Don Juan By Lord Byron Canto IV

No matter; we should ne'er too much enquire,
  But facts are facts: no knight could be more true,
And firmer faith no ladye — love desire;
  We will omit the proofs, save one or two:
'T is said no one in hand 'can hold a fire
  By thought of frosty Caucasus;' but few,
I really think; yet Juan's then ordeal
Was more triumphant, and not much less real.

Here I might enter on a chaste description,
  Having withstood temptation in my youth,
But hear that several people take exception
  At the first two books having too much truth;
Therefore I 'll make Don Juan leave the ship soon,
  Because the publisher declares, in sooth,
Through needles' eyes it easier for the camel is
To pass, than those two cantos into families.

'T is all the same to me; I 'm fond of yielding,
  And therefore leave them to the purer page
Of Smollett, Prior, Ariosto, Fielding,
  Who say strange things for so correct an age;
I once had great alacrity in wielding
  My pen, and liked poetic war to wage,
And recollect the time when all this cant
Would have provoked remarks which now it shan't.

As boys love rows, my boyhood liked a squabble;
  But at this hour I wish to part in peace,
Leaving such to the literary rabble:
  Whether my verse's fame be doom'd to cease
While the right hand which wrote it still is able,
  Or of some centuries to take a lease,
The grass upon my grave will grow as long,
And sigh to midnight winds, but not to song.

Of poets who come down to us through distance
  Of time and tongues, the foster-babes of Fame,
Life seems the smallest portion of existence;
  Where twenty ages gather o'er a name,
'T is as a snowball which derives assistance
  From every flake, and yet rolls on the same,
Even till an iceberg it may chance to grow;
But, after all, 't is nothing but cold snow.

And so great names are nothing more than nominal,
  And love of glory 's but an airy lust,
Too often in its fury overcoming all
  Who would as 't were identify their dust
From out the wide destruction, which, entombing all,
  Leaves nothing till 'the coming of the just'-
Save change: I 've stood upon Achilles' tomb,
And heard Troy doubted; time will doubt of Rome.

The very generations of the dead
  Are swept away, and tomb inherits tomb,
Until the memory of an age is fled,
  And, buried, sinks beneath its offspring's doom:
Where are the epitaphs our fathers read?
  Save a few glean'd from the sepulchral gloom
Which once-named myriads nameless lie beneath,
And lose their own in universal death.

I canter by the spot each afternoon
  Where perish'd in his fame the hero-boy,
Who lived too long for men, but died too soon
  For human vanity, the young De Foix!
A broken pillar, not uncouthly hewn,
  But which neglect is hastening to destroy,
Records Ravenna's carnage on its face,
While weeds and ordure rankle round the base.

I pass each day where Dante's bones are laid:
  A little cupola, more neat than solemn,
Protects his dust, but reverence here is paid
  To the bard's tomb, and not the warrior's column.
The time must come, when both alike decay'd,
  The chieftain's trophy, and the poet's volume,
Will sink where lie the songs and wars of earth,
Before Pelides' death, or Homer's birth.

With human blood that column was cemented,
  With human filth that column is defiled,
As if the peasant's coarse contempt were vented
  To show his loathing of the spot he soil'd:
Thus is the trophy used, and thus lamented
  Should ever be those blood-hounds, from whose wild
Instinct of gore and glory earth has known
Those sufferings Dante saw in hell alone.

Yet there will still be bards: though fame is smoke,
  Its fumes are frankincense to human thought;
And the unquiet feelings, which first woke
  Song in the world, will seek what then they sought;
As on the beach the waves at last are broke,
  Thus to their extreme verge the passions brought
Dash into poetry, which is but passion,
Or at least was so ere it grew a fashion.

If in the course of such a life as was
  At once adventurous and contemplative,
Men, who partake all passions as they pass,
  Acquire the deep and bitter power to give
Their images again as in a glass,
  And in such colours that they seem to live;
You may do right forbidding them to show 'em,
But spoil (I think) a very pretty poem.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After Don Juan escapes from Constantinople, he is embroiled in the battle of




Quiz