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Adventurous and contemplative : a reading of Byron's Don Juan Addison, Catherine Anne 1987

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) "ADVENTUROUS AND CONTEMPLATIVE" A R E A D I N G OF B Y R O N ' S DON JUAN by C A T H E R I N E A N N E A D D I S O N A THESIS S U B M I T T E D I N P A R T I A L F U L F I L M E N T O F T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T S F O R T H E D E G R E E OF DOCTOR OF P H I L O S O P H Y in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E STUDIES D E P A R T M E N T OF E N G L I S H We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F BRITISH C O L U M B I A 4 October 1987 © C A T H E R I N E A N N E ADDISON, 1987 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of The University of British Columbia 1956 Main Mall Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Y3 A B S T R A C T This dissertation on Byron's Don Juan begins with a history and analysis of the stanza form. Since ottava rima is a two-fold structure, comprising an alternately rhyming sestet followed by an independent couplet, it encourages the expression of dialectical ideas. Byron's prosodic virtuosity uses this potential to create a multivalent tissue of tones which is essentially—and almost infinitely—ironic. A view of prosody is developed here which is unique in its perception of the poem's existence in terms of a reading that unfolds in "real time." For various reasons, "reader-response" critics have not yet taken much cognizance of prosody. Don Juan is a good testing-ground for their approach because its narrator constantly addresses his reader, insisting on a present time which actively accumulates a past and projects a future, as a reader's consciousness moves sequentially forward through the text. The present time of the verse rhythms is the present time of the discourse, which is often most self-reflexive in the famous "digressions." Some of these begin with an epic simile whose vehicle grows out of proportion to its tenor; others are triggered by an interruption of the story, as the narrator—like a Renaissance improvisor in ottava rima— suddenly addresses his audience directly. Still other digressions are not metaleptic leaps from a fictional to a "real" world, or from one fictional world to another, however; they are the result of the narrator's tendency to linger too long in one world, elaborating descriptions until his story is forgotten. Despite the poem's many-voiced, digressive insouciance, an investigation of its moral and metaphysical components reveals that its irony has limits. Maugre those critics who would claim Don Juan as the paradigmatic work of unlimited, infinitely regressive Romantic irony, the issue of political liberty is not to be joked about, unlike the problem of erotic love. At this stable point in an otherwise absurd universe, Byron reveals a non-ironic self under the ironic mask. More effectively than traditional autobiography, because it is enacted rather than reported, this poem recreates its author dramatically, in terms of a shifting triangular relationship between narrator, protagonist and reader. The temporal locus of this relationship is a fictional present tense grounded in the "real" present time of a reading of the poem. ii T A B L E OF C O N T E N T S A B S T R A C T ii INTRODUCTION iv Chapter I OTTAVA RIM A: A S U R V E Y 1 Chapter II OTTAVA RIM A I N DON JUAN 38 Chapter III S IMILE 90 Chapter IV DIGRESSION 128 Chapter V T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R 170 Chapter V I N A R R A T O R , R E A D E R , PROTAGONIST 212 W O R K S C O N S U L T E D 273 iii I N T R O D U C T I O N Structuralist approaches to literary and non-literary texts, as well as to other artefacts,, instititions and natural phenomena have characterized much academic research and thinking in the second half of the twentieth century. Their world geometry projects a binary system as the prototype of structure, which may have become popular because it is the basic principle of the computer. Clearly, a system which simplifies the multiple and labyrinthine complexities of artistic construction to a series of comprehensible either-or categories is an extremely useful tool. What I, like many of the recent reader-response critics, feel to be frequently lacking, however, is a follow-up to the idealizing activity of structuralist approaches—a kind of return to the thing itself, after directions, positions and place-names have been studied on the map. This is not to advocate a romantic recapturing of primitive experience. Instead, I suggest a return which is not a regression, but a going back armed with as much knowledge and theory as possible—which is a return only insofar as it is a movement toward a closer observation of experience and the experiencing consciousness's acceptance or rejection of learned models. The binary system, or the world-as-exclusive-choices, has a simplicity of form which is favoured by human perception, but a point exists at which only the most stolid or brain-washed consciousness will not reject its limitations in the face of sheer diversity and complexity of phenomena. Byron's Don Juan has been most usefully divided by critics into two modes of utterance: narrative and digression. The poem appears to have two "protagonists": the hero and the narrator, who are the principal subjects of the narrative and the digressive modes respectively. Ottava rima, the stanza form Byron employs, falls into two parts: an alternately rhyming sestet and a couplet iv which does not rhyme with any line of the sestet. Clearly, the sestet lends itself to the forward-leaning movement of a story, whereas the couplet tends to produce more epigrammatic, less narrative utterances. The stanza allows this regular pulsation of narration and digression a formal metrical container with two differently shaped compartments in which the two separate utterances can be held. This structure, or critical outline, is a good one for a reading of Don Juan. A n "innocent" reader will probably not make much sense of the poem until he or she has constructed something like the above, either consciously or unconsciously. However, no good reading will sustain these particular dichotomies all the time throughout its passage through the text. A reader will encounter not merely an occasional exception to the rule, or Barthes' tissue of conflicting patterns of unruliness, but recurring episodes of rule-breaking which contradict the rule in consistent ways and which demand, in fact, a change in the rule which makes it less simple and prescriptive and more complex and descriptive. Most informed readers' experience of Don Juan— and, naturally, of many other texts as well—occurs somewhere in between chaos and binary mathematical order. Without trying to dislodge or undermine what are, in pre-critical readings of the poem (Frye's term), such useful structures, this dissertation is an attempt to account for a critical reading of Don Juan in some, at least, of its complexity, and to provide from this account certain amendments to structural models which make them indeed less elegant, but perhaps more finely adjusted to their environment and uses. In order to keep critical attention on the continuous present time of a sequential reading instead of on the fragmented atemporal experiences of a critic v with the text in hand, I create a fictional reader who performs and perceives the text in a fictional present tense. A narration of this reader's critical reading of Don Juan, as a single, finite event, is the basis of the dissertation—though, of course, following Byron's example, much digression and commentary is also included. Close observation and detailed description of the perceptual and active choices of a reader possessing the credibility of a "living fiction" reveals many shortcomings, or insufficiencies of detail, in theories of prosody, irony and narrative. Among the phenomena which elude the current structure's confines are narrative and digression. They are experienced by the reader as neither single nor mutually exclusive in Don Juan, since narration is frequently "digressive" and digressions sometimes narrative. Also, the hero and the narrator are not the only "protagonists," even excluding the other characters in the poem: the reader is frequently co-opted to play a part in the unfolding drama of the dialogue. And the three-fold structure of hero, narrator and reader is unstable, because all three of its members are protean and many-faced. The narrative—or, at least, the main story—is not the exclusive domain of the hero, Juan, for the narrator transgressively enters this story on occasion; the digressions, conversely, do not exclude Juan, but often comprise relevant discussion of him and his story, sometimes taking the form of over-elaboration of the narration. Byron's ottava rima does indeed generally divide into two along the line of its change in rhyme-scheme (between lines 6 and 7); but the divided sections are not necessarily a narrative sestet and a digressive couplet. A t times, whole blocks of stanzas, including couplets, narrate or digress; furthermore, the stanzaic turn is used for widely various purposes. This turn can also be—at least, vi partly—overridden by other effects. Predictably, the couplet is often used for irony of tone, but irony is not confined to couplets and much of the poem's irony is not tonal at all, but more subtle and comprehensive Romantic irony. Passages occur which are not ironic at all, and these, intoned in the vatic, single voice of the visionary lyric, are perhaps the most disturbing, when the reader considers them in context with the profound and cosmic ironies manifested elsewhere. These contradictions have led critics such as Mellor and Thorslev to regard Don Juan as an extreme example of Romantic irony: its antitheses are perceived as eternally unresolved, its ironies infinitely regressive. However, limits to Don Juan's irony do occur, though not, perhaps, in the realms of erotic love or human glory. Byron passionately advocates political liberty and rejects hypocrisy in this poem as in his own life; and these two stable points steady and order Don Juan's moral universe, just as its stanza form orders the texture of its discourse. I do not try to avoid binary structures in this dissertation; in fact, I use them wherever possible, because of their simplicity and strength. However, an encounter with this "versified Aurora Borealis" in all its "nondescript and ever-varying" multiplicity (VII, 2) acts as a prism on the light of simple logic, producing a spectrum of contrasting possibilities much more complex than the simple opposition of white and black. Don Juan can be better understood in terms of a matrix of combinations than by means of a dual set of exclusive categories; its relationships are more perceptively envisaged as a triangle of changeful, Tritonic figures than as a duality of narrator and protagonist; its texture is better illustrated as a finely adjustable system of foregrounding and backgrounding which may throw into relief many effects or just one, than by a vii set of antithetical devices which may be switched only on or off. These are the metaphors or models to which I have resorted, and if they do not. command the rhetoric of simplicity, they may possess an arabesque complexity which is compelling precisely because it is asymetrical. viii C H A P T E R I OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y Don Juan occurs, to the unfocused eye, as a series of opaque rectangular blocks on a page. Briefly, before the reading process begins, this visual impression may occupy the centre of consciousness. Then, as the eye focuses and starts to flick across line after line of print, other impressions take the foreground, one after another. The ease with which the reader forgets or backgrounds the poem's visual shape may puzzle a phenomenological critic at first, especially in the study of a text which refers to itself as often as this one. However, the two reasons for it are not hard to find. Firstly, as Roland Barthes claims, the "Text," unlike what he calls the "work," is not statically spatial but dynamic: it is "experienced only in an activity of production."1 What is produced by this activity when a narrative text is "set . . . going"2 is a story whose fictional space and time usually—though not always—occupy the reader's attention during reading. If, due to prompting by the text, the reader should become aware of this text's sensory surface instead of the story, the surface will no longer be constituted by the statically spatial or visual. Reading is essentially active; its principal dimension is not space, but time. 3 Gerard Genette claims that the written narrative "can only be 'consumed,' and therefore 1 OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 2 actualized, in a time that is obviously reading time." This time, according to Genette, is a basis for all the other times—fictional times, or "pseudo-time"—inherent in the narrative. 4 Reading, being essentially bound into motion along printed lines, will reduce visual awareness into a sort of kinaesthetic sense: a consciousness of linear motion in which a stanza is eight straight lines to be travelled over, not a rectangular shape. Secondly, Don Juan is not a prose narrative but a poem with a highly organized rhythm and rhyme scheme. Hegel is not the only theorist to claim that versification, whose art is to make "concrete" what in ordinary language is merely "abstract," does this through its taking up of time in "actual sound," which "must receive a definite configuration," as music does.5 Metrical poetry, with its rises and falls, its measured intervals, its chimes and its discords, subsists rather in the time-dominated sense of hearing than in the space-orientated sense of sight. "One cannot respond to the meter of a poem," writes Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "without hearing it performed, either by another reader or by one's self, vocally or subvocally."6 This dissertation will not begin to examine an actual reading of Don Juan until Chapter II. The present chapter is an attempt to freeze the moment before reading—the perception of the spatial—and to anatomise the shape perceived in terms of its construction out of language. As the mind contemplating a static object will soon follow a train of thoughts with no obviously visual foundation, so the discussion will move on to the intellectual paradigm which produced this stanzaic shape, and from thence to a brief history of both the stanza before it was discovered by Byron and of Byron's poetic development up to its discovery. Since the body of the discussion, in later chapters, will focus on the present OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 3 time of the reading experience—and the other fictional present times this generates—the first chapter must be conceived as existing largely in a kind of past tense. The author's intention is not to place a teleological model on the past: ottava rima was not born and raised for its use in Don Juan; Childe Harold's Pilgrimage was not merely a warm-up exercise for the magnum opus to follow. Nevertheless, since the central concern of this dissertation is the "now" of a reading—and, as Chapter V I will explain, of the writing—of Don Juan, other, previously written—and read—works will take on that past-tense perspective of "leading up to" the work in hand, however the author may protest. Teleology is a persistent side-effect of phenomenology. In modern English, many short poems, but only relatively few long ones, occur, like Don Juan, as squarish opaque blocks on a page. Stanzaic forms are mainly limited to the lyric, in which briefness, density and closure work with absence or backgrounding of narrative, to produce a single, complex impression in which space is at least as important a dimension as time. In a short work lacking the "and then...and then" structure of narrative, the linear concept of time may be suppressed and the reader may have a sense of simultaneity, of being highly conscious of beginning, end and body, even while the metered, time-dominated activity of reading is taking place. However, in a narrative, the reader usually needs to have a sense of an advancing, linear present time, to the detriment, more or less, of the sense of simultanaeity, which conceives of the whole work as a unit. Natural forgetfulness works in favour of this time consciousness. In a long work, even a reader with an excellent memory on a tenth reading will not achieve a sense of all the words and fluctuations at the same time. They must unscroll successively; they cannot all be seen at once. OTTAVA RIM A: A S U R V E Y / 4 Observing Don Juan from the ceiling, as it were, a reader is signally aware of the structural principle that distinguishes it from nearly all other printed narratives in English: it is organized into stanzas. Most other narratives are written in prose, which covers the whole printable space and is usually justified at both margins; prose divides horizontally into paragraphs whose size varies arbitrarily. Many long poems, which may be narrative to varying degrees, are in blank verse, which is a continuous column with a ragged right edge. Paragraphing, if it is marked, is, as with prose, fairly arbitrary. Now blank verse, because it utilizes the same metrical line as Byron's stanza, can be seen as one step nearer to Byron's verse than prose in stylization. Each stylizing step will place more restrictions on what can be said, owing to the necessities of rhythm and rhyme. This will be particularly evident to anyone who has ever attempted metrical composition. A certain amount of skill is needed to limit one's utterances in English to iambic pentameter, but most people, after a little practice, find that they can produce some regular lines by dint of reduction of unstresses and rearrangement of syntax, doggerel though it be: Small skill you need to write iambic metre; The trick is cutting down on parts of speech And rearranging syntax, so that now It makes a sense you did not first intend. Greater skill would even make the sense you did intend—at least, up to a point. How far this point varies from the point offered by prose, or by written prose, or by a particular style of written prose, are questions whose answers can only be estimated. In this discussion they will be largely evaded, though they remain implicit in analyses of the kinds of utterance made possible by a specific kind of verse. Questions like these assuredly plague students of literature in an age in OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 5 which criticism shows a marked tendency to equate thought with language. "Which language is the language of thought?" we ask; and our answer, if we find one, is extremely unlikely to be anything like "organized metrical form" or "ottava rima." For the moment, the important thing is to note that English is not squeezed with exceeding difficulty into the blank verse mold, even if the metrical liberties which many lengthy writers in this medium have allowed themselves are not taken. Breaking a continuous column of these lines into paragraphs can occur as "naturally" and as irregularly as it does in prose, and the point at which one idea is relinquished and another taken up can be understood as a paragraph division even if the column is not visibly broken. Sentence length and type will to some extent be governed by the form, but this form includes no regularly occurring encouragement to start a new idea or to end one. However, once a rhyme-scheme is added to the strictures to which a writer submits himself, the situation is substantially altered. To claim that speaking—or even writing—in rhymed verse in any language is "easy" or "natural" is probably ridiculous. In English, simply too few rhymes are available to make the form anything but highly artificial—and highly formulaic, as Byron's mocking chimes of "love" and "dove" (IX, 74), "bliss" and "kiss" (VI, 59) suggest.' As David Lodge points out, those who have tried to write rhymed verse know how difficult it is to say anything like what they mean; 8 the chances are that "just as the stanza likes to make it / It needs must be," with or without the help of "Walker's Lexicon": 9 OTTAVA RIM A: A S U R V E Y / 6 The syllable with which we end our line Comes back to roost, a spiteful incubus, Subverting every sensible design, And on absurd goose-chases sending us, By way of Hesperus and Appenine, When all we want to do is to discuss The task of making any statement seem a Spontaneous thought in good ottava rima. The sheer degree of difficulty involved in writing rhymed verse should not be forgotten by a critic of it. Most of the prose writer's problems must be solved by the writer of a verse narrative too; but the poet has in addition to these a highly stylized form and an increasingly determined diction and syntax to deal with. He must cope not only with the necessity for aptness of diction and metaphor, for variety in style and story, but he must contend as well with much harder questions of plausibility, of how to make any sentence, under these restrictions, sound as if it could ever have been uttered—even when he is not composing direct dialogue. The diction must be chosen in terms of an extremely artificial rhyme pattern, 1 0 as well as the slightly unnatural arrangement of stresses, and yet the whole utterance must seem to flow through its transitions as though it were the most simple and appropriate mode of expression. In a poem of two thousand-odd ottava rima stanzas, the difficulty of finding adequate rhymes in the language is compounded. Also, rhyme and metre are not the only restricting influences on the stanzaic poet's ability to express himself. He is forced, every eight lines, unless he very ruthlessly overrides the effects of the stanza, to make a new start. Over the eighty or so syllables of a single stanza, a kind of unity is imposed—even if this is merely the result of the surrounding white space. Obviously, human thought, however verbal and organized it may be as it reaches consciousness, does not "naturally" take on OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 7 this shape. Even if one thinks in such organized units as sentences or paragraphs, these will not all be of the same length. Both prose and blank verse have an ability to project a "natural" variability in the duration of ideas, which stanzaic verse strongly attempts to inhibit. Ottava rima is not the most difficult of the English stanzas to write: the sonnet and the Spenserian stanza are clearly more complex. However, W. H . Auden claimed he would "come a cropper" in it, choosing for his "Letter to Lord Byron" rhyme-royal instead. 1 1 The traditional English narrative stanzas, such as ballad measure, are relatively undemanding, being full of thorn lines and conventional rhymes. Like all the more elaborate forms, ottava rima has several implications apart from the simple bracketting together of eight pentameter lines and the less simple enforcement of certain syllable ends to these lines. The pattern of the rhymes is the stanza's exclusive signature. The first six lines have two rhymes, occurring alternately: ababab. The stanza is completed by a rhyming couplet which does not rhyme with any earlier line: cc. Thus, the most obvious structural feature is a break in continuity between lines 6 and 7. What one can further deduce from this bare skeleton is that the opening sestet will have a certain progressive facility which the couplet will tend to halt and break into. Alternate rhyming causes an onward-pouring effect; each line leans forward not onto the next successive line but onto the one after that. This effect will obviously be greater in six lines than in its minimum unit of four: each concluding syllable, a or b, is not merely echoed once but reinforced twice. The couplet rhyme, cc, will enter this pattern as a total alien, unlike the concluding couplet of a Spenserian stanza, which rhymes with the. sixth line as well as within itself and gives the whole a more interlaced effect. The rhyming of a line OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 8 with its next neighbour binds the two very closely together, and points the rhyme itself more strongly than when the chime is postponed. The rhymed syllables are closer in time to the ear and closer in space to the eye; they tend to make the eye and memory circle around them, rather to the detriment of forward progression.1 2 The effect of this stanza on the flow of thought will most likely be to allow a rush of narrative or description which is broken in on by a shorter, more epigrammatic utterance, whose tone is as different as the couplet is from the quatrains in an English sonnet. The form would lend itself to a contrapuntal discourse, an interplay of two voices, one expansive and the other more terse and reductive. Byron did not invent this stanza. The shape has held a great deal of content not at all like his. Ottava rima is, obviously, an Italian form; it was the stanza most commonly used for narrative poetry in Italy during the Renaissance. Although the earliest existing poem in this form is Boccaccio's Filostrato (1340),1 3 the stanza had almost certainly been used by minstrels as far back as the thirteenth century for both lyrical songs and narratives. 1 4 It was used, after Boccaccio, by Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, Tasso and a host of others for long written narratives and it was imported, with the sonnet and terza rima, into England by Wyatt and Surrey during the early part of the English Renaissance.1 5 However, the eight-line stanza has been used surprisingly little in this language. George Saintsbury, in his History of English Prosody, finds "noteworthy" the fact that "Chaucer, and still more Spenser, with the vast amount of ottava before them, used this actual form so little." 1 6 Milton uses the form only for the last eight lines of Lycidas;11 apart from Byron's three masterpieces in the measure, its more modern occurrences have been sparing too. Perhaps the most memorable OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 9 are Keats's troubling "Isabella" (based on a prose story from Boccaccio)18 and the renunciatory lyric, "Sailing to Byzantium," by W. B. Yeats. 1 9 Saintsbury's vague sense that this stanza's rareness is due to a foreign and slightly uneasy quality in the English octave is inadequate as an explanation. 2 0 However, the Ottawa's neglect is not easy to account for and must be ascribed to a number of factors spread over several centuries. The first is Chaucer and his invention, in the face of Boccaccio's octave, of his beloved and influential rhyme-royal. This seven-line measure resembles ottava rima in its alternating beginning and its couplet ending, but, having two couplets, the first of which is immovably fixed to the alternating quatrain, it exhibits a rather more gradual and organic transformation than does the octave. The second is Spenser, whose unique and stately neuvain offers another, more dignified example of the large narrative stanza for emulation by the English poets. And almost contemporaneously with The Faerie Queene, another obstacle appeared in the potential career of the English octave. A translation by Edward Fairfax of Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata was printed in 1600—in English ottava rima, to be sure—but it probably set back the stanza more than better poems in other measures. Fairfax's talent was for couplets, not octaves. His habit of isolating and pointing the last two lines of his stanzas fell, like a new tune, according to Saintsbury, "on ears, which, as we see from the result, were ready to hear." 2 1 This result was, of course, the extraordinary growth and popularity of the closed couplet, which dominated English poetry for nearly two hundred years, to the detriment of all the stanza forms. The Romantic revival revived these forms and multiplied them; discovering and re-energising ottava rima was Byron's main contribution to this process. For the first time in English, the octave was OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 10 inspired with a real passion which demanded and was reciprocally formed by the stanza's distinctive and actual shape. But Byron's virtuosity did not popularize ottava rima with other poets. In the age that followed Don Juan, poetry—except, perhaps, in the hands of Robert Browning—was to become increasingly serious, decorous and lyrical. The ottava had by now too much the stamp of a single personality and of his outrageous reputation; also, it was a form which had become firmly affixed to a (rather digressive) narrative mode in English, and narrative poetry was becoming less and less prolific. Although it can be used successfully for lyrical verse, 2 2 the octave is perhaps too antithetical a form for the enchanted melancholies of Victorian poetry. But most importantly, Don Juan's strongest influence was not on poetry at all, but on the novel. 2 3 This genre, with rare exceptions such as Eugene Onegin, is a prose form which, in the nineteenth century, increasingly appropriated the comic and narrative impulses of the age. Though a scrupulous analysis of certain prose paragraphs may yield some patterns that hark back to the ottava rima "counterpoint, the formal prosodic basis of Byron's narrative insouciance and ironic subversiveness left almost no observable trace on the literature. The history of ottava rima is hence largely an Italian history. But owing to differences between the two languages, the stanza is not quite the same in Italian as it is in English. The Italian form is based on a syllabic line of eleven units and a feminine rhyme scheme. Because the ear does not distinguish eleven syllables as easily as the five stress-units of English iambic pentameter, rhyme in Italian (as in other Romance languages, especially French) has a much more important function in the prosody. It acts as a major structural feature, punctuating and distinguishing the lines as units. Significantly, the better an OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 11 English poet mimics the Italian form, the more comic and conversational his poetry is likely to become. Feminine rhyme—and even triple rhyme—is not per se comic in Italian; in English it very nearly i s . " The Italian hendecasyllabic line usually contains five stresses, but the formal pattern is not violated by four or some other number, and the arrangement of these stresses does not have to be regular. If the wonderful "singing" fluency of the Italian language is ignored—as it must be, being inimitable—an English poet may suggest the Italian line by using very loose iambic pentameter, without strong regard for the placement or number of the stresses. This style lends itself to imitation, in verse, of the relaxed cadences of spoken prose, at least it does against the background of strict decasyllables which Byron had in the preceding two centuries of prosodic tradition. Clearly, an imitation in English of Italian ottava rima would be an even more "novelistic" form than the Italian, according to M . M . Bakhtin's conception of the novel. Feminine rhyme would make the verse potentially more comic, parodic, ironic;" the colloquial rhythms of the lines would allow it to contain "the low language of contemporanaeity"26 more-or-less as it is spoken. Nevertheless, ottava rima serves very nicely as a novelistic medium without any of the stylizing elements added when English emulates Italian. The pattern of rhymes alone—alternating progression followed by couplet closure—is sufficient for the dialogic imagination, as some of the Italian masters of this stanza demonstrate. Pio Rajna, writing on Ariosto, claims that "Fottava" is a "coat cut on [the Italian narrative's] back," and that precisely because it fits so well, it translates uneasily into other languages.2 7 Byron's achievement in English may be a refutation of the latter part of this claim; however, the first part deserves attention. OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 12 A brief scrutiny of - Italian narrative reveals that the octave is a stretchy garment. These poems, like Don Juan, seem able to contain almost anything. "It's what one has looked for in vain," writes Virginia Woolf of Don Juan's style, a little enviously: "an elastic shape which will hold whatever you choose to put in i t ." 2 8 Ottava rima has been employed for everything from the serious epic intentions of Tasso to Pulci's at times hilarious, Rabelaisian humour, apart from its non-narrative employment in the Tuscan version of the strambotto, known as the rispetto. Also, the range of modes and tones—sentimental, ironic, comic, tragic—that can be contained in one poem (for example, Orlando furioso), is remarkable. The Italian medley poem, or romance epic, is not an epic by Bakhtin's standards because of this very variety. 2 9 Even when this type of poem is serious, as it is for example in Ariosto's story of Isabella and her ill-fated love, 3 0 it is characteristically serious only for a time, provisionally, as if seriousness were only one among many other responses to the world, tragedy only one among infinite patterns of events, which will be, in the multivalency of plot and character, forgotten—at least, in its first poignancy—by reader and mourner alike. These poems partake of that "novelization" process Bakhtin describes thus: They become more free and flexible, their language renews itself by incorporating extraliterary heteroglossia and the "novelistic" layers of literary language, they become dialogized, permeated with laughter, irony, humor, elements of self-parody and finally—this is the most important thing—the novel inserts into [them] an indeterminacy, a certain semantic openendedness, a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality (the openended present).3 1 That the stanza is an important factor in this process can be demonstrated by looking first at its usage by the one poet in the tradition who OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 13 desired most passionately to write a true epic: Torquato Tasso. Now the antithetical structure of ottava rima lends itself to a more self-reflexive stance than might be desirable in high epic, whose language, according to Bakhtin, "is not separable from its subject."32 Perhaps Dante recognized this when, instead of taking up the octave for his Commedia, he invented the continuous terza rima. Certainly Tasso's own uneasiness with his work reflects a consciousness that it was dialogic rather than monolithic. 3 3 As Robert M . Durling argues, this inability to assert the "unity" he desired over the "multiplicity" he feared was a projection of Tasso's "innermost difficulties": Tasso's struggle for the "unity of his own psyche." 3 4 The second voice brought in by the couplet of ottava rima cannot be completely overridden throughout the course of an epic-length poem. 3 5 Fairfax did not distort the stanza of Gerusalemme liberata out of all recognition in his translation: the couplet is characteristically set a little apart from the sestet in Tasso, and it only too often brings in a consciousness of craftsmanship even when it is not used directly for commentary: E i ch'al cimiero ed al dipinto scudo non bado prima, or lei veggend impietra; ella quanto pud meglio i l capo ignudo si ricopre, e l'assale; ed ei s'arretra. V a contra gli altri, a rota i l ferro crudo; ma pero da lei pace non impetra, che minacciosa i l segue, e "Volgi" grida; e di due morti in uno punto lo sfida. 3 6 The prince well knew her, though her painted shield And golden hair he had not marked before; She sav'd her head and with her axe, well steel'd, Assail'd the knight: but her the knight forbore; 'Gainst other foes he prov'd him through the field, Yet she for that refrained ne'er the more, But following, Turn thee, cried in ireful wise And so at once she threats to kill him twice. 3 7 OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 14 Here, as elsewhere, Tasso reserves for the couplet his play of verbal wit. The "prince" (Tancredi) is falling in love with Clorinda, the beautiful paynim with whom he is at war; hence, in Petrarchan terms, she is assailing him with two kinds of weapon at once. Wordplay accentuates the effect that the movement of the couplet so often has in any case: a circling back over previously travelled ground, a differing tempo, a crescendo whose quality is slightly different from the impetus which carried it there. If, in the epic world, "it is impossible to change, to rethink, to re-evaluate anything in i t , " 3 8 this stanza is clearly not the ideal form for epic. Tasso comes late in the tradition, and he resists as far as possible the comic potential of the stanza. He must be regarded, for all his mellifluousness, as something of an oddity. His poem has been and will continue to be read for its romantic and pathetic passages, not for the high seriousness of its ideals or of the war that embodies them. The ottava rima tradition has from its naive beginnings, it seems, contained strong comic and parodic elements. In the early songs of the cantastories, according to R. D. Waller, The world of chivalry was vulgarized, reduced to the level of the bourgeois imagination. Charles the Great becomes a credulous simpleton. Rinaldo is the favourite hero, his valour being accompanied by a boisterous unruliness which appealed much more directly to the popular taste than the always grave conduct of Orlando. Fixed in tradition too became the character of Astolfo, the English knight, feather-brained, boastful and maladroit. Through all the stories runs not only that unconscious humour which results from the incongruity of matter and treatment, but a vein of deliberate fun which crops up here and there in the form of plain buffoonery. The knights are but artisans in armour; there is very little magic; prodigious deeds are performed by very ordinary men. Of the splendid old stories of Charlemagne and Roland there is little left but the names. 3 9 "Novelization" of this kind was possible, and the changes rapid, because the OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 15 cantastories' performance was essentially, like the commedia dell'arte, an improvised medium. Although the bare stories were conventional and large portions learned by rote, the treatment was continually altered to suit individual audiences. Also, the poems contained addresses to the audience by convention, especially at the ends of cantos, where the crowd was often exhorted to return next day for the sequel. 4 0 This device need not be comic exactly, but it does point up the fictiveness of the narrative and is an example of the self-reflexiveness which would in later works be called Romantic irony. Luigi Pulci, the Florentine who took up and transformed the minstrel stanza in the fifteenth century, is perhaps the most comic poet in the tradition, and this may be why, as an extreme, he was a revelation to Frere and Byron. Using and exaggerating the buffoonery of subject-matter already in the tradition, he was, unlike his predecessors, a written poet as well as a performer, and his works were printed and published. 