Lord Byron's Don Juan

Lord Byron's Don Juan

Lord Byron's Don Juan

Lord Byron's Don Juan

Excerpt

On the back of his manuscript of canto 1 of Don Juan, Byron scribbled an exemplary stanza:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling‐
Because at least the past were pass'd away—
And for the future-(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly to-day,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say-the future is a serious matter—
And so-for God's sake-hock and soda-water!

The empirical world of Don Juan is typified in this stanza. The poem is identifiable with Byron's mature life, and excludes nothing vital in that life, and so could not be finished until Byron was. Don Juan's extraordinary range of tone is unique in poetry, but Byron's was a unique individuality, preeminent even in an age of ferocious selfhood.

Don Juan began (September 1818) as what Byron called simply "a poem in the style and manner of Beppo, encouraged by the success of the same." But as it developed, the poem became something more ambitious, a satire of European Man and Society which attempts epic dimensions. In the end the poem became Byron's equivalent to Wordsworth's projected Recluse, Blake's Milton, Shelley's Prometheus, and Keats's Hyperion. As each of these attempts to surpass and, in Blake's and Shelley's poems, correct Milton, so Byron also creates his vision of the loss of Paradise and the tribulations of a fallen world of experience. There is no exact precedent for an epic satire of this kind. Byron's poetic idol was Pope, who kept his finest satiric strain for The Dunciad and . . .

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