Poems » william byrd » don juan canto the fourth


But let me change this theme, which grows too sad,
     And lay this sheet of sorrows on the shelf;
I don't much like describing people mad,
     For fear of seeming rather touch'd myself--
Besides, I've no more on this head to add;
     And as my Muse is a capricious elf,
We'll put about, and try another tack
With Juan, left half-kill'd some stanzas back.

Wounded and fetter'd, "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd,"
     Some days and nights elaps'd before that he
Could altogether call the past to mind;
     And when he did, he found himself at sea
Sailing six knots an hour before the wind;
     The shores of Ilion lay beneath their lee--
Another time he might have lik'd to see 'em,
But now was not much pleas'd with Cape Sigeum.

There, on the green and village-cotted hill, is
     (Flank'd by the Hellespont, and by the sea)
Entomb'd the bravest of the brave, Achilles;
     They say so--(Bryant says the contrary):
And further downward, tall and towering still, is
     The tumulus--of whom? Heaven knows! 't may be
Patroclus, Ajax, or Protesilaus;
All heroes, who if living still would slay us.

High barrows, without marble, or a name,
     A vast, untill'd and mountain-skirted plain
And Ida in the distance, still the same,
     And old Scamander (if 'tis he) remain;
The situation seems still form'd for fame--
     A hundred thousand men might fight again.
With ease; but where I sought for Ilion's walls,
The quiet sheep feeds, and the tortoise crawls:

Troops of untended horses; here and there
     Some little hamlets, with new names uncouth;
Some shepherds (unlike Paris) led to stare
     A moment at the European youth
Whom to the spot their school-boy feelings bear;
     A Turk, with beads in hand, and pipe in mouth,
Extremely taken with his own religion,
Are what I found there--but the devil a Phrygian.

Don Juan, here permitted to emerge
     From his dull cabin, found himself a slave;
Forlorn, and gazing on the deep blue surge,
     O'ershadow'd there by many a hero's grave;
Weak still with loss of blood, he scarce could urge
     A few brief questions; and the answers gave
No very satisfactory information
About his past or present situation.

He saw some fellow captives, who appear'd
     To be Italians, as they were in fact;
From them, at least, their destiny he heard,
     Which was an odd one; a troop going to act
In Sicily--all singers, duly rear'd
     In their vocation, had not been attack'd
In sailing from Livorno by the pirate,
But sold by the impresario at no high rate.

By one of these, the buffo of the party,
     Juan was told about their curious case;
For although destin'd to the Turkish mart, he
     Still kept his spirits up--at least his face;
The little fellow really look'd quite hearty,
     And bore him with some gaiety and grace,
Showing a much more reconcil'd demeanour,
Than did the prima donna and the tenor.

In a few words he told their hapless story,
     Saying, "Our Machiavelian impresario,
Making a signal off some promontory,
     Hail'd a strange brig; Corpo di Caio Mario!
We were transferr'd on board her in a hurry,
     Without a single scudo of salario;
But if the Sultan has a taste for song,
We will revive our fortunes before long.

"The prima donna, though a little old,
     And haggard with a dissipated life,
And subject, when the house is thin, to cold,
     Has some good notes; and then the tenor's wife,
With no great voice, is pleasing to behold;
     Last carnival she made a deal of strife,
By carrying off Count Cesare Cicogna
From an old Roman Princess at Bologna.

"And then there are the dancers; there's the Nini,
     With more than one profession gains by all;
Then there's that laughing slut the Pelegrini,
     She, too, was fortunate last Carnival,
And made at least five hundred good zecchini,
     But spends so fast, she has not now a paul;
And then there's the Grotesca--such a dancer!
Where men have souls or bodies she must answer.

"As for the figuranti, they are like
     The rest of all that tribe; with here and there
A pretty person, which perhaps may strike,
     The rest are hardly fitted for a fair;
There's one, though tall and stiffer than a pike,
     Yet has a sentimental kind of air
Which might go far, but she don't dance with vigour,
The more's the pity, with her face, and figure.

"As for the men, they are a middling set;
     The musico is but a crack'd old basin,
But, being qualified in one way yet,
     May the seraglio do to set his face in,
And as a servant some preferment get;
     His singing I no further trust can place in:
From all the Pope makes yearly 'twould perplex
To find three perfect pipes of the third sex.

"The tenor's voice is spoilt by affectation;
     And for the bass, the beast can only bellow;
In fact, he had no singing education,
     An ignorant, noteless, timeless, tuneless fellow;
But being the prima donna's near relation,
     Who swore his voice was very rich and mellow,
They hir'd him, though to hear him you'd believe
An ass was practising recitative.

" `Twould not become myself to dwell upon
     My own merits, and though young--I see, Sir--you
Have got a travell'd air, which speaks you one
     To whom the opera is by no means new:
You've heard of Raucocanti?--I'm the man;
     The time may come when you may hear me too;
You was not last year at the fair of Lugo,
But next, when I'm engag'd to sing there--do go.

"Our baritone I almost had forgot,
     A pretty lad, but bursting with conceit;
With graceful action, science not a jot,
     A voice of no great compass, and not sweet,
He always is complaining of his lot,
     Forsooth, scarce fit for ballads in the street;
In lover's parts his passion more to breathe,
Having no heart to show, he shows his teeth."

Here Raucocanti's eloquent recital
     Was interrupted by the pirate crew,
Who came at stated moments to invite all
     The captives back to their sad berths; each threw
A rueful glance upon the waves (which bright all
     From the blue skies deriv'd a double blue,
Dancing all free and happy in the sun),
And then went down the hatchway one by one.