Don Juan

by Lord Byron

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Canto the Ninth

O, Wellington! (or 'Villainton'—for Fame
       Sounds the heroic syllables both ways;
     France could not even conquer your great name,
       But punn'd it down to this facetious phrase—
     Beating or beaten she will laugh the same),
       You have obtain'd great pensions and much praise:
     Glory like yours should any dare gainsay,
     Humanity would rise, and thunder 'Nay!'

     I don't think that you used Kinnaird quite well
       In Marinet's affair—in fact, 't was shabby,
     And like some other things won't do to tell
       Upon your tomb in Westminster's old abbey.
     Upon the rest 't is not worth while to dwell,
       Such tales being for the tea-hours of some tabby;
     But though your years as man tend fast to zero,
     In fact your grace is still but a young hero.

     Though Britain owes (and pays you too) so much,
       Yet Europe doubtless owes you greatly more:
     You have repair'd Legitimacy's crutch,
       A prop not quite so certain as before:
     The Spanish, and the French, as well as Dutch,
       Have seen, and felt, how strongly you restore;
     And Waterloo has made the world your debtor
     (I wish your bards would sing it rather better).

     You are 'the best of cut-throats:'—do not start;
       The phrase is Shakspeare's, and not misapplied:
     War 's a brain-spattering, windpipe-slitting art,
       Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
     If you have acted once a generous part,
       The world, not the world's masters, will decide,
     And I shall be delighted to learn who,
     Save you and yours, have gain'd by Waterloo?

     I am no flatterer—you 've supp'd full of flattery:
       They say you like it too—'t is no great wonder.
     He whose whole life has been assault and battery,
       At last may get a little tired of thunder;
     And swallowing eulogy much more than satire, he
       May like being praised for every lucky blunder,
     Call'd 'Saviour of the Nations'—not yet saved,
     And 'Europe's Liberator'—still enslaved.

     I 've done. Now go and dine from off the plate
       Presented by the Prince of the Brazils,
     And send the sentinel before your gate
       A slice or two from your luxurious meals:
     He fought, but has not fed so well of late.
       Some hunger, too, they say the people feels:—
     There is no doubt that you deserve your ration,
     But pray give back a little to the nation.

     I don't mean to reflect—a man so great as
       You, my lord duke! is far above reflection:
     The high Roman fashion, too, of Cincinnatus,
       With modern history has but small connection:
     Though as an Irishman you love potatoes,
       You need not take them under your direction;
     And half a million for your Sabine farm
     Is rather dear!—I 'm sure I mean no harm.

     Great men have always scorn'd great recompenses:
       Epaminondas saved his Thebes, and died,
     Not leaving even his funeral expenses:
       George Washington had thanks and nought beside,
     Except the all-cloudless glory which few men's is
       To free his country: Pitt too had his pride,
     And as a high-soul'd minister of state is
     Renown'd for ruining Great Britain gratis.

     Never had mortal man such opportunity,
       Except Napoleon, or abused it more:
     You might have freed fallen Europe from the unity
       Of tyrants, and been blest from shore to shore:
     And now—what is your fame? Shall the Muse tune it ye?
       Now—that the rabble's first vain shouts are o'er?
     Go! hear it in your famish'd country's cries!
     Behold the world! and curse your victories!

     As these new cantos touch on warlike feats,
       To you the unflattering Muse deigns to inscribe
     Truths, that you will not read in the Gazettes,
       But which 't is time to teach the hireling tribe
     Who fatten on their country's gore, and debts,
       Must be recited, and—without a bribe.
     You did great things; but not being great in mind,
     Have left undone the greatest—and mankind.

     Death laughs—Go ponder o'er the skeleton
       With which men image out the unknown thing
     That hides the past world, like to a set sun
       Which still elsewhere may rouse a brighter spring—
     Death laughs at all you weep for:—look upon
       This hourly dread of all! whose threaten'd sting
     Turns life to terror, even though in its sheath:
     Mark how its lipless mouth grins without breath!

     Mark how it laughs and scorns at all you are!
       And yet was what you are: from ear to ear
     It laughs not—there is now no fleshy bar
       So call'd; the Antic long hath ceased to hear,
     But still he smiles; and whether near or far,
       He strips from man that mantle (far more dear
     Than even the tailor's), his incarnate skin,
     White, black, or copper—the dead bones will grin.