4 1 His ironic humour extends to his use of the ottava rima, though this is not not as skilful as that of his great Ferrarese successor, Ludovico Ariosto. In Pulci's long poem, Morgante, many stanzas occur in which the joke is made or clinched in the couplet. I choose to quote one of these from the first canto because this was all that Byron translated and his translation is worth using. However, in this particular example, Byron's stanza is less true to type than Pulci's, for it enjambs line 6, denying his couplet quite the discreteness it has in the Italian: OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 16 Disse i l gigante:—Io i l porterd ben io, da poi che portar me non ha voluto per render ben per fnal, come far Iddio; ma vo' ch'a porlo adosso mi dia aiuto.— Orlando gli dicea:—Morgante mio, s'al mio consiglio ti sarai attenuto, questo caval tu non vel porteresti, che ti fara come tu a lui facesti. 4 2 The giant said, "Then carry him I will, Since that to carry me he was so s lack-To render, as the gods do, good for i l l ; But lend a hand to place him on my back." Orlando answer'd, "If my counsel still May weigh, Morgante, do not undertake To lift or carry this dead courser, who As you have done to him, will do to you." 4 3 (The giant, Morgante, has just broken the horse's back by riding on it.) Pulci's humour is, however, frequently more dependent on his fantastic subject-matter and its slapstick behaviour than on the structure of his stanza. Ariosto, writing somewhat later, in the early sixteenth century, is the Italian maestro of this style. Using the enchanted landscape and unfinished story bequeathed him by Boiardo in Orlando innamorato, Ariosto provides them not so much with comic incidents (though he does use these) as with a carefully crafted double consciousness—a quietly ironic voice which comments on the narrative, points up its incongruities, apologises for lapses in taste, explains its reasons for moving from one thread of story to another at certain times and exposes characters' inner motives, which the bare narrative does not perhaps immediately demonstrate. For his dialogic imagination, the octave stanza is the ideal medium. Orlando furioso is a masterpiece because at all levels of its composition, matter and form, structure and sentiment are perfectly suited one to another. A critic does not have to search very far to come up with a stanza like the following: OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 17 —Astolfo, re de'Langobardi, quelle-a cui lascid i l fratel monaco i l regno, fu ne la giovinezza sua si bello, che mai poch'altri giunsero a quel segno. N'avria a fatica un tal fatto a penello Apelle, o Zeusi, o se v'e alcun piu degno. Bello era, et a ciuscun cos! parea: ma di molto egli ancor piu si tenea. — 4 4 'Astolfo, of the Lombard kingdom heir, After the monk, his elder brother, died, Was in his youth so handsome and so fair That few with him in beauty could have vied; Not Zeuxis nor Apelles could compare With all their art, however hard they tried. Handsome he was and so by all was deemed, But he more highly yet himself esteemed.'45 This is in several ways typical of Ariosto. The most distinctive structural feature of his stanza is the most obvious characteristic of the bare paradigm: the change in tone in lines 7 and 8, where the new couplet rhyme brings in the author's comment, with its sly joke at the protagonist's expense. However, another, more minor division occurs in the middle of the stanza, which seems to be Ariosto's private signature, appearing with high frequency in the stanzas at the ends of cantos in which the authorial voice is most in evidence. What this feature does is to bring a subtle tone of irony into the last two lines of the narrative sestet, in order perhaps to make the tone of the couplet, with its strong irony and alien rhyme, less disjunct from what goes before. (Byron does this occasionally in Don Juan, but the device is not with him, as with Ariosto, characteristic.) 4' When Byron first read Orlando furioso is not known. 4 7 It was probably an early and important experience, for Ariosto's name crops up casually from the beginning of his private writings, though representing more a significant type OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 18 than a poet who invited imitation. 4 8 When the eighteen-year-old Byron flippantly describes his mother, in a letter to a friend, as "Mrs. Byron furiosa," and soliloquizes: "Oh! for the pen of an Ariosto to rehearse in Epic, the scolding of that momentous Eve,"*9 his desire must be taken as unconsciously prophetic, not directly intentional. Despite the urbane and witty humour Byron's letters demonstrate from the beginning, his early forays into the realm of comic poetry are rather narrowly and spitefully satirical, betraying nowhere that essential tolerance and ability to laugh with folly which are at the heart of Italian comic verse. Many years were to pass before his more generous sense of humour would find a poetic form that suited it. However, Byron's attempts at neo-classical satire in imitation of his idol, Pope, do demonstrate a certain facility with the closed couplet, which was later to stand him in good stead in the clinching of the octave stanza. A couplet like the following would not have shamed an Augustan poet: Shall gentle Coleridge pass unnoticed here, To turgid ode and tumid stanza dear? 5 0 But the somewhat stagey rhetoric of these lines, with their limited narrative capability, their carefully pointed parallelisms ("turgid . . . tumid") and their over-used inversions ("To turgid ode . . . dear") 5 1 were not likely to lead a young writer toward the discovery of a new and vital poetic voice. Byron was more innovative with the more "open" version of the couplet which William Bowman Piper calls the "Romance couplet." In Byron's hands this form often gains its forward momentum not so much from strong enjambment or the rhyming of lexically weak words 5 2 as from the sheer excitement of the situation, which forces the reader to utter the lines with great speed. Byron's rhymes are OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 19 almost always strong and most commonly involve important words such as verbs and nouns. The dramatic—perhaps melodramatic—intensity of the following poetry is what overrides the limiting effect of the two-line segments of which it is composed and encourages the passage, as Auden notes of all Byron's verse, to be "read very rapidly, as if the words were single frames in a movie f i lm." 5 3 (I need to quote at some length to demonstrate the effect.) Cold as the marble where his length was laid, Pale as the beam that o'er his features play'd Was Lara stretch'd; his half-drawn sabre near, Dropp'd it should seem in more than nature's fear; Yet he was firm, or had been firm till now, And still defiance knit his gather'd brow; Though mix'd with terror, senseless as he lay, There lived upon his lip the wish to slay; Some half-form'd threat in utterance there had died, Some imprecation of despairing pride; His eye was almost seal'd, but not forsook, Even in its trance, the gladiator's look, That oft awake his aspect could disclose, And now was fix'd in horrible repose.5 4 Byron's narration was more successful with tetrameter than with these pentameter couplets, mainly because the immense and tumbling speed of the terrific tales which, with Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, made him so popular, could more easily be represented by shorter lines whose rhymes follow more breathlessly one after another. Like Scott, from whom he borrowed i t , 5 5 Byron varies the tetrameter couplet with triplets, alternate rhymes, thorn lines and, occasionally, even pentameter couplets.5 6 The "latitude" of this style, which appealed to Scott, 5 7 lends itself admirably to Byron's requirements, even to the most volcanic of his moods: -3 OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 20 Who thundering comes on blackest steed, With slacken'd bit and hoof of speed? Beneath the clattering iron's sound The cavern'd echoes wake around In lash for lash, and bound for bound; The foam that streaks the courser's side Seems gather'd from the ocean-tide: Though weary waves are laid to rest, There's none within his rider's breast; And though tomorrow's tempest lower, 'Tis calmer than thy heart, young Giaour! 5 8 These lines represent an impasse into which Byron wrote himself and from- which the discovery—or rediscovery—of the Italian masters was to liberate him. They exhibit a primary virtuosity, in the sense that it is prior to the variety discussed by Peter Conrad in Shandyism.S9 They are not self-reflexive; they do not contain a narrative voice which says clearly and analytically: "See what I am doing?—it is difficult!"; but they are rhapsodic and their reader experiences a sense of being "carried away" by a poetic utterance whose exhilaration is highly dependant on strong rhyme and on a rhythm which strenuously conforms to the metre. The four-beat line offers little room for grammatical superfluities: metrical stresses strike lexical stresses in words whose structural importance in a line is marked. Rhyme, which increases stress anyway, falls on words whose influence on the sentence is formative. Byron's impasse was this poetic brilliance. His sentences are utterly lucid; he shies away from symbolism and verbal ambiguity. His most memorable utterances are categorical statements, his plots, tales of extremity. Seldom in blank verse do his lines acquire the inspired beauty of his rhymed verse, 6 0 in which all the structures of prosody are foregrounded and all work in the same direction. No development would be possible in this mode, no complexity, only endless repetition. The "Turkish tales," Manfred, Cain—most of Byron's romantic OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 21 narratives—all tell fundamentally the same story: The Doom of the Dark Outsider. The escape was to be not so much into a different story as into a metalanguage which drew attention to the speaker and his relationship, firstly, to his protagonist and, later, to his reader and the act of composition itself. This escape was made possible, at least partly, by Byron's discovery of new verse forms. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a significant work for this discussion because its composition spanned the period of impasse and changed in its progress over it. Byron's Spenserian stanzas have been slighted by critics who prefer Don Juan to Childe Harold;61 and yet this form, more interlaced and elaborate than ottava rima, is admirably suited to—perhaps is formative of—a poem whose narrator and protagonist are not definitively separated. Childe Harold is, of course, different in its two halves, the first being less self-reflexive; the earlier part is an attempt at a kind of anachronistic mediaevalism, in which an older narrator, using words such as "wight" and "Whilome"" traces, with some disapproval, the travels and sorrows of a young ex-debauchee. Byron's mastery of the closed couplet causes ironies like the following to break through even the "arabesque decoration"6 3 of the Spenserian's final hexameter: Deep in yon cave Honorius long did dwell, In hope to merit Heaven by making life a hel l . 6 4 However, Spenser's adaptation of the octave seems to have been made partly in order to remove the jarring ironic note of unconnected couplets. He made similar adjustments to the English sonnet, though not to connect up the couplet in this case, but to twine together the three otherwise disjunct quatrains. 6 5 In The Faerie Queene stanza, the rhyme scheme, ababbcbcc, clearly allows local affinities OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 22 between lines to take on the appearance of couplets, quatrains, terza rima segments, etc., according to their sense; but the overriding pattern denies total discreteness to any of these units. 6 6 Hence, the epigrammatic irony displayed above is seldom possible. Stanzas need to be quoted in their entirety to give even local effect: Childe Harold sail'd, and pass'd the barren spot, Where sad Penelope o'erlook'd the wave; And onward view'd the mount, not yet forgot, The lover's refuge, and the Lesbian's grave. Dark Sappho! could not verse immortal save That breast imbued with such immortal fire? Could she not live who life eternal gave? If life eternal may await the lyre, That only Heaven to which earth's children may aspire. 6 7 The main semantic division in this stanza occurs between lines 4 and 5, where the couplet rhyme ("grave . . . save") heals up the hiatus created by the full stop. Thus the neuvain operates very much as a unit, wandering down from the factual first line, through historical objectivity and speculation, to the highly metaphysical hexameter which closes it. Somehow, in this lingering progress, with its pauses for apostrophe and rhetorical question, a shift occurs, not merely of focus—from Harold to Sappho—but of subjectivity. To begin with, the Childe is the agent who "sail'd," "pass'd" and "view'd the mount"; at first blush, recognition of the "lover's refuge and the Lesbian's grave" appears to belong to him as well. However, the increasing absorption of the discourse in Sappho's elegiac significance, and also the categorical generalization of the last line, convey a more authoritative voice than Harold, with his posturing, can command in this poem. The contrast between the rhyming words "grave" and "save" hints at the relationship between Harold's and the narrator's view. The authorial second half OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 23 of the stanza, more deeply involved with Sappho's dilemma than the first, suggests, in its rhyme words, a resurrection about which the overt rhetoric is ambiguous: "save . . . fire . . . gave . . . lyre . . . aspire." The final line is, as Byron almost always employs it, heavily climactic, underpinning with sheer weight the hopes of immortality implied by these rhyme words and the cumulative progression of sentences. Six years separate the first two cantos of Childe Harold from the second two, and Byron continued writing the last after he had read "Whistlecraft" and while he was composing Beppo. The far higher quality of the poetry in these last two cantos is marked simultaneously by the frequent appearance of a highly personal "I" speaker and by an increasingly individual use of the Spenserian stanza. The long nine-line unit of thought asks for elaboration and digression—movement up to and away from an idea—as the meandering of the last-quoted stanza demonstrates. In the later cantos, Byron takes far greater liberties with enjambment, mid-line pauses, even run-on stanzas," and he completes his transformation of the final hexameter into a climax towards which the whole stanza moves—be it a ponderous crescendo or a long trailing elegiac train of thought. At the same time, he more frequently and cavalierly overrides the internal tightening or circling of the stanza's middle couplet, removing thereby the stately stand-and-turn routine of the Spenserian dance, and drawing the sense more strongly downward into the concluding alexandrine. The following two stanzas on St. Peter's Cathedral are run together syntactically so that the first hexameter is merely a provisional climax, while the second takes the pressure of a full eighteen lines. The middle couplets of both are overruled by being on the one hand enjambed at both ends and on the other formed by a rhyme of a OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 24 lexically stressed with a lexically unstressed syllable ("this . . . edifice"): Thou see'st not all; but piecemeal thou must break To separate contemplation, the great whole; And as the ocean many bays will make That ask the eye—so here condense thy soul To more immediate objects, and control Thy thoughts until thy mind hath got by heart Its elegant proportions, and unroll In mighty graduations, part by part, The glory which at once upon thee did not dart, Not by its fault—but thine: Our outward sense Is but of gradual grasp—and as it is That what we have of feeling most intense . Outstrips our faint expression; even so this Outshining and o'erwhelming edifice Fools our fond gaze, and greatest of the great Defies at first our nature's littleness, Ti l l , growing with its growth, we thus dilate Our spirits to the size of that they contemplate.68 At the climax of the poem, narrator and reader, sharing the dilation of spirit that this stanza signifies, become one in the plural pronoun, "our." This poetry is far from comic: its tone and subject-matter approach the sublime. Even the isolated ironies which mark some couplets in the earlier cantos have gone. The speaker has dispensed with a protagonist and identifies so closely with his utterance that the poetry has become its own subject-matter; the grandeur of the verse itself is what expands our "spirits to the size of that they contemplate." St. Peter's dome is a metaphor for the power of this inspired poetry rather than vice-versa. No room remains for humour here: the speaker is too closely bound into his own speech. And yet, for all this, the tone of the last cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is closer to that of Don Juan than to any note struck by the earlier tales. The stanzas above brood upon their own structure instead of galloping along transparently parallel to the galloping tale OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 25 that they tell. With only a little "opening up" of the distances between narrator and protagonist, between narrative and ironic structures in the stanza chosen, Byron changed from the poet of the brooding Childe to the poet of the life-affirming Don. On September 15, 1817, Byron wrote irritably to his publisher from Venice and brought to a head the dissatisfaction evident in many earlier letters. He feels that he has written enough—nay, too much—and that this is the end for him poetically (perhaps): —The other day I wrote to convey my proposition with regard to the 4th & concluding Canto [of Childe Harold}—I have gone over—& extended it to one hundred and fifty stanzas which is almost as long as the first two were originally—& longer by itself—than any of the smaller poems except the "Corsair"—Mr. Hobhouse has made some very valuable & accurate notes of considerable length—& you may be sure I will do for the text all that I can to finish with decency.—I look upon C[hild]e Harold as my best—and as I began—I think of concluding with it—but I make no resolutions on that head—as I broke my former intention with regard to "the Corsair"—however—I fear that I shall never do better—& yet—not being thirty years of age for some moons to come—one ought to be progressive as far as Intellect goes for many a good year—but I have had a devilish deal of wear & tear of mind and body—in my time—besides having published too often & much already. God grant me some judgement! to do what may be most fitting in that & everything else—for I doubt my own exceedingly. — 6 9 In the same letter, he asserts: With regard to poetry in general I am convinced the more I think of it—that he [Leigh Hunt] and all of us—Scott—Southey—Words wor th -Moore—Campbell—I—are all in the wrong—one as much as another—that we are upon a wrong revolutionary poetical system—or systems—not worth a damn in itself. 7 0 Only a month later, after a visit from his friend Douglas Kinnaird, who, although he did not bring tooth-powder as requested,7 1 did bring the first two OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 26 cantos of the newly published "Whistlecraft" poem, Byron writes: I have . . . written a poem (of 84 octave stanzas) humourous, in or after the excellent manner of Mr . Whistlecraft (whom I take to be Frere), on a Venetian anecdote—which amused me—but till I have your answer—I can say nothing more about it.—Mr. Hobhouse does not return to England in Novr. as he intended, but will perhaps winter here—and as he is to convey the poem or poems—for there may perhaps be more than the two mentioned . . . I shall not be able to publish so soon—7 2 The octave poem to which he refers is, of course, Beppo, whose ease of composition and immediate success in England led soon after to the commencement of Don Juan, which, though it grew in the writing, was begun in much the same spirit and remains in many ways very similar. These two poems, with The Vision of Judgement which was written in 1821 while he was working on Cantos III, IV and V of Don Juan, constitute Byron's canon of "half-serious" (IV, 6) ottava rima poetry. Many critics consider these three poems to represent his greatest poetic achievement. Surprising, in the light of Byron's distinct "discovery" of this stanza, is the fact that he had, in fact, used it before.73 In 1816, in Switzerland, when he had only just left England amid the storms of his nuptial separation and its accompanying scandal, Byron wrote one of his rare personal-confessional lyrics ("Stanzas to the Po" is another) in the form of a letter to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh—and its stanza was ottava rima. He may have stumbled on this verse-form by mistake, being in the habit at this stage of writing eight-line stanzas. However, his favoured octaves normally had tetrameter lines and the rhyme-scheme ababcdcd.1* Non-narrative and contemplative, the "Epistle to Augusta" does not betray any obvious influence of Ariosto or Tasso, whom Byron knew by this time. 7 5 Though much more subdued in tone, the "Epistle" resembles OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 27 Childe Harold in the later cantos more than anything else, for it displays the same kinds of freedom with enjambment and caesurae, and the narrator uses a highly personal "I" form of address. However, the more clearly defined writer-reader relationship apparent in the epistolary mode allows Byron here a kind of confessional self-irony that Childe Harold's narrator never achieves. (He can ironize Harold, but not himself.) The true couplet at the end of the stanza accommodates and encourages this tone: If my inheritance of storms hath been In other elements, and on the rocks Of perils, overlook'd and unforeseen, I have sustain'd my share of worldly shocks, The fault was mine; nor do I seek to screen M y errors with defensive paradox; I have been cunning in my overthrow, The careful pilot of my proper woe. 7 6 Not all the stanzas of the "Epistle" are pointed as distinctly in the last two lines as this one, but this is a good example, being an extreme, of how the couplet can work, in the very clarifying of an idea, essentially against that idea. Throwing it into sharp relief rather than simply summarizing, bringing in a different, circling movement and an alien rhyme, this couplet is a new and incisive vision of what the sestet slowly and regretfully develops. The effect is far more contrapuntal than the Spenserian stanza; two voices are audible here, even though the poem is both serious and meditative. The poem which Byron correctly ascribed to John Hookham Frere was entitled Prospectus and Specimen of an Intended National Work, and its authorship was claimed by William and Robert Whistlecraft of Stow-Market in Suffolk, Harness and Collar-Makers. Further, it "Intended to Comprise the Most Interesting Particulars Relating to King Arthur and His Round Table."11 Not OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 28 surprisingly, the new work acquired nicknames almost at once, and is now published under one of them, The Monks and the Giants. This poem, as a twentieth-century editor, R. D. Waller explains, takes its inspiration directly from the Italian comic poets, in particular, from Pulci. "Perhaps the most remarkable of Frere's gifts," writes Waller, "was his extraordinary talent for reproducing in English the spirit of other literatures." 7 8 The poem was a revelation to Byron; he adopted at once so many aspects of "Whistlecraft"'s style and execution that he actually became embarrassed by them. Waller claims: "As time went on Byron began to depreciate more and more the immediate source of his style in Beppo"; 7 ' ascribing it instead to "Whistlecraft"'s own source, Pulci, whom he read in the original only after the jolt of consciousness had been administered by Frere. Nearly all the characteristic features of The Monks and the Giants—its stanza, its conversational familiarity, its digressiveness, its frequent use of comic and feminine rhyme—at once became Byron's own, though, indisputably, everything Frere did, Byron did better—and took to extremes which Frere would never have ventured. Also, Byron's prior knowledge of Ariosto, his highly developed sense of literary decorum, his practised instinct for the uses and possibilities of stanza form and the urbane, irreverent, digressive wit that his letters prove to be essentially his own, contribute at least equally with the discovery of "Whistlecraft" to his mastery of this style. The Monks and the Giants was a catalyst at an important moment in Byron's career. A stanza like the following will demonstrate to anyone familiar with Beppo or Don Juan the extent of Byron's debt. Nevertheless, this verse is an extreme example for Frere, the lines being less strongly end-stopped and containing more parentheses than usual, whereas it would be rather a stiff and decorous stanza for Byron: OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 29 I think that Poets (whether Whig or Tory) (Whether they go to meeting or to church) Should study to promote their country's glory With patriotic, diligent research; That children yet unborn may learn the story, With grammars, dictionaries, canes and birch: It stands to reason—This was Homer's plan, And we must do—like him—the best we can. 8 0 That the new idea—Homer—enters the stanza with perfect appropriateness to its structure, in the couplet, could not have escaped Byron's classical eye. The comparison in which Homer is allowed to make his appearance is so inflated that it explodes the whole verse, whose overencoded meticulousness has up to now been generating humour by the opposite sort of distortion. Comically elaborate, the feminine rhyme "Tory . . . glory" was borrowed (with adjustments) by Byron for use in one of the more successful couplets of Beppo: And greatly venerate our recent glories, And wish they were not owing to the Tories. 8 1 With careful attention to the formal paradigm, Frere's sestet moves one way, his couplet another; and yet a sleight of hand, "It stands to reason," keeps expectation riveted, during the first part of the couplet, on the sestet's mode of diminution. And so the Homeric hyperbole is planted under cover, going off with pleasing unexpectedness for the reader. Of course, there are many aspects of Frere's style which are not dependent on the stanza per se. Like Pulci, he creates an unruly and rumbustious story whose developments are largely independent of the stanza it is narrated with. He is more digressive than his Italian models and this tendency is indeed encouraged by the dialogic stanza (digressiveness being a larger OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 30 development of the couplet's capacity for commentary). However, his digressions mainly occur at the beginnings and ends of cantos and seem to derive from the conventions of hail and farewell which go with oral poetry. Scott, mimicking a different oral tradition, uses similar conventions in a very different verse form and story. 8 2 Ottava rima is also much more versatile than Frere was to realize; its lyric, elegiac and satiric potentialities he hardly tapped at all, despite the examples of Tasso, Boiardo and even Ariosto. What Frere did for Byron was to caricature the Italian masters: to take the most eccentric, slapstick and vulgar of their canon—all that was least like the poetic models normally available to Byron—and translate it into English verse that contained many of the ingredients of Byron's own epistolary style: an easy colloquial familiarity, a digressiveness and a self-irony for which there were but few literary examples in the English tradition. He opened a window for Byron into a tradition which contains more complex and versatile poets than Pulci. Byron, who already knew some of the best of these without desiring to emulate them, was not slow to draw himself into the tradition by means of its extreme case, and then, by rapid experimentation with its subtler harmonies, to establish himself in it as its greatest English proponent and innovator. In Don Juan he draws out all the stops on his instrument, using it seriously as well as humorously and varying its tone perhaps more often than any previous performer. According to Swinburne, who uses a more warlike metaphor than I do and who may be a trifle partial, It is mere folly to seek in English or Italian verse a precedent or a parallel. The scheme of metre is Byron's alone; no weaker hand could ever bend that bow, or ever will. Even the Italian poets, working in a language more flexible and ductile than ours, could never turn their native metre to such uses, could never handle their national weapon OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 31 with such grace and strength. The terza rima remains their own, after all our efforts to adapt it; it bears here only forced flowers and crude fruits; but the ottava rima Byron has fairly conquered and wrested from them. 8 3 NOTES TO CHAPTER I ^ l a n d Barthes calls the "work" a "fragment of substance occupying a pari of the space of books (in a library for example)." The "Text" he calls a "methodological field" and a "process of demonstration"; it is "held in language" and "only exists in the movement of discourse." "From Work to Text," Image-Music-Text (New York: H i l l and Wang, 1977) 156-57. 'Barthes 163. 3See Gerald Prince, Narratology (Berlin: Mouton, 1982) 32: "It is practically impossible to narrate a series of events without establishing a set of temporal or temporally bound relationships between narration and narrated . . . . On the other hand, it is quite possible to narrate without specifying any relationship between the space of the narration and the space of the narrated." Prince is, of course, referring to the narrator and the narrative, rather than to the reader here. "Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell UP , 1980) 34. 5 G . W. F . Hegel, The Philosophy of Fine Art, IV (London: Bell and Sons, 1920). In the section entitled "The Expression of Poetry," Hegel claims that poetry, unlike other fine arts, is composed of material which, in its normal usage, is incorporeal, "an abstract sign simply" (56). The nature and genius of poetry—as of other arts—is to make the observer aware simultaneously of the truth being told and of the material employed in the imparting of this truth. Hegel decides that poetry has more in common with music than with the visual arts. It must, through stylization of its sound, foreground its form: "the sounding word, which in its temporal duration no less than its actual sound, must receive a definite configuration, one that implies the presence of time-measure, rhythm, melodious sound and rhyme" (57). Also, Rene Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949) 159; Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Poetic Closure (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968) 8-14; Donald Wesling, The Chances of Rhyme (Berkeley: U of California P, 1980) 54. 'Herrnstein Smith 10. OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 32 'Canto and stanza of Don Juan will be noted in the text throughout this dissertation. The edition used is Byron's Don Juan: A Variorum Edition, eds. Truman Guy Steffan and Willis W. Pratt (Austin: U of Texas P, 1957). 'David Lodge, The Modes of Modern Writing (London: Edward Arnold, 1977) 89. Lodge goes on to claim that the power of metre and rhyme to make a poet "say something that he would not otherwise have thought of saying" is "rarely admitted, as though there were something shameful about it." 9Beppo lxii i , Iii, The Poetical Works of Lord Byron (London: Oxford U P , 1926) 620, 619. 1 0Wesling writes: "As the reader gets further into the sequence, more and more elements of the discourse become determined" (71). The artificiality of rhymed verse seems to him most evident in the fact that "we positively avoid rhyme in ordinary speaking and practical writing" (28). n W . H . Auden, "Epistle to Lord Byron," Letters from Iceland (London: Faber, 1937) 22. 12See Herrnstein Smith: "There is good reason to believe that a rhymed couplet, when it corresponds to a syntactically complete utterance, is, in itself, an effectively closed form" (51). See also Wesling 77, and this dissertation, chapter II, note 18. 13See Ernest Hatch Wilkins, A History of Italian Literature (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1974) 102, 104. Filostrato tells the story of Troilus and Cressida, which is largely Boccaccio's invention (103). " A t a conference in Montreal on "I Cantari" (March, 1981), both Domenico De Robertis ("Nascita, tradizione e venture del cantare in ottava rima") and Armando Balduino ("Le misteriose origine dell'ottava rima") made strong claims against the theory that Boccaccio invented it, arguing that ottava rima had been in existence in the oral tradition long before Boccaccio. M . Picone and M . Bendinelli Predelli, eds., / Cantari: Struttura e tradizione (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1984) 9-47. Wilkins, in his chapter on folk literature, writes: "The most frequent type of folk lyric is a single-stanza octave, with eleven-syllable lines, which is commonly called the strambotto, or, in its Tuscan varieties, the rispetto. Of the early history of the strambotto we have no certain knowledge; but there is some basis for the opinion that it existed in Sicily early in the thirteenth century, and in Tuscany before the end of the century." The rispetto, though it consisted of only one stanza, had the ottava rima rhyme-scheme abababcc (9-10). It was, of course, a non-narrative form. "Both Wyatt and Surrey tend to emulate the lyrical rispetto (or strambotto), not the narrative version of the stanza. Thus, ottava rima usually appears singly in their work, as in such one-stanza poems as "Desire, alas, my master and my foo" (Wyatt 58) and "When reckless youth in quiet breast" (Surrey 74). Wyatt sometimes uses several octaves in one poem, such as the OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 33 complaint to his bed, "The restful place, Revyver of my smarte" (105), but he nevertheless does not put them to narrative use; he merely over-encodes the antithetical spirit of his own elegiac lyricism. When he does need a more narrative style (Satires 185-93), he turns to Dante's continuous terza rima. Collected Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1960). Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey: Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1985). 16George Saintsbury, A History of English Prosody I (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961) 408. Chaucer's use of the octave is a slight variation on the Italian model, rhyming ababbcbc and hence having a couplet in the middle, not at the end. See the "Monkes Tale," Canterbury Tales (New York: Henry Holt, 1950) 441-42. Spenser, who used the Italian ottava rima for Virgil's Gnat (Spenser's Minor Poems (Oxford: Clarendon, 1910) 172-94), was probably influenced by Chaucer's octave when he invented his own neuvain, which consists of a Monk's Tale stanza plus a final alexandrine rhyming with the eighth line. 1 7John Milton, Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1973) 147. 1 8John Keats, Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1967) 179-94. 1 9 W. B. Yeats, The Collected Poems (London: MacMillan, 1952) 217-18. "Saintsbury I, 408. "Saintsbury II, 277. "The single-stanza rispetto, like the strambotto, is a sung lyric. See note 14. " K a r l Kroeber claims that Don Juan "anticipates later novels rather than reworks earlier models." He goes on: "Russian literature provides evidence of this. The most significant poetic successor to Don Juan in European literature is Pushkin's Eugene Onegin [which is not in octaves], and Onegin becomes the starting point for the magnificent florescence of nineteenth-century Russian prose fiction." Romantic Narrative Art (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1960) 149. Philip Hobsbaum writes: "Byron was not only the greatest exponent of the subversive mode in verse; he was the last. A greater degree of flexibility even than he could encompass was on the way; but it was to transpire in the form not of verse but of prose. Don Juan's true successor is Martin Chuzzlewit." "Byron and the English Tradition," Byron: Wrath and Rhyme, ed. Alan Bold (New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1983) 51. "Saintsbury III, 100. "M. M . Bakhtin, "Epic and Novel," The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: U of Texas P, 1986) 7. "Bakhtin 21. 2 7Pio Rajna, Le Fonti dell'Orlando furioso (Firenze: Sansoni, 1876) 17. I OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 34 translate and summarize: "I'ottava e la forma narrativa piu felice delle literature moderne . . . . E un abito fatto sul nostro dorso, e giusto perche a noi sta benissimo, fa le grinze o stringe troppo se altri Vindossa. Succede anche all'ottava cib che accade ai metri greci, costretti a parlar tedesco." "Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary (London: Hogarth P, 1959) 3. "Rajna, refuting earlier claims for the epic status of these poems ("e ridicolo parlare di epopea"), defines them instead as novels, which have as much in common with the Iliad as an aerostat with a bird {"hanno tanto che fare co/ZTliade, quanto un aerostato con un uccello") (16). "Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando furioso (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1954) 24, lxxvii-xcii, 621-25; 29, i-xxx, 753-60. "Bakhtin 7. "Bakhtin 17. 3 3Tasso wrote a defence of his poem, called "Apologia in difesa della Gerusalemme liberata" in 1579, and in 1593 he rewrote the epic completely, publishing it under the new title Gerusalemme conquistata. In his prose writings, he often discusses the relation between unity and diversity in epic poetry. He claims, in his second discourse (of Discorsi dell'arte poetica e in particolare sopra il poema eroica), that although both the Iliad and the Odyssey possess epic unity, the former exhibits "simple unity," while the latter, less obviously unified, possesses "compound unity" ("composta unita") (390). In the Apologia, he writes: "Le piii fila non impediscono I'unita della favola, ma si bene le piu tela" (438). (Many threads do not affect the unity of the story, but many separate fabrics indeed do. M y translation.) Torquato Tasso, Prose (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardo, n.d.) "Robert M . Durling, The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1965) 201, 208. "Significantly, after the disappointment of Gerusalemme conquistata, Tasso's final attempt at epic, II' mondo creato, was written in blank verse. 