Don Juan By Lord Byron Summary and Analysis Canto III

Summary

After several stanzas on the subject of love, in which he concludes that love and marriage are incompatible, Byron returns to Haidée and Juan. Her father's long-delayed return makes her more imprudent. Having taken care of all his business, Lambro returns to his island port, which is on the opposite side of the island from his house. When he comes to the top of the hill overlooking his house, he is surprised and annoyed to see that his domestics, instead of being at work, are idling, dancing, and feasting, and that guests are entertaining themselves and being entertained. Having been out of contact with his home for some time, Lambro could not know that a report of his death has come to his island and that he has been mourned for several weeks The period of mourning over, Haidée and Juan have moved into his home as man and wife, and entertain lavishly. The first fear that enters the mind of the stern Lambro, whom the enslavement of his country has made a formidable enemy of all mankind and for whom Haidée is his sole bond with humanity, is that she has betrayed him. He enters his house unseen by a private door, and there in his main hall sit Juan and Haidée, surrounded by slaves and feasting in the most luxurious surroundings on rare and costly food and drink. Haidée is dressed like a princess and radiantly beautiful. Juan is likewise resplendently dressed.

At the moment they are being entertained by a famous poet, a turncoat who will write verses in praise of any cause, provided he is paid for it. The song that he sings for Haidée and Juan is a lament for Greece's present state of subjection to Turkey and for her lack of patriotic ardor, the famous "The Isles of Greece."

When the song is over Byron digresses on the subject of the wide and lasting effect a poet's words may have and on the transitory nature of human fame. Great deeds owe more to the historian than to the illusion called glory, and the biographer may record acts that little redound to the glory of the one whose life he is writing. At this point Byron devotes three stanzas to excoriating Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, who have abandoned their early liberalism for conservatism. He singles out Wordsworth's Excursion, "The Waggoner," and "Peter Bell" for special ridicule. Byron now returns to his story but only to say that Haidée and Juan's evening meal is over and to rhapsodize on the beauty of the twilight which arouses in him a spirit of devotion.

His altars, he says, are the earth, the ocean, the stars, the air. With a paean on the charms of twilight Byron closes Canto III.

Analysis

Of chief interest in Canto III are the descriptions of food, dress, and furnishings and the character of Lambro. Although Byron does not refrain from making Lambro's way of making a living a target of his mockery, he characterizes the freebooter seriously and even makes something of a hero out of him. Lambro is a patriot in his own way; it is his bitterness about the present enslaved state of Greece that makes him an enemy of the world. He has in him the rudiments of ancient Greek culture in his taste for music, architecture, and beauty. His soured patriotism makes him a misanthrope, but he has a genuinely deep and tender love for his only child, Haidée. Thus when he comes back and finds that Haidée has practically forgotten him, the only spark of humaneness in him is extinguished.

Having brought Lambro into his palatial residence, Byron creates suspense by holding off the anticipated reunion of father and daughter by descriptions of clothing and viands, a patriotic interlude, cynical stanzas on the nature of fame, the perfidy and dullness of the Lake poets, the religious atmosphere of twilight, when the Angelus bell strikes — holds it off for fifty stanzas of ottava rima plus a lyric of sixteen six-line stanzas. Instead of creating suspense, Byron's digressions may make some readers forget that a story is being told.

Though the canto lacks action, it is far from being uninteresting. The rich descriptions of luxurious living, the characterization of Lambro, the plea for conquered Greece, the amusing attacks on the Lake poets, all make Canto III good, if not exciting, reading.

What may be regarded as a weakness in the canto is that while Byron provides realistic descriptions of things (partly borrowed from books), he makes little attempt to give an adequate account of his setting so far as the inhabitants are concerned: How many there were, what their relations to Lambro were, what contacts they had with other islands, what they thought of Haidée's living openly with the young Spanish stranger who had appeared from nowhere. Byron chooses to ignore all this; what doesn't interest him or what doesn't seem important to him he simply omits. Yet the canto would be a better one if he had included this material; it would bring the poem closer to the realistic novel, which in many ways it parallels. Don Juan and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones are related works. The reader could spare at least some of the concluding stanzas with their somewhat ill-natured blows at other poets for more development of the island background of Don Juan and Haidée's romance. The long introductory account of the turncoat poet (who is Robert Southey, the poet laureate, whom Byron makes mincemeat of in his "The Vision of Judgment") who sings "The Isles of Greece" could have been shortened, but Byron could not resist the temptation to use an opportunity to keep alive the long-standing feud with Southey.

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