     And thus Death laughs,—it is sad merriment,
       But still it is so; and with such example
     Why should not Life be equally content
       With his superior, in a smile to trample
     Upon the nothings which are daily spent
       Like bubbles on an ocean much less ample
     Than the eternal deluge, which devours
     Suns as rays—worlds like atoms—years like hours?

     'To be, or not to be? that is the question,'
       Says Shakspeare, who just now is much in fashion.
     I am neither Alexander nor Hephaestion,
       Nor ever had for abstract fame much passion;
     But would much rather have a sound digestion
       Than Buonaparte's cancer: could I dash on
     Through fifty victories to shame or fame—
     Without a stomach what were a good name?

     'O dura ilia messorum!'—'Oh
       Ye rigid guts of reapers!' I translate
     For the great benefit of those who know
       What indigestion is—that inward fate
     Which makes all Styx through one small liver flow.
       A peasant's sweat is worth his lord's estate:
     Let this one toil for bread—that rack for rent,
     He who sleeps best may be the most content.

     'To be, or not to be?'—Ere I decide,
       I should be glad to know that which is being?
     'T is true we speculate both far and wide,
       And deem, because we see, we are all-seeing:
     For my part, I 'll enlist on neither side,
       Until I see both sides for once agreeing.
     For me, I sometimes think that life is death,
     Rather than life a mere affair of breath.

     'Que scais-je?' was the motto of Montaigne,
       As also of the first academicians:
     That all is dubious which man may attain,
       Was one of their most favourite positions.
     There 's no such thing as certainty, that 's plain
       As any of Mortality's conditions;
     So little do we know what we 're about in
     This world, I doubt if doubt itself be doubting.

     It is a pleasant voyage perhaps to float,
       Like Pyrrho, on a sea of speculation;
     But what if carrying sail capsize the boat?
       Your wise men don't know much of navigation;
     And swimming long in the abyss of thought
       Is apt to tire: a calm and shallow station
     Well nigh the shore, where one stoops down and gathers
     Some pretty shell, is best for moderate bathers.

     'But heaven,' as Cassio says, 'is above all—
       No more of this, then,—let us pray!' We have
     Souls to save, since Eve's slip and Adam's fall,
       Which tumbled all mankind into the grave,
     Besides fish, beasts, and birds. 'The sparrow's fall
       Is special providence,' though how it gave
     Offence, we know not; probably it perch'd
     Upon the tree which Eve so fondly search'd.

     O, ye immortal gods! what is theogony?
       O, thou too, mortal man! what is philanthropy?
     O, world! which was and is, what is cosmogony?
       Some people have accused me of misanthropy;
     And yet I know no more than the mahogany
       That forms this desk, of what they mean; lykanthropy
     I comprehend, for without transformation
     Men become wolves on any slight occasion.

     But I, the mildest, meekest of mankind,
       Like Moses, or Melancthon, who have ne'er
     Done anything exceedingly unkind,—
       And (though I could not now and then forbear
     Following the bent of body or of mind)
       Have always had a tendency to spare,—
     Why do they call me misanthrope? Because
     They hate me, not I them.—and here we 'll pause.

     'T is time we should proceed with our good poem,—
       For I maintain that it is really good,
     Not only in the body but the proem,
       However little both are understood
     Just now,—but by and by the Truth will show 'em
       Herself in her sublimest attitude:
     And till she doth, I fain must be content
     To share her beauty and her banishment.

     Our hero (and, I trust, kind reader, yours)
       Was left upon his way to the chief city
     Of the immortal Peter's polish'd boors
       Who still have shown themselves more brave than witty.
     I know its mighty empire now allures
       Much flattery—even Voltaire's, and that 's a pity.
     For me, I deem an absolute autocrat
     Not a barbarian, but much worse than that.

     And I will war, at least in words (and—should
       My chance so happen—deeds), with all who war
     With Thought;—and of Thought's foes by far most rude,
       Tyrants and sycophants have been and are.
     I know not who may conquer: if I could
       Have such a prescience, it should be no bar
     To this my plain, sworn, downright detestation
     Of every depotism in every nation.