3 6Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme liberata III, 23, Opere, I (Napoli: Fulvio Rossi, 1970) 128. "Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, trans. Edward Fairfax (New York: Capricorn, 1963) 49. 3 8 Bakhtin 17. 3 9 R. D. Waller, introduction, The Monks and the Giants, by John Hookham Frere (Manchester: Manchester U P , 1926) 3. 4 0See Jefferson Butler Fletcher, Literature of the Italian Renaissance (New OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 35 York: MacMillan, 1934) 144: "Always at a moment of suspense, he [the cantastorie] would break off abruptly, announcing continuation in his next, and specifying place and time: 'For your return on Wednesday let me pray, Which is—to speak precisely—All Saints Day. '" • "According to Fletcher, the final version of Pulci's Morgante was published in 1483 (143). 4 2 Luigi Pulci, Morgante I, 71 (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1955) 26. 4 3"Morgante Maggiore," Poetical Works 377. "Ariosto, Orlando furioso 28, iv, 728. 4 5Ariosto, Orlando furioso (The Fury of Orlando) II, trans. Barbara Reynolds (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1977) 154. 4 6See, for example, Canto I, 104. "See Peter Vassalo, Byron: The Italian Literary Influence (London: Macmillan, 1984) 1-2. 4 8See, for example, the letter to William Miller dated July 30, 1811, and the journal entry of November 24, 1813. Byron's Letters and Journals, (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1974) II, 63; III, 221. ^Letters and Journals I, 93-94. ""English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," Poetical Works 114. "See William Bowman Piper, The Heroic Couplet (Cleveland: Case Western UP, 1969) 13. "Piper 50, 52. "Auden, "Don Juan," The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (New York: Random House, 1962) 405. 5 4 Lara, Poetical Works 296. "Nearly all of Sir Walter Scott's long narrative poems, including Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, Rokeby and The Lay of the Last Minstrel, are written in this form. "Among Byron's narrative poems, The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Siege of Corinth, Parisina, The Prisoner of Chillon and Mazeppa are in this measure. "See Scott's prose epigraph to The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Poetical OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 36 Works (London: Oxford U P , 1967) 1. 5sThe Giaour, Poetical Works 247. i 9 In Shandyism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978), Peter Conrad writes: "The virtuoso . . . exists by self-indulgently taking liberties with artistic shape and moral precept, and he incites a rebellion of form against content" (49). This statement may have some application to the narrative aspect of Don Juan, but to Byron's earlier works it bears no relevance at all. These poems demonstrate an over-appropriateness—and, perhaps, simplicity—of form and content, and they have a studied unselfconsciousness which avoids the reflexive demand that the reader take note of form per se. "Byron's plays, including Manfred and Cain, are in blank verse. The interest of these works is often more psychological than stylistic: few of their lines are as memorable or as musical as lines from even the early couplet tales. "Paul West says of the Spenserian as used in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: "the dreamy, flatulent stanza looks and sounds unapt. What might have been crisp reporting declines into a languid pageant." Byron and the Spoiler's Art (London: Chatto and Windus, 1960) 53. Saintsbury complains of Byron's "vulgarity" in Childe Harold and his inability to find the "right line" for the Spenserian stanza (III, 98). t2Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I, i i , Poetical Works 176. " G . K . Hunter, "Amoretti and the English Sonnet," A Theatre for Spenserians, eds. Judith M . Kennedy and James A. Reither (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1973) 135. "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I, xx, Poetical Works 179. "Spenser's sonnets usually rhyme ababbcbccdcdee, allowing, as in the Italian sonnet, an ambiguity between alternating and couplet structure. Although his final couplet is formally as disjunct as that of a normal English sonnet, Spenser seldom makes it semantically disjunct or ironic: it is usually a summary or development of what went before. According to Hunter, "Spenser's couplet does not move us into a new plane of sharp relationship between the elements that have appeared. It restates the mood that the situation of the octave has already created. It does not define with sharp finality, but leads us back into the poem, smoothing and further interrelating the connections that already exist" (135). "See William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (London: Chatto and Windus, 1947) 33-34. "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage II, xxxix, Poetical Works 195. t%Childe Harold's Pilgrimage IV, clvii-clviii, Poetical Works 240. ^Letters and Journals V , 264-65. OTTAVA RIMA: A S U R V E Y / 37 ''"Letters and Journals V , 265. Byron goes on to compare himself and these others unfavourably with Pope. "Byron complains in the same letter in which he acknowledges Whistlecraft's "excellent manner" that "all [Murray's] missives came except the tooth-powder—of which I request further supplies at all convenient opportunities—as also of Magnesia & Soda-powders—both great luxuries here—& neither to be had good—or indeed hardly at all of the natives." Letters and Journals V , 267. 12Letters and Journals V , 267-68. "Vassallo argues that "fragments" of some "experimental verses" in ottava rima "ridiculing Southey's rise to the Laureateship" are to be found in the John Murray Archives, London, dating from as early as 1814 (141, 176). 7 4See, for example, "Translation from the Medea of Euripides" (Poetical Works 24), "I Would I Were a Careless Child" (43), "Away, Away, Ye Notes of Woe" (62-63), "If Sometimes in the Haunts of Men" (64-65). Other tetrameter octaves have patterns such as aabcbcdd ("Translation from Horace" (5)), aaabcccb ("Translation from Catullus" (5)), ababbcbc ("My Soul is Dark" (78)). "Vassallo claims that Byron had read Ariosto, Dante and Tasso in Italian by 1816 (2). 7 6"Epistle to Augusta," Poetical Works 89. "Frere 63. "Frere 36. "Frere 49. 8 0"Proem" vii, Frere 66. tlBeppo lxix, Poetical Works 619. 8 JSee Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel 1-48. "Algernon Charles Swinburne, Essays and Studies (London: Chatto and Windus, 1875) 251-52. C H A P T E R II OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN A critic or prosodist tends to go about his business with a work of literature like a government inspector. Pencil in hand, he bustles erratically through the work, weighing and measuring, testing passages for qualities he wants to discuss, jumping forward and back, looking for examples, searching out key terms, marking up the print and avidly writing notes in the margin. An event, or series of events, this may be; a reading it is not. Losing what Genette calls the essential "sequentially" of a text,1 the critic loses the text itself. Without its crucial time dimension, the text becomes spatialized, "fixed," objectified: its dynamism, its tissue of uncertainties, what Barthes describes as "an immense fading that assures both overlapping and loss of messages,"2 are all sacrificed to a clarity that comes from the visual sense of an object "all there," spread open with the leaves of a book, able to be ravished or possessed. The theorist has, of course, read the text. However, he has almost certainly vitiated his reading by subsequently consuming a number of critical and theoretical works which he feels will react with his impressions and precipitate from them an argument. When he sits down, a blank page before him, to write his own prose, he is probably surrounded by books with markers in them, while 38 OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 39 the "primary text" lies open at hand, ready to be flipped through and scanned for effects and examples at any moment. This situation, or event, being that most immediately juxtaposed to his writing, will most probably comprise the subject-matter of his critical discourse—which is a pity, because impressions received from scanning a text are often very different from the experience of a reading, and a reading, complete and sequential, must be valued above . a fragmentary and disordered survey. The trouble is that the critic often appears unaware that he is writing about an "event" at all. Perceiving the visual-spatial dimension instead of the auditory-temporal, he may use a plastic metaphor for his process of observation. The text, like a sculpture, stays still and unchanging for his examination, and he may accumulate impressions arithmetically, looking from any angle he chooses, and in any order. However, a musical metaphor, as Hegel and Barthes agree,3 is a better one for a literary text, which comes into being only in a performance or reading and alters in every playing of it. A critical scanning is inadequate as a playing, although were it to trigger more complete memories of an earlier reading, it would not be a purposeless exercise. The critic ought to acknowledge a hierarchy of events and try, at least, to recreate the serial impressions of a good reading rather than to record the atemporal fragments of his own immediate experience. Unfortunately, the sculptural model for poetry appeals to the "despotism of the eye"4—the dominance that vision can assert over the other senses. A critic may need the reification of visual-spatial perception in order to be "objective"—perhaps admirably—in the moral as well as the perceptual sense. He may even, like Wimsatt and Beardsley, lose his ontological security at the suggestion that a work of literature exist only contingently, and declare with OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 40 them that "a performance is an event, but the poem, if there is any poem, must be some kind of enduring object."5 Enduring objects and things in themselves have proved, alas, notoriously resistant to human knowledge so far. But recognizing this does not necessarily entail despair; indeed, it can bring a sense of release from the totalitarian laws of "objectivity." It can give the critic a more open gestalt, allow him to examine phenomena and impressions of which he might, "objectively," have been suspicious or ashamed. Liberated from the demands of accuracy and facticity, he becomes free to perform the text and play with it as an active participant, not a mere consumer or observer.6 Observing will nevertheless remain for him an important aspect of performance, rather in the way Barthes nostalgically conceives music once to have existed: when "'playing' and 'listening' formed a scarcely differentiated activity." 7 A good reading will fuse the two roles of performing and perceiving and will keep open the organs of perception even to visual phenomena—such as they are. However, the critic's dilemma is only made brutally conscious to him by this change of focus, not solved. It is impossible to read and write at the same time. He must accept this shortcoming and realize that, apart from giving up writing critical papers altogether, he will find no "real" solution to his problem. The temporal can be known only in the fleeting contingency of time; as soon as it is viewed retrospectively, it is foreshortened, made episodic, spatialized. To retain the time dimension even in events of the critic's life as he casually reviews them is difficult; a collage of "stills" is often how they appear in memory, duration becoming instantaneous. And yet writers of fiction manage to suggest the passage of time in the lives of characters, even when narration is scanty or non-existent. Lived time is OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 41 apparently capable of representation; and in this capacity lies a clue for the critic's dilemma. If he can find no "real" solution to his problem, perhaps he can create a fictional one. His work of criticism could become—at least partially—a work of fiction, whose protagonist is a reader of the text he proposes to discuss and whose plot is the movement of this reader through the text, in order, from beginning to end. Of course, the critic's narration does not have to go in this order; nor does he have to narrate all of his reader's progress in detail—he can merely announce that this occurs.8 Having his reader in front of him, as it were under construction, the critic will realize that he can manipulate this reader's responses and tendencies in various ways for particular effects, polemical or aesthetic. Close on this realization will come the recognition that he has, in fact, always done this kind of manipulation, even when he was striving for truth and objectivity. Lines which he has privately read with reverence he has sneered at in print, for the sake of consistency or politics. His actual experience of a text has often been very different from the more intelligent one he has written about. Previously he was guilty of bad faith; now he can lie cheerfully and with a quiet conscience. Although the critic-author can know the inner responses of his reader-character in ways in which, in "real life," he can know only his own, this reader can—and indeed, being a created fiction, must—be a different character from himself. The critic has been a reader before being a critic, and this experience may provide him with the raw material for creating his fiction; but still, being represented in his text, this reader is by nature a fictional other. The reader can be worse, or better, than the critic-author as a reader. Being totally obedient and completely determined, he may be made to take a very OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN I 42 narrow view of the text for the critic's polemical purposes. He may misunderstand certain aspects of it, or he may have a very strange, or lunatic slant on it in order to bring up a particular effect—much as a limited narrator operates in a novel. Conversely, like the one I have chosen for this dissertation, the created reader may be idealized, approaching more closely the perfect "implied reader"9 than the critic does in any single reading of the text. She may be constructed to read with consistent concentration, to take breaks only at the ends of passages (or not at all); she can be manipulated so that she never loses interest or misses a joke or an irony which the critic has ever understood; she can be made tolerant and even-tempered, never suffering from the perverse moods and known prejudices which alienate the critic on occasion from the "implied author." 1 0 A fictional reading may transcend the "real"—though perhaps not the possible or plausible—even while it retains, as an a priori, the fact that it is a finite reading, limited by personality, knowledge, space and time. And so, for the purposes of this dissertation, Don Juan must be seen as existing in "real time." A reader must be imagined, who makes her way through the text at something like the speed of speech; the phenomenon which she experiences is both visual and auditory. Although the time-measuring, auditory factor is more important, she is aware of the spatial, visual aspect, at least periodically. Thus, even though she knows certain parts of the poem by heart, she has a book open in front of her so that she can see the shape of line and stanza and the printed signs for the words. Also, the movement of her eyes' focus across line after line physically marks her progress through the text, though the sound—or the imagined sound, if she is not reading aloud—is what monitors the speed with which this visual focus can move. Words have a OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 43 particular shape in time; they cannot be endlessly drawn out or infinitesimally compressed. Their possible length of pronunciation has limits which may vary more from person to person than within one person's repertoire; however, textual factors will cause enunciation to become faster or slower at times. The priority of the auditory over the visual is demonstrated by the fact that the eye will often, in its finer movements, rush ahead of the mental performance, or "silent voice," which is the actual moving focus of the reader's attention, just as it does when its owner is reading aloud. Peripheral consciousness must find out how the sentence ends in order that central consciousness may shape the intonation and stress contours of the words through which it moves. Intonation and stress are auditory phenomena; in shaping them the reader "makes sense" of the written word. Central consciousness—whatever memory or the subconscious may be doing—moves in a temporal, auditorily monitored continuum through the lines of the work. Probably the reader is commanded to read in this way in the following, surely the silliest of Byron's octaves: Oh reader! If that thou canst read,—and know, 'Tis not enough to spell, or even to read, To constitute a reader; there must go Virtues of which both you and I have need. Firstly, begin with the beginning—(though That clause is hard); and secondly, proceed; Thirdly, commence not with the end—or, sinning In this sort, end at least with the beginning. (XIII, 73) M y reader has, of course, read Don Juan before. Memory of previous readings allows her better anticipations and a more consistent style than she had in a first reading. However, as Herrnstein Smith points out, "the more general of our responses must be described as remarkably similar from one reading or hearing to the next." She continues: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 44 We might say that one tends to suppress what one knows for the pleasure of not knowing. It is also likely that the specific knowledge of any particular work can never be secure or complete enough to overcome the systems of expectation created by the structure of that work. 1 1 Thus, my reader is capable of suspense, surprise, relief and all the feelings contingent on moving serially through time with the ever-approaching future as yet unknown. Clearly, this model, positing as it does a singular, finite event, solves many problems £or both the narratologist and the prosodist. For the former, the "real reader" is no longer a multiple and infinitely variable uncertainty but a known and controllable fiction. For the latter, the text is not a score but a performance, whose rhythms are the result of particular choices; they are singular, definable and linear, not a matrix of unrealized possibilities. 1 2 Keeping the reader's psychology in mind, the critic may to some extent suggest the multivalency of the text in terms of choices she is conscious of making. The reader is often aware of alternative possibilities even while her own reading is quite decisive; this gives them a place in the very reading that excludes them. M y reader's choices must be judged finally by the reader of this dissertation, in the light of internal consistency and—because it is my reader's stated aim—of inclusiveness of interpretation. Her reading must be seen to be all of a piece; she must not intone this line as regular iambic pentameter: You'll par|don to | my muse | a few | short naps (V, 159) and then read the following with a spondee in the penultimate position: The anjtique Perjsians taught | three use|ful things. (XVI , 1) OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 45 A mind and voice that read the latter line in this way must choose to produce the former thus: You'll par|don to | my Muse | a few | short naps. Also, as a good director of Shakespeare may, having no pressure of consistency upon him at that particular moment, choose "sullied" over "solid" in the line "O that this too too solid/sullied flesh would melt" 1 3 because it seems to include the more predictable "solid" where the converse would not hold, so my reader will tend, wherever possible, to make the inclusive choice, as long as this does not interfere with her consistency of style. For example, she will attempt throughout her reading what Reuven Tsur describes as a "rhythmical delivery style, which strikes an acceptable balance between prose rhythm and metre (which accommodates, somehow, both pattern of stress and of metre)."1 4 Hence, in the line "You' l l pardon to my Muse a few short naps"—as in a myriad similar lines—she will impose perceptible stress on the preposition because of the metre, but not enough for it to contend in significance with the lexical words of the sentence and thus make nonsense of the prose sense of the line. 1 5 She will be prepared as well to do a certain amount of damage to normal pronunciation for the sake of rhyme, though not so much that the distorted words be unrecognizable. In the fifth line of the following, she will read "this I call" very fast and she will soften its sibillant almost to a "z" in order to give effect to the comic rhyme: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 46 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. (IX, 41) However, she will not tamper with the dipthong vowel "I" and so the tension of the imperfect rhyme, which brings a sense of clever similarity, but not of identity, remains. The most important reason for my elaborate fictionalization of the reader remains the simple necessity of keeping the focus of this text and of its author's mental eye on a reading. The critical activity of collecting, collating and listing remains the same, of course, both before and during writing, no matter what metaphor or myth is evoked for the critic's approach in the text. Yet the fiction used here enforces on the critic a certain angle of approach—from which I may, indeed, digress—but to whose slant I must re-orientate time and again, preventing thereby the valorizing of immediate experience over previous—and possible future—readings. M y reader is a mnemonic device which forces me to imagine a reading and its contingent present time even while I am writing in another present time. Her usefulness will perhaps become more obvious in the course of this dissertation. To return to Don Juan. The stanza has been examined as an out-of-focus phenomenon (as if from the ceiling); as an intellectual paradigm, Platonically emptied of content; as an historical development, filled up with content other than Byron's. It is high time for the fixed eye to unfreeze, the mind's digressions to cease and the reading of Don Juan to begin. In Byron's ottava rima, the most immediate feature for the reader is the OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 47 most obvious characteristic of the bare stanza: a change occurring between lines 6 and 7. Frequently, and as is common in Ariosto, this change is from a narrative to an ironic mode, though it is here more often violent than in any of the Italian poets discussed. It characteristically takes the form of a sudden comic "sabotage" (West's word) 1 6 of a serious theme developed in the sestet: Rose the Sultana from a bed of splendour, Softer than the soft Sybarite's, who cried Aloud because his feelings were too tender To brook a ruffled rose-leaf by his side,— So beautiful that art could little mend her, Though pale with conflicts between love and pride:— So agitated was she with her error, She did not even look into the mirror. (VI, 89) Expanding on West's observation, Anne K . Mellor and Jerome J . McGann both note that the change can be in the opposite direction, 1 7 as in the following stanza in which the couplet signals for the reader a sudden chastening into seriousness of a flippant theme begun in the sestet: Each aunt, each cousin hath her speculation; Nay, married dames will now and then discover Such pure disinterestedness of passion, I've known them court an heiress for their lover. "Tantaene!" Such the virtues of high station! Even in the hopeful Isle, whose outlet's "Dover": While the poor rich wretch, object of these cares, Has cause to wish her sire had had male heirs. (XII, 33) But the serious-comic dichotomy does not adequately account for the ironies at play in Don Juan. Many of them, as in Ariosto, are not actually funny, but have to do with a shift of the reader's consciousness from the narrative to the narrator: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 48 Then shrieking, she arose, and shrieking fell, With joy and sorrow, hope and fear, to see Him whom she deem'd a habitant where dwell The ocean-buried, risen from death, to be Perchance the death of one she loved too well: Dear as her father had been to Haidee, It was a moment of that awful kind— I have seen such—but must not call to mind. (IV, 36) The use of the first-person pronoun, as in this couplet, is not essential for the shift of consciousness to occur; in fact, being itself a reflexive device, it tends to blur for the reader the couplet's own formal predisposition to self-reflexiveness. The new circling movement in the final two lines causes a tightening up on the semantic level, which lends itself to epigram and oracle, being a gesture of a more memorable shape than the longer and more meandering sestet.18 In the following stanza, for example, the natural compactness of the couplet is perfectly suited to the subtle rhetoric it carries: Within a niche, nigh to its pinnacle, Twelve saints had once stood sanctified in stone; But these had fallen, not when the friars fell, But in the war which struck Charles from his throne, When each house was a fortalice—as tell The annals of full many a line undone,— The gallant Cavaliers, who fought in vain For those who knew not to resign or reign. (XIII, 60) The verbal play of "reign" against both "resign" and "vain" by means of rhyme and alliteration is just enough to give the reader a sense of technique and construction, to make her conscious of craftsmanship and hence of the craftsman, whose opinions are not quite concealed in this couplet, though they are in the sestet. Stanzaic poetry, with its necessity of "starting anew" at the beginning of each formal repetition, asks for utterances of a particular length, in ottava rima OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 49 the demand being for the rather cumbersome sentence of eight pentameter lines. Byron tends to use a loosely constructed sentence, containing less subordination than coordination and—his signature device—many parentheses; but the couplet almost invariably counters the tendency to wander and accumulate. It takes the form very often of the sentence's major turn or the most important formulation, and it is frequently signalled in the grammar by a disjunctive such as "but," "yet" or "however," which sets it into opposition to the entire preceding sestet: Juan was moved: he had made up his mind To be impaled, or quartered as a dish For dogs, or to be slain with pangs refined, Or thrown to lions, or made baits for fish, And thus heroically stood resigned, Rather than sin—except to his own wish: But all his great preparatives for dying Dissolved like snow before a woman crying. (V, 141) The couplet's position—last—in the stanza is a significant factor in its valorization. In some cases, this placing allows it to be used as a revelation whose startling effect is anticipated by various devices of suspense through the sestet, as in the tantalizing final stanza of Canto X V I : The ghost, if ghost it were, seemed a sweet soul As ever lurked beneath a holy hood: A dimpled chin, a neck of ivory, stole Forth into something much like flesh and blood; Back fell the sable frock and dreary cowl, And they revealed—alas! that ere they should! In full, voluptuous, but not o'ergrown bulk, The phantom of her frolic Grace-Fitz-Fulke! (XVI, 123) Don Juan is perceived by the reader early on as synecdochic at several levels of technique. The dialogic stanza is a building-block for a long dialogic poem. By means of sentences which are mostly compound and appositional rather OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 50 than complex, a story unfolds in which events are serially joined one to another, not subordinated as parts of a unity consisting of beginning, middle and end. Preferring simile to metaphor, Byron produces a highly realistic fiction in which he constantly reminds his reader of its fictiveness and continually displays to her view the process of its construction. However, she soon discovers that the relation of parts to whole is not simple. Although the sestet-couplet dichotomy resembles the poem's larger dichotomy between narrative and digression or commentary, narration is quite clearly not limited to sestets, nor commentary to couplets.1 9 Only about two-thirds of the poem can be classed even loosely as narrative, 2 0 and whole blocks of stanzas—sometimes nearly all of a book, as in Canto XII—are devoted to authorial comments of various kinds. Nevertheless, the stanza is the smallest unit in which the tendency to pulsate between these two levels can regularly be felt, and even within the larger categories it influences the form of utterance. For example, although the following stanza is, like most of the stanzas quoted previously, narrative, it "lets through" the narrator's voice or opinion by means of a pointing device in the couplet: The second motive was to profit by The moment of the general consternation, To attack the Turk's flotilla, which lay nigh Extremely tranquil, anchored at its station: But a third motive was as probably To frighten them into capitulation; A phantasy which sometimes seizes warriors, Unless they are game as Bull-dogs and Fox-terriers. (VII, 24) In this case the emphasis is achieved by means of generalization rather than by climax or disjunction. The following stanza of commentary creates a very similar effect, using summary instead of generalization: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 51 That is, we cannot pardon their bad taste, For so it seems to lovers swift or slow, Who fain would have a mutual flame confest, And see a sentimental passion glow, Even were St. Francis' paramour their guest, In his Monastic Concubine of Snow;— In short, the maxim for the amorous tribe is Horatian, "Medio tu tutissimus ibis." (VI, 17) By collecting and sharpening the narrator's somewhat wayward eye, the couplet tolls the reader back from the realm of erotic speculation to that of poetic technique, which is an area of greater self-reflexiveness. Greater self-reflexiveness in the couplet is perceived in the following stanza because of a sudden ironical twist in the authorial position, a finger pointing dramatically out of the poem at "you," the reader, who up to this point has been innocently evesdropping, unaware that the voyeuristic narrator has his eye on her as well as Juan: In thoughts like these true wisdom may discern Longings sublime, and aspirations high, Which some are born with, but the most part learn To plague themselves withal, they know not why: 'Twas strange that one so young should thus concern His brain about the action of the sky; If you think 'twas philosophy that this did, I can't help thinking puberty assisted. (I, 93) Authorial posturing in the sestet can be punctured by a couplet in which the bathos is contained in metacomment, again a more self-reflexive mode than what goes before: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 52 "Go, little book, from this my solitude! I cast thee on the waters, go thy ways! And if, as I believe, thy vein be good, The world will find thee after many days." When Southey's read, and Wordsworth understood, I can't help putting in my claim to praise— The first four rhymes are Southey's, every line: For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine. (I, 222) Among the variations on this stanza, the reader will occasionally—though rarely—come upon a specimen like the following, which exactly reverses her expectation by using the sestet for commentary and the couplet for narration: Ah! what is man? what perils still environ The happiest mortals even after dinner— A day of gold from out an age of iron Is all that life allows the luckiest sinner; Pleasure (whene'er she sings, at least) 's a siren, That lures to flay alive the young beginner; Lambro's reception at his people's banquet Was such as fire accords to a wet blanket. (I l l , 36) To her surprise, the effect is not of jarring novelty. The couplet still calls attention to itself, both stylistically and thematically. The closeness of "banquet" to its defuser, "blanket," gives the reader that heightened consciousness of craftsmanship which is in the nature of paired as against alternating structures. Perhaps the turn itself, not the nature of the material before or after it, is what gives the point to the final shorter utterance. The narrator's pulling himself up and getting on with his story—even though he does not, as he often does, tell his reader that he is doing it—makes the reader once again aware not merely of the the story's events, but that a story is being told: the reflexive consciousness. A l l the examples cited so far display the same dialogic tendency in the ottava rima stanza. In the previous chapter, I argued that this tendency is OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 53 "already there" in the form before any content is "put into" it. In other words, the most noticeable stylistic habit in Don Juan is the exaggeration, by semantic or prosodic devices, of an effect for which a strong formal disposition exists anyway. And yet the reader does not find this poem as similar to any of the Italian medley poems in ottava rima as she might have expected. What she finds different, apart from the inherent variations between the two languages and the types of story to be told, is the enormous spectrum of moods on the tonal palette used here. Byron's narrator is much more excitable and mobile, much less dignified than Ariosto's: melancholy, indignation, vulgarity, blitheness, iconoclasm, familiarity, tragic sympathy and hilarious leg-pulling follow each other with a more bewildering variety and speed here than in any of the Renaissance epics. Maugre Barthes, the illusion of the "Author"'s presence is strong enough in this poem to give the reader a continual ' consciousness of an individual voice speaking to her. 2 1 Even Ariosto is in comparison almost effaced, declaring himself only here and there or "showing through" his narrative's texture in relatively subtle reminders. Clearly, to a greater extent than any of his predecessors in this form, Byron is a virtuoso. The reader may be led to expect this by what she knows about the nineteenth-century cult of personality. However, something distinctly classical in Byron's approach, if not in its results, causes her to perceive his virtuosity not as Peter Conrad does, in the breaking or "subduing" of forms and formal expectations,22 but more in the over-using of them, in the taking of the form's own varieties and possibilities to their natural extreme. Byron's most distinctive stylistic habit is the form's own major feature—a feature which even Ariosto softens and blurs a little, for example by introducing an ironic tone OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 54 subtly into line 5 as a prelude to the stronger subversive turn in line 7. 2 3 What appears to be rebellion against form in Don Juan is often merely rebellion against conventional usage. No formal necessity exists to set the stanza up exactly the way Ariosto and the other Italians usually have it, with the narrative on top and the narrator's reflection below. It can be turned upside-down; ergo, Byron does this. 2 4 A long poem does not have to be mostly narrative, intermittently sprinkled with commentary; Byron makes about half his poem commentary, and this of varying kinds, so that within the stanza ironies can come upon ironies, irrelevancies upon necessities, the tragic upon the flippant, bravado upon humility, and vice versa, and so on. Transparent narrative is relatively rare in this poem because of the almost continual presence of an identifiable speaking voice; this voice changes its tone with a breathtaking frequency to which the periodic structure of stanzaic poetry per se and the contrapuntal possibilities of this particular stanza are admirably suited. A few exceptions to the six-two rule of stanza division can be found, as George M . Ridenour has noted. 2 5 The reader occasionally comes across stanzas in which the illusion of another, or no, verse form persists. Grammatical force can divide the lines into couplets, despite the fact that only the final one rhymes as such: The column ordered on the assault scarce passed Beyond the Russian batteries a few toises, When up the bristling Moslem rose at last, Answering the Christian thunders with like voices; Then one vast fire, air, earth and stream embraced, Which rocked as 'twere beneath the mighty noises; While the whole rampart blazed like Etna, when The restless Titan hiccups in his den. (VIII, 7) Alternatively, two quatrains can be created: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 55 That on a sudden, when she had least hope, It fell down of its own accord, before Her feet; that her first movement was to stoop And pick it up, and bite it to the core; That just as her young lip began to ope Upon the golden fruit the vision bore, A bee flew out and stung her to the heart, And so—she woke with a great scream and start. (VI, 77) But the reader readily observes in each of these examples that the final unit is more heavily weighted than the earlier ones, owing to the greater power of closure found in the couplet rhyme. The virtuoso performer makes his saxophone sing like a flute without tampering with its construction. A sense of the performer's cleverness is experienced by the listener because of her knowledge that he is playing the other instrument; she hears the six-two structure in the background of other patterns. Much more subversive is the undermining of the iambic pentameter's integrity by enjambment and caesurae. Both of these devices are, of course, extremely common in English poetry and they are not considered fundamentally detrimental to the metre. 2 6 However, Byron uses them occasionally in such high concentration that a statistical analysis of their occurrence in Don Juan would not indicate their intense—though periodic—anarchical power. They occur most commonly in the more conversational or colloquial stanzas, where an illusion of speech is strongest, either in dialogue among characters or when the narrator's voice is most in evidence. The reason for this concurrence is obvious: units of utterance are irregular in length, even if they are basically iambic (which recent research suggests that they generally are). 2 7 Both enjambment and midline pauses are variable devices which can be OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 56 strong or weak depending on sentence structure, speed and style of reading, type of phoneme and other contextual factors. Only the strongest and least disputable cases will be discussed here. Of the two devices, midline pauses on their own usually affect the stanza less. As long as strong pauses also punctuate the ends of lines where the rhymes occur, choppiness of rhythm is felt to be under control: " M y third—"—"Your third!" quoth Juan, turning round; "You scarcely can be thirty: have you three?" "No—only two at present above ground: Surely 'tis nothing wonderful to see One person thrice in holy wedlock bound!" "Well then, your third," said Juan; "what did she? She did not run away, too, did she sir?" "No, fai th."