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Don Juan: impressions on Canto the Second

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  • CARRIE KEELER
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2000
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      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
      thing.

      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
      another generation."

      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
      night..."

      "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
      poets prize.")

      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
      borne...."

      Well, there it is. Onto Canto the Third.

      Carrie














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