Sunday, September 02, 2007

Don Juan

This morning I was trying to remember a bit of Byron's 'Don Juan' that had made me laugh when I first read the poem at university. I hadn't looked at the poem in ages and when I started flicking through I found bits underlined and all my old notes in the margins. Some comments were obscure (made during a lecture I think and now very much out of context) but lots of the sections underlined reminded me of why I enjoyed this poem so much at the time.

Byron has such a wicked sense of humour. I particularly like his cheeky comments about Wordsworth, who must have loomed as a great presence over younger poets writing at the time. Take this stanza for example:

Young Juan wander'd by the glassy brooks
Thinking unutterable things; he threw
Himself at length within the leafy nooks
Where the wild branch of the cork forest grew;
There poets find materials for their books,
And every now and then we read them through,
So that their plan and prosody are eligible,
Unless, like Wordsworth, they prove unintelligible

Anyway, it turns out that the bit that I remembered was not part of 'Don Juan' as such, but a fragment written on the back of the first Canto:

I would to Heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling-
Because at least the past were passed 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 footnotes tell me that hock is a type of wine and a supposed remedy for hangovers; a kind of nineteenth century hair-of-the-dog.

I think this fragment is memorable to me because of Byron's passion and earthiness, and his very refreshing irreverence. I also like to think of him writing 'Don Juan' while battling a killer hangover.

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