-"What then?"-"I ran away from her." (V, 20) When enjambment is the more important device, it can have the effect of unifying, smoothing and speeding up the stanza, creating- a tightly-knit verse paragraph rather than the less hierarchical compound form favoured by Byron: But "en avant!" The light loves languish o'er Long banquets and too many guests, although A slight repast makes people love much more, Bacchus and Ceres being, as we know, Even from our grammar upwards, friends of yore With vivifying Venus, who doth owe To these the invention of champagne and truffles: Temperance delights her, but long fasting ruffles. (XVI, 86) 2 8 However, when strong enjambment coincides with strong caesurae, the verse becomes a good deal more precarious: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 57 I won't describe—that is, if I can help Description; and I won't reflect—that is, If I can stave off thought, which, as a whelp Clings to its teat, sticks to me through the abyss Of this odd labyrinth; or as the kelp Holds by the rock; or as a lover's kiss Drains its first draught of lips:—but, as I said, I won't philosophize, and will be read. (X, 28) A n oral rendering of this by someone else could conceivably obscure the stanza altogether for a listener. However, my reader is both performer and listener and, as performer, she chooses to enunciate lines in such a way as to make their endings evident by very slight pauses after the rhyme-words, even when they are heavily enjambed. Thus she manages to sound a "metrical" rhythm as well as what metrists call "prose rhythm" 2 9—a stress pattern that makes sense of a spoken sentence. Also, as performer, my reader has the "score" of the stanza visible before her; she can see the rhymes and the line-endings and is hence aware that as far as stress-count and rhyme go, this is regular ottava rima. Even the couplet is used in a conventional manner, if she take it to be a little foreshortened, its different, more authoritarian utterance beginning after the last dash. She is conscious that what Byron is doing here with these straddled lines and disjunct phrases is once more playing the virtuoso with his instrument. "Listen!—it sounds like prose—and yet, look again, reader!—I put not a foot out of place; I break not one of the rules of strict poetic decorum!" He tends to work his stanza very hard, not merely for the dialogic effects discussed earlier, but also for the unity and structure it imposes on his extraordinarily various and incongruent ideas, moods, themes and even rhythms. The daring of his virtuosity would be perceptible only within a difficult and strict verse form. In prose a passage like the stanza above would be unremarkable; in ottava rima it OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN I 58 is a surprising technical achievement. In prose, Don Juan might well appear an extremely uneven and flighty work, but as it is the reader's eyes move smoothly down the page from rectangular block to rectangular block of print, while her intellect and inner ear are continually reassured by the paradigm: two sets of three alternately rhyming, one set of two in a couplet completion, on and on, over pages and pages. This hypnotism is one of the most important sources of unity in Don Juan. Another source is the reader's growing sense of the narrator's—or author's—presence as she becomes increasingly immersed in this poem. Chapter VI contains a detailed discussion of how the narrator appears to dominate the reader, but I must mention here that the measured time of the rhythm is his time. It is the time of his (fictionally) enunciating the words whose relation to himself and whose character as artifacts he so constantly mentions that the reader is continually conscious of them, him and his activity of generating them. Thus, in the end, two scenarios, not one, demand attention from the phenomenological critic of Don Juan. One is of the reader perusing a copy of the poem; the other, recreated vividly in the mind of this reader, is of the narrator, composing and performing the text at the rate she moves through it. Many critics have claimed what this chapter proposes and what may be a trivially self-evident observation in the end: namely, that the stanza is one of the most important structural units in Don Juan.3" However, a stanza is not in itself unitary and can be critically anatomized. I have examined so far a number of ways in which the reader experiences the whole stanza. She is conscious also of the poetic line. Due to eccentric and frequent punctuation (particularly parentheses of OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 59 various kinds), the line can appear to the eye more irregular metrically than it really is. Each line almost invariably contains five viable feet; most inversions into the trochee occur in the first position; trisyllabic variations are not especially common. 3 1 The most most frequent irregularity is the combination consisting of a pyhrric followed by a spondee known as the ionic or double foot.3 2 It is to be found in all of the four possible positions: For his own part,\ he real|ly should | rejoice (V, 70); Yielded | to the deep ftyi|light's purp|le charm (II, 184); To vir|tue prop|er, or good ec?|uca|tion (XIII, 31); Which scarcely rose j much high|er than grass blades (VIII, 47) (My emphasis.) Ionics are very common in English iambic pentameter,3 3 though in few poems are they encountered as often as in Don Juan. The reader does not experience them as major disruptions of the rhythm—except perhaps in the sensitive last position—because they keep decorum in terms of numbers despite the introduction into the line of the dreaded spondee. Derek Attridge, who sees them as evidence of syllable-counting within the accentual-syllabic frame, claims that syllabic rhythm "can be more subtle in its reflection of speech" than stress-timed rhythms. 3 4 In a language containing many important monosyllabic words, the occasional juxtaposition of stresses must naturally occur; ionics attempt to represent these juxtapositions within the iambic scheme. They also make English pentameters sound more like Italian hendecasyllabics, in which the metrical rule governs number of syllables only, allowing stresses to fall less regularly than in the OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 60 strict English metres. However, more violent eruptions than these break into Byron's iambic pentameter. The reader encounters at times the spondee on its own without the accompanying pyrrhic to give it respectability. A line with six stresses, three of them contiguous, is not only a contradiction of the five-beat expectation, but it also interferes with the stress-contours of normal pronunciation which, being periodic, strive for a demotion of the middle stress.3 5 Pauses between these stressed syllables and a marked slowing of the reader's pace are essential; otherwise her voice will perform the demotion, as can be demonstrated by several experimental readings of the following line from Wordsworth: The still,| sad mu|sic of | human|ity. 3 6 (My emphasis.) The slower she reads and the more the reader separates words, the more likely spondees are to occur.3 7 Regional accent is also important. M y reader, having a clipped and emphatic pronunciation, unlike the extended vowels and softened consonants of North America, is particularly prone to spondaic readings. That stress, in English, is associated with emotional intensity, is perhaps a literary and linguistic commonplace. A t times of high excitement—as long as suspense, the need to narrate or explain, or any other speeding-up device is not operative—language becomes more marked and emphatic, and the inclination to demote important syllables decreases. For spondees to occur in poetry, certain kinds of emotional pressure must be high and the poet's diction must concurrently tend towards monosyllabic words. These conditions frequently coincide because the short, uninflected Anglo-Saxon forms embody our most effective vocabulary of passion. In Byron as in Wordsworth, spondees can be scanned at OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 61 moments of particular fervour: To this,| my plain,| sworn, downjright de|testa|tion. (IX, 24) In Don Juan the reader finds herself reading spondees with high frequency in another context not necessarily associated with emotional intensity. This context is one of its uniquely typical rhetorical devices: the list. "It always suited Byron to play collector with things and people," writes West of this device and, 3 8 indeed, its relationship is synecdochic to Don Juan's narrative structure, whose keynote is "accretion" rather than organicism. 3 9 Lists balance things and people equally against one another, offering no preferences, and Byron's genius for incongruous or ironic juxtaposition puts them among his best vehicles of humour and holism. If the metre is disrupted at these points, then so are hierarchy and cosmology; thus, what seems to be metrical irresponsibility is, in fact, careful poetic decorum. Lines serious or ironic like the following are legion: Except I to bull-|fights, mass,| play, rout | and rev|el (I, 148); Thrones, worlds,] et cet|era, are | so oft | upset (IV, 4); In like | church bells,| with sigh,| howl, groan,/ yell, prayer (VIII, 58) Drest, vot\ed, shone,| and, may|be, something more (XIV, 18). (My emphasis.) Of course, the rhythmically registered phenomenon is only one example—the most miniature and compressed—of the list. Even elements signified by monosyllables can be rendered metrically inoffensive by the addition of "and" or "or" between them: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 62 And guards,| and bolts,| and walls,| and now | and then (VI, 32); That she | was fair,| or dark,| or short,| or tall (VI, 54). And the poem contains many lists whose elements are signified by units larger than a single word. These vary from phrases to whole stanzas, a good example of the latter being the "ubi sunt1?" suite in Canto X I (76-80). A Don Juan story per se—especially one truncated before any infernal retribution can take place—is, like Leporello's aria in Don Giovanni, a kind of catalogue of love affairs, a list of disparate events which bear no structural relationship one to another apart from sequence. The examples of lines given so far have highlighted only the poem's rhythmic irregularities. Demonstrating its much more common regularity is harder to do by example; and still harder is the task of showing in a work like this the fact that metre is not usually a very noticeable device in Don Juan at all. A critic, searching pen in hand for a metrically perfect stanza, might come up with the following as his paradigm: 'Tis time | we should | proceed | with our | good po|em,— For I I maintain | that it | is real|ly good, Not on|ly in | the bod|y, but | the pro|em,— Howev|er litjtle both | are understood Just now,|—but by | and by | the Truth | will show | 'em Herself | in her | sublim|est at|titude: And till | she doth | I fain | must be | content To share | her Beau|ty and | her Ban|ishment. (IX, 22) The only irregularity—which is always entailed by feminine rhyme—in this OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 63 scansion is the extra unstressed syllable at the end of lines 1, 3, and 5. The reader reads line 2 as above because, although the alternative, For I maintain that it is really good, would point up the repetition of "good" and defend it, she finds that the metrical expectation and her own modern habit of using the word "really" for colloquial emphasis militate against this reading. Thus, an almost perfectly regular scansion does chart a possible reading of the quoted stanza. And yet this regularity is quite clearly the critic's judgement, not the reader's; her experience of this stanza is as something very different from a classic example of iambic pentamenter. The enjambments and caesurae are too strong; and more important than these are effects contributed by the speaking voice. A good rendering of this passage demands great variability in speed, in pitch and in emphasis and has the effect of masking the "metrical" rhythm without necessarily contradicting it. Byron strove continually, according to W. B . Yeats, for "the syntax and vocabulary of common personal speech";40 stanzas like this one, with their colloquialisms, repetitions, dashes, uses of the first person and (often) italics and exclamation marks are inadequately described by a scansion which points up only local stresses and unstresses on a scale of two. Isochrony is at a minimum here; what a reader hears is not so much the five-beat pulse of the metre as the rushing and emphatic pausing, the slurring and ironic pointing which a good performance would deliver. The defiance of line 2 is contingent almost entirely on its one major stress—that on "really" (or "is," in the alternative reading). The other stresses are hardly heard at all as the voice speeds through them to make its point. Line 6 requires a fairly OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 64 strong stress on the second syllable of "Herself (being the deferred object of the enjambed previous line), but its real fulcrum is the middle syllable of the inflated superlative "sublimest," which requires that sort of hanging sarcasm, the curl of the lip which only the true Limey can do, looking down his nostrils at the hireling crew avidly writing their odes to Truth. This is a poetry of posture and performance, the effect of spontaneity and improvisation given here, as so often, by making the whole stanza one sentence—and a sentence consisting almost entirely of parentheses, so that clauses are not fully subordinated one to another, but tacked together and included in each other as the thought runs through them. The metre is not what reminds the reader of the intricacy of form, for the rhythms flow off the tongue with the "naturalness" of speech; however, she is conscious, to some extent, of form. It is the rhyme that does it. The rhyme is what steadies and braces the stanza and what, by giving the lines their sense of an ending, creates and sustains their integrity as lines. The last syllable of "understood" clicks neatly into place under "good," the strong stress and the perfect masculine rhyme setting up a powerful opposition to the subversive effect of enjambment. Rhyming (perfectly) two different grammatical forms, as here an adjective and a past participle, is more satisfactory prosodically than a grammatical repetition, giving the reader a better sense of completion precisely because it is less monotonous and predictable.4 1 "Poem . . . proem" is a weaker rhyme since the similarity is too close, both grammatically and audibly; but here the reader is being "set up" for the trick rhyme "show 'em"; and, in any case, both the "poem" and the "proem" lines are end-stopped by dashes and do not so much require extra tagging. "Show 'em" is a joke, a OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN J 65 specially manufactured rhyme which forces a pause, if not of the voice, at least of the reader's attention, and it also works for the stanza against the anarchic effect of enjambment. "Attitude" is an imperfect rhyme, but the stanza can afford this at the end of the sestet on a line end-stopped with the powerful pause signified by a colon. The couplet here is unusual, being clinched by a light rhyme (the rhyming of a lexically stressed with a lexically unstressed syllable). 4 2 However, "content" has the effect of lengthening and strengthening the normal pronunciation of "Banishment," valorizing it by making it more sonorous and a fitting polysyllabic capping of "Beauty," against which it is balanced by alliteration and grammar. This is a point at which the use and perception of form become circular as it were—or inductive as well as deductive. After setting up many stanzas with strong rhymes to clinch and point their couplets, Byron has established a pattern of expectation in his reader, which he can use to highlight and strengthen particular types of utterance. His "Banishment," like Truth's, is a far from shameful condition. Although rhyme is nearly always the structural support of stanza and line in Don Juan, the poem is very variable. Just as rhyme is sometimes backgrounded, so also, in certain types of stanza, is metre foregrounded. This foregrounding is not usually achieved, as the critic might expect, by means of fewer substitutions, but in terms of a more isochronous rhythm, which makes conscious to the reader a regularly occurring pattern of pulses. Occasionally, the rhythm is quite childishly emphatic, its nursery-rhyme cadences giving rather gruesome content the kind of deadly contrast to be found elsewhere, for example in the simile which envisages the Russian grenadiers mounting a wall "Cheerful as children climb the breasts of mothers" (VIII, 15). The following stanza alludes OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 66 to the atavistic innocence of childhood through its smug, easily-recited beat-rhythm: A sad | miscal|cula|tion a|bout distance Made all | their na|val mat|ters in|correct Three fire|ships lost | their a|miable | exis|tence Before | they reached | a spot | to take | effect: The match | was lit | too soon,| and no | assistance Could re|medy | this lub|berly | defect; They blew | up in | the mid|dle of | the riv|er, While, though | 'twas dawn,| the Turks | slept fast | as ev|er. (VII, 28) The above scansion is regular, to the detriment of pronunciation and sense, but this is how my reader speaks these lines, with great up-and-down emphasis and almost no attempt to assert "prose rhythm" over metre. This primitive rhythm is the result of a diction containing too many monosyllables placed regularly according to the metre ("The match was lit too soon") with no spondaic juxtapositions or passionate outcries to break into the pattern. Also, when polysyllabic words occur, they do not supply extra syllables and hence give the running rhythm of anapaests to the line, but are essential in making up the five iambs, often with their secondary syllables in stressed positions. The up-and-down rhythm set up by the monosyllables forces the polysyllables into a similar beat—one which ignores the four-fold distinctions of normally pronounced word stress and allows only a binary stress-unstress scale. 4 3 The effect suggests the non-comprehending, regular pronunciation of a child's recitation. More often, stanzas in which the reader is conscious of metre chart areas OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 67 of mood or thought which are conventionally "poetic" in the sense that they have been expressed before in poetry—English poetry, specifically—rather than in prose. Rhythmic allusions to other poet's cadences, however general and non-specific, form part of the sense of the lines. Poetic decorum may be a matter of arbitrary tradition, or it may be a habitual wedding together of intrinsic affinities in form and content, but, whatever its ontology, it is a conscious factor for the reader, to an almost classic degree, at certain times during her perusal of Don Juan. Usually, poetic decorum is evident as much in rhythm as in diction and sentence structure. The passages in which it is most in evidence can be divided roughly into "Romantic" and "Augustan" modes, though this is for convenience only, and the inaccuracy of the two terms is acknowledged. The Romantic type takes the form, rare in Don Juan, of stanzas which are lyrical, serious and meditative, and which, confronting a cosmos for a moment unified and at peace, express, in an elegiac or celebrational mood, wonder. This is the Wordsworthian vision for which Byron was accused so bitterly by Wordsworth for borrowing: 4 4 OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 68 Sweet hour | of twi|light!—in | the sol|itude Of the pine for|est, and | the si|lent shore Which bounds | Raven|na's im|memo|rial wood, Rooted | where once | the A|drian wave | flow'd o'er, To where | the last | Cesar|ian fort|ress stood, Ever|green for|est! which | Boccac|cio's lore And Dry|den's lay | made haunt|ed ground | to me, How have | I loved | the twi|light hour | and thee! (Il l , 105) This scansion shows eight substitutions, though none of them is uncommon or "unmetrical"; 4 5 without slurring there would be ten. However, my reader, who is sensitive to rhythm, does not have a pencil in her hand with which to chart and deface her text as above; she is not primarily a metrist and hence she hears these lines as a slowly paced and lingering melody, much of whose beauty comes from onomatopoeic effects (for example, the counterpoint of "n"'s, "m"'s and "d"'s in line 3), but whose base rhythm of five beats in the line is the dynamo on which the other pleasures turn. This was not the case in '"Tis time we should return . . . "; the pleasure of that came from quite other effects, and my reader would need her pencil to discover the rhythmic "regularity" there. In the stanza above, the rhyme, consistently conventional and masculine though it is, appears only as part of the rhythm, just tipping the ends of the lines as it were, and giving a slightly greater emphasis to their final syllable. Despite a rhetorical counterpoint of "thee" and "me," even the couplet is almost overridden here, only the last line being separated at all and "thee" at the end of it swinging back decisively to the initial phrase for which it substitutes: "Sweet hour of twilight." The stanza is thus united in a curve of completion not OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 69 easy to achieve in ottava rima. The maestro here moves into an adagio passage which makes his listener forget for the moment his technical dexterity and tricky personality; she becomes caught up by the entranced cadences of a music which seems to speak for humanity itself. The Augustan mode is more common and can be discovered with high frequency at the ends of stanzas which, however capriciously they may gallop or saunter through their sestet, end with primness and decorum in that snug little package, the heroic couplet: The reason's obvious: if there's an eclat, They lose their caste at once, as do the Parias; And when the delicacies of the law Have filled their papers with their comments various, Society, that china without flaw, (The hypocrite!) will banish them like Marius, To sit amidst the ruins of their guilt: For Fame's a Carthage not so soon rebuilt. (XII, 78) The neatness with which the compromised ladies are disposed of is, however, only partly dependent on the metrical regularity of the final lines; a witty play of "guilt" against "rebuilt" is a more obvious feature of the couplet's self-conscious closure. The reader encounters whole stanzas of the Augustan type in which metre is foregrounded for satiric effect. A block of these occurs in the Dedication, where Byron for a while, according to George M . Ridenour and others, resorts to the high style. 4 6 The savage indignation of these stanzas is kept in check by a strongly foregrounded rhythm which beats out its invective against the hated Castlereagh with the relentlessness of the engine of torture it describes: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 70 A n or|ator | of such | set trash | of phrase Inefjfably |—legit|imate|ly vile, That ev|en its grossest flat|terers dare | not praise, Nor foes j—all na|tions—con|descend | to smile,— Not ev|en a spright|ly blunjder's spark | can blaze From that | Ixi|on grind|stone's cease|less toil, That turns | and turns | to give | the world | a no|tion Of end|less tor|ments and | perpet|ual mo|tion. (Ded., 13) This is not very "regular," though a fast reading would demote the first syllable of each of the two spondees I have scanned (in lines 1 and 4). However, the reader is thoroughly conscious of rhythm throughout the stanza, even before the overt reference to the grindstone whose cruel rotation the last four lines strive to imitate. The stresses are mostly weighted very heavily against the unstresses by means of hard consonants, often in difficult combinations, on the downbeats. Line 2 displays a rather different technique. Instead of utilizing strong words to load the rhythm, it uses the metre itself to weight its words. The polysyllabic adverbs, "Ineffably" and "legitimately," are stretched and stressed out of their normal pronunciation by a "rhythmical reading" 4 7 in order to fulfil the pentameter's formal demands. The reader finds herself unable to avoid spitting on the dentals as she pronounces "legitimately" to fit the rhythm. This accentuates the word's fierce irony and forces her to recollect Edmund's subversion of the concept of legitimacy in King Lear.** Although this stanza contains an imperfect rhyme ("smile . . . toil"), it demonstrates as well a very pointed example of Augustan rhyme, "vile . . . smile." This is Augustan, or classical, in the same sense that the metre of line OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 71 2 is: because it uses the device not merely for poetic euphony, but for witty rhetorical effect. The two words, "vile" and "smile," are put into parallel not by any semantic or syntactic machinery, but by their employment as rhyme, which pairs them artificially for ironic purposes. A smile evoked by Castlereagh's Congress System would indeed be vile. The rhyme of "notion" with "motion" in the couplet has another sort of effect. Although both words are abstract nouns, their rhyme is more noticeable than that of "phrase" and "praise" above. The difference is mainly that inherent between feminine and masculine rhyme. In English the former is almost always more marked. This type of rhyme cannot by any means be called Augustan, because the eighteenth-century classical poets in England avoided it as much as possible. 4 9 However, like the witty Augustan clash of "vile" and "smile," this polysyllabic matching is self-reflexive, calling attention to itself above and beyond the signified meaning toward which it points. The last-quoted stanza registers both its rhythm and its rhyme as important features in the mind of the reader. Many others in Don Juan register only rhyme as a formal device. Rene Wellek and Austin Warren, in their influential Theory of Literature, define three functions of rhyme: its "mere euphonious function," its "metrical function" and its function in the "meaning" of a poem. 5 0 The latter, which is more-or-less what I have discussed as Augustan usage, is for them the most important. Their attitude to the former is very like Andrew Marvell's when he sneers at "tinkling rhyme" in his defence of Paradise Lost;51 the rhymes of the Romantic stanza quoted earlier perform this function most melodiously. Wellek's and Warren's middle function of rhyme is the one which is of most interest here. The "metrical function" they describe as OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 72 "signalling the conclusion of a line of verse, or as the organizer, sometimes the sole organizer, of stanzaic patterns." 5 2 In Byron's ottava rima, almost to the same extent as in that of the Italians, rhyme is what holds the stanza together. Of course, from one point of view, the rhyme pattern is the stanza: the metrical line of ottava rima in both English and Italian is the commonplace heroic line of the language. When the reader becomes aware of a distinctive poetic form while reading Don Juan, rhyme is almost always the device that gives her the cue. If the virtuoso wants to manipulate his audience into awareness of his technical skill without interrupting the passage with a digression, he will usually stylize and elaborate the rhyme. "Byron," suggests Kar l Kroeber, "identifies his stanzaic form with his own personality. The presence of the ottava rima recalls him even in passages of objective narration." 5 3 This is true only up to a point; Byron can turn even ottava rima into transparent narrative at times. But in a moment he can make it opaque again with a surprise rhyme which instantly recalls the reader's attention to the stanza. This subtle foregrounding of the artifact as artifact by means of structural elaboration, not overt rhetoric, is perhaps the most microscopic and fundamental manifestation of Romantic irony in this poem. For the reader then, the metrical function of rhyme is a variable. It can be backgrounded by fast-moving stanzas of transparent narration—reduced to a visual phenomenon at the edge of consciousness—or it can, by taking extremely unusual or unexpected shape, step into the foreground, pushing the story into a peripheral part of her attention. Degrees of backgrounding and foregrounding will depend partly on textual factors and partly on the reader's mental set and level of concentration at a given moment. M y reader is not perfect, but she is relatively attentive and she has a fairly open gestalt. Nevertheless, many rhymes OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 73 in a poem as long as Don Juan pass her by as unremarkable. She is not—usually—to be judged a bad reader for this. The poem contains many conventional rhymes: rhymes so common in English poetry that they are prosodic cliches. "Wild . . . child" is an example mentioned by West; 5 4 it can be found in Don Juan (VIII, 92), along with "heart . . . part" (XII, 22) and "tears . . . fears" (IV, 43), which are Wellek's and Warren's examples.5 5 Another category which includes most of these is what Wimsatt calls "tame rhymes." In these, "the same parts of speech are used in closely parallel function."5 6 Nouns are the most common rhyme words; if both in a pair are concrete, say, as well as both being plural, then the rhyme's effect is reduced: to watch the skiffs Which pass'd, or catch the first glimpse of the cliffs. (X, 64) The same rule applies to verbs, the next most common parts of speech used for rhyme. If they are not only in the same tense and mood, but also signify the same sort of action, their influence is small: still she gazed and grasp'd, And ran, but it escaped her as she clasp'd. (IV, 32) The reader does not exactly start with surprise at any of these. They are used mostly as fillers, something for which a poet may be forgiven in a lengthy poem written in a language rather resistant to rhyme. An eight-line stanza may be made to sparkle by just one or two good rhymes. On the other hand, conventional and tame rhymes can be put to use. A stanza composed entirely with these is well suited to transparent narration, especially when the story is particularly eventful and the narrator is allowing the reader to be OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 74 caught up in it, drawing her attention for the moment away from himself and his technique. This is the upbeat of the poem's pulsation in and out of self-reflexiveness: The door flew wide, not swiftly—but, as fly The sea-gulls, with a steady, sober flight— And then swung back; nor close—but stood awry, Half letting in long shadows on the light, Which still in Juan's candlesticks burned high, For he had two, both tolerably bright, And in the door-way, darkening Darkness, stood The sable Friar in his solemn hood. (XVI, 117) Rich rhymes (rhyming of identical phonemes57) and imperfect rhymes can be used in this kind of context to similar effect. The end syllables will pass muster—just—but not so well as to call attention to themselves. Byron often places imperfect rhymes in one or both of the last two lines of the sestet. By this time the alternating pattern has been established for the reader and she is less likely to notice inadequacies: Her eyelashes, though dark as night, were tinged (It is the country's custom), but in vain; For those large black eyes were so blackly fringed, The glossy rebels mock'd the jetty stain, And in their native beauty stood avenged: Her nails were touch'd with henna; but again The power of art was turn'd to nothing, for They could not look more rosy than before. (Il l , 75) The imperfect rhyme, "avenged," in line 5, keeps the stanza intact, but only just, so that neither the cleverness of its clinching nor the bathos of its contradiction registers in the reader's consciousness. "For . . . before" in the couplet is a rich rhyme, whose effect would be anticlimactic were it not highlighted and bolstered by the additional rhyme with "more" in the middle of OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 75 the last line. But imperfect rhyme can be—and very frequently in this poem, is—used for quite the opposite effect. In the following stanza, the reader must make the last two syllables of the word "vocabulary" rhyme with "merry." She is forced to wrench and distort the pronunciation of the longer word in a way that wryly imitates what the narrator claims to be doing with his diction: Some have accused me of a strange design Against the creed and morals of the land, And trace it in this poem every line: I don't pretend that I quite understand M y own meaning when I would be very fine; But the fact is that I have nothing plann'd, Unless it were to be a moment merry, A novel word in my vocabulary. (IV, 5) The comic effect at once calls attention to itself, to the poet's "vocabulary," to the difficulty of finding rhyming words within this, to the bad rhyme with "merry," etc. This disyllabic rhyme brings me to another important point. Feminine rhymes between English words are much rarer than masculine ones and are hence much more difficult to discover and use plausibly. Without any of the authorial prompting evident in the stanza above, the reader, coming upon even a perfect and conventional feminine or multiple rhyme, has a greater sense of the difficulty of the achievement than she does with most masculine rhymes. Both of the following two stanzas, for example, perform the function of signing off with authorial farewells toward the end of a canto, and yet the second is far more self-reflexive: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 76 He paused—and so will I; as doth a crew Before they give their broadside. By and bye, M y gentle countrymen, we will renew Our old acquaintance: and at least I 'll try To tell you truths you will not take as true, Because they are so:—a male Mrs. Fry , With a soft besom will I sweep your halls, And brush a web or two from off the walls. (X, 84) And here I leave them at their preparation For the Imperial presence, wherein whether Gulbeyaz shewed them both commiseration, Or got rid of the parties altogether, Like other angry ladies of her nation,— Are things the turning of a hair or feather May settle; but far be't from me to anticipate In what way feminine Caprice may dissipate. (VI, 119) Both stanzas demonstrate the use of the first-person pronoun—an "I" who actually takes the role of composer of these lines and who speaks directly in an aside to the reader. Both exhibit the "talking" effect achieved by the single sentence compounded with parentheses, and also by the use of mid-line pauses, enjambment and frequent rises and changes of pitch. For example, my reader reads the pronoun "me" in line 7 of the second stanza on as high a note and with as much emphasis as she does the italicized "you" in line 5 of the first. But the first stanza, at least until the couplet, where the close proximity of the rhyme "halls . . . walls" gives a certain emphasis, requires visual scrutiny for full apprehension of its structure, whereas the second would establish itself quite clearly for a listener in a purely auditory rendering, because the rhymes, being polysyllabic, are that much more elaborate. "Feminine Caprice" is essentially self-reflexive. The rhymes in this second stanza are not at all surprising or unconventional; some of them, such as "anticipate . . . dissipate," are, in fact, tame rhymes 5 8 (except that the term does not seem as appropriate OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 77 when more than one syllable is involved). A sense of stylization and ornateness accompanies English feminine rhyme, irrespective of diction and context. According to West, over three-quarters of the couplet rhymes of Don Juan are feminine;3 9 clearly a high proportion of the sestet rhymes are as well. This is a remarkable achievement in the English language and must be considered one of the poem's most important characteristics. Certainly it accounts in a large part for the way in which the stanza registers itself continually as a conscious factor for the reader, above and beyond the way stanzaic poetry usually asserts itself. Multiple rhymes are often regarded as essentially comic in English usage.6 0 This is not quite accurate; Hudibras contains many, but Pope, a far greater master of the comic mood than Butler, hardly uses them. They can be employed for superbly serious effect, as they are by Wordsworth in the well-known lines from his "Ode": And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended.61 But Byron, significantly, almost never uses them in serious contexts in Don Juan.62 A few, of course, are to be found, but they are usually tame and conventional. A couplet like the following among the serious and elegiac stanzas that describe the love of Juan and Haidee must be searched for by the critic; it does not strike the reader as memorable or characteristic: And knew such brightness was but the reflection Of their exchanging glances of affection. (IV, 13) Likewise, among those stanzas that ring with the sincerity of saeva indignatio, this sort of thing is surprisingly rare: OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN I 78 Read your own hearts and Ireland's present story, Then feed her famine fat with Wellesley's glory. (VIII, 125) Byron's sense of poetic decorum, despite the apparent rattling irresponsibility of this poem, is a powerful and consistent force for order. When the reader is unsure, in the narrator's maze of ironies, whether to take him seriously or not, her most immediate clue lies in the rhyme. No feminine rhyme occurs at all in the sixteen stanzas of the Greek poet's stirring hymn, "The Isles of Greece," 6 3 though the poet himself is pilloried before and after in masses of multiple rhymes. Poets and poetry are the objects of Byron's satire here, not the revolutionary call to arms and liberty that the song contains. Stanzas with no feminine rhymes occur in significant places in Don Juan, for example, a whole block describing the death of the old Khan of Ismail (VIII, 115-20); some on George Washington and Daniel Boone (VIII, 5, 63); on Juan's and Haidee's doomed but ideal love (II, 184-91); on Haidee's tragic death (IV, 55-63, 69-72); on Aurora Raby (XV, 45-47); the "Ave Mar ia" passage at the conclusion of Canto III (105-09); a section on Norman Abbey (XIII, 59-61); certain stanzas on death (IX, 11-12; V , 36, 39); and a few on the transience of youth and love and life's inexplicability (IV, 15-17; V , 98; IX, 19; X I V , 94; X V , 19). In these places, the subject is serious, the narrator for the moment sincere and the beauty of the verse, if it is noticeable at all, is of a sparer and less irrelevantly ornate kind than is normal in Don Juan. When the narrator claims: I wish men to be free As much from mobs as kings—from you as me (IX, 25), the reader is sure that he is not pulling her leg, and this is not merely OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 79 because she knows Byron's biography or is sensitive to the tone of emphatic repetition here; it is also because the rhyme is masculine. Many of the narrative stanzas use masculine rhymes too, for reasons which I have already indicated. But only the wholly narrative stanzas, which are relatively rare, use masculine rhymes throughout. In those which follow what I have called Ariosto's pattern, the following type of rhyme scheme is very common: The shore look'd wild, without a trace of man, And girt by formidable waves; but they Were mad for land, and thus their course they ran, Though right ahead the roaring breakers lay: A reef between them also now began To show its boiling surf and bounding spray, But finding no place for their landing better, They ran the boat for shore, and overset her. (II, 104) The couplet's rueful irony is almost completely dependent on its rhyme—a rhyme which is feminine, broken, imperfect and surprising after a sestet which follows a conventional masculine pattern. The question, "Wil l he bring it off?" closely followed by the answer, "Yes; but only just," is the mental set of the audience of a virtuoso, or an acrobat. This slight tension in the reader is what the Romantic ironist strives for; it is what reminds the reader, even in the midst of story-centred narration, of the presence of a narrator, juggling with words. The label, "transparent narration," which I have used for stanzas with wholly masculine rhyme-schemes, does not quite fit the stanza above, though the verse's self-reflexiveness is subtle, being covertly embedded in a slight exaggeration and imperfection of form rather than overtly announced, as in many other stanzas, by the strident use of the narrative "I." Multiple rhymes, like masculine ones, exhibit degrees of self-reflexiveness, OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 80 from the more tame and conventional to the startling and unorthodox. The most self-reflexive are usually broken rhymes: rhymes made up of more than one word or of fragments of words. 