     It is not that I adulate the people:
       Without me, there are demagogues enough,
     And infidels, to pull down every steeple,
       And set up in their stead some proper stuff.
     Whether they may sow scepticism to reap hell,
       As is the Christian dogma rather rough,
     I do not know;—I wish men to be free
     As much from mobs as kings—from you as me.

     The consequence is, being of no party,
       I shall offend all parties: never mind!
     My words, at least, are more sincere and hearty
       Than if I sought to sail before the wind.
     He who has nought to gain can have small art: he
       Who neither wishes to be bound nor bind,
     May still expatiate freely, as will I,
     Nor give my voice to slavery's jackal cry.

     That 's an appropriate simile, that jackal;—
       I 've heard them in the Ephesian ruins howl
     By night, as do that mercenary pack all,
       Power's base purveyors, who for pickings prowl,
     And scent the prey their masters would attack all.
       However, the poor jackals are less foul
     (As being the brave lions' keen providers)
     Than human insects, catering for spiders.

     Raise but an arm! 't will brush their web away,
       And without that, their poison and their claws
     Are useless. Mind, good people! what I say
       (Or rather peoples)—go on without pause!
     The web of these tarantulas each day
       Increases, till you shall make common cause:
     None, save the Spanish fly and Attic bee,
     As yet are strongly stinging to be free.

     Don Juan, who had shone in the late slaughter,
       Was left upon his way with the despatch,
     Where blood was talk'd of as we would of water;
       And carcasses that lay as thick as thatch
     O'er silenced cities, merely served to flatter
       Fair Catherine's pastime—who look'd on the match
     Between these nations as a main of cocks,
     Wherein she liked her own to stand like rocks.

     And there in a kibitka he roll'd on
       (A cursed sort of carriage without springs,
     Which on rough roads leaves scarcely a whole bone),
       Pondering on glory, chivalry, and kings,
     And orders, and on all that he had done—
       And wishing that post-horses had the wings
     Of Pegasus, or at the least post-chaises
     Had feathers, when a traveller on deep ways is.

     At every jolt—and they were many—still
       He turn'd his eyes upon his little charge,
     As if he wish'd that she should fare less ill
       Than he, in these sad highways left at large
     To ruts, and flints, and lovely Nature's skill,
       Who is no paviour, nor admits a barge
     On her canals, where God takes sea and land,
     Fishery and farm, both into his own hand.

     At least he pays no rent, and has best right
       To be the first of what we used to call
     'Gentlemen farmer'—a race worn out quite,
       Since lately there have been no rents at all,
     And 'gentlemen' are in a piteous plight,
       And 'farmers' can't raise Ceres from her fall:
     She fell with Buonaparte—What strange thoughts
     Arise, when we see emperors fall with oats!

     But Juan turn'd his eyes on the sweet child
       Whom he had saved from slaughter—what a trophy
     O! ye who build up monuments, defiled
       With gore, like Nadir Shah, that costive sophy,
     Who, after leaving Hindostan a wild,
       And scarce to the Mogul a cup of coffee
     To soothe his woes withal, was slain, the sinner!
     Because he could no more digest his dinner;—

     O ye! or we! or he! or she! reflect,
       That one life saved, especially if young
     Or pretty, is a thing to recollect
       Far sweeter than the greenest laurels sprung
     From the manure of human clay, though deck'd
       With all the praises ever said or sung:
     Though hymn'd by every harp, unless within
     Your heart joins chorus, Fame is but a din.

     O! ye great authors luminous, voluminous!
       Ye twice ten hundred thousand daily scribes!
     Whose pamphlets, volumes, newspapers, illumine us!
       Whether you 're paid by government in bribes,
     To prove the public debt is not consuming us—
       Or, roughly treading on the 'courtier's kibes'
     With clownish heel, your popular circulation
     Feeds you by printing half the realm's starvation;—

     O, ye great authors!—'Apropos des bottes,'-
       I have forgotten what I meant to say,
     As sometimes have been greater sages' lots;
       'T was something calculated to allay
     All wrath in barracks, palaces, or cots:
       Certes it would have been but thrown away,
     And that 's one comfort for my lost advice,
     Although no doubt it was beyond all price.

