Don Juan By Lord Byron Canto XIII


I now mean to be serious; — it is time,
  Since laughter now-a-days is deem'd too serious.
A jest at Vice by Virtue 's call'd a crime,
  And critically held as deleterious:
Besides, the sad 's a source of the sublime,
  Although when long a little apt to weary us;
And therefore shall my lay soar high and solemn,
As an old temple dwindled to a column.

The Lady Adeline Amundeville
  ('Tis an old Norman name, and to be found
In pedigrees, by those who wander still
  Along the last fields of that Gothic ground)
Was high-born, wealthy by her father's will,
  And beauteous, even where beauties most abound,
In Britain — which of course true patriots find
The goodliest soil of body and of mind.

I 'll not gainsay them; it is not my cue;
  I 'll leave them to their taste, no doubt the best:
An eye 's an eye, and whether black or blue,
  Is no great matter, so 't is in request,
'T is nonsense to dispute about a hue —
  The kindest may be taken as a test.
The fair sex should be always fair; and no man,
Till thirty, should perceive there 's a plain woman.

And after that serene and somewhat dull
  Epoch, that awkward corner turn'd for days
More quiet, when our moon 's no more at full,
  We may presume to criticise or praise;
Because indifference begins to lull
  Our passions, and we walk in wisdom's ways;
Also because the figure and the face
Hint, that 't is time to give the younger place.

I know that some would fain postpone this era,
  Reluctant as all placemen to resign
Their post; but theirs is merely a chimera,
  For they have pass'd life's equinoctial line:
But then they have their claret and Madeira
  To irrigate the dryness of decline;
And county meetings, and the parliament,
And debt, and what not, for their solace sent.

And is there not religion, and reform,
  Peace, war, the taxes, and what 's call'd the 'Nation'?
The struggle to be pilots in a storm?
  The landed and the monied speculation?
The joys of mutual hate to keep them warm,
  Instead of love, that mere hallucination?
Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.

Rough Johnson, the great moralist, profess'd,
  Right honestly, 'he liked an honest hater!'-
The only truth that yet has been confest
  Within these latest thousand years or later.
Perhaps the fine old fellow spoke in jest: —
  For my part, I am but a mere spectator,
And gaze where'er the palace or the hovel is,
Much in the mode of Goethe's Mephistopheles;

But neither love nor hate in much excess;
  Though 't was not once so. If I sneer sometimes,
It is because I cannot well do less,
  And now and then it also suits my rhymes.
I should be very willing to redress
  Men's wrongs, and rather check than punish crimes,
Had not Cervantes, in that too true tale
Of Quixote, shown how all such efforts fail.

Of all tales 't is the saddest — and more sad,
  Because it makes us smile: his hero 's right,
And still pursues the right; — to curb the bad
  His only object, and 'gainst odds to fight
His guerdon: 't is his virtue makes him mad!
  But his adventures form a sorry sight;
A sorrier still is the great moral taught
By that real epic unto all who have thought.

Redressing injury, revenging wrong,
  To aid the damsel and destroy the caitiff;
Opposing singly the united strong,
  From foreign yoke to free the helpless native: —
Alas! must noblest views, like an old song,
  Be for mere fancy's sport a theme creative,
A jest, a riddle, Fame through thin and thick sought!
And Socrates himself but Wisdom's Quixote?

Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away;
  A single laugh demolish'd the right arm
Of his own country; — seldom since that day
  Has Spain had heroes. While Romance could charm,
The world gave ground before her bright array;
  And therefore have his volumes done such harm,
That all their glory, as a composition,
Was dearly purchased by his land's perdition.

I 'm 'at my old lunes' — digression, and forget
  The Lady Adeline Amundeville;
The fair most fatal Juan ever met,
  Although she was not evil nor meant ill;
But Destiny and Passion spread the net
  (Fate is a good excuse for our own will),
And caught them; — what do they not catch, methinks?
But I 'm not OEdipus, and life 's a Sphinx.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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