Don Juan By Lord Byron Canto XI

And, after all, what is a lie? 'T is but
  The truth in masquerade; and I defy
Historians, heroes, lawyers, priests, to put
  A fact without some leaven of a lie.
The very shadow of true Truth would shut
  Up annals, revelations, poesy,
And prophecy — except it should be dated
Some years before the incidents related.

Praised be all liars and all lies! Who now
  Can tax my mild Muse with misanthropy?
She rings the world's 'Te Deum,' and her brow
  Blushes for those who will not: — but to sigh
Is idle; let us like most others bow,
  Kiss hands, feet, any part of majesty,
After the good example of 'Green Erin,'
Whose shamrock now seems rather worse for wearing.

Don Juan was presented, and his dress
  And mien excited general admiration —
I don't know which was more admired or less:
  One monstrous diamond drew much observation,
Which Catherine in a moment of 'ivresse'
  (In love or brandy's fervent fermentation)
Bestow'd upon him, as the public learn'd;
And, to say truth, it had been fairly earn'd.

Besides the ministers and underlings,
  Who must be courteous to the accredited
Diplomatists of rather wavering kings,
  Until their royal riddle 's fully read,
The very clerks, — those somewhat dirty springs
  Of office, or the house of office, fed
By foul corruption into streams, — even they
Were hardly rude enough to earn their pay:

And insolence no doubt is what they are
  Employ'd for, since it is their daily labour,
In the dear offices of peace or war;
  And should you doubt, pray ask of your next neighbour,
When for a passport, or some other bar
  To freedom, he applied (a grief and a bore),
If he found not his spawn of taxborn riches,

But Juan was received with much 'empressement:'-
  These phrases of refinement I must borrow
From our next neighbours' land, where, like a chessman,
  There is a move set down for joy or sorrow
Not only in mere talking, but the press. Man
  In islands is, it seems, downright and thorough,
More than on continents — as if the sea
(See Billingsgate) made even the tongue more free.

And yet the British 'Damme' 's rather Attic:
  Your continental oaths are but incontinent,
And turn on things which no aristocratic
  Spirit would name, and therefore even I won't anent
This subject quote; as it would be schismatic
  In politesse, and have a sound affronting in 't: —
But 'Damme' 's quite ethereal, though too daring —
Platonic blasphemy, the soul of swearing.

For downright rudeness, ye may stay at home;
  For true or false politeness (and scarce that
Now) you may cross the blue deep and white foam —
  The first the emblem (rarely though) of what
You leave behind, the next of much you come
  To meet. However, 't is no time to chat
On general topics: poems must confine
Themselves to unity, like this of mine.

In the great world, — which, being interpreted,
  Meaneth the west or worst end of a city,
And about twice two thousand people bred
  By no means to be very wise or witty,
But to sit up while others lie in bed,
  And look down on the universe with pity, —
Juan, as an inveterate patrician,
Was well received by persons of condition.

He was a bachelor, which is a matter
  Of import both to virgin and to bride,
The former's hymeneal hopes to flatter;
  And (should she not hold fast by love or pride)
'T is also of some moment to the latter:
  A rib 's a thorn in a wed gallant's side,
Requires decorum, and is apt to double
The horrid sin — and what 's still worse, the trouble.

But Juan was a bachelor — of arts,
  And parts, and hearts: he danced and sung, and had
An air as sentimental as Mozart's
  Softest of melodies; and could be sad
Or cheerful, without any 'flaws or starts,'
  Just at the proper time; and though a lad,
Had seen the world — which is a curious sight,
And very much unlike what people write.

Fair virgins blush'd upon him; wedded dames
  Bloom'd also in less transitory hues;
For both commodities dwell by the Thames,
  The painting and the painted; youth, ceruse,
Against his heart preferr'd their usual claims,
  Such as no gentleman can quite refuse:
Daughters admired his dress, and pious mothers
Inquired his income, and if he had brothers.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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




Quiz