6 4 West writes: "Wild" and "child" rhyming together merely create a framework; and to our awareness of the similarity we add little care for the conjoined ideas. But if "Adorer" elicits "there before her," our sense of a framework is flooded with a sense of something on the level of thought.6 5 These rhymes do not give the reader the sense of being already "there" in the language, but of being specially manufactured for the occasion. They are not to be found in the rhyming dictionary; nor can the most astonishing ever be used twice, so well do they establish themselves in the reader's memory. The most famous of Byron's comic broken rhymes is probably the following: But—Oh! ye lords of ladies intellectual, Inform us truly, have they not hen-pecked you all? (I, 22) However, many others are equally clever, for example: Through needles' eyes it easier for the camel is To pass, than those two cantos into families (IV, 97); There's not a sea the passenger e'er pukes in, Turns up more dangerous breakers than the Euxine. (V, 5) These are extreme examples of a tendency within rhyme to enforce connections between concepts which may not be logical but which are at least as persuasive as logic. 6 6 The kind of parallelism evident in the rhyme "intellectual . . . hen-pecked you al l" is the soul of conversational wit: it makes the epigrammatic utterance whose formal fitting together will not allow it to be OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 81 gainsaid, unless capped by another, even wittier saying." Playing with his reader, Byron attempts to throw her off the scent at times by claiming for rhyme the euphonic function alone: * Besides Platonic love, besides the love Of God, the love of Sentiment, the loving Of faithful pairs—(I needs must rhyme with dove, That good old steamboat which keeps verses moving 'Gainst Reason—Reason ne'er was hand-and-glove With rhyme, but always leant less to improving The sound than sense)—besides all these pretences To Love, there are those things which Words name Senses. (IX, 74) Rhyme does not need the aid of Reason; it can be on its own a more effective rhetorical device. Also, "improving / The sound" is not a thing this cynical virtuoso needs any help with. However he may protest incompetence, his reader knows that he is lying. Having pulled out all the stops on his instrument with a masterful agility which is quite unprecedented in the language, he is not expecting to be credited with truth when he claims that he "needs must rhyme with dove." What he is expecting is to make his audience aware of the sheer difficulty of his form, to show her that the sense of effortlessness is the result of extraordinary effort and that the transparent narrative itself is an illusion achieved by mastery of a style. About Don Juan, Virginia Woolf has truthfully written: "It doesn't seem an easy example to follow; and indeed like all free and easy things, only the skilled and mature really bring them off successfully."6 8 OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN I 82 NOTES TO CHAPTER II 'Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1980) 34. 'Roland Barthes, S/Z (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970) 27. I translate: "un fading immense, qui assure d la fois le chevauchement et la perte des messages." . 3For Hegel, see chapter I, note 5. Barthes, in "From Work to Text," compares reading with an activity of "playing the Text in the musical sense of the term." He goes on to claim that the "history of music (as a practice, not as an 'art') does indeed parallel that of the Text fairly closely." Image-Music-Text (New York: Hi l l and Wang, 1977) 162. 4This is a phrase of Coleridge's from Biographia Literaria, where he associates the sense of sight with dead materialism. Throughout his writings, Coleridge expresses an uneasiness with "this strong sensuous influence," which makes human beings "restless because invisible things are not the objects of vision." The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge III (New York: Harper, 1884) 226. S W. K . Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley, "The Concept of Meter: A n Exercise in Abstraction," PMLA L X X I V , 1 (1959): 584. 'See Barthes, "From Work to Text" : "In fact, reading, in the sense of consuming, is far from playing with the text" (162). 'Barthes, "From Work to Text" 162. 8The recognition that some works of criticism are not only works of the imagination but also works of fiction is not new. Graham Hough, for example, in An Essay on Criticism (New York: Norton, 1966), claims that Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism "is itself poetry, one of the cases, not very common, where what sets out to be criticism turns into imaginative literature in its own right" (154). 'This term, coined by Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1978) as a counterpart to Booth's "implied author" (see next note), signifies the self one becomes when one "enterfs] the fictional contract"—a self which is not one's normal identity, but a fiction generated by the text (150-51). 1 0Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983) 70-71. The "implied author" is the "official version" of the author, traces of whom, as distinct from both the "so-called real author" and the narrator, are to be found in his books. See chapter V I for a discussion of the relationship between these three subjects in Don Juan. "Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Poetic Closure (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968) 55. n Reuven Tsur, in A Perception-Oriented Theory of Metre (Tel Aviv: Tel OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 83 Aviv U P , 1977), claims that in the case of "metrically complex" lines, "one must explicitly state in what specific performance a deviant line is perceived as sufficiently structured." Realizing that metre is dependent on "delivery style," which may vary from a totally prosaic or "divergent" reading to a highly metrical or "convergent" reading, Tsur is unfortunately handicapped by a vagueness contingent on the multiplicity of readings—and hence, scansions—that his system will tolerate (122). However, his perception that metre is (at least, partly) a measure of performance rather than of some abstract rule make this a valuable book. Rene Wellek and Austin Warren in Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949) avoid problems of multiplicity by distinguishing "between performance and pattern of sound." Performance, which they interpret as the "reading aloud of a literary work of art" and presumably separate from the audience, they claim to be the "realization of a pattern which adds something individual and personal and, on the other hand, may distort or even entirely ignore the pattern." They conclude that "a real science of rhythmics and metrics cannot be based on the study of individual recitals" (159). Of course, these authors, like Wimsatt and Beardsley (see note 5), believe in the singular, objective existence of the text, independent of the reading mind which must bring it into being. Similar epistemologies are indicated by Roger Fowler, who writes at length about "the inadequacy of a purely phonetic approach for making critical statements about poetic form" ('"Prose Rhythm' and Metre," Essays on Style and Language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966) 83); by C. S. Lewis, who, with a similarly mechanical view of "phonetics," claims that "when we ask how a line scans we cannot be asking simply for the phonetic facts which occur when it is pronounced" ("Metre," Review of English Literature I, i (1960): 45); by Seymour Chatman, who writes that "variations [in delivery styles] imply norms" ("Comparing Metrical Styles," Style in Language, ed. Thomas A . Sebeok (Cambridge: M.I.T. P, 1964) 149) and is recorded as asserting that "the meter of a poem must be considered one thing and the performance another" ("Comments to Part Five," Sebeok 200). "Hamlet I, i i , 1.129. "Tsur 122. ""Lexical words are nouns, adjectives and some adverbs." Tsur 22. I.e., they are the important semantic elements of a sentence. l 6 Paul West, Byron and the Spoiler's Art (London: Chatto and Windus, 1960) 27. 1 7Anne K . Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1980) 61; Jerome J . McGann, Don Juan in Context (Chicago: Chicago U P , 1976) 96-97. "According to Donald Wesling in The Chances of Rhyme (Berkeley: U of California P, 1980), the couplet is "the most memorable rhyme form, because of its maximal closure and its more regular arrangement of words as units of unequal length" (77). See also chapter I note 12. On the subject of prosodic memorability as it is governed by perception, OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 84 Tsur (122-23) quotes Leonard B. Meyer in Emotion and Meaning in Music (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1956) 86-91, who in turn quotes from Koffka's Principles of Gestalt Psychology (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1935) 110. The gestalt law that they invoke is the "law of Pragnanz," which states that "psychological organization will always be as 'good' as the prevailing conditions allow." "'Good'" is described in terms of "regularity, symmetry, simplicity and others." According to this law, the mind tends to distort shapes in the direction of completeness, stability, regularity and simplicity. Tsur claims that "the law of Pragnanz governs both memory and expectation." Meyer is more expansive: this law, he says, "functions within the memory process, which tends to complete what was incomplete, to regularize what was irregular, and so forth. Moreover, those shapes which are not well figured and which memory is unable to 'straighten out,' complete, or make symmetrical, will tend to be forgotten." 1 9 For further discussion of this duality, see chapter IV. TJie sestet-couplet dichotomy bears a relationship to the narrative-digression + commentary dichotomy, which is both synecdochic and metaphoric. The part represents the whole and also resembles it. Here, as throughout this dissertation, I challenge the binary dualism detween metaphor and metonymy proposed by Roman Jacobson in "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances," Fundamentals of Language (The Hague: Mouton, 1980) 90-96, and developed (but not sustained) by David Lodge in The Modes of Modern Writing (London: Edward Arnold, 1977) 81. If synecdoche is a type of metonymy (Jacobson 92) or is "closely associated with metonymy" (Lodge 75), it must neverthless overlap with or be intimately related to metaphor as well. Both metaphor and metonymy are probably better seen as areas of concentration on a continuum than as mutually exclusive closed sets. In chapter III, I characterize symbol both as a synecdochic trope in which an image is presented as part of some more cosmic whole, and as a type of metaphor in which the tenor is omitted, or is suggested in a particularly vague and numinous manner. (A symbol may, of course, be represented by a simile-synecdoche, though its status in the discourse is then usually more tentative or experimental than when it is signified by a metaphor-synecdoche.) Lodge mysteriously agrees with me on the subject of symbol, calling it at one point "a kind of metaphorical metonymy" (100). A t another he distinguishes two different classes of symbol: the "metaphorical" and the "metonymic" (114). J 0See M . K . Joseph, Byron the Poet (London: Victor Gollancz, 1964) 198. Also, chapter IV of this dissertation. "Barthes claims that "the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author" (148). The "Author," who is merely the result of a transcendental belief which suits critics because it allows them the possibility of "explaining]" the text (147), is actually "conceived of as the past of his own book . . . . [He] is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation to his work as a father to his child" (145). Don Juan's author-narrator is conceived of as the present of his own book and is hence very problematic if the reader, following Barthes's instructions, tries to read the poem "in such a way that at all levels the author is absent" (145). "The Death of the Author," Image-Music-Text. OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 85 "Peter Conrad, Shandyism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978) 49. "See chapter I. "Occasionally, in the introductory stanzas of cantos, Ariosto also turns the canto upside-down, beginning with reflection or invocation and concluding with narrative. However, the process seldom exhibits a sudden change of tone in the couplet; it usually moves gradually from the narrator's comments through the reader's perceptions to a somewhat generalized narrative statement. The following stanza, for example, begins with a rhetorical question: what cannot Love do, if he can make the the great Orlando a traitor? (11.1-4). This is, of course, an aside between narrator and reader. Then the reader is reminded (factually, but retrospectively) of what Orlando once was: wise, defender of the Church, etc. (11.5-6). Finally, in a completion of this same sentence, the reader is told—narratively—in the couplet, of Orlando's present neglect of himself, his king and his God: Che non puo far d'un cor ch'abbia suggetto questo crudele e taditore Amore, poi ch'ad Orlando puo levar del petto la tanta fe che debbe al suo signore? Gia savio e piena fu d'ogni rispetto, e de la santa Chiesa difensore: or per un vano amor, poco del zio o di se poco, e men cura di Dio. Orlando furioso IX, i (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1954) 172. "George M . Ridenour, The Style of Don Juan (USA: Yale U P , 1969) 125-26. "In The Rhythms of English Poetry (London: Longman, 1982), Derek Attridge argues that one of the distinguishing features of the five-beat line is that it is easily run on 132-38. Joseph Malof, in A Manual of English Meters (Bloomington: Indiana U P , 1970), claims that "most lines of more than three stresses tend to break into sections, usually two" (10). "According to Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle in their seminal work on linguistics, The Sound Pattern of English (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), the "Alternating Stress Rule," which demands that every second syllable be stressed, is one of the fundamental rules of English pronunciation (77-79). "This stanza is all of a piece until the last line, which is somewhat separate from the preceding seven. I have found very few stanzas of this type in Don Juan—and, indeed, in ottava rima anywhere—because the two lines of the couplet have such a strong affinity for each other and such an antipathy for the alternating structures which precede them. However, W. H . Auden gives significant place to this variation of the octave. He writes: "The stanza divides OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 86 by rhyme into a group of six lines followed by a coda of two; the poet can either observe this division and use the couplet as an epigrammatic comment on the first part, or he can take seven lines for his theme and use the final one as a punch line." "Don Juan," The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (New York: Random House, 1962) 399. "See Wellek and Warren 165; Fowler 82. 3 0See John Jump, Byron (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972) 97; Mellor 61; West 62; Alvin Kernan, The Plot of Satire (New Haven: Yale U P , 1965) 179; McGann, Don Juan in Context 96. "According to Paul Fussell in Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (New York: Random House, 1979), "In the first position trochaic substitution is extremely common—indeed, this one variation is the most common in all English poetry" (49). On the other hand, he claims that trisyllabic substitution is the mark of "rejection of strict accentual-syllabism in favour of accentualism" and that it is the "great phenomenon in nineteenth-century English versification": a rebellion against the stricter metres of the preceding century (71). "Malof uses the term "ionic" (36, 69). "See Fussell 44. "Attridge 186. He does not use the term "ionic," but examines the phenomenon in some detail as an example of "pairing" (175-86). "See Attridge 168. "Wil l iam Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" 1.191, Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1971) 164. "Tsur, in response to a claim by Wimsatt and Beardsley that only in an ionic foot may consecutive stresses occur, cites a great quantity of linguistic evidence for the existence of the spondee (132-41). He concludes that "there seems to be no reason why two or three or four heavy stresses, articulated exactly in the same way, shouldn't follow one another." Important conditions "for the listener to infer" a spondaic metrical pattern are "slow tempo and careful articulation" on the part of the performer (135). These conditions, by reducing the unit of speech to one syllable, put Chomsky's "Alternating Stress Rule" out of action. "West 63. McGann claims, similarly, that "Byron's use of series [is] one of the poem's staple devices." Don Juan in Context 95. 3'See Truman Guy Steffan, Byron's Don Juan I: The Making of a Masterpiece (Austin: U of Texas P, 1957) 63-99. Also, my discussion of Byron's accumulative tendency in chapter IV. 'The Letters of W. B. Yeats (London: Rupert Hart Davis, 1954) 710. OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN I 87 Ronald Bottrall in "Byron and the Colloquial Tradition in English Poetry" also claims that the "amazing variety of tone and tremendous rhythmic energy of Don Juan come from Byron's complete understanding of the spoken language." English Romantic Poets, ed. M . H . Abrams (London: Oxford U P , 1971) 221. 4 1 W . K . Wimsatt in "One Relation of Rhyme to Reason," claims that "the greater the difference in meaning between rhyme words the more marked and the more appropriate will be the binding effect." The Verbal Icon (Kentucky: U of Kentucky P, 1954) 164. 4 2 Malof 194. Actually, the last syllable of "Banishment" is not, in comparison with its immediate predecessor, an unstress. On the Trager-Smith scale, "ment" would be classed as a "tertiary" stress, "ish" as "weak" and "Ban," "primary." George L . Trager and Henry Lee Smith, Jr. , An Outline of English Structure (Washington: Americal Council of Learned Societies, 1966) 35-39. 4 3Trager and Smith (35-39) claim four levels of stress in English pronunciation. However, this has been disputed, for example, by Wimsatt, who claimed (in oral debate) that "in English there is a kind of continuum of stresses." Sebeok, "Comments to Part Five" 204. 4 4Thomas Moore writes in his journal on October 27, 1820: "Wordsworth came at half-past eight, and stopped to breakfast. Talked a good deal. Spoke of Byron's plagiarisms from him; the whole third canto of 'Childe Harold' founded on his style and sentiments. The feeling of natural objects which is there expressed, not caught by B. from nature herself, but from him (Wordsworth), and spoiled in the transmission. 'Tintern Abbey' the source of it all; from which same poem too the celebrated passage about Solitude, in the first canto of 'Childe Harold', is (he said) taken, with this difference, that what is naturally expressed by him, has been worked by Byron into a laboured and antithetical sort of declamation." The . Journal of Thomas Moore (London: Batsford, 1964) 53-54. 4 5The three anapaests I have scanned in lines 1, 3 and 5 could all be reduced to iambs by a pronunciation with a marked "y-glide": "immemor-yal," "Adr-yan," "Cesar-yan." In my reader's rendering they are a little more distinct than dipthong vowels. In line 2, I have scanned an ionic in the first position, which, as mentioned previously, is a respectable double substitution. The initial trochee, which I mark in lines 4, 6 and 8, is perhaps the most "acceptable" substitution of all. (See Wimsatt in Sebeok, "Comments to Part Five" 206.) 4 6Ridenour offers a fine stylistic analysis of Don Juan's Dedication in the first chapter of The Style of Don Juan (1-18), in which he claims that some of these stanzas are in the heroic style of Juvenal This claim is supported by McGann (Don Juan in Context 68-99) and by Mellor (63). 4 7Tsur 122. 'King Lear I, i i , 11.15-22. OTTAVA RIMA IN DON JUAN I 88 "'George Saintsbury, in A History of English Prosody II (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961), claims that in the heroic couplet "not to make too great a breach, too great a rupture of smoothness, between the lines, the rhymes are chosen with as little echo and depth in them as possible: and even the words within the lines themselves avoid thunderous and longdrawn sound" (282). i 0Wellek and Warren 161. "Andrew Marvell, "On Paradise Lost," Milton: Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1973) 210. "Wellek and Warren 161. " K a r l Kroeber, Romantic Narrative Art (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1960) 147. "West 60. "Wellek and Warren 162. "Wimsatt, "One Relation of Rhyme to Reason" 160. "Malof 193. ""Anticipate . . . dissipate" is actually a rich rhyme as well as a tame rhyme. "West 68. 6 0 Jump claims that "our comic poetry seems to accommodate multiple rhymes more readily than does our serious poetry" (99). See also Saintsbury III, 100. "Wordsworth, "Ode," Poetical Works 460. The rhyme "splendid . . . attended" is slightly imperfect in most pronunciations. "Jump notes this (131). "Canto III, between octaves 86 and 87. "Malof 195. Byron's most spectacularly unconventional rhyme is "broken" in another way: OTTAVA RIMA I N DON JUAN I 89 She cannot step as does an Arab barb, Or Andalusian girl from mass returning, Nor wear as gracefully as Gauls her garb, Nor in her eye Ausonia's glance is burning; Her voice, though sweet, is not so fit to warb-le those bravuras (which I still am learning To like, though I have been seven years in Italy, And have, or had, an ear that served me prettily). (XII, 75) This fragmenting of "warble" marks one of the rare occasions in Don Juan when a line begins half-way through a word. Another example of this occurs at I, 120, where "henceforward" is broken into its components by a line-ending. This example is much less startling for the reader because both elements, "hence" and "forward," are normally complete words. "West 60. His example ("Adorer . . . there before her") is from Beppo lxxxvii, The Poetical Works of Lord Byron (London: Oxford U P , 1926) 623. "Wesling calls rhyme "the boldest form of rhetoric" (5) and he wonders whether rhyming words might "be related, somehow, in convergent meaning as well as similar sound" (39). 6 7 A good example of this kind of wit is quoted by Byron in a footnote to the eleventh stanza of Don Juan's Dedication. Challenged to find a rhyming riposte to: I, John Sylvester, Lay with your Sister, Ben Jonson answered: "I, Ben Jonson, lay with your wife." When Sylvester protested that that was not rhyme, Jonson answered: "No; but it is true." Poetical Works 894. "Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary (London: Hogarth, 1959) 4. -C H A P T E R III S I M I L E Metre, rhyme and stanza are not the only devices in Don Juan which* achieve a pulsation between transparent and opaque modes of discourse. Many other stylistic and rhetorical strategies foreground and background the text and its subject-matter, the narrator and the protagonist, the reader and the story. Even such mechanical tools as punctuation can assist in highlighting certain self-conscious effects, as, for example, when brackets are used instead of a more casual pair of parenthetic commas: "Below his window waved (of course) a willow" (XVI, 15). More semantic contrivances, like the second line of the following couplet, refer denotatively to some sensorily apprehended aspect of the text, making it opaque thus: "Bombs, drums, guns, bastions, batteries, bayonets, bullets; / Hard words, which stick in the soft Muses' gullets" (VII, 78). Somewhere in between the structural or mechanical extreme and the rhetorical or semantic limit, occur the literary tropes, whose definition depends on both their structure and their reference. If the tropes used in a literary text are commonplace, like commonplace rhymes they do not affect the text's transparency. Commonplace tropes, for example the so-called "dead metaphor," eventually lose their concrete quality and join the ranks of atmospheric 90 SIMILE / 91 abstractions: vague words which tend by convention to be associated with certain ideas or moods. The following is not quite a dead metaphor, but it is a simile which uses a highly conventional image—an image which calls very little attention to itself aside from the human figure in the story which it is employed to illustrate: "And, like a wither'd lily, on the land / His slender frame and pallid aspect lay" (II, 110). However, if a trope is highly unusual, it gives the reader a slight pause and draws her attention to the image (the vehicle), rather than to the thing or concept it illuminates (the tenor); thus it serves as a self-reflexive device.1 When the narrator envisages the London mail-coaches as "fast flying off like a delusion" (XI, 22), the reader is caught by surprise with "delusion"; it is the artifact of a virtuoso, and she must stop for a moment to admire it. In the following trope, the first vehicle becomes the tenor for a second vehicle: "The gentle Juan flourished, though at times / He felt like other plants called Sensitive, / Which shrink from touch, as monarchs do from rhymes" (X, 37). If the sensitive plants be not enough to startle the reader out of her contemplation of the tenor (Juan), then the sensitive monarchs will surely succeed. A l l the tropes quoted in the paragraph above are examples of simile, which is the figure most often foregrounded in Don Juan. Simile may occur in miniature, a flash of imagery, sharp or faint, to illustrate some point passed swiftly over, as when the reader is told that the cheeks of certain Greek children are "Crimson as cleft pomegranates" (III, 33), or that Koutousow's troops "Took like camelions, some slight tinge of fear" (VIII, 73); but it may equally well take on epic proportions and be developed through several stanzas, like the famous bottle of champagne with which Lady Adeline is compared in SIMILE / 92 Canto XIII (36-41). The shorter similes, like some of Byron's rhymes, have the power to prompt the reader briefly into consciousness of the text; the longer similes are often gateways into realms of speculation on the part of the narrator, trigger-mechanisms that propel him out of absorption in the story into the freer atmosphere of his own discursive world. As an image becomes elaborated and developed, and new images are brought in by association or parallel, so the reader's imagination and memory are lured away from the original tenor of the comparison. But her attention may not always or necessarily be drawn towards the text (reflexively) by this process. She may become absorbed by the images themselves, or by a different world—the narrator's—which bears no obvious relationship to that of the story at this point. Sometimes the return to the story will come as a surprise and hence make the text reflexive, but sometimes there will be no return to the exact jumping-off point in the story, and the excursion will have acted as an excuse for a transition or hiatus in the narrating. Thus, the frozen champagne simile leads to an image of cruising in freezing waters, from there to a more cosmic image of life as a voyage and Time as a pirate with "grey signal-flag," and finally to a metaphysical debate on mortality. The return to the story is not a return to Adeline, but to a transitional resetting of scenery: "The English winter . . . now was done" (XIII, 42). Several of the major digressions in Don Juan begin in this way as similes. For example, in Canto I (122-34), five stanzas are devoted to a series of propositions beginning: "'Tis sweet," followed by one beginning: "But sweeter far . . . is first and passionate love." This comparison of inequality is Q transformed in its turn by another simile comparing first love with Adam's SIMILE / 93 remembrance of his Fal l , then another, comparing Adam's sin with Prometheus's theft of fire, and then the narrator launches into a meditation of six-and-a-half stanzas on modern scientific discoveries and the strangeness of men and mortality, no longer in the form of simile. When he returns to his story, five months of its time have passed since the sexual encounter between Juan and Julia which generated the initial "first love" comparison. In Canto V I (55-57), the narrator, beginning by telling the reader that Dudu was "kind and gentle as / The Age of Gold," goes on into a stanza and a half of speculation on ages and their appropriate metals. He then spends another six lines apologising and haranguing the reader about his "long parenthesis," before returning to the story. This time, he goes back to where he left the plot and continues narrating, though (because of the parenthesis) the reader finds the story for a while much more opaque than before: 'Tis time we should return to plain narration, And thus my narrative proceeds: —Dudu, With every kindness short of ostentation, Shewed Juan, or Juanna, through and through This labyrinth of females. (VI, 57) Although the digressions in Don Juan vary, they are more frequently reflexive in this way, at their ends, than in their beginnings. The narrator likes to coax his reader by easy stages down the garden path and into the wild wood; only when she is well and truly lost will he suddenly call attention to the geography of the place. Hence, simile is a useful device for him, since by its very nature it intrudes an alien image into the text, which can appear quite innocent and necessary to the story until, by a subtle shifting of emphasis and a small sleight of hand, it replaces the story's landscape with a new and foreign SIMILE / 94 world. Simile, as theorists from Aristotle to Ricoeur have noticed, is very closely related to metaphor. However, although simile often takes the form of a metaphor "reduced" or "expanded" (depending on one's prejudices) by the addition of a comparative term, it is not a subclass of metaphor, since some similes are not, and cannot be, "compressed or converted into metaphors."2 Similes are more explicit, "literal" and discursive than metaphors;3 also, as Winifred Nowottny claims, they tend to "[suggest] an aspect under which one might temporarily look at a thing or an idea one might toy with but not care fully to assert."4 The reader easily sees why they suit Byron's purposes in Don Juan, for this is a poem which unfolds in the present tense, giving the narrator a time-frame in which he can explain what he is doing while doing it (or just after), create fictions and simultaneously (or subsequently) undermine them, and show the reader the creating process during (or only a little later than) the moment of creation. A simile suggests more of a process than the fait accompli presented by most symbols and metaphors. "Where metaphor assumes that the transference is possible or has already taken place," writes Terence Hawkes, "simile proposes the transference, and explains it by means of terms such as 'like' or ' i f . '" 5 This is not to say that Byron avoids the use of metaphor or symbol. The categories of simile, metaphor and symbol all intersect—or are continuous with one another—and he tends to use similes where metaphors would be interchangeable, and to create symbols in the linguistic form of similes. Where another Romantic poet might present a symbol in all its enigmatic mystery and leave it to ferment undissected in a reader's mind, Byron—at least, in Don Juan—is more inclined to explain it in terms of a stated analogy. SIMILE / 95 For example, Coleridge, in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," invokes the sun in significant and mysterious tones, as if it were the vehicle of a metaphor whose tenor is not immediately given: A l l in a hot and copper sky, The bloody sun, at noon, Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the moon.6 "The bloody sun" is imbued with slightly uncanny qualities and an importance not obviously accounted for by its role in the story. It appears to "stand for" something else, as the vehicle of a metaphor "stands for" its tenor, and indeed it does this, the sense of wonder which surrounds it suggesting that this" tenor is greater and more difficult to envisage than the vehicle. Thus the sun image bears a synecdochic relationship as well as a metaphoric relationship to some power, or watchfulness (if one must formulate this), while discursiveness is at a minimum. In Don Juan, a similar symbol is made more explicit: That large black prophet eye seem'd to dilate And follow far the disappearing sun, As if their last day of a happy date With his broad, bright, and dropping orb were gone. (IV, 22) The fact that the tenor is explicitly suggested ("As if their last day . . . were gone") makes the critic more likely to classify this trope on first examination as a metaphor and, on second examination, after considering the effect of "As if," as a simile. And yet the trope is classifiable as symbol, too, because it does possess some of that numinous quality called by Coleridge "translucence" and because its vehicle exists not in a metaworld but synecdochically, in the same world as the lovers to whom it is symbolically related.7 SIMILE / 96 Coleridge tends (in prose) to sneer at "mere simile, the work of my own fancy," 8 and even, on occasion, at metaphor,9 in the process of his polemical defence of symbol. His conception of symbol as a form of synecdoche, as Paul de Man makes clear, is not borne out by his own, or other Romantics' habitual use of tropes, which is more often analogical than synecdochic.10 Of the English high Romantics, only Blake in his shorter poems consistently posits a symbol in all its translucent mystery and leaves it at that; 1 1 the Symboliste and symbolist poets of the late nineteenth- and the twentieth century were the writers for whom the trope became really important. 1 2 The Romantics had a discursive bent which led them all to use similes with frequency, usually for the purpose of elaborating some central symbol or story. Many of these are very familiar: "Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth"; "The City now doth, like a garment, wear / The beauty of the morning"; "As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean."1 3 However, their most important tendency—which Byron does not share14—is not toward either simile or symbol per se, but toward a kind of metaphor which makes connections between external and internal worlds, which presents landscapes in terms of spiritual states and spiritual states in terms of natural processes and which intermingles the two by means of deliberate category confusions.15 Wordsworth demonstrates this in the following extract from The Prelude: Sometimes the ambitious Power of choice, mistaking Proud spring-tide swellings for a regular sea, Will settle on some British theme, some old Romantic tale by Milton left unsung. 1 6 Wordsworth's organic interweaving of the sea image with the discourse is rather SIMILE / 97 different from the method of the following stanza from Don Juan, which also deals with the subject of poetic composition: You know, or don't know, that great Bacon saith, "Fling up a straw, 'twill show which way the wind blows"; And such a straw, borne on by human breath, Is Poesy, according as the mind glows; A paper kite, which flies 'twixt life and death, A shadow which the onward Soul behind throws; And mine's a bubble, not blown up for praise, But just to play with, as an infant plays. (XIV, 8) The narrator ^ f Don Juan is an ironist needing a sharper discrimination between things than Wordsworth's type of organicism will allow—at least, most of the time. His penchant is for contrastive parallelism on a highly conscious level, for the finding or forcing of similitudes in an endlessly various universe, and the creation of effects ranging from a sense of monstrous incongruency or hiatus, through the varying surprises of concordia discors and discordia concors to a heartening though rare perception of the cosmic connectedness of things. Hence, simile is for him a much more fundamental tendency than for most of his contemporaries, since it asserts not identity or interpenetration, but similarity, and similarities can be evanescent and are very various in degree and kind. Simile is an experimental form, one which will allow him to play with possibilities, as he does in the stanza above, in which the game with alternative similes (a "straw," a "paper kite," a "shadow," a "bubble") comes itself under self-reflexive scrutiny in the last line, where the final image of an infant playing is the vehicle of a metaphor for which the tenor is the mode of composition of the stanza—and, by extension, of the whole poem. This simile, "to play . . . as an infant plays," in which the tenor is the poet's playing and the vehicle is an infant's playing, falls into that section of SIMILE / 98 simile which overlaps with metaphor or, to quote the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, can be "compressed or converted into [a metaphor]." In fact, all the images in the stanza exist within this intersection of the two sets. If "such a straw . . . is poesy" be indeed a metaphor and not a simile, it is nonetheless that kind of metaphor, to quote the same source, which "can be expanded into [simile]." 