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Don Juan: Canto the Eighth

George Gordon Lord Byron 1788 (London) – 1824 (Missolonghi, Aetolia)

The town was taken--whether he might yield
  Himself or bastion, little matter'd now:
 His stubborn valour was no future shield.
  Ismail's no more! The Crescent's silver bow
 Sunk, and the crimson Cross glar'd o'er the field,
  But red with no redeeming gore: the glow
 Of burning streets, like moonlight on the water,
 Was imag'd back in blood, the sea of slaughter.

  All that the mind would shrink from of excesses;
  All that the body perpetrates of bad;
  All that we read, hear, dream, of man's distresses;
  All that the Devil would do if run stark mad;
  All that defies the worst which pen expresses;
  All by which Hell is peopl'd, or as sad
  As Hell--mere mortals, who their power abuse--
  Was here (as heretofore and since) let loose.

  If here and there some transient trait of pity
  Was shown, and some more noble heart broke through
  Its bloody bond, and sav'd perhaps some pretty
  Child, or an aged, helpless man or two--
  What's this in one annihilated city,
  Where thousand loves, and ties, and duties grew?
  Cockneys of London! Muscadins of Paris!
  Just ponder what a pious pastime war is.

  Think how the joys of reading a Gazette
  Are purchas'd by all agonies and crimes:
  Or if these do not move you, don't forget
  Such doom may be your own in aftertimes.
  Meantime the taxes, Castlereagh, and debt,
  Are hints as good as sermons, or as rhymes.
  Read your own hearts and Ireland's present story,
  Then feed her famine fat with Wellesley's glory.

  But still there is unto a patriot nation,
  Which loves so well its country and its King,
  A subject of sublimest exultation--
  Bear it, ye Muses, on your brightest wing!
  Howe'er the mighty locust, Desolation,
  Strip your green fields, and to your harvests cling,
  Gaunt famine never shall approach the throne--
  Though Ireland starve, great George weighs twenty stone.

  But let me put an end unto my theme:
  There was an end of Ismail--hapless town!
  Far flash'd her burning towers o'er Danube's stream,
  And redly ran his blushing waters down.
  The horrid war-whoop and the shriller scream
  Rose still; but fainter were the thunders grown:
  Of forty thousand who had mann'd the wall,
  Some hundreds breath'd--the rest were silent all!

  In one thing ne'ertheless 'tis fit to praise
  The Russian army upon this occasion,
  A virtue much in fashion now-a-days,
  And therefore worthy of commemoration:
  The topic's tender, so shall be my phrase:
  Perhaps the season's chill, and their long station
  In Winter's depth, or want of rest and victual,
  Had made them chaste--they ravish'd very little.

  Much did they slay, more plunder, and no less
  Might here and there occur some violation
  In the other line; but not to such excess
  As when the French, that dissipated nation,
  Take towns by storm: no causes can I guess,
  Except cold weather and commiseration;
  But all the ladies, save some twenty score,
  Were almost as much virgins as before.

  Some odd mistakes, too, happen'd in the dark,
  Which show'd a want of lanterns, or of taste--
  Indeed the smoke was such they scarce could mark
  Their friends from foes--besides such things from haste
  Occur, though rarely, when there is a spark
  Of light to save the venerably chaste:
  But six old damsels, each of seventy years,
  Were all deflower'd by different grenadiers.

  But on the whole their continence was great;
  So that some disappointment there ensu'd
  To those who had felt the inconvenient state
  Of "single blessedness," and thought it good
  (Since it was not their fault, but only fate,
  To bear these crosses) for each waning prude
  To make a Roman sort of Sabine wedding,
  Without the expense and the suspense of bedding.

  Some voices of the buxom middle-ag'd
  Were also heard to wonder in the din
  (Widows of forty were these birds long cag'd)
  "Wherefore the ravishing did not begin!"
  But while the thirst for gore and plunder rag'd,
  There was small leisure for superfluous sin;
  But whether they escap'd or no, lies hid
  In darkness--I can only hope they did.

  Suwarrow now was conqueror--a match
  For Timour or for Zinghis in his trade.
  While mosques and streets, beneath his eyes, like thatch
  Blaz'd, and the can
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:40 min read

George Gordon Lord Byron

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, known simply as Lord Byron, was an English poet, peer and politician who became a revolutionary in the Greek War of Independence, and is considered one of the leading figures of the Romantic movement. He is regarded as one of the greatest English poets and remains widely read and influential. Among his best-known works are the lengthy narrative poems Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage; many of his shorter lyrics in Hebrew Melodies also became popular. He travelled extensively across Europe, especially in Italy, where he lived for seven years in the cities of Venice, Ravenna, and Pisa. During his stay in Italy he frequently visited his friend and fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Later in life Byron joined the Greek War of Independence fighting the Ottoman Empire and died of disease leading a campaign during that war, for which Greeks revere him as a national hero. He died in 1824 at the age of 36 from a fever contracted after the First and Second Siege of Missolonghi. His only legitimate child, Ada Lovelace, is regarded as a foundational figure in the field of computer programming based on her notes for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. Byron's illegitimate children include Allegra Byron, who died in childhood, and possibly Elizabeth Medora Leigh.  more…

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