and kind;
But still her aspect had an air so lonely!
Blood is not water; and where shall we find
Feelings of youth like those which overthrown lie
By death, when we are left, alas! behind,
To feel, in friendless palaces, a home
Is wanting, and our best ties in the tomb?
Early in years, and yet more infantine
In figure, she had something of sublime
In eyes which sadly shone, as seraphs' shine.
All youth - but with an aspect beyond time;
Radiant and grave - as pitying man's decline;
Mournful - but mournful of another's crime,
She look'd as if she sat by Eden's door.
And grieved for those who could return no more.
She was a Catholic, too, sincere, austere,
As far as her own gentle heart allow'd,
And deem'd that fallen worship far more dear
Perhaps because 'twas fallen: her sires were proud
Of deeds and days when they had fill'd the ear
Of nations, and had never bent or bow'd
To novel power; and as she was the last,
She held their old faith and old feelings fast.
She gazed upon a world she scarcely knew,
As seeking not to know it; silent, lone,
As grows a flower, thus quietly she grew,
And kept her heart serene within its zone.
There was awe in the homage which she drew;
Her spirit seem'd as seated on a throne
Apart from the surrounding world, and strong
In its own strength - most strange in one so young!
Now it so happen'd, in the catalogue
Of Adeline, Aurora was omitted,
Although her birth and wealth had given her vogue
Beyond the charmers we have already cited;
Her beauty also seem'd to form no clog
Against her being mention'd as well fitted,
By many virtues, to be worth the trouble
Of single gentlemen who would be double.
And this omission, like that of the bust
Of Brutus at the pageant of Tiberius,
Made Juan wonder, as no doubt he must.
This he express'd half smiling and half serious;
When Adeline replied with some disgust,
And with an air, to say the least, imperious,
She marvell'd 'what he saw in such a baby
As that prim, silent, cold Aurora Raby?'
Juan rejoin'd - 'She was a Catholic,
And therefore fittest, as of his persuasion;
Since he was sure his mother would fall sick,
And the Pope thunder excommunication,
If--' But here Adeline, who seem'd to pique
Herself extremely on the inoculation
Of others with her own opinions, stated--
As usual--the same reason which she late did.
And wherefore not? A reasonable reason,
If good, is none the worse for repetition;
If bad, the best way's certainly to tease on,
And amplify: you lose much by concision,
Whereas insisting in or out of season
Convinces all men, even a politician;
Or - what is just the same - it wearies out.
So the end's gain'd, what signifies the route?
Why Adeline had this slight prejudice -
For prejudice it was - against a creature
As pure as sanctity itself from vice,
With all the added charm of form and feature,
For me appears a question far too nice,
Since Adeline was liberal by nature;
But nature's nature, and has more caprices
Than I have time, or will, to take to pieces.
Perhaps she did not like the quiet way
With which Aurora on those baubles look'd,
Which charm most people in their earlier day:
For there are few things by mankind less brook'd,
And womankind too, if we so may say,
Than finding thus their genius stand rebuked,
Like 'Anthony's by Caesar,' by the few
Who look upon them as they ought to do.
It was not envy - Adeline had none;
Her place was far beyond it, and her mind.
It was not scorn - which could not light on one
Whose greatest fault was leaving few to find.
It was not jealousy, I think: but shun
Following the 'ignes fatui' of mankind.
It was not - but 'tis easier far, alas!
To say what it was not than what it was.
Little Aurora deem'd she was the theme
Of such discussion. She was there a guest;
A beauteous ripple of the brilliant stream
Of rank and youth, though purer than the rest,
Which flow'd on for a moment in the beam
Time sheds a moment o'er each sparkling crest.
Had she known this, she would have calmly smiled--
She had so much, or little, of the child.
The dashing and proud air of Adeline
Imposed not upon her: she saw her blaze
Much as she would have seen a glow -worm shine,
Then turn'd unto the stars for loftier rays.
Juan was something she could not divine,
Being no sibyl in the new world's ways;
Yet she was nothing dazzled by the meteor,
Because she did not pin her faith on feature.
His fame too,--for he had that kind of fame
Which sometimes plays the deuce with womankind,
A heterogeneous mass of glorious blame,
Half virtues and whole vices being combined;
Faults which attract because they are not tame;
Follies trick'd out so brightly that they blind:--
These seals upon her wax made no impression,
Such was her coldness or her self-possession.