     But let it go:—it will one day be found
       With other relics of 'a former world,'
     When this world shall be former, underground,
       Thrown topsy-turvy, twisted, crisp'd, and curl'd,
     Baked, fried, or burnt, turn'd inside-out, or drown'd,
       Like all the worlds before, which have been hurl'd
     First out of, and then back again to chaos,
     The superstratum which will overlay us.

     So Cuvier says;—and then shall come again
       Unto the new creation, rising out
     From our old crash, some mystic, ancient strain
       Of things destroy'd and left in airy doubt:
     Like to the notions we now entertain
       Of Titans, giants, fellows of about
     Some hundred feet in height, not to say miles,
     And mammoths, and your winged crocodiles.

     Think if then George the Fourth should be dug up!
       How the new worldlings of the then new East
     Will wonder where such animals could sup!
       (For they themselves will be but of the least:
     Even worlds miscarry, when too oft they pup,
       And every new creation hath decreased
     In size, from overworking the material—
     Men are but maggots of some huge Earth's burial.)

     How will—to these young people, just thrust out
       From some fresh Paradise, and set to plough,
     And dig, and sweat, and turn themselves about,
       And plant, and reap, and spin, and grind, and sow,
     Till all the arts at length are brought about,
       Especially of war and taxing,—how,
     I say, will these great relics, when they see 'em,
     Look like the monsters of a new museum?

     But I am apt to grow too metaphysical:
       'The time is out of joint,'—and so am I;
     I quite forget this poem 's merely quizzical,
       And deviate into matters rather dry.
     I ne'er decide what I shall say, and this I cal
       Much too poetical: men should know why
     They write, and for what end; but, note or text,
     I never know the word which will come next.

     So on I ramble, now and then narrating,
       Now pondering:—it is time we should narrate.
     I left Don Juan with his horses baiting—
       Now we 'll get o'er the ground at a great rate.
     I shall not be particular in stating
       His journey, we 've so many tours of late:
     Suppose him then at Petersburgh; suppose
     That pleasant capital of painted snows;

     Suppose him in a handsome uniform,—
       A scarlet coat, black facings, a long plume,
     Waving, like sails new shiver'd in a storm,
       Over a cock'd hat in a crowded room,
     And brilliant breeches, bright as a Cairn Gorme,
       Of yellow casimere we may presume,
     White stocking drawn uncurdled as new milk
     O'er limbs whose symmetry set off the silk;

     Suppose him sword by side, and hat in hand,
       Made up by youth, fame, and an army tailor—
     That great enchanter, at whose rod's command
       Beauty springs forth, and Nature's self turns paler,
     Seeing how Art can make her work more grand
       (When she don't pin men's limbs in like a gaoler),—
     Behold him placed as if upon a pillar! He
     Seems Love turn'd a lieutenant of artillery:—

     His bandage slipp'd down into a cravat;
       His wings subdued to epaulettes; his quiver
     Shrunk to a scabbard, with his arrows at
       His side as a small sword, but sharp as ever;
     His bow converted into a cock'd hat;
       But still so like, that Psyche were more clever
     Than some wives (who make blunders no less stupid),
     If she had not mistaken him for Cupid.

     The courtiers stared, the ladies whisper'd, and
       The empress smiled: the reigning favourite frown'd—
     I quite forget which of them was in hand
       Just then; as they are rather numerous found,
     Who took by turns that difficult command
       Since first her majesty was singly crown'd:
     But they were mostly nervous six-foot fellows,
     All fit to make a Patagonian jealous.

     Juan was none of these, but slight and slim,
       Blushing and beardless; and yet ne'ertheless
     There was a something in his turn of limb,
       And still more in his eye, which seem'd to express,
     That though he look'd one of the seraphim,
       There lurk'd a man beneath the spirit's dress.
     Besides, the empress sometimes liked a boy,
     And had just buried the fair-faced Lanskoi.

     No wonder then that Yermoloff, or Momonoff,
       Or Scherbatoff, or any other off
     Or on, might dread her majesty had not room enough
       Within her bosom (which was not too tough)
     For a new flame; a thought to cast of gloom enough
       Along the aspect, whether smooth or rough,
     Of him who, in the language of his station,
     Then held that 'high official situation.'

