Tag Archives: Lord Byron

The Wit and Wisdom of Byron

I am having such a good time reading Byron’s Don Juan would like to share some passages from the first canto of  what might be the language’s most enjoyable long poem. [The witty lines are so sharp and smooth that one often forgets that the stanzas are in the exceptionally difficult ‘ottava rima’ form.]

ON LOVE

1.116
Oh Plato, Plato, you have paved the way
With your confounded fantasies to more
Immoral conduct by the fancied sway
Your system feigns o’er the controlless core
Of human hearts than all the long array
Of poets and romancers…
1.117
…But who, alas, can love and then be wise?
Not that remorse did not oppose temptation;
A little she strove and much repented,
And whispering, ‘I will ne’er consent’—consented.
1.65
…Yet he was jealous, though he did not show it,
For jealousy dislikes the world to know it.
1.62
Wedded she was some years and to a man
Of fifty, and such husbands are in plenty;
And yet I think instead of such a one
‘twere better to have two of five and twenty…

On Humans [and especially “progress”]

1.129
What opposite discoveries we have seen,
Signs of true genius and of empty pockets!
One makes new noses, one a guillotine,
One breaks your bones, one sets them in their sockets…

1. 132
This is the patent age of new inventions
For killing bodies and saving souls,
All propagated with the best intentions…
[These] are ways to benefit mankind, as true
Perhaps as shooting them at Waterloo.

1.133
Man’s a phenomenon, one knows not what,
And wonderful beyond all wondrous measure.
‘tis pity though in this sublime world that
Pleasure’s a sine and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.
Few mortals know what end they would be at,
But whether glory, power or love or treasure,
The path is through perplexing ways, and when
The goal is gained, we die you know—and then?

Miscellaneous Passages of Extraordinary Wit:

1. 183
None can say that this was not good advice;
The only mischief was it came too late.
Of all experience ‘tis the usual price,
A sort of income tax laid on by fate…
1.77
Sweet is a legacy, and passing sweet
The unexpected death of some old lady
Or gentleman of seventy years complete,
Who’ve made ‘us youth’ wait too, too long already
For an estate or cash or country-seat…
1.83
…A quiet conscience makes one so serene.
Christians have burnt each other, quite persuaded
That all the apostles would have done as they did.

1.218
What is the end of fame? ‘Tis but to fill
A certain portion of uncertain paper.
Some liken it to climbing up a hill,
Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour.
For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill,
And bards burn what they call their midnight taper,
To have, when the original is dust,
A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust.