Don Juan By Lord Byron Canto VII


O Love! O Glory! what are ye who fly
  Around us ever, rarely to alight?
There 's not a meteor in the polar sky
  Of such transcendent and more fleeting flight.
Chill, and chain'd to cold earth, we lift on high
  Our eyes in search of either lovely light;
A thousand and a thousand colours they
Assume, then leave us on our freezing way.

And such as they are, such my present tale is,
  A non-descript and ever-varying rhyme,
A versified Aurora Borealis,
  Which flashes o'er a waste and icy clime.
When we know what all are, we must bewail us,
  But ne'ertheless I hope it is no crime
To laugh at all things — for I wish to know
What, after all, are all things — but a show?

They accuse me — Me — the present writer of
  The present poem — of — I know not what —
A tendency to under-rate and scoff
  At human power and virtue, and all that;
And this they say in language rather rough.
  Good God! I wonder what they would be at!
I say no more than hath been said in Dante's
Verse, and by Solomon and by Cervantes;

By Swift, by Machiavel, by Rochefoucault,
  By Fenelon, by Luther, and by Plato;
By Tillotson, and Wesley, and Rousseau,
  Who knew this life was not worth a potato.
'T is not their fault, nor mine, if this be so —
  For my part, I pretend not to be Cato,
Nor even Diogenes. — We live and die,
But which is best, you know no more than I.

Socrates said, our only knowledge was
  'To know that nothing could be known;' a pleasant
Science enough, which levels to an ass
  Each man of wisdom, future, past, or present.
Newton (that proverb of the mind), alas!
  Declared, with all his grand discoveries recent,
That he himself felt only 'like a youth
Picking up shells by the great ocean — Truth.'

Ecclesiastes said, 'that all is vanity'-
  Most modern preachers say the same, or show it
By their examples of true Christianity:
  In short, all know, or very soon may know it;
And in this scene of all-confess'd inanity,
  By saint, by sage, by preacher, and by poet,
Must I restrain me, through the fear of strife,
From holding up the nothingness of life?

Dogs, or men! — for I flatter you in saying
  That ye are dogs — your betters far — ye may
Read, or read not, what I am now essaying
  To show ye what ye are in every way.
As little as the moon stops for the baying
  Of wolves, will the bright muse withdraw one ray
From out her skies — then howl your idle wrath!
While she still silvers o'er your gloomy path.

'Fierce loves and faithless wars' — I am not sure
  If this be the right reading — 't is no matter;
The fact 's about the same, I am secure;
  I sing them both, and am about to batter
A town which did a famous siege endure,
  And was beleaguer'd both by land and water
By Souvaroff, or Anglice Suwarrow,
Who loved blood as an alderman loves marrow.

The fortress is call'd Ismail, and is placed
  Upon the Danube's left branch and left bank,
With buildings in the Oriental taste,
  But still a fortress of the foremost rank,
Or was at least, unless 't is since defaced,
  Which with your conquerors is a common prank:
It stands some eighty versts from the high sea,
And measures round of toises thousands three.

Within the extent of this fortification
  A borough is comprised along the height
Upon the left, which from its loftier station
  Commands the city, and upon its site
A Greek had raised around this elevation
  A quantity of palisades upright,
So placed as to impede the fire of those
Who held the place, and to assist the foe's.

This circumstance may serve to give a notion
  Of the high talents of this new Vauban:
But the town ditch below was deep as ocean,
  The rampart higher than you 'd wish to hang:
But then there was a great want of precaution
  (Prithee, excuse this engineering slang),
Nor work advanced, nor cover'd way was there,
To hint at least 'Here is no thoroughfare.'

But a stone bastion, with a narrow gorge,
  And walls as thick as most skulls born as yet;
Two batteries, cap-a-pie, as our St. George,
  Case-mated one, and t' other 'a barbette,'
Of Danube's bank took formidable charge;
  While two and twenty cannon duly set
Rose over the town's right side, in bristling tier,
Forty feet high, upon a cavalier.

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