1 7 Clearly, Wordsworth's metaphor cannot be so easily expanded. The addition of "like" or "as" to his "Proud spring-tide swellings" would be much more complicated because attributions rather than objects are being substituted. Another aspect of this first trope in Byron's stanza which draws it towards simile and away from metaphor is the specificity of the vehicle. Although what is mentioned is not a particular straw, it is a very special type of straw, the type invoked by Bacon, and no other. The effect of the adjectival addition, "such," to the word "straw" in its second occurrence is rather like that of a demonstrative: this straw. It mutes the influence of the indefinite article, "claiming our recognition" and "pointing]" to the object, characteristics ascribed by G. Rostrevor Hamilton to the definite article. 1 8 This is worth pursuing in terms of the similes in Don Juan. When the narrator tells us that "Strongbow was like a new-tuned harpsichord" (XIII, 93), the two terms of the metaphor-simile exist on totally different levels of generality. "Strongbow," being a proper noun and signifying a minor character in the story, is about as specific as one can get. " A new-tuned harpsichord" signifies not quite any harpsichord, thanks to the modifier, but it signifies any new-tuned one. "The indefinite article, being singular," writes Hamilton, announces an individual image (which is so far particular), but SIMILE / 99 otherwise allows it to retain whatever generality it possesses. A horse is to the imagination any single horse, a roan is any horse of such colour. You can make it more and more particular, but it is still any horse that answers to the description.1 9 Byron's harpsichord is in this sense generic, being taken from a realm of concepts and objects with which the reader, being a user of words and objects with names, is familiar, but which has no context or story of its own. Strongbow, on the other hand, has a specific fictional existence within Juan's world: that is, a highly developed context. Although similitude between the two terms is asserted, commonsense does not give overwhelming assent to it: a harpsichord is not very "like" Strongbow or any other human being at a l l . 2 0 The simile is being used wittily to illustrate one very specific characteristic of the man. Its wittiness is contingent on incongruency, surprise and the fact that the tenor and vehicle belong to two quite different semiotic categories. This is the nature of conceit, a figure more common in Renaissance and modern, than in Romantic poetry. According to Helen Gardner, A conceit is a comparison whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness, or, at least, is more immediately striking. A l l comparisons discover likeness in things unlike: a comparison becomes a conceit when we are made to concede likeness while being strongly conscious of unlikeness. 2 1 A conceit may take the linguistic form of either simile or metaphor, for it exists in that area of intersection where, with minimal significant change, one may be converted to the other. As Byron's "Strongbow was like a new-tuned harpsichord" can be shortened to "Strongbow was a new-tuned harpsichord" with little alteration, so Donne's "I, like an usurp't town, SIMILE / 100 to'another due, / Labour to'admit you"" can be curtailed to "I, an usurp't town . . . ," with damage done only to the metre. Similarly, Byron's "she was a walking calculation" (I, 16) and Donne's "She'is all States, and all Princes, I ," 2 3 may be expanded from metaphor to simile. Byron's use of the conceit is recognized by Ridenour, who claims that the trope is self-reflexive because it is "bright, showy, self-consciously clever." 2 4 The reader is mildly startled every time she comes across such exhibits as "Juan, like a true-born Andalusian, / Could back a horse, as despots ride a Russian" (XIII, 23); "He hewed away, like doctors of theology" (VIII, 108); "Like a backgammon board the place was dotted / With whites and blacks, in groups on show for sale" (V, 10). The surprise jolts her not only into a sense of the writer's cleverness, but also into a sense of contrariety, a knowledge of a universe in which order and harmony are rare or achieved only with difficulty. This kind of ironic incongruency is used for both scathing satire and hilarious comedy: "that long Spout / Of blood and water, leaden Castlereagh!" (IX, 50); "Indigestion . . . that inward fate / Which makes all Styx through one small liver flow" (IX, 15). Occasionally, a conceit is developed through several lines, using both linguistic forms, metaphor and simile: Three hundred cannon threw up their emetic, And thirty thousand musquets flung their pills, Like hail, to make a bloody diuretic. Mortality! thou hast thy monthly bills: Thy Plagues, thy Famines, thy Physicians, yet tick Like the death-watch, within our ears the ills Past, present, and to come. (VIII, 12) However, conceits are seldom developed to the point of irrelevancy and are SIMILE / 101 almost always short. These jolting little tropes do not, therefore, usually lead to digression. Gardner remarks that in conceit "the poet forces . . . points of likeness upon us"; also that unlike the epic simile, the conceit does not "allow and invite the mind to stray beyond the immediate point of resemblance."2 5 The "violence," deplored by Samuel Johnson, with which these "heterogeneous ideas are yoked . . . together,"26 is essential to the working of a conceit: concord is asserted against odds, appropriateness and analogy declared in the teeth of convention's opposition. Donald Davidson claims: The most obvious difference between simile and metaphor is that all similes are true and that most metaphors are false. The earth is like a floor, the Assyrian did come down like a wolf on the fold, because everything is like everything." 2 7 Obviously, using the binary value system of pure logic, the truth-value assigned to the simile "Strongbow was like a new-tuned harpsichord" is "true," and that assigned to the metaphor "Strongbow was a new-tuned harpsichord" must be "false" (if the proposition "everything is like everything" is accepted as a premise, about which, according to Ricoeur, there can be some debate).28 But, as noted, little change is effected in phenomenological terms by the removal of the comparative, and my reader has a strong inclination to assign to the simile, as well as the metaphor, the truth-value "false" (and hence, like Ricoeur, to challenge the premise). For the purposes of a study of the differences between similes, a sliding scale of "truth"—or, perhaps, "ease of assent"—is required, because another kind of simile exists, to which logical assent can much more easily be given. When the reader is told that Juan "shuddered, as no doubt the SIMILE / 102 bravest cowers / When he can't tell what 'tis that doth appal" (XVI, 120), she has no reason to believe that Juan and "the bravest" are not one and the same; the trope is not a metaphor because its assertion of similitude is not enough of a lie. If metaphor is, as Ricoeur suggests, a "planned category mistake," 2 9 then this simile is not a metaphor because it is not a category mistake at all. Juan, the reader knows, belongs to the category "the bravest," with whom he is compared, though of course the apparently trivial distinction drawn here allows a sly ironic twinkle to pass between the two terms. Similes of this kind are not common among the English Romantics, but they do occur in epic, and also in Chaucer, as W. P. Ker notes.3 0 They are most frequent in Dante, for example: E come quei ch'adopera ed estima, che sempre par che 'nnanzi si proveggia, cosi, levando me su ver' la cima d'un ronchione, avvisava un'altra scheggia. And like one who works and reckons, always seeming to provide beforehand, so, while lifting me upward toward the top of one great rock, he was looking out another crag. 3 1 Dante's master, Virgil , is not merely "like one who works and reckons," he actualty is one of these. The purpose of this type of simile is, as Ker claims, "[to take] one away from other circumstances and [to concentrate] attention on one aspect particularly desired by the poet";3 2 but, more importantly, it serves, like many other types of simile, to give a sense of other parallel worlds. In Dante, the other world evoked is typically the ordinary world of live men and women, against which his great vision is SIMILE / 103 constantly juxtaposed. In Milton, the similes often evoke the "Err ing" 3 3 (and therefore fictional, literary) worlds of classical myth: Not that fair field Of Enna, where Proserpine, gathering flow'rs, Herself a fairer flow'r, by gloomy Dis Was gathered . . . . . . might with this Paradise Of Eden strive. 3 4 This is not merely a literary allusion. The epic simile elaborates and in a sense narrates the story of Proserpine and hence includes it in the poem's dialogue, even though it is subordinated to the main story because it is pagan and therefore, within the Christian ethos of the whole poem, "Erring." Byron often uses this kind of narrative simile in Don Juan: But sweeter far than this, than these, than all, Is first and passionate love—it stands alone, Like Adam's recollection of his fall; The tree of knowledge has been pluck'd—all's known— And life yields nothing further to recall Worthy of this ambrosial sin, so shown, No doubt in fable, as the unforgiven Fire which Prometheus filch'd for us from heaven. (I, 127) Despite the slight scepticism evident in the couplet, he is not finally being jocular here, as he often is when he brings in conventional classical machinery ("Patroclus, Ajax or Protesilaus; / A l l heroes who if living still would slay us" (IV, 76)). In fact, Byron's Fall myth—his vehicle—is perhaps more wholly "there" for him than Milton's pagan vehicles, to which Milton could not grant full ideological assent. The epic similes of Paradise Lost use as vehicles not only classical myths and biblical histories; they refer also to the known world ("Vallombrosa")3 5 and to an altogether modern science: SIMILE / 104 a spot like which perhaps Astronomer in the sun's lucent orb Through his glazed optic tube yet never saw. 3 6 Byron is very given to this kind of scientific allusion: And though so much inferior, as I know, To those who, by the dint of glass and vapour, Discover stars, and sail in the wind's eye, I wish to do as much by Poesy. (X, 3) The reader does note in passing, however, a fact which highlights one of Byron's characteristic differences from an epic poet. She observes that this neat little four-line parallel with Milton follows two whole stanzas on Newton which do not appear to have any relevance to the composition of poetry at all, until the narrator suddenly asks himself: "And wherefore this exordium?" The answer to the question is, of course, that "In taking up this paltry sheet of paper," he experienced an exuberance which made him feel kinship with such as Newton; and thus he contrives to tie up what preceded into an epic simile as above. However, no comparative term nor any sense of trope is evident in the earlier stanzas. He is pretending to improvise, and thus he expects an indulgent reader who will forgive his digressiveness and his (apparent) tacking it all together under her eye. This hasty bricolage is the opposite of the immovable architectural construction of the epics of Milton, Dante and the ancients. Nevertheless, Byron learned from them a technique which could be put to more subversive uses. The epic simile is, if not essentially, at least potentially, digressive in nature. 3 7 Of the epic poets mentioned above, Milton SIMILE / 105 has come under most critical attack for wandering, 3 8 because his similes are, as Johnson noted, "more various [ ] than those of his predecessors" and because "he does not confine himself within the limits of rigorous comparison," but "expands the adventitious image beyond the dimensions which the occasion required." 3 9 Of course, Milton is the closest of the epic poets in both time and culture to Byron and his educated audience; the anxiety of his influence upon Byron as upon all English Romantic—and many other—poets has become a critical commonplace.40 Perhaps it is inevitable that a deliberately digressive poet should take the potentially digressive devices of his strong Oedipal father as the seed of his own digressive insouciance.4 1 Anne Davidson Ferry's illuminating comments on Milton's similes tend to support this view. Analysing Milton's epic in terms of who is narrating at different times and how the style changes with the change of narrator, she remarks: The similes which we remember from Paradise Lost, those which seem to give the poetry its special texture, are all spoken by the narrative voice. They are a distinctive mark of his manner of speaking and of the ways in which his style expresses a vision different from that of his characters. This careful use of similes to distinguish the narrator's style from the speeches of the characters is one of Milton's most elaborate means of transforming the drama of Adam's Fall into a narrative poem whose meaning is expressed in the tone of the speaker. 4 2 If simile has been used even by Milton to remind the reader of the presence of the epic speaker, it is no wonder that it is so often used by Byron's narrator as an excuse to move from his story into his own world. Thus, Don Juan's speaker will interrupt himself with a simile in the middle of a long passage of ordinary narrative and thereby change his SIMILE / 106 mode of discourse altogether. The following stanza is one among several in which the narrator is scarcely visible while the scene is being set for the most romantic passage in the poem: It was a wild and breaker-beaten coast, With cliffs above, and a broad sandy shore, Guarded by shoals and rocks as by an host, With here and there a creek, whose aspect wore A better welcome to the tempest-tost; And rarely ceased the haughty billow's roar, Save on the dead long summer days, which make The outstretch'd ocean glitter like a lake. (II, 17 7) 4 3 The next stanza, however, launches the reader suddenly and precipitously into the mind and world of the narrator by the detonation of what seems a perfectly harmless comparison: And the small ripple spilt upon' the beach Scarcely o'erpass'd the cream of your champagne, When o'er the brim the sparkling bumpers reach, That spring-dew of the spirit! the heart's rain! Few things surpass old wine; and they may preach Who please,—the more so because they preach in vain,— Let us have wine and woman, mirth and laughter, Sermons and soda-water the day after. Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; The best of life is but intoxication: Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk The hopes of all men, and of every nation; Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion: But to return,—Get very drunk; and when You wake with head-ache, you shall see what then. S I M I L E / 107 Ring for your valet—bid him quickly bring Some hock and soda-water, then you'll know A pleasure worthy Xerxes the great king; For not the blest sherbert, sublimed with snow, Nor the first sparkle of the desert-spring, Nor Burgundy in all its sunset glow, After long travel, ennui, love or slaughter, Vie with that draught of hock and soda-water. (II, 178-80) It is far, far too late for the nonchalant "Thus they relate, / Err ing" 4 4 type of drawstring used by Milton when he has let himself be carried away. This narrator is much more self-indulgent than Milton's; he is far too obviously enjoying himself for any kind of belated "making it all relevant" to be plausible here. Starting with a simile ("ripple . . . champagne"), he joyfully deteriorates into free association, no longer bothering himself with the syntactic copulae of comparatives. The game he is playing in this relaxed, talkative tone, which toys with form as well as thematic associations, becomes finally so absorbing that the reader is almost unsurprised when he deals his boldest stroke: "The coast—I think it was the coast that I / Was just describing—Yes, it was the coast— / Lay at this period quiet as the sky" (II, 181). Typically, the return to the story is what is jarring here, because the narrator (and perhaps the reader, too) has forgotten where he left off narrating—or, at least, so he pretends. Starting with a simile, which, like Milton, he elaborates, Byron, unlike Milton, allows himself to get lost in one of his other worlds, and the way back is out of the labyrinth. The "ripple . . . champagne" simile that forms the jumping-off point for this excursion is not as far removed from metaphor or conceit as some in Don Juan, although the development of the image of "your champagne" SIMILE / 108 as the basis for a familiar scenario or context ("When o'er the brim the sparkling bumpers reach") draws it into the domain of pure simile. Many of Byron's similes look like metaphors initially, but turn out later to be rather different. When Juan discovers little Leila in Canto VIII, the reader is told that "she was chill as they" (95), "they" being corpses. Now if these corpses were pointed to with an indefinite, or no, article—if in fact they were any dead bodies—the simile would be a metaphor. As it happens, they are very specific bodies, those of her relatives and protectors, newly killed, and the simile cannot by any means be classed as a metaphor. In fact, so "true" is the comparison that the reader is not sure whether it is a trope at all. It compares two things—or qualities of things—which exist in the same world, with equal degrees of specificity. This is the ground state of simile, unremarkable in itself, but illustrative of the fact that the figure will , more in the way of metonymy than of metaphor, allow both terms an equal existence, without having to draw the vehicle from a realm of abstract generality. Ironic tricks may be played with simile as a result of the facility of the comparative term for changing from "like" to "appearing like" or from "as" to "as i f ; and also as a result of the greater particularity of the vehicle here than in metaphor, allowing a more searching examination of the points of coincidence with the tenor. Thus, in Canto I, when the narrator declares that "Julia mistress, and Antonia maid, / Appear'd like two poor harmless women" (I, 141), the figure seems to be a simile of the category-species variety, whose truth-value is of indisputable assent. And certainly the women's appearance is of innocence; they are acting a part S I M I L E / 109 for the benefit of the searchers of the bed-chamber. But as the simile (if simile it be) is elaborated, the impression grows that they are over-acting and that the difference between appearance and reality should be becoming evident not only to us (the narrator and reader, who are in on the secret of Julia's infidelity), but also to the deluded men in the story who are observing the women. Appearance and the simile's truth-value are not so simple after all: But Julia mistress, and Antonia maid, Appear'd like two poor harmless women, who Of goblins, but still more of men afraid, Had thought one man might be deterr'd by two, And therefore side by side were gently laid. (I, 141) This device is used to more tragically ironic effect in Canto II when Juan and Haidee, embracing in the "deep twilight's purple charm" (184), are alone, "As if there were no life beneath the sky / Save theirs, and that their life could never die" (188). Whether they counterpoint appearances and realities, or appearances and appearances, or even realities and realities (after all, the illusion is at this moment "real" to the lovers), these devices awake in the reader the sense of a hiatus between worlds that returns her always to the enigma of fiction itself. Appearance-reality similes are often more complex than this. When the narrator claims, "I rattle on exactly as I'd talk / With anybody in a ride or walk" (XV, 19), the reader is inclined to give full assent to the trope. Byron's narrator has a specific existence within the poem; his habitual activities include riding ("I canter by the spot each afternoon" (IV, 103)), and certainly the frequently chatty style gives as perfect an illusion S I M I L E / 110 of a witty man's (Byron's) conversation as its formal rigours will allow. To assign to the simile the value "true" and ignore it as trivial would be easy. The man chats on foot and on horseback, just as he is rattling on to his reader now. But on closer scrutiny the reader finds that the simile is not as true as all that. The poet is not actually talking and his receiver is a reader, not a listener. In one sense then, the trope is a metaphor in which the oral situation is the vehicle for the written, and the simile operates as a strategy for creating various levels of diegetic worlds. One of these is a wholly fictional one in which the narrator is, as he mentions a few lines further on, an "Improvvisatore" (XV, 20) to whom the reader, in the fictional garb of a live audience, is listening. This fictional world exists as an ironic counterpart to the "real" one: a printed text from which the poet is absent, with probably a single, silent reader. The reader is made conscious of this "real" world precisely because the simile the narrator uses is so apposite; she is three-quarters of the way to full assent to it when she notices, together with the surprise she feels at the deconstruction of worlds, that it is not true at all. Unless, of course, her solitary reading of a book of print is merely the vehicle of a metaphor whose tenor is an oral performance.... At times, simile can be a kind of cover for a step into the narrator's world which would otherwise seem over-gratuitous. After a disquisition on Lady Adeline's perfect chastity, for which the narrator has himself insinuated a motive ("Perhaps she wish'd an aspirant profounder" (XIV, 57)), the following stanza occurs: SIMILE / 111 I hate a motive like a lingering bottle With which the landlord makes too long a stand, Leaving all claretless the unmoistened throttle, Especially with politics on hand; I hate it, as I hate a drove of cattle, Who whirl the dust as Simooms whirl the sand; I hate it, as I hate an argument, A Laureate's ode, or servile Peer's "Content." (XIV, 58) Although the slightly faulty grammar of the first line makes the figure look like a simile-conceit, actually not "motive" and "bottle," but two of the narrator's pet hatreds are being compared. The line ought to follow the syntactic pattern of the other comparisons: "I hate a motive as I hate a lingering bottle"; yet the construction as it stands gives a greater sense of relevancy to the story. Adeline's hypothetical motive only seems to be the tenor, for in fact the narrator has leapt out of his story and into his own world. The elaboration of the first simile develops a masculine scenario which could plausibly coexist with Adeline and her aristocratic London life—the ambiance of which has been developed through several cantos already. This is also true of "argument," "ode," and "Content" in the couplet; they could all form part of the experience of a London Dandy with an extensive acquaintance. But—and this is typical of the catalogues in Don Juan—the "cattle" are slightly incongruous and the secondary simile, "who whirl the dust as Simooms whirl the sand," belongs, if not to another world, at least to a part of this one so distant and exotic as to threaten a breach in its retaining wall. The reader is not allowed to forget for long that the universe is vast and various. The narrator often calls attention to his similes in asides: "(This old song and new simile holds good)" (Ded., 2); "(But this last simile is trite SIMILE / 112 and stupid)" (I, 55); "That's an appropriate simile, that Jackall" (IX, 27); "(Start not, kind reader, since great Homer thought / This simile enough for Ajax . . . )" (VIII, 29); and these are perhaps the most obvious examples of self-reflexiveness, particularly when he claims to be having trouble finding the right one: " A n Arab horse, a stately stag, a barb / New broke, a camelopard, a gazelle, / No—none of these will do" (II, 6). These devices call attention not only to the diegetic world of the speaker, but to other worlds outside and beyond this, the writer with his pen, generating the fictional speaker, choosing words, and the reader herself, who is exhorted not to "start." Two longer examples invoke the reader in a more active way. The first of these occurs towards the end of a catalogue of beauties asleep in the harem in which Juan is bedded in female disguise: A fourth as marble, statue-like and still, Lay in a breathless, hushed and stony sleep; White, cold, and pure, as looks a frozen rill , Or the snow minaret on an Alpine steep, Or Lot's wife done in salt,—or what you will;— M y similes are gather'd in a heap, So pick and choose—perhaps you'll be content With a carved lady on a monument. (VI, 68) This stanza heralds a transition from a serious, "Romantic" mood to a more ironic tone, a transition implemented partly because the narrator feels the need here as elsewhere to change a theme which grows too sad. But here, even before the direct address to the reader which comprises the jump into an extradiegetic world, alienation from the subject is taking place by means of images. The whole suite of stanzas, from 64 to 67 and including the first part of this one, has presented the women in terms of SIMILE / 113 a rather artificial but Edenic garden: Many and beautiful lay those around, Like flowers of different hue and clime and root, In some exotic garden sometimes found, With cost and care and warmth induced to shoot. (65) This imagery is strategically relevant to the story because, in Dudu's "dream," her sexual encounter with Juan takes the form of the eating of a fatal fruit—the sexual knowledge and freedom lacking in the harem. But the consistently and carefully developed conventional similes carry the poem into an elegiac mood which must not be sustained if it is shortly to move back into the gleeful prurience of a travelling-salesman joke. The "third" odalisque "betrayed / Through the heaved breast the dream of some far shore," and the simile with which her tears are rendered has a graveyard loveliness: "(As Night Dew on a Cypress glittering, tinges / The black bough)" (67). With the "fourth," the graveyard imagery reaches its nadir. Even a cypress is more alive than the marble statue with which this woman is compared. But the narrator is not content to stop here; he offers three more similes ("frozen r i l l , " "snow minaret," and "Lot's wife") before returning, rather more tentatively, to a variant on his first: "a carved lady on a monument." Interestingly enough, the three middle similes, though inconsistent with the garden theme, are not wholly irrelevant. The second is a little redundant, as the first has already suggested coldness and isolation, but, on the other hand, "Lot's wife done in salt" is surprisingly apposite, considering that the woman is spiritually dead because her mind has turned back to her home. However, surprise is itself out of place here; the simile SIMILE / 114 is a conceit placed among quiet conventional images. Also, the word "done," even though it links this simile with the statue simile, is comic because it is too colloquial for the context and because everyone knows that Lot's wife was not sculpted in salt but transformed by God. The progress of the reader's experience, through a sense of inconsistency and redundancy (which is potentially self-mocking) to surprise and humour, charts a growing awareness of the text caused by the text's apparent shortcomings. Also, as a necessary complement to this awareness, the reading process marks a diminishing involvement and sympathy with the subject of the story. Thus, when she is finally co-opted by the narrator, the reader is already sufficiently conscious of the story's existence as an object to participate in its construction. A tendency exhibited here, to elaborate illustrative imagery to the point of irrelevancy, is much more evident in my second example. This is a suite of stanzas on the subject of Gulbeyaz's anger at Juan's refusal to make love to her on command (V, 130-33). The stanzas consist of a series of raids on several worlds in order to come up with an appropriate vehicle for a simile; the narrator's sense of the task's impossibility is what keeps him searching and generating new semiotic and diegetic worlds to search. The first stanza is direct address, first to a plural group ("Ye!"), and then, by a subtle transition, to a singular member of this group, the narratee 4 5 (I must make this distinction between the inscribed receiver and my reader here, because this narratee is clearly male, and a contemporary of the narrator): SIMILE / 115 Remember, or (if you cannot) imagine, Ye! who have kept your chastity when young, While some more desperate dowager has been waging Love with you, and been in the dog-days stung By your refusal, recollect her raging! Or recollect all that was said or sung On such a subject; then suppose the face Of a young downright beauty in this case. (V, 130) This is not a metaphor, and it is no ordinary simile either. But if simile be seen as a comparison in which "this specific thing" is likened to "that specific thing," the narrator is demanding that the narratee find "that specific thing" out of his own experience, in order to complete the simile. Considering that the receiver's mind is the final arbiter and assigner of meaning for a work of literature, this vehicle, if it is so constructed, reaches the upper limit of specificity. No "real person" recreated by the narrator can have the clarity or singleness of outline possessed by an individual the narratee remembers. Of course, the receiver who cannot "remember" is exhorted to "imagine"—the imagination being here a poor substitute for memory—and perhaps those who did not keep their chastity when young are considered incapable now of the mental fertility demanded. Having acquired an image, the receiver's work does not end there; he has to substitute the face (only the face?) "Of a young downright beauty" for his "desperate dowager"—a rather difficult task, considering the reasons why the dowager is desperate. Realizing this difficulty, the narrator rushes on, this time into the realm of literature: SIMILE / 116 Suppose, but you already have supposed, The spouse of Potiphar, the Lady Booby, Phedra, and all which story has disclosed Of good examples; pity that so few by Poets and private tutors are exposed, To educate—ye youth of Europe—you by! But when you have supposed the few we know, You can't suppose Gulbeyaz' angry brow. (V, 131) Although the three examples quoted here from the Bible, Fielding and Euripides are within his own literary experience, the narrator keeps the field of their discovery inside the receiver's mental world. This narratee, whose experience is so like the narrator's (Byron's), is credited with anticipating the narrator's requirements, which suggests that fictional worlds and "real" memories are not very different psychologically—imagination and memory being interrelated. Those who have been exposed by "Poets" or "private tutors" to more numerous literary examples of characters undergoing strong passion will more easily understand—or do the reader's work of recreating—Byron's poem. But nevertheless, the narrator feels that his receiver's experience, even after scouring its fictional knowledge, will be inadequate, and so he goes on: A tigress robbed of young, a lioness, Or any interesting beast of prey, Are similes at hand for the distress Of ladies who cannot have their own way; But though my turn will not be served with less, These don't express one half what I should say: For what is stealing young ones, few or many, To cutting off their hopes of having any? (V, 132) He has moved into a different world here, not into the world of natural law, as the first line would suggest, but into the writer's world of literary convention. The "tigress" and the "lioness" are "similes," like other SIMILE / 117 "beasts of prey" established as "interesting" within the literary tradition. However, he rejects the conventional comparisons as being not quite appropriate to the specific instance; Gulbeyaz's ferocity is not, as with the conventional female feline, caused by the loss of "young ones," but by the "cutting short [her] hopes of having any." Among other things, this stanza contains an ironic joke at Byron's own expense. One of the most histrionic uses of the "lioness" occurs in his poem The Giaour: Go, when the hunter's hand hath wrung From forest-cave her shrieking young, And calm the lonely lioness: But soothe not—mock not my distress!4 6 (As a matter of fact, he probably has the tigress in mind here, for tigers, unlike lions, are solitaries and live in forests, but he could not resist the alliteration.) Anyway, the narrator has moved away from his receiver in the Don Juan stanza. By now the poetry is imbued with a strong sense of the privacy of poetic composition, during which no responsive audience is present: "my turn will not be served"; "These don't express one half what I should say." In the next stanza he moves into a more pontificating mood; he is making incontrovertible statements ex cathedra, and only in the couplet does he acknowledge his audience once more: SIMILE / 118 The love of offspring's nature's general law, From tigresses and cubs to ducks and ducklings; There's nothing whets the beak or arms the claw, Like an invasion of their babes and sucklings; And all who have seen a human nursery, saw How mothers love their children's squalls and chucklings: And this extreme effect (to tire no longer Your patience) shows the cause must still be stronger. (V, 133) The first four lines are not very self-reflexive. These categorical statements really are induced by a natural world in which recurrent patterns, a Logos, or "general law" can be perceived. They point to "tigresses," "ducks," etc., as objects, not as part of a grab-bag of literary devices. These are, of course, representative objects, their signifiers lacking articles. The last two lines of the sestet introduce a slight change of tack; the special example of human "mothers" and "children" is placed in a context, a "nursery," and requires perceivers ("all who have seen") for its establishment in the category. However, the perceivers are not identified directly with the poem's narratees, and their perception is set in the past as a finished activity, not as an active process. The effect is rather formal, part of a polished piece of rhetoric in which reference to a common human scenario makes the point more persuasively, but is not a sine qua non of the argument culminating in the interrupted cause-and-effect proposition of the last two lines. This interruption, "(to tire no longer / Your patience)" is a sidelong glance at the narratee, who has been given so much of the work of analogy to do in the stanzas preceding. It acknowledges the fact that the narratee has been left out of the process of creating meaning here, and yet it also acknowledges the indispensability of the narratee—or, rather more generally, of a reader. It gives ironic recognition to the fact that the SIMILE / 119 reader's impatience has the power to destroy the whole structure; if she gets too bored, she will simply stop reading, or skip to something more interesting. What happens to the similes in this tour de force is that they become conjoined first to one and then to another device, and finally they are subjected to a strenuous argument in which what represents the developed term of an epic simile is in fact the most important proposition of a rhetorical enthymeme. The argument in this stanza assumes that causes are greater than effects, proposes an effect of great power, and concludes that the cause must be immense. The proposal of the generality and strength of the attachment of females to their offspring is also the vehicle of a rather unusual simile, whose tenor is the attachment of females to the procreative act. But the simile is ' not unclassifiably heterodox; comparisons do not have to be comparisons of equality. Milton's similes frequently invoke a Greek myth to show how the biblical truth surpasses it. The existence of a cause-and-effect relationship between the two terms, sexual passion and maternal passion, does not prevent a comparison from being made between them; indeed, this is the basis of the argument. If these stanzas are digressive, they are not so in the way many others are, in which the poet wanders off into a volley of accusations against some contemporary such as Castlereagh, Wordsworth or Wellington; or narrates some everyday or special event in his private life for its own sake; or debates questions such as religion, mortality or avarice, without relating them directly to the story. Even where he becomes most SIMILE / 120 metaphysical here ("The love of offspring's nature's general law"), he has his eye on an event in the story which needs accurate representation and must be accounted for. This suite is more self-reflexive than truly digressive. By mediating too obsessively the reader's response, and by discussing in too much detail the mechanics of this mediation, the narrator vitiates the transparency of the story and alienates the reader from too much emotional involvement with the characters. He does not go "off the point" so much as linger too long on it; he continues to ruminate for five more stanzas before developing it to the point of action—an action, incidentally, which is never completed ("Her first thought was to cut off Juan's head" (V, 139)), and hence remains in the realm of speculation. The effect is of "freezing" the action: the narrator's and reader's time flow on through stanza after stanza, while Juan's time stands still, at the point of paroxysm. Nevertheless, in one sense, self-reflexiveness is a kind of digressiveness, even when it occurs in miniature in some baroque rhyme or conceit, without any rhetorical marker to point to it. What the self-reflexive device does is to take the reader's attention off the story, however briefly, and lift it onto the the surface of the text in an excursion that may not be registered in the rhetoric, but which exists nevertheless as a "digression" from the reader's experience of the story. In the stanzas above, the reader and the narrator take a trip through various worlds in pursuit of an image—a mental journey which, for the reader, breaks into her sense of the story's progressive time-sequence and gives her the experience of a psychological detour, or digression. SIMILE / 121 Simile is one of several devices in Don Juan which are used both on a small scale to control the local degree of transparency of the text, and on a more developed scale, to allow the narrator an escape mechanism from one form of discourse or from one diegetic world into another. Whether only the larger phenomena can be classed as digressions or not, and whether there is any point in talking about digressions at all in so digressive a work, will be considered in the following chapter. N O T E S TO C H A P T E R III \As has become common practice, I use I. A . Richards's nomenclature here for the two elements of a trope. Richards employs them in his analysis of metaphor only, but they are convenient for discussion of other figures of speech as well. The Philosophy of Rhetoric (London: Oxford U P , 1979) 96. 