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Don Juan: Canto I (excerpt) -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

       
(Poem #1852) Don Juan: Canto I (excerpt)
 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.

 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.
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
I love Byron's work, both his exquisitely crafted short poems and the longer
epics like the superbly readable "Don Juan". I've just noticed that I have
yet to post an excerpt from the latter, so here's a delightfully irreverent,
tongue-in-cheek bit from the first canto.

This is one of my favourite forms of "parodic" verse, where the poet is, on
the face of it, mocking his own work as he is writing it, but on closer
examination is actually sending up the entire genre (in this case, epic
poetry). Chaucer had some nice examples of this (I speculate, with neither
proof nor knowledge, that later poets were influenced by him), and Byron
himself indulged in the practice on several occasions.

One of the things I love about Byron is how effortless he can make the
writing of perfectly polished verse seem, and that facility definitely shows
up here. Furthermore, you can read the lines and picture the enjoyment -
and, even more, the *fun* he doubtless derived from writing them.

Here's the immediately following "opening" he alludes to:

  'T is pity learned virgins ever wed
      With persons of no sort of education,
  Or gentlemen, who, though well born and bred,
      Grow tired of scientific conversation:
  I don't choose to say much upon this head,
      I 'm a plain man, and in a single station,
  But-- Oh! ye lords of ladies intellectual,
  Inform us truly, have they not hen-peck'd you all?

Not, sadly, one of his best efforts, despite the half-hour it cost him, but
I guess that's the way it goes :). Though, more seriously, while it is very
easy to pick on specific passages of Don Juan, that isn't really the point -
taken as a whole, it's a wonderful work, and well worth a read-through.

(Okay, I can't resist quoting the next verse too, since for sheer delicious
silliness it's one of my favourite bits from the first canto:

  It was upon a day, a summer's day;--
      Summer's indeed a very dangerous season,
  And so is spring about the end of May;
      The sun, no doubt, is the prevailing reason;
  But whatsoe'er the cause is, one may say,
      And stand convicted of more truth than treason,
  That there are months which nature grows more merry in,--
  March has its hares, and May must have its heroine.
)

martin

[Links]

Wikipedia on Byron:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gordon_Byron,_6th_Baron_Byron

A complete and annotated text of Don Juan:
  http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/7086/donjuan.htm

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