Don Juan

(an extract from)

by Lord Byron


Bob Southey! You’re a poet, poet laureate,
     And representative of all the race.
Although ‘tis true that you turned out a Tory at
     Last, yours has lately been a common case.
And now my epic renegade, what are ye at
     With all the lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like ‘four and twenty blackbirds in a pye’,
‘Which pye being opened they began to sing’
     (This old song and new simile holds good),
‘A dainty dish to set before the King’
     Or Regent, who admires such kind of food.
And Coleridge too has lately taken wing,
     But like a hawk encumbered with his hood,
Explaining metaphysics to the nation
I wish he would explain his explanation.
You, Bob, are rather insolent, you know,
     At being disappointed in your wish
To supersede all warblers here below,
     And be the only blackbird in the dish.
And then you overstrain yourself, or so,
     And tumble downward like the flying fish
Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob,
And fall for lack of moisture quite a dry Bob.
And Wordsworth in a rather long Excursion
     (I think the quarto holds five hundred pages)
Has given a sample from the vasty version
     Of his new system to perplex the sages
’Tis poetry, at least by his assertion,
     And may appear so when the Dog Star rages,
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the Tower of Babel.
You gentlemen, by dint of long seclusion
     From better company, have kept your own
At Keswick, and through still continued fusion
     Of one another’s minds at last have grown
To deem, as a most logical conclusion,
     That poesy has wreaths for you alone.
There is a narrowness in such a notion,
Which makes me wish you’d change your lakes for ocean.
I would not imitate the petty thought,
     Nor coin my self-love to so base a vice,
For all the glory your conversion brought,
     Since gold alone should not have been its price.
You have your salary; was’t for that you wrought?
     And Wordsworth has his place in the Excise.
You’re shabby fellows—true—but poets still
And duly seated on the immortal hill.
Your bays may hide the baldness of your brows,
     Perhaps some virtuous blushes; let them go.
To you I envy neither fruit nor boughs,
     And for the fame you would engross below,
The field is universal and allows
     Scope to all such as feel the inherent glow.
Scott, Rogers, Campbell, Moore, and Crabbe will try
’Gainst you the question with posterity.
For me, who, wandering with pedestrian Muses,
     Contend not with you on the winged steed,
I wish your fate may yield ye, when she chooses,
     The fame you envy and the skill you need.
And recollect a poet nothing loses
     In giving to his brethren their full meed
Of merit, and complaint of present days
Is not the certain path to future praise.
He that reserves his laurels for posterity
     (Who does not often claim the bright reversion)
Has generally no great crop to spare it, he
     Being only injured by his own assertion.
And although here and there some glorious rarity
     Arise like Titan from the sea’s immersion,
The major part of such appellants go
To—God knows where—for no one else can know.
If fallen in evil days on evil tongues,
     Milton appealed to the avenger, Time,
If Time, the avenger, execrates his wrongs
     And makes the word Miltonic mean sublime,
He deigned not to belie his soul in songs,
     Nor turn his very talent to a crime.
He did not loathe the sire to laud the son,
But closed the tyrant-hater he begun.
Think’st thou, could he, the blind old man, arise
     Like Samuel from the grave to freeze once more
The blood of monarchs with his prophecies,
     Or be alive again—again all hoar
With time and trials, and those helpless eyes
     And heartless daughters—worn and pale and poor,
Would be adore a sultan? He obey
The intellectual eunuch Castlereagh?
Cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant!
     Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin’s gore,
And thus for wider carnage taught to pant,
      Transferred to gorge upon a sister shore,
The vulgarest tool that tyranny could want,
     With just enough of talent and no more,
To lengthen fetters by another fixed
And offer poison long already mixed.
An orator of such set trash of phrase,
     Ineffably, legitimately vile,
That even its grossest flatterers dare not praise,
     Nor foes—all nations—condescend to smile.
Not even a sprightly blunder’s spark can blaze
     From that Ixion grindstone’s ceaseless toil,
That turns and turns to give the world a notion
Of endless torments and perpetual motion.
A bungler even in its disgusting trade,
     And botching, patching, leaving still behind
Something of which its masters are afraid,
     States to be curbed and thoughts to be confined,
Conspiracy or congress to be made,
     Cobbling at manacles for all mankind,
A tinkering slave-maker, who mends old chains,
With God and man’s abhorrence for its gains.
If we may judge of matter by the mind,
     Emasculated to the marrow, it
Hath but two objects, how to serve and bind,
     Deeming the chain it wears even men may fit,
Eutropius of its many masters, blind
     To worth as freedom, wisdom as to wit,
Fearless, because no feeling dwells in ice;
Its very courage stagnates to a vice.
Where shall I turn me not to view its bonds,
     For I will never feel them. Italy,
Thy late reviving Roman soul desponds
     Beneath the lie this state-thing breathed o’er thee
Thy clanking chain and Erin’s yet green wounds
     Have voices, tongues to cry aloud for me.
Europe has slaves, allies, kings, armies still,
And Southey lives to sing them very ill.
Meantime, Sir Laureate, I proceed to dedicate
     In honest simple verse this song to you.
And if in flattering strains I do not predicate,
     ’Tis that I still retain my buff and blue;
My politics as yet are all to educate.
     Apostasy’s so fashionable too,
To keep one creed’s a task grown quite Herculean.
Is it not so, my Tory, ultra-Julian?
Lord Byron | Classic Poems

Destruction of the Sennacherib ] Growing Old ] She Walks in Beauty ] Italy versus England ] The Eve of Waterloo ] from The Prisoner of Chillon ] The Isles of Greece ] [ from Don Juan ]






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