Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
Don Juan: A Selection
By Lord Byron (1788–1824)
(From Don Juan: Canto I. 1819)

’T WAS on the sixth of June, about the hour
  Of half-past six—perhaps still nearer seven—
When Julia sate within as pretty a bower
  As e’er held houri in that heathenish heaven
Described by Mahomet, and Anacreon Moore,        5
  To whom the lyre and laurels have been given,
With all the trophies of triumphant song—
He won them well, and may he wear them long!
She sate, but not alone; I know not well
  How this same interview had taken place,        10
And even if I knew, I shall not tell—
  People should hold their tongues in any case;
No matter how or why the thing befell,
  But there were she and Juan, face to face—
When two such faces are so, ’t would be wise,        15
But very difficult, to shut their eyes.
How beautiful she looked! her conscious heart
  Glowed in her cheek, and yet she felt no wrong.
Oh Love! how perfect is thy mystic art,
  Strengthening the weak, and trampling on the strong!        20
How self-deceitful is the sagest part
  Of mortals whom thy lure hath led along!—
The precipice she stood on was immense,
So was her creed in her own innocence.
She thought of her own strength, and Juan’s youth,
  And of the folly of all prudish fears,
Victorious virtue, and domestic truth,
  And then of Don Alfonso’s fifty years:
I wish these last had not occurred, in sooth,
  Because that number rarely much endears,        30
And through all climes, the snowy and the sunny,
Sounds ill in love, whate’er it may in money.
*        *        *        *        *
The hand which still held Juan’s, by degrees
  Gently, but palpably confirmed its grasp,
As if it said, “Detain me, if you please;”        35
  Yet there’s no doubt she only meant to clasp
His fingers with a pure Platonic squeeze;
  She would have shrunk as from a toad, or asp,
Had she imagined such a thing could rouse
A feeling dangerous to a prudent spouse.        40
I cannot know what Juan thought of this,
  But what he did, is much what you would do;
His young lip thanked it with a grateful kiss,
  And then, abashed at its own joy, withdrew
In deep despair, lest he had done amiss,—        45
  Love is so very timid when ’t is new:
She blushed, and frowned not, but she strove to speak,
And held her tongue, her voice was grown so weak.
*        *        *        *        *
And Julia sate with Juan, half embraced
  And half retiring from the glowing arm,        50
Which trembled like the bosom where ’t was placed;
  Yet still she must have thought there was no harm,
Or else ’t were easy to withdraw her waist;
  But then the situation had its charm,
And then——God knows what next—I can’t go on;        55
  I’m almost sorry that I e’er begun.
*        *        *        *        *
’T was midnight—Donna Julia was in bed,
  Sleeping, most probably,—when at her door
Arose a clatter might awake the dead,
  If they had never been awoke before,        60
And that they have been so we all have read,
  And are to be so, at the least, once more;—
The door was fastened, but with voice and fist
First knocks were heard, then “Madam—Madam—hist!
“For God’s sake, Madam—Madam—here ’s my master,
  With more than half the city at his back—
Was ever heard of such a curst disaster!
  ’T is not my fault—I kept good watch—Alack!
Do pray undo the bolt a little faster—
  They ’re on the stair just now, and in a crack        70
Will all be here; perhaps he yet may fly—
Surely the window’s not so very high!”
*        *        *        *        *
I can’t tell how, or why, or what suspicion
  Could enter into Don Alfonso’s head;
But for a cavalier of his condition        75
  It surely was exceedingly ill-bred,
Without a word of previous admonition,
  To hold a levee round his lady’s bed,
And summon lackeys, armed with fire and sword,
  To prove himself the thing he most abhorred.        80
Poor Donna Julia! starting as from sleep,
  (Mind—that I do not say—she had not slept),
Began at once to scream, and yawn, and weep;
  Her maid, Antonia, who was an adept,
Contrived to fling the bed-clothes in a heap,        85
  As if she had just now from out them crept:
I can’t tell why she should take all this trouble
To prove her mistress had been sleeping double.
*        *        *        *        *
Now Julia found at length a voice, and cried,
  “In Heaven’s name, Don Alfonso, what d’ye mean?        90
Has madness seized you? would that I had died
  Ere such a monster’s victim I had been!
What may this midnight violence betide,
  A sudden fit of drunkenness or spleen?
Dare you suspect me, whom the thought would kill?        95
Search, then, the room!”—Alfonso said, “I will.”
*        *        *        *        *
Under the bed they searched, and there they found—
  No matter what—it was not what they sought;
They opened windows, gazing if the ground
  Had signs of footmarks, but the earth said nought;        100
And then they stared each others’ faces round:
  ’T is odd, not one of all these seekers thought,
And seems to me almost a sort of blunder,
Of looking in the bed as well as under.
During this inquisition Julia’s tongue
  Was not asleep—“Yes, search and search,” she cried,
“Insult on insult heap, and wrong on wrong!
