06 March 2014

Poetry Thursday - a bit of Don Juan by Lord Byron

London chimneys producing that "dun cupola" (via)

A mighty mass of brick and smoke and shipping,
Dirty and dusky, but wide as eye
Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping
In sight, then lost amid the forestry
Of masts; a wilderness of steeples peeping
On tiptoe, through the sea-coal canopy;
A huge, dun cupola, like a foolscap crown
On a fool’s head — and there is London Town!
Lord Byron, ‘Don Juan’
Started in 1818, Don Juan is a long, digressive, satiric epic poem, unfinished at Byron's death in 1824 and regarded as his masterpiece. Byron reversed the legend of Don Juan, portraying him not as a womaniser but as someone easily seduced by women.
Prononunciation of "Juan" may seem strange to Spanish speakers - in this poem it rhymes with "true one" - indeed throughout, the pronunciation of foreign words is in the English manner, as the rhymes make clear.
Part of the manuscript held by the Pierpont Morgan Library (via)
"Byron's manuscript of Don Juan reveals a fluid hand, the author often working with minimal revision to achieve a swift, conversational pace despite the complexity of his chosen rhyme scheme, ottava rima. Shortly after composing the first canto, page of which is shown here, Byron added several dozen stanzas to the poem. He then recopied some of the new stanzas crosswise, in a neat and regular hand, directly over the first draft. "The bore of copying it out is intolerable," he told a friend after completing the first canto, "and if I had an amanuensis he would be of no use, as my writing is so difficult to decipher." "
Soundbites are here, or read the book-length version courtesy of Project Gutenberg here. In less than an hour and a half, you can listen to Canto I (of 17), pleasantly read, hereThere are laugh-aloud moments, and the rhymes are a more quiet sort of fun - you hold your breath to hear what he's going to rhyme, sometimes. For instance, with intellectual ... nowadays he'd surely find a way to use metrosexual, a word not available 200 years ago ...

'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?

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