2See Alex Preminger, ed., Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton: Princeton U P , 1974) 767: "Not every simile is a metaphor, though some similes can be compressed or converted into metaphors." 3See Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1977) 27, 197; Terence Hawkes, Metaphor (London: Methuen, 1972) 3, 71. 4Winnifred Nowottny, The Language Poets Use (London: Athlone, 1962) 51. 5Terence Hawkes, Metaphor (London: Methuen, 1972) 2-3. 'Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poems (London: Everyman, 1973) 176. 'Distinguishing symbol from allegory in The Statesman's Manual, Coleridge writes: "On the other hand a symbol . . . is characterized by a translucence of the special in the individual, or of the general in the special, or of the universal in the general; above all by the translucence of the eternal through and in the temporal. It always partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible, and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part of the unity of which it is the representative." (347-48). See also chapter II, note 19. SIMILE / 122 "Coleridge, The Statesman's Manual, The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge I (New York: Harper, 1884) 462. 'Coleridge, The Statesman's Manual 465. Coleridge here relegates metaphor with allegory to the work of the fancy, a faculty which he considers decidedly inferior to the imagination, which is the domain of symbol. 1 0De Man's essay on "Allegory and Symbol," in Blindness and Insight (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983) 187-208, is a sustained critique of the bad faith or "tenacious self-mystification" (208) of Romantic theory from Coleridge to M . H . Abrams. Claiming that Coleridge's definition of symbol (see note 7 above) subsumes a monistic epistemological idealism (191), de Man points out that this idealism is not consistent with the "priority of object over subject that is implicit in an organic conception of language" (197), a conception for which Coleridge is largely responsible. "Poems such as " A h ! Sun-Flower," "The Tyger" and "The Sick Rose," each of which focuses on a single object and meditates in an exclamatory style on its ontological strangeness, are particularly good examples of the symbolic mode. William Blake, Complete Writings (London: Oxford UP, 1974) 215, 214, 213. "Although the French Symbolistes did use symbols—for example, the swan that occurs in short poems by both Baudelaire and Mallarme—they were more interested in breaking rules of syntax, sense (synaesthesia), metre, etc., than in symbol per se. Charles Baudelaire Les fleurs du mal (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, n.d.) 184-86; Stephan Mallarme, Oevres completes (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1945) 67-68. The Imagist movement, on the other hand, even though it tried to suppress the symbolic translucence of the object, drew many English-language poets into that concentrated contemplation of the individual object which leads to symbolic valorization. Hence, W. B. Yeats, D. H . Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane—all of whom were influenced by Imagism—produced such poems as "The Wild Swans at Coole," "Bavarian Gentians," "The Hollow Men," "Anecdote of the Jar" and "The Broken Tower," all of which generate an aura of mysterious and synecdochic significance about a perceived object and which are, in consequence, symbolic. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (London: MacMillan, 1952) 147-48; D. H . Lawrence, Selected Poems (New York: Viking, 1973) 136-37; T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1952) 56-59; The Collected Poems of Hart Crane (New York: Liveright, 1933) 135-36; The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1961) 76. 1 3Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind," Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1968) 579. William Wordsworth, "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September, 1808," Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1971) 214. Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Poems 176. SIMILE / 123 "Even at his most Wordsworthian moments, Byron is more self-consciously explanatory than Wordsworth. Although he is, in the following passage, asserting an organic interpenetration of nature and his soul, he does not recreate this interrelatedness by the use of organic metaphor: I live not in myself but I become Portion of that around me; and to me High mountains are a feeling, but the hum Of human cities torture: I can see Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be A link reluctant in a fleshly chain, Class'd among creatures, when the soul can flee, And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain Of ocean, or the stars, mingle, and not in vain. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage III, lxxxii , Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1926) 213. 1 5 W. K . Wimsatt, in an essay entitled "The Structure of Romantic Nature Imagery," compares a sonnet by William Lisle Bowles ("To the River Itchin") with one by Coleridge ("To the River Otter"), "written in confessed imitation of Bowles" (105-10). The success of Coleridge's poem in comparison with Bowles's is due, according to Wimsatt, to a greater vividness in the realization of the river image and a more subtle, organic creation of trope. Wimsatt comments: "The metaphor in fact is scarcely noticed by the main statement of the poem. Both tenor and vehicle, furthermore, are wrought in a parallel process out of the same material. The river landscape is both the occasion of reminiscence and the source of the metaphors by which reminiscence is described" (109). Although Wimsatt includes Byron among the Romantic poets who use this type of imagery, he does not examine his Byronic example (an extract from the Childe Harold stanza quoted in the previous note) in enough detail to observe that in fact its working is in some ways more like Bowles than Coleridge: it contains "asserted connection" (107) rather than a "design which is latent in the multiform sensuous picture" (110). W. K . Wimsatt, Jr . and Monroe C. Beardsley, The Verbal Icon (Kentucky: U of Kentucky P, 1954). "Wordsworth, The Prelude I, 11.166-69, 497. ^Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 767. 1 ! G . Rostrevor Hamilton, The Tell-Tale Article (New York: Oxford U P , 1950) 14. "Hamilton 12. SIMILE / 124 20Commonsense has a habit of sticking to a very materialistic world-view which is seriously limited by habitual semiotic categories. When Helen Gardner, in her introduction to the poetic anthology, The Metaphysical Poets (Great Britain: Oxford U P , 1967), talks of "likeness" and "unlikeness" as if these were self-evident categories, she is guilty of using unexamined commonsense (xxii). Paul Ricoeur, in his account of "resemblance," vigorously defends the commonsense assumption against heavy odds (196-97). See note 28 below. "Gardner xxiii. 2 2 "Holy Sonnet," The Complete Poetry of John Donne (New York: New York U P , 1968) 344. "Donne, "The Sunne Rising" 94. "George M . Ridenour, The Style of Don Juan (USA: Yale U P , 1969) 138. "Gardner xxiv. "Samuel Johnson, "Cowley," The Lives of the English Poets, The Works of Samuel Johnson VII (Oxford: Talboys and Wheeler, 1825) 16. "Donald Davidson, "What Metaphors Mean," Critical Inquiry 5, 1 (1978): 41. 2"See the section of Ricoeur's The Rule of Metaphor entitled "In Defence of Resemblance" (193-200). He defends the logically weak proposition, "everything resembles everything else...except for a certain difference!" in terms of the necessity, with metaphor, of seeing similarity "despite difference, in spite of contradiction." To Ricoeur, "resemblance can be construed as the site of the clash between sameness and difference," and the realm of resemblance is where the dynamics of metaphor operate (196-97). The Davidson-Ricoeur duality is perhaps clarified by J . Hillis Miller in Fiction and Repetition (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1982). Miller quotes a passage from Gilles Deleuze's Logique du sens which opposes to each other the two formulations: "only that which resembles itself differs" and "only differences resemble one another" (5). The first of these, Miller calls the basis of a "Platonic" theory of repetitions, one which "is grounded in a solid architectural model which is untouched by the effects of repetition" (6). Of course, the archetype does not have to be Plato's realm of ideas: it can persist in a vigorous materialistic belief in an objective world. The latter belief may underpin Davidson's optimistic assertion of universal similitude. The second formulation subtends what Miller calls a "Nietzschean" theory of repetition, which "posits a world based on difference" (6). (Perhaps the primary representative of this theory in the contemporary world is Jacques Derrida.) Ricoeur clearly attempts a kind of workable synthesis between the two theories, assuming the simultaneous possibility of both similarity and SIMILE / 125 difference. This dangerous middle ground I too have tried to tread and to chart, asserting that at least for the purposes of this dissertation, similarity must be measured on a calibrated yardstick of truth or "ease of assent." (Interestingly, Tzvetan Todorov, in "Narrative Transformations," The Poetics of Prose (Ithaca: Cornell UP , 1977), claims that narrative is also "constituted in the tension of two formal categories, difference and resemblance" (233).) 2 9Ricoeur 197. 3 0 W . P. Ker, Form and Style in Poetry (London: MacMillan, 1928) 252. 3 1Dante Alighieri, Inferno X X I V , 11.25-28, The Divine Comedy: Italian Text and Translation I, trans. Charles S. Singleton (Princeton U P , 1970) 248, 249. 3 2 Ker 252. 3 3John Milton, Paradise Lost I, 1.747, Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1966) 230. "Paradise Lost IV, 11.268-75, 281. "Paradise Lost I, 11.301, 219. i6Paradise Lost III, 11.588-90, 271. 3 7See C. M . Bowra, Tradition and Design in the Iliad (Oxford: Clarendon, 1930) 126. Dicussing Homer's similes, Bowra claims: "Their aim was not to provide a series of points in which one thing can be compared with another, but to stress a common characteristic. This done, the poet follows his fancy and develops the picture without much care for his reason for using it." The whimsical, gratuitous quality is what is of interest here. 3'See Christopher Ricks, Milton's Grand Style (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963) 118-50, for a summary of the debate about the digressiveness or relevance of Milton's similes. 3'Johnson, "Milton," Lives of the English Poets 132 4 0See Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (New York: Oxford U P , 1973): "Milton is the central problem of poetic influence in English" (33). Also, M . H . Abrams, in "English Romanticism: The Spirit of the Age," perceiving Milton as the exemplary visionary poet, details his influence on various Romantic writers. Romanticism and Consciousness, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Norton, 1970) 102-07. Jerome McGann, in an article entitled "Milton and Byron" {The Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Bulletin X X V (1974)), claims that Byron, not Wordsworth nor any other self-styled Miltonist, was Milton's true heir in the Romantic age. "Wordsworth and SIMILE / 126 Southey may affect the Miltonic style, may wear the trappings of the Muse, but it is Byron in whom Milton's spirit survives" (24). 4 'Bloom sees poetic strength as the ability in later poets "to wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death" (The Anxiety of Influence 5). He envisages this in terms of an Oedipal struggle rather than a Promethean one. "Oedipus, blind, was on the path to oracular godhood, and the strong poets have followed him by transforming their blindness towards their precursors into the revolutionary insights of their own work" (10). 4 2Anne Davidson Ferry, Milton's Epic Voice (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963) 69. 4 3The two similes in this stanza, in keeping with the conventionality (in the best sense) of the romance which is unfolding between Juan and Haidee, are too conventional to catalyse any jolt into self-reflexiveness. "Paradise Lost I, 11. 756-57, 230. "According to Seymour Chatman, in Story and Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1978) 150, this term was first coined by Gerald Prince in "Notes Toward a Categorization of Fictional 'Narratees,'" Genre 4 (1971): 100-105, and it signifies a fictional receiver whose "situation . . . is parallel to that of the narrator" (Chatman 151). In my discussion of the reader in chapter VI , I use the word "narratee" synonymously with "inscribed reader" and "inscribed receiver." In its singular form, the word is not especially useful to a discussion of Don Juan, since the poem has many inscribed readers, some of whom are clearly "mock readers" and others, real people, alive at the time of the poem's composition. None of these has sufficient consistency or continuity to deserve the singular designation; only the "implied reader" (Chatman, 149) warrants attention as a particular identity throughout a reading of the text. The term "narratee" is useful for the moment here, because this inscribed receiver, a mock reader only to a certain extent, is masculine and a contemporary of Byron's. A6The Giaour, Poetical Works 256. The "cubless tigress in the jungle raging" occurs seriously in Don Juan, too, as an image for Lambro (III, 58). Byron has a habit in this poem of mocking the characteristic imagery of his earlier poetry, even though he also employs it here non-ironically when he needs to. Being on the point of comparing Adeline with a volcano, he rejects the image for that of a frozen bottle of champagne, justifying himself thus: SIMILE / 127 No I hate to hunt down a tired metaphor, So let the often-used volcano go. Poor thing! How frequently, by me and others, It hath been stirr'd up till its smoke quite smothers! (XIII, 36) Of all the English Romantic poets, Byron probably uses the volcano most characteristically. He even employs it as a metaphor for poetry per se, which he calls "the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earth-quake" {Byron's Letters and Journals, I (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1974) 179). The Giaour sneers at "cold" courtly love, claiming that his blood "was like the lava-flood / That boils in .Etna's breast of flame" (Poetical Works, 255). In some of Don Juan's "Romantic" moments, the volcano appears unparodied, too. The name of Kosciuszko "Might scatter fire through ice, like Hecla's flame" (X, 59). C H A P T E R I V D I G R E S S I O N Much has been written about Byron's digressions in Don Juan. They are seen by most critics as "interruptions of the action"1 or of the "story" 2 which are "often quite disconnected from [this story's] subject-matter";3 and while many regard these digressions as the "memorable elements"4 of the poem, a fairly general consensus holds that Byron "does maintain a clear distinction between the narrative and the digressions."5 M . K . Joseph, in an appendix to his book Byron the Poet, makes a further discrimination between "digression" and "comment" in Don Juan, but he does not fundamentally challenge the usual dualistic model because he opposes both these errant categories to that of narrative. 6 Alvin Kernan and Jerome McGann regard the poem's pulsation between narration and digression as diagrammatic of its more profound fluctuations in structure and meaning. Kernan sees the poem as a sort of dynamic serialism, each event subverted and replaced by a "but then" copula; the repeated movement is "upward to a pause, and then a sweep away." 7 McGann finds in the digressions evidence of Byron's discarding of Coleridgean "total form," and claims that the "structure of Don Juan is based upon the structure of human talk, which is dialectic without being synthetic."8 This important insight is basic to both Anne 128 DIGRESSION / 129 K . Mellor's and Peter L . Thorslev's readings of Don Juan as a paradigmatic work of Romantic irony, in which antithesis without synthesis is the essential mode.9 Unfortunately, the significance of antithesis seems to have escaped the only scrupulous analyst of Don Juan's narrative structure, William T. Ross. In an unpublished dissertation he observes that: while it is fairly easy to identify certain digressive passages, it is not easy to to divide the poem into two neat categories, narration and digression. There is simply too much grey matter. 1 0 By pointing out that small parts of a stanza can be digressive, 1 1 and by demonstrating that many stanzas which most readers would take to be narrative are, in fact, "doing the same work as . . . digression," 1 2 Ross successfully undermines attempts like Joseph's to count and statistically compare digressive as against narrative stanzas. 1 3 But because he concentrates too much on the "grey" areas which are his principal discovery, he loses sight of a crucial dialectic and concludes that "the digressions and the narrative have a commonality of purpose which mutes any distinction between them." 1 4 Don Juan is an essentially dialogic poem, its dialectic evident in its more microscopic as well as in its larger structures. The fact that this consistency in inconsistency imposes on it a kind of paradoxical unity of purpose ought not to blur the reader's eyes into seeing its chiaroscuro as "grey matter." If the contrasts between the various voices of the poem be not all the time as stark as black against white, then the conceit must be made more appropriate by the application of a prism. In this "versified Aurora Borealis" (VII, 2), all the colours of the spectrum strike each other in complement, contrast, discord and relief. When blue lies for a moment beside indigo instead of orange, the effect is DIGRESSION / 130 not monochromatic except to an unfocused or colourblind eye; the reader cannot assume a uniform grey for the whole just because she knows it would look that way if it were rotated very fast or observed from another planet. The study of narrative, or narratology, has taken great strides and become very popular of late, though none of the major theorists in this field, such as Roland Barthes, Seymour Chatman, Gerard Genette, Wayne Booth or Gerald Prince seems to have taken cognizance of Byron's poem. This neglect, no doubt accounted for by the fact that their major preoccupation is the novel or prose story, is a pity, since Don Juan falls into that category of "self-conscious narrative" 1 5 in which they seem particularly interested. The narration of Byron's poem is in many ways more surprising than that of novels such as Tristram Shandy and Jacques le fataliste, which feature significantly in their canon. The Russian theorist, M . M . Bakhtin, recognizing the dialogic nature of both Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, uses them as examples of the "novelization of the epic poem." 1 6 Unfortunately, he reserves his detailed commentary for the most celebrated example of this type in his own language, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin,11 which is a deliberately Byronic self-reflexive poem. 1 8 However, Bakhtin's main focus is not on narrative per se so much as on the way language patterns reflect other language patterns and engage in dialogue with them. Byron's digressions, at their extreme, are examples of what Genette in Narrative Discourse calls "narrative metalepsis";19 they are "transgressions" of narrative convention occurring in the form of jumps from one diegetic world to another, without this being justified "by the narrating, the act that consists precisely of introducing into one situation, the knowledge of another situation." 2 0 When, in Canto V (33-39) of Don Juan, the narrator launches into the story of DIGRESSION / 131 an event that took place "on Friday last" in the street outside his own residence in Ravenna, and this is not related either by self-evident parallel or by narrator's discourse in terms of time, place, diegetic world or theme to the events or telling of Juan's story, which has been left off as the hero is being haggled over in a Constantinople slave market, the term "metalepsis" is clearly appropriate for the leap from the diegetic world of Juan to the extradiegetic world of the narrator's recent experience. The term will also perhaps apply to other instances of narrative leap-frogging: for example, when the narrator tells his reader that he will "make Don Juan leave the ship soon" so that he (Juan) does not get into a compromising situation with the nubile young singer to whom he is chained (IV, 97). The reason the narrator gives for this sudden manipulation of his story is that "several people," including the publisher, have complained that the first two cantos of Don Juan are too risque for general consumption. In another digression, the narrator begins by claiming to chart exactly "What Juan saw and underwent," as if he (the narrator) were a journalistic witness existing within the diegetic world, and then in the same sentence he demands that the reader "recollect the work is only fiction," distancing himself at once into the extradiegetic world of manipulating story-maker (XI, 88). However, not all digressions in Don Juan can be classified as metalepses. Many structurally unnecessary elaborations are to be found within the story's world, whose superfluity is more difficult to demonstrate by isolated quotation than by measurement against accompanying passages which do propel plot and protagonists forward in time. For these, Ross's strategy of regarding narrative technique throughout the poem as "digressive" is a good one; 2 1 the adjectival DIGRESSION / 132 form, like Ross's thesis, suggests a general style which, rather than taking the shortest path to a goal, is more involved in the present time of the wayside, and is marked by elaborations, red herrings, self-indulgences, playfulness and a willingness to be led astray by any interesting distraction which offers itself. Of course, this tendency is very fundamental to narrative literature and perhaps all art—and even to the life of consciousness, according to Freud, who claims that "the aim of all life is death," and that life with its erotic vitality persists by diverging "ever more widely from its original course" and making "ever more complicated detours before reaching its aim of death." 2 2 In fiction, Todorov's maxim that "narrating equals living" is most clearly illustrated by his example of Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights, for whom storytelling is a detour which postpones her execution—and finally, prevents i t . 2 3 Perhaps the ending of Don Juan due to the death of its author would provide another kind of example. According to Peter Brooks in Reading for the Plot, this theory can be illuminatingly generalized and anatomized: Deviance, detour, an intention that is irritation: these are characteristics of the narratable, of "life" as it is the material of narrative, of fabula become sjuzet. Plot is a kind of arabesque or squiggle toward the end. It is like that arabesque from Tristram Shandy, retraced by Balzac, that suggests the arbitrary, transgressive, gratuitous line of narrative, its deviance from the straight line, the shortest distance between beginning and end—which would be the collapse of one into the other, of life into immediate death. 2 4 However, Brooks's use of the word "transgressive" suggests that he includes in this account the metaleptic type of digression, whereas I for the moment am concerned only with digressive movements which do not actually trespass into foreign territory, but describe a path, over permissable terrain, which is longer and more looped than necessary. DIGRESSION / 133 Examples of this tendency are scattered throughout Cantos V and VI , in the luxuriating descriptions of the interior decoration of an Oriental palace; in Canto XIII (56-72), where a magnificent set-piece in the manner of Jonson ("Penshurst") and Pope ("Windsor Forest") expends seventeen stanzas on the depiction (after Newstead) of Norman Abbey; 2 5 in Cantos VII and VIII, where the mechanics and raison d' Q tre of a siege in which the hero does not even appear for fifty-five stanzas, and whose causes he probably never understands, are developed in painstaking historical detail; in the last six cantos, in which the habits and follies of English society are pursued far outside the circle of Juan's acquaintance and beyond his capacity for vision; and, perhaps most obviously, in Canto III, during Juan's and Haidee's feast, where, apart from commentary, brief metalepsis, discussion of Lambro's history and feelings, and even portrayal of the Greek poet, who has a certain relevance to several worlds, eighteen stanzas of pure description can be counted (29-34, 67-78). The latter are justified narratively in that the reader acquires from them a sense—here without overt authorial prompting—of a world in which Paradisal innocence (the children with the garlanded ram (32-33), Haidee's native beauty, unimprovable by make-up (75-76)) is shown at the point of decadence, its corruption implicit in the prodigality of the feast and the luxuriousness of the clothes and trappings. The scene is envisaged—at least, at first—through Lambro's fallen and anguished eyes, thereby utilizing Milton's brilliant dramatic device of portraying his Paradise at first through the eyes of its destroyer. 2 6 But even so—and the reader must read through the whole canto to feel this—a wantonness motivates all this description, an imbalance in terms of classical decorum. The narrator is giving reign to his "Muse, the butterfly" (XIII, 89), letting her alight wherever whimsy or words DIGRESSION / 134 take her. Haidee's bracelet, for example, "Lockless—so pliable from the pure gold / That the hand stretch'd and shut it without harm" (71), has a delight all of its own, a cameo part in the poem that seems different from relevance: it is put in, among many other things, more-or-less for its own sake. The tendency to catalogue items—to make lists which are often subversively inclusive—is registered, as I mention in chapter II, even in the metre of Don Juan. Several critics have taken note of this accumulative habit. West calls the poem "a rag-bag of interesting exhibits";" Steffan entitles one of his chapters "Accretion" and charts in it a habit of "stuffing a matrix," which he dates in Byron's work from as early as English Bards and Scotch Reviewers;1' Kernan's wave metaphor and his account of the "but then" movement of the plot convey the same sort of idea. 2 ' The tendency is to collect and accumulate rather than to pare down or sketch. A catalogue, like Leporello's aria, appropriates by naming; if it is full of redundancies or irrelevant items, these serve to flesh out a world in which the hero is only one object among many and the story chosen by the narrator as a focus is only one among a myriad other stories in relation to which Juan's adventures are merely digressions. Of course, in one sense, the inclusive tendency works in favour of realism—or, at least, plausibility. 3 0 Juan's world contains such mundane items as "scissors, paint and tweezers" (V, 80), passports (XI, 41), bills (X, 69), street lamps (XI, 26), housemaids' pails (I, 24) and doctors' prescriptions (X, 41); it also includes human needs and impulses less extreme than lust, heroism or starvation. When Juan is trying to act out his role of grieving and banished lover, he is overcome by seasickness (II, 20); he rides over hounds and gentlemen while hunting (XIV, 33); he almost fails to come up to scratch as the romantic stranger when he DIGRESSION / 135 discovers that he does not find Englishwomen attractive (XII, 68). He also encounters people and scenes throughout his story that have no especial relevance to him or his adventures, from Raucocanti and the newly enslaved opera company (IV, 81-96), to "the honourable Mrs . Sleep, / Who looked a white lamb, yet was a black sheep" (XIII, 79). But this tendency is conducive to realism—or plausibility—only when it is confined to a single world. The "frisking, knotted, virtuouso line" 3 1 of Shandyist narrative—named by Friedrich Schlegel "arabesque"32—can, according to Peter Conrad, "lead inside, for the rhythm of consciousness is discontinuous, digressive, looping and meandering." 3 3 And indeed, in Don Juan, as in Tristram Shandy, the insouciant progress of the discourse through all its "interesting exhibits," 3 4 its "world too large in all directions,'"35 its "pattern of shifting designs," 3 6 leads the reader with a breathtaking frequency across the chasms that divide worlds. The direction may be the way inward, as Conrad suggests, from an outer world of perceptions to an inner world of pulses of consciousness, of forgetting and remembering (IX, 36), of sudden fits of exhilaration (X, 3) or nostalgia (V, 4); but it may just as easily be a way across from one "outside" world to another, most typically from the world of Juan's perceptions to the world of the narrator's. Clearly, we have arrived at metalepsis again, which is more subtle on some occasions than on others. One of the most frequent patterns followed by the digressions is a meandering outward journey from the story, begun sometimes, as described in the previous chapter, with a simile whose vehicle outgrows its tenor, and sometimes with a generalization, exclamation or exhortation which is at first directly relevant to the story, but which, by DIGRESSION / 136 elaboration and accumulation, grows less and less relevant until the plot and its protagonists are left well behind and the reader's consciousness is thoroughly absorbed by another diegetic world. Only at the point of return, very often, when the narrator pulls himself up and demands: "But I'm digressing; what on earth has Nero / . . . / To do with the transactions of my hero?" (Ill, 110), does the reader feel any sense of transgression or hiatus. Thus, metalepsis, blatant or subtle, is frequently—but not always—a feature of the digressions in Don Juan. However, the most startling metalepses in the poem are not digressions at all. Twice, the narrator "gets into" his story in the guise of a peripheral witness-character, the first time to have a housemaid's pail emptied over his head by the young Juan on the stairs of Juan's parents' house in Seville (I, 24) and the second time, several years of Juan's time later, to sit next to the "very powerful parson, Peter Pith" at an electioneering banquet in England, attended also by Juan, who is staying at the country house of the candidate (XVI, 81-82). The transgressiveness of these incidents in a story in which narrator and protagonist are deeply and logically divided by the "reality" of the one and the "fictionality" of the other is accentuated by their rareness, their gratuitousness, the fact that no narration explains the narrator's presence in those places at those times, and by the fact that they are mutually contradictory. In the first, the narrator appears to be a resident of Seville, on intimate terms with the local aristocracy, and in the second, he seems to be a British Dandy, an old friend from the "livelier London days" of a country parson. Even though the consistency of the two characters could be achieved, it isn't, at least, not within the poem's dicourse. Further confusion, which may affect an anxious reader who would like to "fill in" the DIGRESSION / 137 narrator's omissions, is caused by certain personal asides, such as the absurd assertion in Canto II: "Much English I cannot pretend to speak" (165). Although the reader is justified in assuming that Byron changed his mind about his narrator to some extent, modelling him from Canto II onward studiously on himself and appearing to forget about the "Spanish Gentleman" he projected in a cancelled preface to the poem, 3 7 this assumption does not give her carte blanche to disregard the first part of the poem, or to make consistent in her own mind what is clearly and deliberately inconsistent in the poem. If the narrator is the notorious poet, Lord Byron, living in exile in Italy (as by now the reader has been led to believe), how come he turns up in England so unnoticed, to eat his dinner at Norman Abbey and disappear? The logically insoluble problem of metalepsis remains to the end of the poem one of its favourite devices for upsetting the reader's complacency and sense of ontological security. As Genette puts it: A l l these games, by the intensity of their effects, demonstrate the importance of the boundary they tax their ingenuity to overstep, in defiance of verisimiltude—a boundary that is precisely the narrating (or the performance) itself: a shifting but sacred frontier between two worlds, the world in which one tells, the world of which one tells . . . . The most troubling thing about metalepsis indeed lies in this unacceptable and insistent hypothesis, that the extradiegetic is perhaps always diegetic, and that the narrator and his narratees—you and I—perhaps belong to some fiction. 3 8 Clearly, metalepsis would be impossible without the prior establishment of boundaries between worlds, plausibility and solidity within worlds, and a hierarchy in which the fictional is secondary to the "real." When a transgression is committed under these conditions, the reader's sense of reality and solidity crumble quite spectacularly into an instantaneous knowledge that all is fiction and DIGRESSION / 138 that all boundaries, worlds and hierarchies are artificial. Far from being a "grey," or spectral presence, the narrator of Don Juan is invested with unusual verisimilitude and solidity. Mellor, among others, perceiving the triviality of a distinction between narrator and author in this poem, asserts that he "is called 'Byron. ' " 3 9 And yet his entry into the fictional world of his own creating suggests that he too is a fiction. However, he does not emerge from his fiction more shadowy than before: he retains his solidity. No compromise or synthesis is offered by the poem; maugre Ross, "these games" are made possible only by an impasse, a "sacred frontier," which logically divides "reality" from fiction, or, as the more accurate formulation may be, different fictional worlds from one another. They work on a principal of antithesis, which they do not transcend or unify, they merely "transgress," developing an enigma, not solving it. This is a deliberate strategy of the Romantic ironist, who, according to Mellor, "sees the world as fundamentally chaotic," and who in consequence "deconstructs his own texts in the expectation that such deconstruction is a way of keeping in contact with a greater creative power." 4 0 Neither metalepsis nor digression is the fundamental tendency in Don Juan. Both are important structures, which overlap and are at times foregrounded, but neither term defines all the dialectics and contrasts in the poem, which are multi-facetted and evident in both micro- and macrostructure. More fruitful perhaps is a vaguer and broader terminology, such as that used by Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse. In his discussion of discourse (the long fourth chapter of the book), Chatman creates a continuum ranging from the "nonnarrated story" through varying degrees of "covert" narration to the discourse of an "overt" narrator. 4 1 Byron of course never even approaches DIGRESSION / 139 Chatman's "minimal case" of a nonnarrated story consisting of a "copied text." 4 2 In fact, taken as a whole, Don Juan exhibits an extremely overt narrator and is unlikely to feature in anyone's theory as an example of either a nonnarrated or a covertly narrated story. But the point is that it fluctuates continually, and its own "minimal case" can be found in stanzas depicting action and dialogue like the following: Up Juan sprang to Haidee's bitter shriek, And caught her falling, and from off the wall Snatch'd down his sabre, in hot haste to wreak Vengeance on him who was the cause of all: Then Lambro, who till now forebore to speak, Smiled scornfully, and said, "Within my call, A thousand scimitars await the word; Put up, young man, put up your silly sword." (IV, 37) This is by no means the "bare description of physical action" which Chatman, using Hemingway's The Killers as a paradigm, claims can approximate (by convention, at least) that form of nonnarrated action evident in a drama. 4 3 The stanza contains too many interpretative modifiers, such as "bitter," "in hot haste," "scornfully"; motive is suggested ("to wreak / Vengeance"); also unrealized action ("forebore to speak"); furthermore, some of the verbs are too extreme to sound "objective" ("sprang," "snatch'd," etc.). And, in any case, the prosodic structure of the stanza, in which even the apparently direct quotation of characters' speech is in rhyming iambic pentamenter, militates strongly against transparency, or that style in which action is merely reported in as visual and neutral a way as possible. Here, too clear a melody is playing for the words to be ignored or "seen straight through." However, all this is from the critic's point of view. In fact, the stanza has a context, and one which alters it considerably from the way it appears DIGRESSION / 140 indented and alone in the midst of this prose text. Put back where it belongs in the middle of Canto IV of a long ottava rima poem, and encountered during the course of an ordered hour or so of reading such stanzas, its prosody will be almost unnoticeable to my reader, accustomed as she is to its tune, for metre is not foregrounded here and all the rhymes are perfect, unexceptional and masculine. She will read the stanza very fast, for to some extent her reading speed is monitored by the speed of the actions apparently taking place, and to a large extent it is modified by the relative excitement, drama and suspense of the story as it unfolds for her. The speed of her reading will take her attention off individual words and local effects. The trauma projected here will attach itself for her to the situation described rather than to the way in which it is described, for she is used to a narrator who periodically comments and intrudes in a most overt manner, and here, relatively speaking, he stands back. Examination of a stanza which occurs a few pages on in the same canto will perhaps offer a foil to this one and by contrast show up its transparency; but I must concede that the tactic is slightly rhetorical, for the two do not actually occur back to back: 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. (IV, 74) Now this stanza comprises what Chatman calls "commentary on the discourse" or "'self-conscious' narration," a category which he places at the extreme of "overtness" on his continuum, even beyond "commentary on the story." 