     O, gentle ladies! should you seek to know
       The import of this diplomatic phrase,
     Bid Ireland's Londonderry's Marquess show
       His parts of speech; and in the strange displays
     Of that odd string of words, all in a row,
       Which none divine, and every one obeys,
     Perhaps you may pick out some queer no meaning,
     Of that weak wordy harvest the sole gleaning.

     I think I can explain myself without
       That sad inexplicable beast of prey—
     That Sphinx, whose words would ever be a doubt,
       Did not his deeds unriddle them each day—
     That monstrous hieroglyphic—that long spout
       Of blood and water, leaden Castlereagh!
     And here I must an anecdote relate,
     But luckily of no great length or weight.

     An English lady ask'd of an Italian,
       What were the actual and official duties
     Of the strange thing some women set a value on,
       Which hovers oft about some married beauties,
     Called 'Cavalier servente?'—a Pygmalion
       Whose statues warm (I fear, alas! too true 't is)
     Beneath his art. The dame, press'd to disclose them,
     Said—'Lady, I beseech you to suppose them.'

     And thus I supplicate your supposition,
       And mildest, matron-like interpretation,
     Of the imperial favourite's condition.
       'T was a high place, the highest in the nation
     In fact, if not in rank; and the suspicion
       Of any one's attaining to his station,
     No doubt gave pain, where each new pair of shoulders,
     If rather broad, made stocks rise and their holders.

     Juan, I said, was a most beauteous boy,
       And had retain'd his boyish look beyond
     The usual hirsute seasons which destroy,
       With beards and whiskers, and the like, the fond
     Parisian aspect which upset old Troy
       And founded Doctors' Commons:—I have conn'd
     The history of divorces, which, though chequer'd,
     Calls Ilion's the first damages on record.

     And Catherine, who loved all things (save her lord,
       Who was gone to his place), and pass'd for much
     Admiring those (by dainty dames abhorr'd)
       Gigantic gentlemen, yet had a touch
     Of sentiment; and he she most adored
       Was the lamented Lanskoi, who was such
     A lover as had cost her many a tear,
     And yet but made a middling grenadier.

     O thou 'teterrima causa' of all 'belli'-
       Thou gate of life and death—thou nondescript!
     Whence is our exit and our entrance,—well I
       May pause in pondering how all souls are dipt
     In thy perennial fountain:—how man fell I
       Know not, since knowledge saw her branches stript
     Of her first fruit; but how he falls and rises
     Since, thou hast settled beyond all surmises.

     Some call thee 'the worst cause of war,' but I
       Maintain thou art the best: for after all
     From thee we come, to thee we go, and why
       To get at thee not batter down a wall,
     Or waste a world? since no one can deny
       Thou dost replenish worlds both great and small:
     With, or without thee, all things at a stand
     Are, or would be, thou sea of life's dry land!

     Catherine, who was the grand epitome
       Of that great cause of war, or peace, or what
     You please (it causes all the things which be,
       So you may take your choice of this or that)—
     Catherine, I say, was very glad to see
       The handsome herald, on whose plumage sat
     Victory; and pausing as she saw him kneel
     With his despatch, forgot to break the seal.

     Then recollecting the whole empress, nor
       forgetting quite the woman (which composed
     At least three parts of this great whole), she tore
       The letter open with an air which posed
     The court, that watch'd each look her visage wore,
       Until a royal smile at length disclosed
     Fair weather for the day. Though rather spacious,
     Her face was noble, her eyes fine, mouth gracious.

     Great joy was hers, or rather joys: the first
       Was a ta'en city, thirty thousand slain.
     Glory and triumph o'er her aspect burst,
       As an East Indian sunrise on the main.
     These quench'd a moment her ambition's thirst—
       So Arab deserts drink in summer's rain:
     In vain!—As fall the dews on quenchless sands,
     Blood only serves to wash Ambition's hands!

     Her next amusement was more fanciful;
       She smiled at mad Suwarrow's rhymes, who threw
     Into a Russian couplet rather dull
       The whole gazette of thousands whom he slew.
     Her third was feminine enough to annul
       The shudder which runs naturally through
     Our veins, when things call'd sovereigns think it best
     To kill, and generals turn it into jest.

