Don Juan: Canto the Fourth

Original Text: 
Byron, Works. 17 vols. London: John Murray, 1832-33. PR 4351 M6 1832 ROBA
586     And lay this sheet of sorrows on the shelf;
587I don't much like describing people mad,
588     For fear of seeming rather touch'd myself--
589Besides, I've no more on this head to add;
590     And as my Muse is a capricious elf,
591We'll put about, and try another tack
592With Juan, left half-kill'd some stanzas back.
594     Some days and nights elaps'd before that he
595Could altogether call the past to mind;
596     And when he did, he found himself at sea
597Sailing six knots an hour before the wind;
598     The shores of Ilion lay beneath their lee--
599Another time he might have lik'd to see 'em,
600But now was not much pleas'd with Cape Sigeum.
601There, on the green and village-cotted hill, is
602     (Flank'd by the Hellespont, and by the sea)
603Entomb'd the bravest of the brave, Achilles;
605And further downward, tall and towering still, is
606     The tumulus--of whom? Heaven knows! 't may be
607Patroclus, Ajax, or Protesilaus;
608All heroes, who if living still would slay us.
609High barrows, without marble, or a name,
610     A vast, untill'd and mountain-skirted plain
611And Ida in the distance, still the same,
612     And old Scamander (if 'tis he) remain;
613The situation seems still form'd for fame--
614     A hundred thousand men might fight again.
615With ease; but where I sought for Ilion's walls,
616The quiet sheep feeds, and the tortoise crawls:
617Troops of untended horses; here and there
618     Some little hamlets, with new names uncouth;
619Some shepherds (unlike Paris) led to stare
620     A moment at the European youth
621Whom to the spot their school-boy feelings bear;
622     A Turk, with beads in hand, and pipe in mouth,
623Extremely taken with his own religion,
625Don Juan, here permitted to emerge
626     From his dull cabin, found himself a slave;
627Forlorn, and gazing on the deep blue surge,
628     O'ershadow'd there by many a hero's grave;
629Weak still with loss of blood, he scarce could urge
630     A few brief questions; and the answers gave
631No very satisfactory information
632About his past or present situation.
633He saw some fellow captives, who appear'd
634     To be Italians, as they were in fact;
635From them, at least, their destiny he heard,
636     Which was an odd one; a troop going to act
637In Sicily--all singers, duly rear'd
638     In their vocation, had not been attack'd
639In sailing from Livorno by the pirate,
640But sold by the impresario at no high rate.
642     Juan was told about their curious case;
643For although destin'd to the Turkish mart, he
644     Still kept his spirits up--at least his face;
645The little fellow really look'd quite hearty,
646     And bore him with some gaiety and grace,
647Showing a much more reconcil'd demeanour,
648Than did the prima donna and the tenor.
649In a few words he told their hapless story,
650     Saying, "Our Machiavelian impresario,
651Making a signal off some promontory,
653We were transferr'd on board her in a hurry,
654     Without a single scudo of salario;
655But if the Sultan has a taste for song,
656We will revive our fortunes before long.
657"The prima donna, though a little old,
658     And haggard with a dissipated life,
659And subject, when the house is thin, to cold,
660     Has some good notes; and then the tenor's wife,
661With no great voice, is pleasing to behold;
662     Last carnival she made a deal of strife,
663By carrying off Count Cesare Cicogna
664From an old Roman Princess at Bologna.
665"And then there are the dancers; there's the Nini,
666     With more than one profession gains by all;
667Then there's that laughing slut the Pelegrini,
668     She, too, was fortunate last Carnival,
669And made at least five hundred good zecchini,
670     But spends so fast, she has not now a paul;
671And then there's the Grotesca--such a dancer!
672Where men have souls or bodies she must answer.
674     The rest of all that tribe; with here and there
675A pretty person, which perhaps may strike,
676     The rest are hardly fitted for a fair;
677There's one, though tall and stiffer than a pike,
678     Yet has a sentimental kind of air
679Which might go far, but she don't dance with vigour,
680The more's the pity, with her face, and figure.
681"As for the men, they are a middling set;
682     The musico is but a crack'd old basin,
683But, being qualified in one way yet,
684     May the seraglio do to set his face in,
685And as a servant some preferment get;
686     His singing I no further trust can place in:
687From all the Pope makes yearly 'twould perplex
689"The tenor's voice is spoilt by affectation;
690     And for the bass, the beast can only bellow;
691In fact, he had no singing education,
692     An ignorant, noteless, timeless, tuneless fellow;
693But being the prima donna's near relation,
694     Who swore his voice was very rich and mellow,
695They hir'd him, though to hear him you'd believe
696An ass was practising recitative.
697" `Twould not become myself to dwell upon
698     My own merits, and though young--I see, Sir--you
699Have got a travell'd air, which speaks you one
700     To whom the opera is by no means new:
701You've heard of Raucocanti?--I'm the man;
702     The time may come when you may hear me too;
703You was not last year at the fair of Lugo,
704But next, when I'm engag'd to sing there--do go.
705"Our baritone I almost had forgot,
706     A pretty lad, but bursting with conceit;
707With graceful action, science not a jot,
708     A voice of no great compass, and not sweet,
709He always is complaining of his lot,
710     Forsooth, scarce fit for ballads in the street;
711In lover's parts his passion more to breathe,
712Having no heart to show, he shows his teeth."
713Here Raucocanti's eloquent recital
714     Was interrupted by the pirate crew,
715Who came at stated moments to invite all
716     The captives back to their sad berths; each threw
717A rueful glance upon the waves (which bright all
718     From the blue skies deriv'd a double blue,
719Dancing all free and happy in the sun),
720And then went down the hatchway one by one.


585] Haidée's pirate-father has returned. Juan is captured and stowed in a slave-ship. Haidée, separated from her wounded lover, goes mad and dies. Stanza lxxiv begins at this point.
"cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd": see Macbeth, III, iv, 24. Back to Line
593] Ilion, ...: The ship approaches the Dardenelles (Hellespont) from the Aegean and, south-east of the entrance, passes Cape Sigeum (Janissary) near the site of Homer's Troy (Ilion). Mount Ida, where Paris (whose abduction of Helen precipitated the Trojan war) was brought up, is visible in the background; the river Scamander flows northward past the site. Byron writes to Henry Drury on May 3, 1810: "The only vestige of Troy, or her destroyers, are the barrows supposed to contain carcasses of Achilles, Antilochus, Ajax, etc.,--but Mount Ida is still in high feather, though the shepherds are now-a-days not much like Ganymede." Back to Line
604] Bryant: Jacob Bryant, author of a Dissertation confirming the War of Troy ..., which denied not only the siege but even the existence of Troy. Back to Line
624] Phrygian: native of ancient Phrygia, in which Troy was located. Back to Line
641] buffo: comic singer (usually bass) in Italian opera buffa. Back to Line
652] Corpo di Caio Mario: an unlikely oath. Gaius Marius was a Roman general and consul of the first century B.C. Back to Line
673] figuranti: the corps de ballet (not solo dancers). Back to Line
688] pipes of the third sex: male sopranos (eunuchs). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
published anonymously
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.519.