13 February 2006

Monday Quote Frenzy – Byron

Lord Byron’s dedicatory stanzas in Don Juan are a fierce attack on poet laureate Robert Southey and other gentlemanly romantics (especially Wordsworth). Any reading of stanzas 12 to 15 that conveys a modern political interpretation is purely… delightful.

Cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant!
Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin’s gore,
And thus for wider carnage taught to pant,
Transferred to gorge upon a sister shore,
The vulgarest tool that tyranny could want,
With just enough of talent and no more,
To lengthen fetters by another fixed
And offer poison long already mixed.

An orator of such set trash of phrase,
Ineffably, legitimately vile,
That even its grossest flatterers dare not praise,
Nor foes – all nations – condescend to smile.
Not even a sprightly blunder’s spark can blaze
From that Ixion grindstone’s ceaseless toil,
That turns and turns to give the world a notion
Of endless torments and perpetual motion.

A bungler even in its disgusting trade,
And botching, patching, leaving still behind
Something of which its masters are afraid,
States to be curbed and thoughts to be confined,
Conspiracy or congress to be made,
Cobbling at manacles for all mankind,
A tinkering slave-maker, who mends old chains,
With God and man’s abhorrence for its gains.

If we may judge of matter by the mind,
Emasculated to the marrow, it
Hath but two objects, how to serve and bind,
Deeming the chain it wears even men may fit,
Eutropius of its many masters, blind
To worth as freedom, wisdom as to wit,
Fearless, because no feeling dwells in ice;
Its very courage stagnates to a vice.


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