     The two first feelings ran their course complete,
       And lighted first her eye, and then her mouth:
     The whole court look'd immediately most sweet,
       Like flowers well water'd after a long drouth.
     But when on the lieutenant at her feet
       Her majesty, who liked to gaze on youth
     Almost as much as on a new despatch,
     Glanced mildly, all the world was on the watch.

     Though somewhat large, exuberant, and truculent,
       When wroth—while pleased, she was as fine a figure
     As those who like things rosy, ripe, and succulent,
       Would wish to look on, while they are in vigour.
     She could repay each amatory look you lent
       With interest, and in turn was wont with rigour
     To exact of Cupid's bills the full amount
     At sight, nor would permit you to discount.

     With her the latter, though at times convenient,
       Was not so necessary; for they tell
     That she was handsome, and though fierce look'd lenient,
       And always used her favourites too well.
     If once beyond her boudoir's precincts in ye went,
       Your 'fortune' was in a fair way 'to swell
     A man' (as Giles says); for though she would widow all
     Nations, she liked man as an individual.

     What a strange thing is man? and what a stranger
       Is woman! What a whirlwind is her head,
     And what a whirlpool full of depth and danger
       Is all the rest about her! Whether wed
     Or widow, maid or mother, she can change her
       Mind like the wind: whatever she has said
     Or done, is light to what she 'll say or do;—
     The oldest thing on record, and yet new!

     O Catherine! (for of all interjections,
       To thee both oh! and ah! belong of right
     In love and war) how odd are the connections
       Of human thoughts, which jostle in their flight!
     Just now yours were cut out in different sections:
       First Ismail's capture caught your fancy quite;
     Next of new knights, the fresh and glorious batch;
     And thirdly he who brought you the despatch!

     Shakspeare talks of 'the herald Mercury
       New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;'
     And some such visions cross'd her majesty,
       While her young herald knelt before her still.
     'T is very true the hill seem'd rather high,
       For a lieutenant to climb up; but skill
     Smooth'd even the Simplon's steep, and by God's blessing
     With youth and health all kisses are 'heaven-kissing.'

     Her majesty look'd down, the youth look'd up—
       And so they fell in love;—she with his face,
     His grace, his God-knows-what: for Cupid's cup
       With the first draught intoxicates apace,
     A quintessential laudanum or 'black drop,'
       Which makes one drunk at once, without the base
     Expedient of full bumpers; for the eye
     In love drinks all life's fountains (save tears) dry.

     He, on the other hand, if not in love,
       Fell into that no less imperious passion,
     Self-love—which, when some sort of thing above
       Ourselves, a singer, dancer, much in fashion,
     Or duchess, princess, empress, 'deigns to prove'
       ('T is Pope's phrase) a great longing, though a rash one,
     For one especial person out of many,
     Makes us believe ourselves as good as any.

     Besides, he was of that delighted age
       Which makes all female ages equal—when
     We don't much care with whom we may engage,
       As bold as Daniel in the lion's den,
     So that we can our native sun assuage
       In the next ocean, which may flow just then,
     To make a twilight in, just as Sol's heat is
     Quench'd in the lap of the salt sea, or Thetis.

     And Catherine (we must say thus much for Catherine),
       Though bold and bloody, was the kind of thing
     Whose temporary passion was quite flattering,
       Because each lover look'd a sort of king,
     Made up upon an amatory pattern,
       A royal husband in all save the ring—
     Which, being the damn'dest part of matrimony,
     Seem'd taking out the sting to leave the honey.

     And when you add to this, her womanhood
       In its meridian, her blue eyes or gray
     (The last, if they have soul, are quite as good,
       Or better, as the best examples say:
     Napoleon's, Mary's (queen of Scotland), should
       Lend to that colour a transcendent ray;
     And Pallas also sanctions the same hue,
     Too wise to look through optics black or blue)—

     Her sweet smile, and her then majestic figure,
       Her plumpness, her imperial condescension,
     Her preference of a boy to men much bigger
       (Fellows whom Messalina's self would pension),
     Her prime of life, just now in juicy vigour,
       With other extras, which we need not mention,—
     All these, or any one of these, explain
     Enough to make a stripling very vain.

     And that 's enough, for love is vanity,
       Selfish in its beginning as its end,
     Except where 't is a mere insanity,
       A maddening spirit which would strive to blend
     Itself with beauty's frail inanity,
       On which the passion's self seems to depend:
     And hence some heathenish philosophers
     Make love the main spring of the universe.

