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Don Juan: Canto the First

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



I
  I want a hero: an uncommon want,
  When every year and month sends forth a new one,
  Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
  The age discovers he is not the true one;
  Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
  I'll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan,
  We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
  Sent to the Devil somewhat ere his time.II
  Vernon, the butcher Cumberland, Wolfe, Hawke,
  Prince Ferdinand, Granby, Burgoyne, Keppel, Howe,
  Evil and good, have had their tithe of talk,
  And filled their sign-posts then, like Wellesley now;
  Each in their turn like Banquo's monarchs stalk,
  Followers of fame, "nine farrow" of that sow:
  France, too, had Buonaparté and Dumourier
  Recorded in the Moniteur and Courier.III

  Barnave, Brissot, Condorcet, Mirabeau,
  Pétion, Clootz, Danton, Marat, La Fayette
  Were French, and famous people, as we know;
  And there were others, scarce forgotten yet,
  Joubert, Hoche, Marceau, Lannes, Desaix, Moreau,
  With many of the military set,
  Exceedingly remarkable at times,
  But not at all adapted to my rhymes.IV

  Nelson was once Britannia's god of War,
  And still should be so, but the tide is turn'd;
  There's no more to be said of Trafalgar,
  'Tis with our hero quietly inurn'd;
  Because the army's grown more popular,
  At which the naval people are concern'd;
  Besides, the Prince is all for the land-service,
  Forgetting Duncan, Nelson, Howe, and Jervis.V

  Brave men were living before Agamemnon
  And since, exceeding valorous and sage,
  A good deal like him too, though quite the same none;
  But then they shone not on the poet's page,
  And so have been forgotten: I condemn none,
  But can't find any in the present age
  Fit for my poem (that is, for my new one);
  So, as I said, I'll take my friend Don Juan.VI

  Most epic poets plunge "in medias res"
  (Horace makes this the heroic turnpike road),
  And then your hero tells, whene'er you please,
  What went before--by way of episode,
  While seated after dinner at his ease,
  Beside his mistress in some soft abode,
  Palace, or garden, paradise, or cavern,
  Which serves the happy couple for a tavern.VII

  That is the usual method, but not mine--
  My way is to begin with the beginning;
  The regularity of my design
  Forbids all wandering as the worst of sinning,
  And therefore I shall open with a line
  (Although it cost me half an hour in spinning),
  Narrating somewhat of Don Juan's father,
  And also of his mother, if you'd rather....CC

  My poem's epic, and is meant to be
  Divided in twelve books; each book containing,
  With love, and war, a heavy gale at sea,
  A list of ships, and captains, and kings reigning,
  New characters; the episodes are three:
  A panoramic view of Hell's in training,
  After the style of Virgil and of Homer,
  So that my name of Epic's no misnomer.CCI

  All these things will be specified in time,
  With strict regard to Aristotle's rules,
  The Vade Mecum of the true sublime,
  Which makes so many poets, and some fools:
  Prose poets like blank-verse, I'm fond of rhyme,
  Good workmen never quarrel with their tools;
  I've got new mythological machinery,
  And very handsome supernatural scenery.CCII

 There's only one slight difference between
  Me and my epic brethren gone before,
 And here the advantage is my own, I ween,
  (Not that I have not several merits more,
 But this will more peculiarly be seen);
  They so embellish, that 'tis quite a bore
 Their labyrinth of fables to thread through,
 Whereas this story's actually true.CCIII

 If any person doubt it, I appeal
  To history, tradition, and to facts,
 To newspapers, whose truth all know and feel,
  To plays in five, and operas in three acts;
 All these confirm my statement a good deal,
  But that which more completely faith exacts
 Is, that myself, and several now in Seville,
  Saw Juan's last elopement with the Devil.CCIV

 If ever I should condescend to prose,
  I'll write poetical commandments, which
 Shall supersede beyond all doubt all those
  That went before; in these I shall enrich
 My text with many things that no one knows,
  And carry precept to the
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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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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