When we last left Don Juan, he and his lover Haidee were having a party to celebrate the death of her slave-trader father Lambro. However, it turns out Lambro isn’t as dead as they had thought. Before we get back to the action, though, Byron starts off by telling us why he jokes around so much:
And if I laugh at any mortal thing,
‘Tis that I may not weep; and if I weep,
‘Tis that our nature cannot always bring
Itself to apathy, which we must steep
First in the icy depths of Lethe’s spring,
Ere what we least wish to behold will sleep;
Thetis baptized her mortal son in Styx;
A mortal mother would on Lethe fix.
-Canto IV, 4
Back to Juan and Haidee, Byron tells us their love was natural. They didn’t follow the examples found in romantic novels. “So that there was no reason for their loves,/More than for those of nightingales or doves.” (Canto IV, 19) However, Haidee receives a premonition in a dream:
The dream changed: in a cave she stood, its walls
Were hung with marble icicles; the work
Of ages on its water-fretted halls,
Where waves might wash, and seals might breed and lurk;
Her hair was dripping, and the very balls
Of her black eyes seem’d turn’d to tears, and murk
The sharp rocks look’d below each drop they caught,
Which froze to marble as it fell, she thought.
-Canto IV, 33
Lambro eventually reveals that he is still alive, points a pistol at Juan, and cocks it. “Lambro presented, and one instant more/Had stopp’d this canto, and Don Juan’s breath.” (Canto IV, 42) Fortunately, Haidee jumps in front of Juan so the canto can proceed. Lambro calls his men to remove Haidee and after a brief sword fight, they wound and capture Juan.
In a digression, Byron speaks of the effect different drinks have upon him:
Here I must leave him, for I grow pathetic,
Moved by the Chinese nymph of tears, green tea!
Than whom Cassandra was not more prophetic;
For if my pure libations exceed three,
I feel my heart become so sympathetic,
That I must have recourse to black Bohea:
‘Tis pity wine should be so deleterious,
For tea and coffee leave us much more serious.
Unless when qualified with thee, Cognac!
Sweet Naiad of the Phlegethontic rill!
Ah! why the liver wilt thou thus attack,
And make, like other nymphs, thy lovers ill?
I would take refuge in weak punch, but rack
(In each sense of the word), whene’er I fill
My mild and midnight beakers to the brim,
Wakes me next morning with its synonym.
-Canto IV, 51-52
Thinking Juan is dead, Haidee goes into a stupor, staring at the world with vacant eyes as if dead. Her father and attendants try everything they can think of to rouse her, but nothing works until a slave plays a song on a harp. Then “The tears rush’d forth from her o’erclouded brain,/Like mountain mists at length dissolved in rain.” (Canto IV, 66)
She ends up dying from sadness, but not alone, for she was pregnant with a “sinless child of sin” who will never be born. “In vain the dews of heaven descend above/The bleeding flower and blasted fruit of love.” (Canto IV, 70) Byron tells us the island is vacant today, but Greeks still sing of Haidee. She died from loving rashly, but “let none think to fly the danger,/For soon or late Love is his own avenger.” (Canto IV, 73)
Meanwhile, Juan is sold into slavery. We’re told his fellow captives are a group of Italian singers who got sold into slavery by the man who hired them to perform. (In a footnote, Byron tells us this really happened.) Juan is chained up with a beautiful woman, but he’s too distraught about losing Haidee to be seduced by her. Besides, Byron tells us that wouldn’t be very family-friendly:
Here I might enter on a chaste description,
Having withstood temptation in my youth,
But hear that several people take exception
At the first two books having too much truth;
Therefore I’ll make Don Juan leave the ship soon,
Because the publisher declares, in sooth,
Through needles’ eyes it easier for the camel is
To pass, than those two cantos into families.
-Canto IV, 97
Byron ends this canto by telling us he doesn’t care how long his fame lasts. When you’re dead, fame doesn’t matter to you anymore.
Whether my verse’s fame be doom’d to cease
While the right hand which wrote it still is able,
Or of some centuries to take a lease,
The grass upon my grave will grow as long,
And sigh to midnight winds, but not to song.
Of poets, who come down to us through distance
Of time and tongues, the foster-babes of fame,
Life seems the smallest portion of existence;
Where twenty ages gather o’er a name,
‘Tis as a snowball which derives assistance
From every flake, and yet rolls on the same,
Even till an iceberg it may chance to grow,–
But after all ’tis nothing but cold snow.
-Canto IV, 99-100
Well, for those of us who are still alive, join me next when I tackle canto five.