English Poetry LXVIII - Lord Byron - Don Juan: Canto the First (1-5)

Canto the First
Lord Byron - Don Juan


I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
I'll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan—
We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
Sent to the devil somewhat ere his time.


Vernon, the butcher Cumberland, Wolfe, Hawke,
Prince Ferdinand, Granby, Burgoyne, Keppel, Howe,
Evil and good, have had their tithe of talk,
And fill'd their sign posts then, like Wellesley now;
Each in their turn like Banquo's monarchs stalk,
Followers of fame, 'nine farrow' of that sow:
France, too, had Buonaparte and Dumourier
Recorded in the Moniteur and Courier.


Barnave, Brissot, Condorcet, Mirabeau,
Petion, Clootz, Danton, Marat, La Fayette,
Were French, and famous people, as we know:
And there were others, scarce forgotten yet,
Joubert, Hoche, Marceau, Lannes, Desaix, Moreau,
With many of the military set,
Exceedingly remarkable at times,
But not at all adapted to my rhymes.


Nelson was once Britannia's god of war,
And still should be so, but the tide is turn'd;
There 's no more to be said of Trafalgar,
'Tis with our hero quietly inurn'd;
Because the army's grown more popular,
At which the naval people are concern'd;
Besides, the prince is all for the land-service,
Forgetting Duncan, Nelson, Howe, and Jervis.


Brave men were living before Agamemnon
And since, exceeding valorous and sage,
A good deal like him too, though quite the same none;
But then they shone not on the poet's page,
And so have been forgotten:—I condemn none,
But can't find any in the present age
Fit for my poem (that is, for my new one);
So, as I said, I 'll take my friend Don Juan.

Cloy - disgust or sicken (someone) with an excess of sweetness, richness, or sentiment
Gazettes - A journal or newspaper.
Cant - Hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature
Vaunt - Boast about or praise(something), esp. excessively
Tithe - One tenth of annual produce or earnings, formerly taken as a tax for the support of the church and clergy
Banquo - is a character in William Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth
Farrow - a sow's litter
Dumourier - Charles François Dumouriez was a French general during the French Revolutionary Wars
Moniteur - French journal or newspaper.
Courier - A messenger who transports goods or documents, in particular
Inurn'd - Place or bury (something, esp. ashes after cremation) in an urn.