Juan knew nought of such a character--
High, yet resembling not his lost Haidee;
Yet each was radiant in her proper sphere:
The island girl, bred up by the lone sea,
More warm, as lovely, and not less sincere,
Was Nature's all: Aurora could not be,
Nor would be thus:--the difference in them
Was such as lies between a flower and gem.
Having wound up with this sublime comparison,
Methinks we may proceed upon our narrative,
And, as my friend Scott says, 'I sound my warison;'
Scott, the superlative of my comparative--
Scott, who can paint your Christian knight or Saracen,
Serf, lord, man, with such skill as none would share it, if
There had not been one Shakspeare and Voltaire,
Of one or both of whom he seems the heir.
I say, in my slight way I may proceed
To play upon the surface of humanity.
I write the world, nor care if the world read,
At least for this I cannot spare its vanity.
My Muse hath bred, and still perhaps may breed
More foes by this same scroll: when I began it, I
Thought that it might turn out so - now I know it,
But still I am, or was, a pretty poet.
The conference or congress (for it ended
As congresses of late do) of the Lady
Adeline and Don Juan rather blended
Some acids with the sweets - for she was heady;
But, ere the matter could be marr'd or mended,
The silvery bell rang, not for 'dinner ready,
But for that hour, call'd half-hour, given to dress,
Though ladies' robes seem scant enough for less.
Great things were now to be achieved at table,
With massy plate for armour, knives and forks
For weapons; but what Muse since Homer 's able
(His feasts are not the worst part of his works)
To draw up in array a single day-bill
Of modern dinners? where more mystery lurks,
In soups or sauces, or a sole ragout,
There was a goodly 'soupe a la bonne femme,'
Though God knows whence it came from; there was, too,
A turbot for relief of those who cram,
Relieved with 'dindon a la Parigeux;'
How shall I get this gourmand stanza through?--
'Soupe a la Beauveau,' whose relief was dory,
Relieved itself by pork, for greater glory.
But I must crowd all into one grand mess
Or mass; for should I stretch into detail,
My Muse would run much more into excess,
Than when some squeamish people deem her frail.
But though a 'bonne vivante,' I must confess
Her stomach's not her peccant part; this tale
However doth require some slight refection,
Just to relieve her spirits from dejection.
Fowls 'a la Conde,' slices eke of salmon,
With 'sauces Genevoises,' and haunch of venison;
Wines too, which might again have slain young Ammon--
A man like whom I hope we shan't see many soon;
They also set a glazed Westphalian ham on,
Whereon Apicius would bestow his benison;
And then there was champagne with foaming whirls,
As white as Cleopatra's melted pearls.
Then there was God knows what 'a l'Allemande,'
'A l'Espagnole,' 'timballe,' and 'salpicon'--
With things I can't withstand or understand,
Though swallow'd with much zest upon the whole;
And 'entremets' to piddle with at hand,
Gently to lull down the subsiding soul;
While great Lucullus' Robe triumphal muffles
(There's fame) young partridge fillets, deck'd with truffles.
What are the fillets on the victor's brow
To these? They are rags or dust. Where is the arch
Which nodded to the nation's spoils below?
Where the triumphal chariots' haughty march?
Gone to where victories must like dinners go.
Farther I shall not follow the research:
But oh! ye modern heroes with your cartridges,
When will your names lend lustre e'en to partridges?
Those truffles too are no bad accessaries,
Follow'd by 'petits puits d'amour'--a dish
Of which perhaps the cookery rather varies,
So every one may dress it to his wish,
According to the best of dictionaries,
Which encyclopedize both flesh and fish;
But even sans 'confitures,' it no less true is,
There's pretty picking in those 'petits puits.'
The mind is lost in mighty contemplation
Of intellect expanded on two courses;
And indigestion's grand multiplication
Requires arithmetic beyond my forces.
Who would suppose, from Adam's simple ration,
That cookery could have call'd forth such resources,
As form a science and a nomenclature
From out the commonest demands of nature?
The glasses jingled, and the palates tingled;
The diners of celebrity dined well;
The ladies with more moderation mingled
In the feast, pecking less than I can tell;
Also the younger men too: for a springald
Can't, like ripe age, in gormandize excel,
But thinks less of good eating than the whisper
(When seated next him) of some pretty lisper.