     Besides Platonic love, besides the love
       Of God, the love of sentiment, the loving
     Of faithful pairs (I needs must rhyme with dove,
       That good old steam-boat which keeps verses moving
     'Gainst reason—Reason ne'er was hand-and-glove
       With rhyme, but always leant less to improving
     The sound than sense)—beside all these pretences
     To love, there are those things which words name senses;

     Those movements, those improvements in our bodies
       Which make all bodies anxious to get out
     Of their own sand-pits, to mix with a goddess,
       For such all women are at first no doubt.
     How beautiful that moment! and how odd is
       That fever which precedes the languid rout
     Of our sensations! What a curious way
     The whole thing is of clothing souls in clay!

     The noblest kind of love is love Platonical,
       To end or to begin with; the next grand
     Is that which may be christen'd love canonical,
       Because the clergy take the thing in hand;
     The third sort to be noted in our chronicle
       As flourishing in every Christian land,
     Is when chaste matrons to their other ties
     Add what may be call'd marriage in disguise.

     Well, we won't analyse—our story must
       Tell for itself: the sovereign was smitten,
     Juan much flatter'd by her love, or lust;—
       I cannot stop to alter words once written,
     And the two are so mix'd with human dust,
       That he who names one, both perchance may hit on:
     But in such matters Russia's mighty empress
     Behaved no better than a common sempstress.

     The whole court melted into one wide whisper,
       And all lips were applied unto all ears!
     The elder ladies' wrinkles curl'd much crisper
       As they beheld; the younger cast some leers
     On one another, and each lovely lisper
       Smiled as she talk'd the matter o'er; but tears
     Of rivalship rose in each clouded eye
     Of all the standing army who stood by.

     All the ambassadors of all the powers
       Enquired, Who was this very new young man,
     Who promised to be great in some few hours?
       Which is full soon—though life is but a span.
     Already they beheld the silver showers
       Of rubles rain, as fast as specie can,
     Upon his cabinet, besides the presents
     Of several ribands, and some thousand peasants.

     Catherine was generous,—all such ladies are:
       Love, that great opener of the heart and all
     The ways that lead there, be they near or far,
       Above, below, by turnpikes great or small,—
     Love (though she had a cursed taste for war,
       And was not the best wife, unless we call
     Such Clytemnestra, though perhaps 't is better
     That one should die, than two drag on the fetter)—

     Love had made Catherine make each lover's fortune,
       Unlike our own half-chaste Elizabeth,
     Whose avarice all disbursements did importune,
       If history, the grand liar, ever saith
     The truth; and though grief her old age might shorten,
       Because she put a favourite to death,
     Her vile, ambiguous method of flirtation,
     And stinginess, disgrace her sex and station.

     But when the levee rose, and all was bustle
       In the dissolving circle, all the nations'
     Ambassadors began as 't were to hustle
       Round the young man with their congratulations.
     Also the softer silks were heard to rustle
       Of gentle dames, among whose recreations
     It is to speculate on handsome faces,
     Especially when such lead to high places.

     Juan, who found himself, he knew not how,
       A general object of attention, made
     His answers with a very graceful bow,
       As if born for the ministerial trade.
     Though modest, on his unembarrass'd brow
       Nature had written 'gentleman.' He said
     Little, but to the purpose; and his manner
     Flung hovering graces o'er him like a banner.

     An order from her majesty consign'd
       Our young lieutenant to the genial care
     Of those in office: all the world look'd kind
       (As it will look sometimes with the first stare,
     Which youth would not act ill to keep in mind),
       As also did Miss Protasoff then there,
     Named from her mystic office 'l'Eprouveuse,'
     A term inexplicable to the Muse.

     With her then, as in humble duty bound,
       Juan retired,—and so will I, until
     My Pegasus shall tire of touching ground.
       We have just lit on a 'heaven-kissing hill,'
     So lofty that I feel my brain turn round,
       And all my fancies whirling like a mill;
     Which is a signal to my nerves and brain,
     To take a quiet ride in some green Lane.


Return to the Don Juan Summary Return to the Lord Byron Library

© 2022