Don Juan: impressions on Canto the Second
- Well! Thank goodness Byron's Muse "is not a weeping"
one, what with the death and destruction of the
shipwreck--great, powerful writing!--and the noshing
on Juan's tutor and--worse yet--his dog. Cannibalism
requires a strong stomach, and so does the second part
of Canto the Second, which would be, from a lesser or
less cynical pen, enough to make your teeth ache.
Okay, it's not *that* bad, the poetry is quite
beautiful, actually, if you're into that sort of
Which I am not. I like the ornery Byron. And Canto
the Second starts off slamming: "Oh ye! who teach the
ingenuous youth of nations...I pray ye flog them upon
all occasions." The basis of Juan's situation ("a lad
of sixteen causing a divorce") is his education,
directed by "his lady-mother, mathematical." And
there's one more slam on Donna Inez: "The great
success of Juan's education/Spurred her to teach
Now, the kind of love-stuff I relish comes in stanzas
XIX and XX: "And oh! if e'er I should forget, I swear"
which melts into "(Here the ship have a lurch, and he
grew sea-sick.)" And his longings for Julia mix with
his longings for internal relief, ending with:
"Beloved Julia, here me still beseeching!/ (Here he
grew inarticulate with retching.)" Love and, um,
bilge--the grand stuff of great poetry!
I love our contradictory narrator: "Lord! how they did
blaspheme!" and "I hate inconstancy...and yet last
"Man, being reasonable, must get drunk." I read that
to my husband, a very non-poetry kind of guy, who
laughed uproariously and then quoted Homer (Simpson),
"It's so funny because it's true!" Then I read the
next line, "The best of Life is but intoxication" and
his laughter died. Homer again: "Bo-ring!" I skipped
to: "But to return--Get very drunk, and when/You wake
with the headache--you shall see what then!" To which,
with a very Homerish confused look, my husband asked,
"That sounds like something you'd write." Which is
why I love my husband.
There's an amusing bit about beef and war and the
British and the Minotaur.
And the truth of the men and the white bird: "They
would have eat her, olive-branch and all."
Byron can't keep away from himself ("As once(a feat on
which ourselves we prided)/Leander, Mr. Ekenhead, and
I did.") and his poet-enemies ("Besides, I hate all
mystery, and that air/Of clap-trap, which your recent
There are some understanding bits from a pretty bitter
man: "Alas! the love of Women!...and their revenge is
as the tiger's spring...yet, as real Torture is
theirs--what they inflict they feel/They are right;
for Man, to man so oft unjust/is always so to Women."
But then our Byron's back: "Some play the devil, and
then write a novel."
Okay--so you all don't condemn me for *totally*
lacking in sensibility, there are very moving stanzas,
LXXXVIII through XC--the father and dying son: "...and
now and then he smiled/As if to win a part from off
the weight/He saw increasing on his father's heart."
Then, "And o'er him bent his sire, and never
raised/His eyes from off his face...He squeezed from
out a rag some drops of rain/into his dying child's
mouth--but in vain/The boy expired--the father held
the clay...He watched it wistfully, until away/'T was
Well, there it is. Onto Canto the Third.
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