Alas! I must leave undescribed the gibier,
The salmi, the consomme, the puree,
All which I use to make my rhymes run glibber
Than could roast beef in our rough John Bull way:
I must not introduce even a spare rib here,
'Bubble and squeak' would spoil my liquid lay:
But I have dined, and must forego, Alas!
The chaste description even of a 'becasse;'
And fruits, and ice, and all that art refines
From nature for the service of the gout--
Taste or the gout,--pronounce it as inclines
Your stomach! Ere you dine, the French will do;
But after, there are sometimes certain signs
Which prove plain English truer of the two.
Hast ever had the gout? I have not had it--
But I may have, and you too, reader, dread it.
The simple olives, best allies of wine,
Must I pass over in my bill of fare?
I must, although a favourite 'plat' of mine
In Spain, and Lucca, Athens, every where:
On them and bread 'twas oft my luck to dine,
The grass my table-cloth, in open-air,
On Sunium or Hymettus, like Diogenes,
Of whom half my philosophy the progeny is.
Amidst this tumult of fish, flesh, and 'fowl,
And vegetables, all in masquerade,
The guests were placed according to their roll,
But various as the various meats display'd:
Don Juan sat next 'an l'Espagnole'--
No damsel, but a dish, as hath been said;
But so far like a lady, that 'twas drest
Superbly, and contain'd a world of zest.
By some odd chance too, he was placed between
Aurora and the Lady Adeline--
A situation difficult, I ween,
For man therein, with eyes and heart, to dine.
Also the conference which we have seen
Was not such as to encourage him to shine;
For Adeline, addressing few words to him,
With two transcendent eyes seem'd to look through him.
I sometimes almost think that eyes have ears:
This much is sure, that, out of earshot, things
Are somehow echoed to the pretty dears,
Of which I can't tell whence their knowledge springs.
Like that same mystic music of the spheres,
Which no one bears, so loudly though it rings,
'T is wonderful how oft the sex have heard
Long dialogues - which pass'd without a word!
Aurora sat with that indifference
Which piques a preux chevalier - as it ought:
Of all offences that's the worst offence,
Which seems to hint you are not worth a thought.
Now Juan, though no coxcomb in pretence,
Was not exactly pleased to be so caught;
Like a good ship entangled among ice,
And after so much excellent advice.
To his gay nothings, nothing was replied,
Or something which was nothing, as urbanity
Required. Aurora scarcely look'd aside,
Nor even smiled enough for any vanity.
The devil was in the girl! Could it be pride?
Or modesty, or absence, or inanity?
Heaven knows? But Adeline's malicious eyes
Sparkled with her successful prophecies,
And look'd as much as if to say, 'I said it;'
A kind of triumph I'll not recommend,
Because it sometimes, as I have seen or read it,
Both in the case of lover and of friend,
Will pique a gentleman, for his own credit,
To bring what was a jest to a serious end:
For all men prophesy what is or was,
And hate those who won't let them come to pass.
Juan was drawn thus into some attentions,
Slight but select, and just enough to express,
To females of perspicuous comprehensions,
That he would rather make them more than less.
Aurora at the last (so history mentions,
Though probably much less a fact than guess)
So far relax'd her thoughts from their sweet prison,
As once or twice to smile, if not to listen.
From answering she began to question; this
With her was rare: and Adeline, who as yet
Thought her predictions went not much amiss,
Began to dread she'd thaw to a coquette--
So very difficult, they say, it is
To keep extremes from meeting, when once set
In motion; but she here too much refined--
Aurora's spirit was not of that kind.
But Juan had a sort of winning way,
A proud humility, if such there be,
Which show'd such deference to what females say,
As if each charming word were a decree.
His tact, too, temper'd him from grave to gay,
And taught him when to be reserved or free:
He had the art of drawing people out,
Without their seeing what he was about.
Aurora, who in her indifference
Confounded him in common with the crowd
Of flatterers, though she deem'd he had more sense
Than whispering foplings, or than witlings loud--
Commenced (from such slight things will great commence)
To feel that flattery which attracts the proud
Rather by deference than compliment,
And wins even by a delicate dissent.
And then he had good looks;--that point was carried
Nem. con. amongst the women, which I grieve
To say leads oft to crim. con. with the married -
A case which to the juries we may leave,
Since with digressions we too long have tarried.
Now though we know of old that looks deceive,
And always have done, somehow these good looks
Make more impression than the best of books.