  It was for this that I became a bride!
For this in silence I have suffered long
  A husband like Alfonso at my side;        110
But now I’ll bear no more, nor here remain,
If there be law or lawyers in all Spain.
*        *        *        *        *
“There is the closet, there the toilet, there
  The antechamber—search them under, over;
There is the sofa, there the great arm-chair,        115
  The chimney—which would really hold a lover.
I wish to sleep, and beg you will take care
  And make no further noise, till you discover
The secret cavern of this lurking treasure—
And when ’t is found, let me, too, have that pleasure.        120
“And now, Hidalgo! now that you have thrown
  Doubt upon me, confusion over all,
Pray have the courtesy to make it known
  Who is the man you search for? how d’ ye call
Him? what ’s his lineage? let him but be shown—        125
  I hope he ’s young and handsome—is he tall?
Tell me—and be assured, that since you stain
My honour thus, it shall not be in vain.
*        *        *        *        *
She ceased, and turned upon her pillow; pale
  She lay, her dark eyes flashing through their tears,        130
Like skies that rain and lighten; as a veil,
  Waved and o’ershading her wan cheek, appears
Her streaming hair; the black curls strive, but fail,
  To hide the glossy shoulder, which uprears
Its snow through all;—her soft lips lie apart,        135
And louder than her breathing beats her heart.
*        *        *        *        *
But Don Alfonso stood with downcast looks,
  And, truth to say, he made a foolish figure;
When, after searching in five hundred nooks,
  And treating a young wife with so much rigour,        140
He gained no point, except some self-rebukes,
  Added to those his lady with such vigour
Had poured upon him for the last half hour,
Quick, thick, and heavy—as a thunder-shower.
*        *        *        *        *
He stood in act to speak, or rather stammer,
  But sage Antonia cut him short before
The anvil of his speech received the hammer,
  With “Pray, sir, leave the room, and say no more,
Or madam dies.”—Alfonso muttered, “D—n her.”
  But nothing else, the time of words was o’er;        150
He cast a rueful look or two, and did,
He knew not wherefore, that which he was bid.
With him retired his “posse comitatus,”
  The attorney last, who lingered near the door
Reluctantly, still tarrying there as late as        155
  Antonia let him—not a little sore
At this most strange and unexplained “hiatus”
  In Don Alfonso’s facts, which just now wore
An awkward look; as he resolved the case,
The door was fastened in his legal face.        160
No sooner was it bolted, than—Oh shame!
  Oh sin! Oh sorrow, and Oh womankind!
How can you do such things and keep your fame,
  Unless this world, and t’ other too, be blind?
Nothing so dear as an unfilched good name!        165
  But to proceed—for there is more behind:
With much heartfelt reluctance be it said,
Young Juan slipped, half-smothered, from the bed.
He had been hid—I don’t pretend to say
  How, nor can I indeed describe the where—        170
Young, slender, and packed easily, he lay,
  No doubt, in little compass, round or square;
But pity him I neither must nor may
  His suffocation by that pretty pair;
’T were better, sure, to die so, than be shut        175
With maudlin Clarence in his Malmsey butt.
And, secondly, I pity not, because
  He had no business to commit a sin,
Forbid by heavenly, fined by human laws,
  At least ’t was rather early to begin;        180
But at sixteen the conscience rarely gnaws
  So much as when we call our old debts in
At sixty years, and draw the accompts of evil,
And find a deuced balance with the devil.
Of his position I can give no notion:
  ’T is written in the Hebrew Chronicle,
How the physicians, leaving pill and potion,
  Prescribed, by way of blister, a young belle,
When old King David’s blood grew dull in motion,
  And that the medicine answered very well;        190
Perhaps ’t was in a different way applied,
For David lived, but Juan nearly died.
*        *        *        *        *
He turned his lip to hers, and with his hand
  Called back the tangles of her wandering hair;
Even then their love they could not all command,        195
  And half forgot their danger and despair:
Antonia’s patience now was at a stand—
  “Come, come, ’t is no time now for fooling there,”
She whispered, in great wrath—“I must deposit
This pretty gentleman within the closet:        200
“Pray, keep your nonsense for some luckier night—
  Who can have put my master in this mood?
What will become on ’t—I ’m in such a fright,
  The devil’s in the urchin, and no good—
Is this a time for giggling? this a plight?        205
  Why, don’t you know that it may end in blood?
You ’ll lose your life, and I shall lose my place,
My mistress all, for that half-girlish face.
“Had it but been for a stout cavalier
  Of twenty-five or thirty—(come, make haste)        210
But for a child, what piece of work is here!
  I really, madam, wonder at your taste—
(Come, sir, get in)—my master must be near:
  There, for the present, at the least, he ’s fast,
And if we can but till the morning keep        215
Our counsel—(Juan, mind, you must not sleep).”
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