Don Juan Canto 9


When we last left Don Juan, he was fighting for the Russian army. Now what happens?

Well, this canto begins with a mocking address to Wellington: “Glory like yours should any dare gainsay,/Humanity would rise, and thunder “Nay!” (Canto IX, Stanza 1). Byron then provides the following footnote to go along with that couplet: “Query, Ney? — PRINTER’S DEVIL.”

Byron doesn’t like Wellington much even though he protected England from Napoleon. In case his readers think he’s on the side of the mobs who killed nobles during the French Revolution, he tells us he’s opposed to any kind of authority, including his own. I like this self-deprecating side to him.

It is not that I adulate the people:
Without me there are demagogues enough,
And infidels to pull down every steeple,
And set up in their stead some proper stuff.
Whether they may sow scepticism to reap hell,
As is the Chrisitian dogma rather rough,
I do not know; — I wish men to be free
As much from mobs as kings — from you as me.
-Canto IX, 25

Byron goes on to encourage people to rise up against their oppressors in another poetic turn of phrase.

Raise but an arm! ’twill brush their web away,
And without that, their poison and their claws
Are useless. Mind, good people! what I say —
(Or rather peoples) — go on without pause!
The web of these tarantulas each day
Increases, till you shall make common cause:
None, save the Spanish fly and Attic bee,
As yet are strongly stinging to be free.
-Canto IX, 28

A bit later, Byron admits he’s just making this all up as he goes along.

But I am apt to grow too metaphysical:
“The time is out of joint,” — and so am I;
I quite forget this poem’s merely quizzical,
And deviate into matters rather dry.
I ne’er decide what I shall say, and this I call
Much too poetical: men should know why
They write, and for what end; but, note or text,
I never know the word which will come next.
-Canto IX, 41

And so Byron skips ahead.

So on I ramble, now and then narrating,
Now pondering: — it is time we should narrate:
I left Don Juan with his horses baiting —
Now we’ll get o’er the ground at a great rate.
I shall not be particular in stating
His journey, we’ve so many tours of late:
Suppose him then at Petersburgh; suppose
That pleasant capital of painted snows;
-Canto IX, 42

Juan is now in Russia, bringing along the ten-year-old orphan girl he rescued on the battlefield. Catherine the Great immediately falls in love with him because he’s Don Juan. He’s only about 17 or 18 at this point, and she’s 61. So how does he feel about her?

He, on the other hand, if not in love,
Fell into that no less imperious passion,
Self-love — which, when some sort of thing above
Ourselves, a singer, dancer, much in fashion,
Or duchess, princess, empress, “deigns to prove,”
(‘Tis Pope’s phrase) a great longing, tho’ a rash one,
For one especial person out of many,
Makes us believe ourselves as good as any.
-Canto IX, 68

And that’s about it. Another short canto in which not much happens. If you still want to join me yet again, the next time I will tackle canto ten.

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