Aurora, who look'd more on books than faces,
Was very young, although so very sage,
Admiring more Minerva than the Graces,
Especially upon a printed page.
But Virtue's self, with all her tightest laces,
Has not the natural stays of strict old age;
And Socrates, that model of all duty,
Own'd to a penchant, though discreet, for beauty.
And girls of sixteen are thus far Socratic,
But innocently so, as Socrates;
And really, if the sage sublime and Attic
At seventy years had phantasies like these,
Which Plato in his dialogues dramatic
Has shown, I know not why they should displease
In virgins - always in a modest way,
Observe; for that with me's a 'sine qua.'
Also observe, that, like the great Lord Coke
(See Littleton), whene'er I have express'd
Opinions two, which at first sight may look
Twin opposites, the second is the best.
Perhaps I have a third, too, in a nook,
Or none at all - which seems a sorry jest:
But if a writer should be quite consistent,
How could he possibly show things existent?
If people contradict themselves, can
Help contradicting them, and every body,
Even my veracious self?- But that's a lie:
I never did so, never will--how should I?
He who doubts all things nothing can deny:
Truth's fountains may be clear--her streams are muddy,
And cut through such canals of contradiction,
That she must often navigate o'er fiction.
Apologue, fable, poesy, and parable,
Are false, but may he render'd also true,
By those who sow them in a land that's arable.
'Tis wonderful what fable will not do!
'Tis said it makes reality more bearable:
But what's reality? Who has its clue?
Philosophy? No: she too much rejects.
Religion? Yes; but which of all her sects?
Some millions must be wrong, that 's pretty dear;
Perhaps it may turn out that all were right.
God help us! Since we have need on our career
To keep our holy beacons always bright,
'Tis time that some new prophet should appear,
Or old indulge man with a second sight.
Opinions wear out in some thousand years,
Without a small refreshment from the spheres.
But here again, why will I thus entangle
Myself with metaphysics? None can hate
So much as I do any kind of wrangle;
And yet, such is my folly, or my fate,
I always knock my head against some angle
About the present, past, or future state.
Yet I wish well to Trojan and to Tyrian,
For I was bred a moderate Presbyterian.
But though I am a temperate theologian,
And also meek as a metaphysician,
Impartial between Tyrian and Trojan,
As Eldon on a lunatic commission--
In politics my duty is to show John
Bull something of the lower world's condition.
It makes my blood boil like the springs of Hecla,
To see men let these scoundrel sovereigns break law.
But politics, and policy, and piety,
Are topics which I sometimes introduce,
Not only for the sake of their variety,
But as subservient to a moral use;
Because my business is to dress society,
And stuff with sage that very verdant goose.
And now, that we may furnish with some matter all
Tastes, we are going to try the supernatural.
And now I will give up all argument;
And positively henceforth no temptation
Shall 'fool me to the top up of my bent:'--
Yes, I'll begin a thorough reformation.
Indeed, I never knew what people meant
By deeming that my Muse's conversation
Was dangerous;--I think she is as harmless
As some who labour more and yet may charm less.
Grim reader! did you ever see a ghost?
No; but you have heard--I understand--be dumb!
And don't regret the time you may have lost,
For you have got that pleasure still to come:
And do not think I mean to sneer at most
Of these things, or by ridicule benumb
That source of the sublime and the mysterious:-
For certain reasons my belief is serious.
Serious? You laugh;--you may: that will I not;
My smiles must be sincere or not at all.
I say I do believe a haunted spot
Exists--and where? That shall I not recall,
Because I 'd rather it should be forgot,
'Shadows the soul of Richard' may appal.
In short, upon that subject I've some qualms very
Like those of the philosopher of Malmsbury.
The night (I sing by night - sometimes an owl,
And now and then a nightingale) is dim,
And the loud shriek of sage Minerva's fowl
Rattles around me her discordant hymn:
Old portraits from old walls upon me scowl -
I wish to heaven they would not look so grim;
The dying embers dwindle in the grate -
I think too that I have sate up too late:
And therefore, though 'tis by no means my way
To rhyme at noon - when I have other things
To think of, if I ever think - I say
I feel some chilly midnight shudderings,
And prudently postpone, until mid-day,
Treating a topic which, alas! but brings
Shadows;--but you must be in my condition
Before you learn to call this superstition.
George Gordon Byron's Other Poems
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Comments about this poem (Don Juan: Canto The Fifteenth by George Gordon Byron )
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