- from Don Juan, Canto 1
- Most epic poets plunge "in medias res"
- (Horace makes this the heroic turnpike road),
- And then your hero tells, whene'er you please,
- What went before -- by way of episode,
- While seated after dinner at his ease,
- Beside his mistress in some soft abode,
- Palace, or garden, paradise, or cavern,
- Which serves the happy couple for a tavern.
- That is the usual method, but not mine --
- My way is to begin with the beginning;
- The regularity of my design
- Forbids all wandering as the worst of sinning,
- And therefore I shall open with a line
- (Although it cost me half an hour in spinning)
- Narrating somewhat of Don Juan's father,
- And also of his mother, if you'd rather.
- In Seville was he born, a pleasant city,
- Famous for oranges and women -- he
- Who has not seen it will be much to pity,
- So says the proverb -- and I quite agree;
- Of all the Spanish towns is none more pretty,
- Cadiz perhaps -- but that you soon may see;
- Don Juan's parents lived beside the river,
- A noble stream, and call'd the Guadalquivir.
- His father's name was Jóse -- Don, of course, --
- A true Hidalgo, free from every stain
- Of Moor or Hebrew blood, he traced his source
- Through the most Gothic gentlemen of Spain;
- A better cavalier ne'er mounted horse,
- Or, being mounted, e'er got down again,
- Than Jóse, who begot our hero, who
- Begot -- but that's to come -- Well, to renew:
- His mother was a learnéd lady, famed
- For every branch of every science known
- In every Christian language ever named,
- With virtues equall'd by her wit alone,
- She made the cleverest people quite ashamed,
- And even the good with inward envy groan,
- Finding themselves so very much exceeded
- In their own way by all the things that she did.
- Her memory was a mine: she knew by heart
- All Calderon and greater part of Lopé,
- So that if any actor miss'd his part
- She could have served him for the prompter's copy;
- For her Feinagle's were an useless art,
- And he himself obliged to shut up shop -- he
- Could never make a memory so fine as
- That which adorn'd the brain of Donna Inez.
- Her favourite science was the mathematical,
- Her noblest virtue was her magnanimity,
- Her wit (she sometimes tried at wit) was Attic all,
- Her serious sayings darken'd to sublimity;
- In short, in all things she was fairly what I call
- A prodigy -- her morning dress was dimity,
- Her evening silk, or, in the summer, muslin,
- And other stuffs, with which I won't stay puzzling.
- She knew the Latin -- that is, "the Lord's prayer,"
- And Greek -- the alphabet -- I'm nearly sure;
- She read some French romances here and there,
- Although her mode of speaking was not pure;
- For native Spanish she had no great care,
- At least her conversation was obscure;
- Her thoughts were theorems, her words a problem,
- As if she deem'd that mystery would ennoble 'em.
- She liked the English and the Hebrew tongue,
- And said there was analogy between 'em;
- She proved it somehow out of sacred song,
- But I must leave the proofs to those who've seen 'em;
- But this I heard her say, and can't be wrong
- And all may think which way their judgments lean 'em,
- "'T is strange -- the Hebrew noun which means 'I am,'
- The English always used to govern d--n."
- Some women use their tongues -- she look'd a lecture,
- Each eye a sermon, and her brow a homily,
- An all-in-all sufficient self-director,
- Like the lamented late Sir Samuel Romilly,
- The Law's expounder, and the State's corrector,
- Whose suicide was almost an anomaly --
- One sad example more, that "All is vanity"
- (The jury brought their verdict in "Insanity").
- In short, she was a walking calculation,
- Miss Edgeworth's novels stepping from their covers,
- Or Mrs. Trimmer's books on education,
- Or "Coelebs' Wife" set out in quest of lovers,
- Morality's prim personification,
- In which not Envy's self a flaw discovers;
- To others' share let "female errors fall,"
- For she had not even one -- the worst of all.
- Oh! she was perfect past all parallel --
- Of any modern female saint's comparison;
- So far above the cunning powers of hell,
- Her guardian angel had given up his garrison;
- Even her minutest motions went as well
- As those of the best time-piece made by Harrison:
- In virtues nothing earthly could surpass her,
- Save thine "incomparable oil," Macassar!
- Perfect she was, but as perfection is
- Insipid in this naughty world of ours,
- Where our first parents never learn'd to kiss
- Till they were exiled from their earlier bowers,
- Where all was peace, and innocence, and bliss
- (I wonder how they got through the twelve hours),
- Don Jóse, like a lineal son of Eve,
- Went plucking various fruit without her leave.
I will add the footnotes soon! For now, I hope that you can notice the narrator's contradictory tone. In this satire, Byron is poking fun at any number of things; in this excerpt, he laughs at the conventions of heroic verse, which can take itself Very Seriously. I also recommend that you read this out loud to yourself after reading it silently once, because the rhythm of this poem gallops along, a fact that becomes more impressive when one realizes that this is a fraction of one of sixteen cantos.