Don Juan By Lord Byron Summary and Analysis Canto IV

Summary

After seven stanzas in which he complains of the difficulty of making a beginning in poetry; confesses that his imagination is weakening; that the sad truth turns what was once romantic to burlesque ("And if I laugh at any mortal thing, / 'Tis that I may not weep" — St. 4); admits that some have accused him of designs against "the creed and morals of the land"; and claims that his only intention is to be merry, Byron reintroduces Haidée and Juan. They were not meant to grow old but were meant to die in happy springtime. Whom the gods love die young. They think not of time's ravages; they find fault only with the way it speeds away from them. Their existence is a perfect one. They are like children, or like a nymph and her beloved, and are not meant to fill a place in a real world. They are perfectly happy.

This particular evening a tremor sweeps over them, they know not why, and a tear appears in Haidée's eye, but she dismisses the omen with a kiss when Juan questions her. Later, while they are taking their siesta, Haidée dreams that she is chained to a rock. Then in her dream she is released and begins to pursue something in a sheet which keeps eluding her. Her dream changes; she is in a cave and at her feet lies Juan lifeless. As she gazes, she thinks his features change into her father's. She awakes with a start and sees her father's eyes fixed on her and Juan. Shrieking, she arises and falls. Juan springs up at her shriek and grabs his saber off the wall. Lambro now speaks for the first time, scornfully commanding Juan to put away his foolish sword, for with a word he can summon a thousand scimitars. Haidée begs her father to spare Juan. Once more Lambro commands Juan to surrender his sword. When Juan refuses, Lambro draws his pistol and cocks it. Haidée then throws herself before Juan and begs her father to shoot her first. Her father replaces his pistol in its holster and blows a whistle. At once twenty of his men appear. With a quick movement Lambro grasps his daughter and pulls her away from before Juan. "Arrest or kill the Frank," he commands his men. The pirates push forward, and though Juan fights valiantly, wounding two of them, he is soon on the ground, bleeding from the arm and head. Lambro then gives his men orders to carry Juan to one of his ships.

When she sees Juan on the floor and bleeding, Haidée collapses in her father's arms and blood flows from her mouth from a vein which has burst. For several days she is in a coma. When she finally regains consciousness, she recognizes no one. The attendants try rousing her with harp music. The music succeeds in making her weep. She arises and flies at everyone in sight as at a foe. For twelve days she refuses food, clothing, and change of surroundings. On the twelfth day she dies, and with her dies Juan's unborn child, "a fair and sinless child of sin."

When Juan comes to, he finds that he is at sea, and a slave. With him are some fellow captives, an Italian opera company who had been on their way to Sicily and who have been sold into slavery by their impresario. Juan learns that he and his new friends are bound for the slave market in Constantinople.

Byron brings the canto to a close with the buffo's malicious description of the other members of the troupe, some remarks on fame, an appeal to his lady readers not to abandon him, and a brief description of the slave auction.

Analysis

Byron shows narrative skill in holding off his big scene in Canto IV as long as he reasonably can. In his seven introductory stanzas, besides commenting on a number of other matters, he prepares us for, while postponing, his major action, by giving us his opinion that it is better that the happy young should die while they are still young rather than that they should live on until they have lost their happiness and have to endure the miseries of aging. He is giving his readers a hint that Haidée is going to die. He can't, of course, let Don Juan die without bringing his story to an end. Then he uses two technical narrative devices to prepare us for the death of Haidée, namely, a feeling of foreboding and Haidée's ominously significant dream, from which she awakes to see the face of her father before her. Awaking from bad dreams usually brings relief; in Haidée's case consciousness brings her face to face with the father she thought was dead. The nightmare of her dreams becomes the much worse nightmare of actual fact Her father has risen from the dead, so it seems to her, and knowing him she knows what will happen to Juan and to her happiness.

The effect on her is literally shattering. She has what is obviously a severe hemorrhage. The long postponed confrontation comes in a completely unexpected and dramatically effective way. It has to be admitted that Byron draws out the pathos of Haidée's ending, but he could say in his own defense that death is not ordinarily merciful and quick. In the father-daughter encounter Byron is careful to keep facetiousness to an absolute minimum. His instinct was right in telling him that here jokes were out of place. In the Haidée-Don Juan episode he created one of the great love stories of all time by description, skillful manipulation of action, and tight control of the comic vein that was part of the general design of Don Juan. When Byron writes, in ending Haidée's story, that ". . . no dirge, except the hollow sea's / Mourns o'er the Beauty of the Cyclades" (St. 72), the reader is moved not only by the beauty of the words but by the fate of Byron's fictional "beauty of the Cyclades."

Byron again shows his realization of the emotional requirements of good storytelling when he turns almost abruptly from the pathos of Haidée's brief but happy experience of love to a sardonic description of the opera company whose treacherous impresario had sold them as a group into slavery. Island idylls are few and brief, Byron is telling his readers, but misfortune of one kind or another is the common lot of man and may be expected momentarily.

The contrast between Byron's briefly happy pair of lovers and the wretched group of singers and dancers is very effectively made with a minimum of characterization. Byron is very possibly enjoying a little bit of "getting even" for having been subjected to some poor musical performances during his Italian period. The prima donna looks haggard from dissipation. The tenor's wife has a mediocre voice. The dancers eke out their income by prostitution. One of them is a slut, one a spendthrift, and one a poor dancer. Among the other singers, the tenor's "voice is spoilt by affectation," the bass can only bellow, and the conceited baritone has a "voice of no great compass." Byron satirizes his characterizer by the name he gives him, Raucocanti, "hoarsesong." It is difficult for the reader to feel pity for their fate when the buffo is through with them.

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