4 4 The narrator is talking to his reader over the heads of his characters, DIGRESSION / 141 getting her assent for his change of "tack." The story itself is the subject of dicussion, and its possible effect on the narrator ("seeming rather touch'd"); thus, both story and narrator take clear shape within the poem's discourse. The reader too has a shadowy existence here, projected by the subjunctive "let me change," which is almost a plea—a form which demands a respondent—and by the first-person plural, "We." (Elsewhere, of course, the reader is much more clearly inscribed.) The narrator is playing with literary conventions in ways which are not quite consistent with one another. First, he talks of Haidee's story, which has recently come to an end, as a "sheet of sorrows." This objectifies and distances her life into a literary artifact: a manuscript. Then he talks of Juan "left half-kill'd," as though he (the narrator) existed within Juan's world as a friend who has neglected him of late. Finally, he deconstructs this illusion by putting Juan not in a fictional place (e.g., a pirate ship), but in a stanza. The Muse, too, heralds a kind of jump from a "realistic" world to an imaginary one. Starting with quite plausible, writerly excuses for his change (he doesn't like writing about madness and he can't think of anything else to say), he then leaps onto the old literary bandwagon and blames it on the Muse, who is quite simply a personification of his own caprice. She is a scapegoat for his own bad habits, and yet, being the one responsible for lifting the veil (II, 7) and changing tack, etc., she has an existence of a kind, outside both Juan's and the narrator's worlds. A l l these ironies contrast the stanza very starkly to the serious, story-centred narration of "Up Juan sprang . . . ," in which the sheer drama of the situation and the speaker's total lack of irony preclude the reader's questioning for a moment the "reality" of the fiction, or its relation to its DIGRESSION / 142 writer, or to herself. What Byron achieves by these contrasts is in fact very similar to what Genette claims for the modern French phenomenon of "simultaneous narration." By means of a number of stylistic and narrative devices which make a counterpoint of story and discourse, the "equilibrium" of both are "unbalanced," "allowing the whole narrative to tip, according to the slightest shifting of emphasis, either onto the side of the story or onto the side of the narrating, that is, the discourse."4 5 The subtlest of this "tipping" is achieved, as discussed in earlier chapters, by stylistic devices such as rhyme and conceit. The structure of the stanza, too, is such as to demand a change of tone in its seventh line, and this has the effect of tilting one way or another, either towards or away from self-reflexiveness. Of course, the obvious cue for the narrator's presence is the first-person pronoun, with which this poem is very liberally sprinkled. But the interpreting speaker can make himself "show through" his text in all sorts of other devices, such as summary ("In short, he was a very pretty fellow" (II, 148)), generalization ("The love of offspring's nature's general law" (V, 133)), bathos ("And the Lord Henry was a very great debater, / So that few members kept the house up later" (XIII, 20)), explanation ("The cutting off his head was not the art / Most likely to attain his aim—his heart" (V, 140)), or simply a very witty turn of phrase, capped probably by a witty rhyme ("But Virgil's songs are pure, except that horrid one / Beginning with 'Formosum Pastor Corydon'" (I, 42)). A temptation exists for the critical theorist to see the digressions in Don Juan as a pulsation from story to speaker at the level of narrative, a large and overt manifestation of what is evident at more microscopic levels of structure. To DIGRESSION / 143 some extent, this hypothesis is unavoidable, since certain digressions (though not, perhaps, the longer ones) do serve the purpose of bringing writer, reader and composition into brief confrontation over the heads of characters and story. Between two story-centred stanzas, beginning respectively "With the first ray, or rather grey of morn, / Gulbeyaz rose" and "Rose the sultana from a bed of splendour," for example, occurs the following: And that's the moral of this composition, If people would but see its real drift;— But that they will not do without suspicion, Because all gentle readers have the gift Of closing 'gainst the light their orbs of vision; While gentle writers also love to lift Their voices 'gainst each other, which is natural, The numbers are too great for them to flatter all. (VI, 88) Now partly because this remark has been prompted by a comment within the story—a judgement on the cause of Gulbeyaz's depression ("headlong passions" (87))—and partly because it is relatively short, the reader gets the impression of leaving the story abruptly for a moment, freezing its time and moving—metaleptically—into another world to comment on it, before descending back into the suspension of disbelief that the fiction demands. Indeed, this digression, like "But let me change this theme . . . ," is a good example of the poem's characteristic pulsation—here at the level of narrator's discourse—from story to story-making. And yet even here digressiveness subtly subverts this neat characterization. A playful redundancy motivates the stanza, leading the speaker somewhat unnecessarily from "gentle readers" to "gentle writers" in a movement that has its own rhythm, much like that famous flourish of Corporal Trim's stick in Tristram Shandy.*6 Only a little more of this would cause the reader to forget the exigencies of plot and character and be lured into a more complete DIGRESSION / 144 participation in the new dialogue, in which the writer is defending his writing against critics of various kinds and the story is reduced to Exhibit A , a "composition" among other such objects. This is the problem with digression for the rigorous theorist who would like to see macrostructure exactly reflecting microstructure and perfect synechdochic relationships existing between parts. Don Juan is simply not as consistent or predictable as such a theory would have to claim. Its discourse might wander across the boundaries dividing worlds and lead, like a clever rhyme or conceit, to a self-reflexive sense of texts and fictions and such; but then again, it might not. What it might do is merely elaborate and linger too long on the world it is already in, stuffing this world so full of plausible irrelevancies that other worlds and their boundaries are temporarily forgotten. To complicate things still further, the reader encounters a few digressions which are not essentially meditative, but narrative. Whereas most digressions are the narrator's personal asides and speculations, existing in a hypothetical, timeless inner world, some, like the following anecdote, have objective, singular subject-matter and take up "real," past-tense time. The narration is not very different from that of incidents in which Juan is the protagonist: "And yet last night, being at a masquerade, / I saw the prettiest creature, fresh from Milan, / Which gave me some sensations like a villain" (II, 209). In fact, even transparent narration can occur within a digression: "I had / H im borne into the house and up the stair, / And stripped, and looked to" (V, 34). However, the duration of these passages is usually short and hence the reader does not have as much time to get "lost in the story," forgetting the act of narration, as she does in the longer unmediated sections of Juan's history. DIGRESSION / 145 Following this line of argument, the critic or theorist may easily be persuaded to develop a smoothly shaded continuum from the matrix of combinations appearing in Don Juan. The reader comes across both transparent narration of the main plot and digressive elaboration of detail within the main plot. She finds on the one hand comments by the narrator which are thoroughly relevant to an understanding of the main plot, such as the asides on British habits in Canto X I (42-45), and she discovers on the other hand many digressions which begin with relevant commentary but then slide off into more generalized speculation or the anecdotes of another world, as when the narrator, explaining somewhat apologetically Juan's initial indifference to English beauty, goes on to a discussion of his own travels, then a generalized portrayal of the English reaction to female adultery and then into a meditation on the impossibility of legislating chastity into existence (XII, 68-80). The reader also encounters digressions which are totally irrelevant to the progress of the story, being attacks on Byron's own contemporaries, personal anecdotes, metacomments on the poem's style or composition, and addresses to readers and critics. Finally, to complete the critic's matrix, the reader comes upon transparent narration within the digressions, a neat complement to the digressive tendency within the narration of the main story. In the face of this barrage of variants, the older theory of a simple dialectic between narration and digression must obviously be scrapped. In fact, the critic's temptation is to shade out contrast altogether, to blur the points into a continuous grey, and to accept Ross's formula: "the digressions and the narrative have a commonality of purpose which mutes any distinction between them." 4 7 If change be accepted as the norm rather than as transgression, then DIGRESSION / 146 Conrad's adaptation of Sterne's single line may be used for the progress of the narrative, provided that, like Tristram's, it is not a straight line but a "winding, serpentine line [which] can lead inside itself': 4 8 the arabesque, which can "declare form's romantic liberation from content."49 If the purpose of the poem were to be to wander, then it would not deviate from this purpose, and it would be, in an equivocal sense, unilinear. Clearly, this way of thinking can become over-permissive. Byron does not give himself licence to do anything he likes and then do it: he makes rules and breaks them—or, at least, some of them. Don Juan as a visual phenomenon resembles the strictly formal Gerusalemme liberata more than the relaxed, chaotic Tristram Shandy and, even as far as the non-visual aspect of narrative goes, it bears more affinities, as A . B. England notes, to Tom Jones than to Sterne's wayward novel. England is wrong about the "clear distinction between the narrative and the digressions" in Don Juan, but he makes a valuable comment, quoting from Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction: One can say of certain parts of Tristram Shandy that the "dramatized narrator has here ceased to be distinguishable from what he narrates." But in Don Juan Byron always has a story to tell about events external to himself, which he views objectively, just as Fielding has in Tom Jones.50 The critic may be able to palm off this story as Ross does when he insists that "the assumption implicit in an ordinary definition of digression that there is a story which is of primary importance will not hold for Don Juan."51 For the reader, however, whether it is of primary importance or not, the story remains extremely important and she apprehends it as quite clearly distinct from both abstract speculation and authorial metacomment. And it is also quite different DIGRESSION / 147 from any story or stories to be found in Tristram Shandy: Don Juan contains a hero, who is not the narrator (or his uncle Toby), who experiences a series of exciting adventures and who exists in a fictional world of great size, elaborateness and plausibility. The narrator inhabits another fictional world very similar to his hero's, but extradiegetic in relation to it. Although fictional itself, the narrator's world generates the fiction that is the hero's story. When, on occasion, the narrator enters the fictional world of his hero, the reader feels this at once to be a transgression—and one of a type not found in Tristram Shandy. In the latter, time may be juggled to suggest more than one Tristram, but two of them never meet face to face in the same picture. Conrad's arabesque line can be single, though convoluted, because his theory is in the end monistic: for him only one world exists in Sterne and the Romantics, and it is an inner world. To apply the following remarks too literally to Don Juan would be misleading: In one sense romantic poetry is styleless, because although the poets make language a reflection of personality, they abandon the notion of Reynolds and Johnson that style is a principle of order, in which a periodic syntax bends words into obedience and etymological learning guarantees correctness of usage: romantic syntax slides and rambles, hoping to discover new meanings in the course of its proliferation. But in another sense romantic poetry is entirely self-referring: it is a self-inquisition of language.5 2 True, Byron's syntax often seems to be on the loose, and through apparently casual affinities he seems to make his best verbal discoveries: "Those movements, those improvements in our bodies / Which make all bodies anxious to get out / Of their own sand-pits, to mix with a Goddess" (IX, 75). But to regard the felicity of "improvements" as fortuitous would be in the end naive. Byron never consciously abandoned the notions of the neo-classicists53 and if his syntax is DIGRESSION / 148 loose and appositional, it is so because classical decorum demands this within the stanza form he has chosen. The syntax in ottava rima tends to wander a little because the stanza asks for an eight-line sentence; the diction falls under the tyrannical exigencies of the rhyme-scheme; and when two words turn up in mid-line which happen to rhyme, no more reason appears for the reader to regard the effect here as accidental than appears in the end-rhymes. The licentious wandering in order to make discoveries which Conrad talks of is probably possible only in a kind of Shandyist prose; these "Calculations which look but casual flesh" 1 4 have a higher degree of formal difficulty altogether. More importantly, Conrad's comment is inappropriate in that it claims Romantic poetry to be "entirely self-referring." Perhaps Romantic poetry is generally more self-referential than earlier poetry; perhaps "self-referring" is synonymous with "Romantic." But unless all language is always self-referential, Romantic poetry—even the examples Conrad gives from Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth55—cannot be entirely "self-referring"; the self continually disappears down an infinite regress, on whose edge the Romantic poet sometimes teeters, but inside which "a voice / Is wanting, the deep truth is imageless."5 6 Even though the self-referential aspect of Don Juan is important to the reader's understanding of the poem, it does not monopolize her attention all the time. Her experience is of a sporadic consciousness of the text and its creator, not a continuous awareness which would prevent her from being surprised. Perhaps my reader is an ingenue, for she really finds Juan's plot quite entertaining, and does not always feel the narrative sections to be irritating digressions from the more serious business of the poem. This plot, though fictional, is not obviously allegorical, and the language of the narrative is often highly objective, not DIGRESSION / 149 self-reflexive at all. Moreover, the narrator's world is not merely an interior landscape of theories and generalities either: it is the Europe of 1820, whose solidity is essential to the efficacy of the satire Byron hammers out upon its kings, poets, statesmen, and political and social abuses. This referentiality and the stringencies of his stanza save Byron from the two pitfalls of solipsism and formlessness which the arabesque virtuosities of certain types of Romanticism can lead to. Neither a graph of shaded greys nor a single line—however convoluted—will do as a diagram of Don Juan's narrative. The unmediated, unforewarned leap from the language to the metalanguage needs to be marked by a hiatus that these schemes cannot describe. After a passage of great plausibility, like the first part of the following stanza, the reader will be propelled suddenly out of her absorption—or suspension—in the diegetic world, into the air above, from which vantage point she can see for a moment its composition: And if in the mean time her husband died, But Heaven forbid that such a thought should cross Her brain, though in a dream! (and then she sigh'd) Never could she survive that common loss; But just suppose that moment should betide, I only say suppose it— inter nos. (This should be entre nous, for Julia thought In French, but then the rhyme would go for nought.) (I, 84) The stanza begins in what Chatman defines as "free indirect style . . . attributable to character."5 7 So closely does it follow the diction and sequence of Donna Julia's thoughts that (apart from the parenthesis) the third-person pronoun is the only thing distinguishing it from free direct style. Now, although the narrator has by this stage of Canto I cornered the first-person pronoun for DIGRESSION / 150 himself and intruded himself busily into the poem with it on numerous occasions ("I really don't know what, nor Julia neither" (I, 71)), when this pronoun appears in line 6 above, it does not seem intrusive in the same way. The narrator seems to have "got inside" Julia to such an extent that the "I" appears to belong as much to her as to him, for the distance between them has been reduced almost to the extent of fusion. In fact, my reader's impression when she reads line 6 is that the very slight transition from indirect to direct speech has been made, bringing no intrusion of the narrator's personality, only a deeper identification of Julia's. The Latin neologism at the end of the line is insufficiently jarring on its own to break this illusion; it is close enough to the Gallic cliche it imitates to pass muster, especially as the reader has a vague idea that English is masquerading here as Spanish anyway. The couplet comes as a bombshell, detonating not only the interior world of Julia's hesitant bad faith, but the English diction which seemed so. characteristic and plausible, the sense of spontaneity which turns out to be sweated ottava rima after all, the carefully established relationships between reader, narrator and character, and the living identities of all of these. By calling the Latin into question, the couplet does the same to all the English; by placing one phrase under erasure as it were, it does the same to the whole artifact. It mentions rhyme, giving example of a bad and expedient one, and the verse at once goes opaque for the reader. She can no longer assume the fictional role of eavesdropper on characters' private thoughts, or of (scandalized) receiver of the narrator's gossip; she is exploded suddenly into "reality" as the reader of an English poem pretending to convey the interior monologue of a Spanish lady who thinks in French, and, no doubt, French prose at that. The narrator, stripped of his Spanish cloak, and, at DIGRESSION / 151 the same time, of Julia's mantilla which he had been in the act of trying on, is revealed as an English poet with a pen, not a voice, struggling to create a fiction containing people who do not speak English, in a stanza form which does not reflect the spontaneity of thought or speech in any language. Julia is killed by the blast and lies anatomized in the dust, a verbal puppet made of words which no longer cohere; but the words themselves, through their deficiencies and the inexorable demands the stanza makes upon them, take up the role of spectacle now that the puppet-show has been abandoned. What makes this particular transgression so effective—or disturbing, depending on one's sympathies—is its brevity. It is introduced casually, in parenthesis, and the next stanza at once carries on Julia's monologue, this time using the first-person pronoun that might have been introduced so naturally before. Its suddenness is what makes the digression so essentially metaleptic. Conceivably, a comment of this kind could be fully explained "by the narrating, the act that consists precisely of introducing into one situation, the knowledge of another situation." 5 8 By telling the reader exactly who he is at this point—as witness and writer—by explaining how he has access to Julia's private thoughts and according to what principle he is translating them into English ottava rima, the narrator could bridge the hiatus and make the two worlds continuous. But he does not; the reader is propelled across the inexplicable gap and no sooner has she glimpsed the metadrama of poetic composition than she is flung back into the fluid, crossing the same disturbing boundary as she falls. This is why many of the narrator's shorter asides feel more transgressive than the longer ones and why a system like Joseph's which counts only whole stanzas of digression or commentary cannot be very useful. 5 9 Joseph obviously DIGRESSION / 152 equates digression with transgression, 6 0 ignoring those non-transgressive passages which I have called digressive, in which the narrator dallies too long by the wayside. But Joseph also fails to count the most extreme examples of the quality he is interested in, because they are often shorter than a stanza. A transgressive digression will be more shocking if it is short, because both the outward and inward crossings of the hiatus will register in the reader's consciousness at the same time. Also, the reader does not get the chance, as in longer digressions, to settle down again as the receiver of a different kind of discourse after the first transition, her relationship to narrator and story re-established on a new basis. Some digressions may include transparent narration for precisely this reason: as long as the extradiegetic world remains constant, it becomes diegetic in a new sense, and is not necessarily self-reflexive, even if it refers to another part or aspect of the poem. The point at which the reader experiences the impossible juxtaposition of two mutually contradictory worlds marks the extreme case of self-reflexiveness, or textual opaqueness, in the poem. These metaleptic transitions are not digressions per se, but they often introduce and close digressions and they are intimately bound up with the digressive tendency in Don Juan. However, this tendency on its own is often associated, as is fast-paced narration of action, with low points in self-reflexiveness. The apparently unnecessary elaboration of detail within one world fills up its space, as concentrated narration of action fills up its time: both work in favour of plausibiltiy, objectivity and the making "real" of the diegetic and fictional. Only at the line of interface between the diegetic and extradiegetic is the "real" seen to be fictional, the objective subjective, and the text's transparency dyed dark with knowledge of its own artificiality. DIGRESSION / 153 The frequency—as well as variety—of transgression plays a role in the relative unsettling of the reader. Degrees of "jolt" can even be charted, for some transitions open chasms unexpectedly and blatantly in the middle of fairly homogenous discourse, while others lead the reader scarcely perceptibly down the windings of the garden path, and only on the return journey does she find, out that she is in the labyrinth. Still others—and these may be the most frequent—are subtle, embedded in language or style, and the reader may or may not take the instantaneous flashing loop in and out of the extradiegetic world. Many of the more jolting transitions are heralded by poetic exclamations in which some theme immanent to the story is abstracted and addressed in the vocative, as if the narrator suddenly tires of the self-effacing role of story-maker and sweeps around himself the embroidered cloak of the lyric poet: And now 'twas done—on the lone shore were plighted Their hearts; the stars, their nuptial torches, shed Beauty upon the beautiful they lighted: Ocean their witness, and the cave their bed, By their own feelings hallowed and united, Their priest was Solitude, and they were wed: And they were happy, for to their young eyes Each was an angel, and earth paradise. Oh Love! of whom great Caesar was the suitor, Titus the master, Antony the slave, Horace, Catullus, scholars, Ovid tutor, Sappho the sage blue-stocking, in whose grave A l l those may leap who rather would be neuter— (Leucadia's rock still overlooks the wave)— Oh Love! thou art the very god of evil, For, after all, we cannot call thee devil. (II, 204-05) This type of transition is not unprecedented in the vatic tradition, in which the poet in the frenzy of his inspiration is constrained to exclaim a great deal. The invocation, like the epic simile, brings with it a number of syntactic and DIGRESSION / 154 semantic changes which may be used to subvert the story's world and establish a new one. For a start, the main verbs associated with the personified quality (here, "Love"), will usually be present tense ("thou art"), in contrast to the past tense of the narrative ("Each was"). Also, the pronouns change from third-person plural ("they") to second-person singular ("thou"). A speaker using a present tense and a second-person pronoun is at once in centre stage: his present time and his personal pronoun ("I") become the dominant presuppositions of the performance. And the receiver can be actively co-opted by the situation, too. When the narrator uses the first-person pronoun here, he employs not the singular, "I," but the plural, "we," which breaks down to "you and I," and thus pulls the reader out of the pit and onto the stage as well. Although the initial vocative is merely a personified—deified—concept, the mere fact that a vocative is used puts the reader into the position of a potential performer: she could be the next one nominated. And the stage is the narrator's extradiegetic—but still fictional—world. The puppets, Juan and Haidee, do not call out to the audience, but the puppeteer himself opens the floor to dramatic interaction. 6 1 This particular invocation continues through two more stanzas: "Thou mak'st the chaste connubial state precarious" (206); "Thou mak'st philosophers" (207). After running its course, it is not followed by a return to the transparent medium of the story, but by a direct question—a device which presupposes a respondent. This question reduces the story to an object, motionless in time, which can be discussed by narrator and reader in a new present opened up by the transgression: "But Juan! had he forgotten Julia?" (208). And so this digression wanders on through the narrator's personal feelings about inconstancy, an anecdote from "last night" which demonstrates these attitudes, an account of DIGRESSION / 155 man's "perception of the beautiful," a discussion of the inextricability of all the passions, and finally a farewell to the reader, which comprises the last stanza of this canto (209-216). Of course, the exclamatory tendency is used not merely to invoke personified abstractions in the high style (or a parody of the high style) as in "Oh Love! O Glory!" (VII, 1), "Oh, Death! thou dunnest of all duns!" (XV, 8), "Oh for a forty-parson power to chaunt / Thy praise, Hypocrisy!" (X, 34). It may introduce elegy: "Alas! for Juan and Haidee!" (II, 193), "Alas! Worlds fall" (XIV, 23)." And occasionally it will occur as an isolated expletive in the narrative—just enough to remind the reader that a speaker is present: "By Jove! he was a noble fellow, Johnson" (VIII, 39). (Significantly, the latter brief stain on the narrative brings with it no alteration in the pronoun or the tense of the verb: it is not a pretext for an excursion, but a memento from another world.) Exclamation is also frequently associated with vocative tendencies of other kinds. The ' narrator might address—in the mock-heroic style—an inanimate object within the story's world: "Hai l ! Thamis, hail!"; and this has the effect of making the story's world for a moment continuous with the speaker's. Obviously, the Thames exists, importantly, for him as well as for Juan and his temporary shifting of Juan's story into the present tense gives Juan's journey a representative generality: Hail! Thamis, hail! Upon thy verge it is That Juan's chariot, rolling like a drum In thunder, holds the way it can't well miss, Through Kennington, and all the other "tons," Which make us wish ourselves in town at once. (XI, 20) Alternatively, the narrator may address some character in the narrative DIGRESSION / 156 ("Oh Catherine!" (IX, 65)), some historical figure ("Oh Plato! Plato!" (I, 116)) or a character from another fiction who appears at some point relevant to the story or the discourse ("O Job! you had two friends: one's quite enough" (XIV, 48)). But vocatives are used equally often for more dramatic purposes: to address some living person who may chance to read the poem and actually fulfil the role of receiver: "Oh, Mrs. Fry!" (X, 85); "Oh, Wellington!" (IX, 1); "Cockneys of London!" (VIII, 124). When the narrator addresses his publisher in an aside, it is a foregone conclusion that the sender-receiver relationship will be completed: "(Plain truth, dear Murray, needs few flowers of speech)" (V, 101). This address to a known contemporary has exactly the intimacy of tone to be found in many passages aimed quite clearly at the reader—or at one of the roles she willingly assumes at the text's command. A voice out of the page frequently co-opts her as receiver, by addressing directly whoever it is in any age that happens to be perusing the text at that moment. This voice varies as often as the narrator's moods do, bullying, flattering, teasing and cajoling: "But, reader, thou hast patient been of late" (XIII, 74); "But what's this to the purpose? you will say. / Gent. Reader, nothing; a mere speculation" (XIV, 7); "There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which taken at the flood"—you know the rest" (VI, 1); "Put / A kind constuction upon them and me: / But that you won't—then don't—I am not less free" (VI, 57). Whatever the form of the verb in these places—and it is often imperative, or some other non-indicative mood—it charts hypothetically the reader's own present time, and consciousness of this "real" present is for her the most self-reflexive of all perspectives on the poem's fictions. Changes in verb tense or mood may be introduced by devices other than DIGRESSION / 157 exclamations and vocatives. Similes—of the adverbial, not the adjectival type—will often bring about a change to a verb of the simple or habitual present tense: "Gulbeyaz rose from restlessness; and pale / As Passion rises, with its bosom worn" (italics mine; VI , 87); and so will generalization, when a universal truth is stated: "Love bears within its breast the very germ / Of change" (XIV, 94). As with other devices, this type of transition will depend on context for the intensity of its shock effect. The second stanza quoted below marks a somewhat disquieting transition, partly because the generalization with which it begins follows so transparent a passage of narration: And then they bound him where he fell, and bore Juan from the apartment: with a sign Old Lambro bade them take him to the shore, Where lay some ships which were to sail at nine. They laid him in a boat, and plied the oar Until they reach'd some galliots, placed in line; On board of one of these, and under hatches, They stowed him, with strict orders to the watches. The world is full of strange vicissitudes, And here was one exceedingly unpleasant: A gentleman so rich in the world's goods, Handsome and young, enjoying all the present, Just at the very time when he least broods On such a thing is suddenly to sea sent, Wounded and chain'd, so that he cannot move, And all because a lady fell in love. (IV, 50-51) With the present-tense generalization about the "world," the story ceases to move, and the verbs, after "was," become present as well. The story turns into an object for contemplation; time registered by the meditation is now narrative time, or the speaker's present, and when this speaker goes on in the next stanza to act in the present himself, the transition from implicit existence to explicit existence is not as jolting as the initial change of tense and tack: DIGRESSION / 158 Here I must leave him, for I grow pathetic, Moved by the Chinese nymph of tears, green tea! Than whom Cassandra was not more prophetic; For if my pure libations exceed three, I feel my heart become so sympathetic, That I must have recourse to black Bohea: 'Tis pity wine should be so deleterious, For tea and coffee leave us much more serious, Unless when qualified with thee, Cogniac! Sweet Naiad of the Phlegethontic ril l! Ah! why the liver wilt thou thus attack, And make, like other nymphs, thy lovers ill? I would take refuge in weak punch, but rack (In each sense of the word), whene'er I fill My mild and midnight beakers to the brim, Wakes me next morning with its synonym. (IV, 52-53) Among the verbs in these two stanzas, only one signifies an active—not hypothetical or habitual—present: the verb "grow" in the first line, which would be more naturally rendered in the normal English progressive: "am growing." The narrator, being a narrator rather than a third-person protagonist, is not able to project himself as actively doing many things in his present, except for saying, writing, thinking, "grow[ing] pathetic" or changing to some other mood. 6 3 When he does use this tense of the verb, he throws the spotlight onto himself as protagonist. His narrating is shown as a dramatic activity, even though, being an essentially intellectual pursuit, it prevents him from doing very much prancing about under the light. When the digression wanders on into the merits of different beverages, he remains the protagonist as drinker; but the discourse becomes much less reflexive because the verbs are correctly inflected into the simple present, which in English does not normally signify a particular event, but a habitual activity which is probably not taking place at the moment of utterance. Thus, Byron the imbiber of tea and punch is seen through a rather DIGRESSION / 159 more general and less present time frame than Byron the experiencer of sympathy. However, the digression from Juan's story is very successfully sustained. A measure of its success is its ability to entertain—divert—the reader, so that she begins to forget the urgency of Juan's situation in her enjoyment of this playful send-up of the heroic mode. A shifting contrast of tones charts reader's and narrator's progressive alienation from Juan and his predicament. Speculating on "vicissitudes" (in general) is not the same as sympathising with an individual suffering from one; talking about "grow[ing] pathetic" creates an ironic perspective on the pathetic sensation, not this sensation itself. By the time the narrator starts his comic eulogies and humorous complaints, the reader is no longer involved with Juan emotionally, and can participate in the game. Her alienation allows the narrator to leave Juan's part of the story "for the present" (54) in order to return to another thread of the narrative: the last part of Haidee's story, which is now separate from Juan's due to their physical separation. Other devices which quite naturally introduce the present tense in the midst of past-tense narration are exclamations, asides and declarations of authorial hesitancy or ignorance. Like most effects in Don Juan, these can cloud briefly the glassy medium of narration: Then there were billiards; cards, too, but no dice; Save in the Clubs no man of honour plays;— Boats when 'twas water, skaiting when 'twas ice (XIII, 106); It was a spacious chamber (Oda is The Turkish title), and ranged round the wall Were couches, toilets (VI, 51); DIGRESSION / 160 A l l trembling, wondering, without the least notion More than I have myself of what could make The calm Dudu so turbulently wake. (VI, 71) But they can also be the transgressive triggers for longer excursions, as when the transition from the narrative past ("saw") to the explanatory, general present ("make") takes the discourse into a digression of several stanzas on the subject of the Islamic paradise: The eldest was a true and tameless Tartar, As great a scorner of the Nazarene As ever Mahomet picked out for a martyr, Who only saw the black-eyed girls in green, Who make the beds of those who won't take quarter On earth, in Paradise (VIII, 111); or when, after stating declaratively that, "after a good deal of heavy firing, / [Juan] found himself alone, and friends retiring," the narrator goes on to wonder, in his own present: I don't know how the thing occurred—it might Be that the greater part were killed or wounded, And that the rest had faced unto the right About; a circumstance which has confounded Caesar himself, who in the very sight Of his whole army, which so much abounded In courage, was obliged to snatch a shield And rally back his Romans to the field. (VIII, 28) A l l these transgressions and transitions are rendered much less effective when they are embedded in non-narrative or less narrative discourse. For example, in Canto X I , Juan's early days in London are given in terms of habitual past-tense verbs: "His morns he passed in business" (65); "His afternoons he passed in visits, luncheons" (66). The effect is more of description than narration; hence, when a passage is inserted in the habitual present, it is DIGRESSION / 161 not felt to be much of a transgression: Then dress, then dinner, then awakes the world! Then glare the lamps, then whirl the wheels, then roar Through street and square fast flashing chariots, hurled Like harnessed meteors; then along the floor Chalk mimics painting; then festoons are twirl'd; Then roll the brazen thunders of the door, Which opens to the thousand happy few An earthly Paradise of "Or Molu." (XI, 67) Distinguishing Juan's world from the narrator's is not at this point easy—or important—to achieve. Both characters belong, or have belonged, to the "thousand happy few" and both are, or have been, taken up by the general and ongoing life of the city. A hypothetical guest ("he who, after a survey / Of the good company" (69)), a reader with possible designs on an heiress ("if you can, get next at supper" (72)), well-known and less well-known "real" figures of the period ("Brumel," "Wellesley," "George the Third" (78), "the Lady Carolines and Franceses" (80)), the narrator himself ("I have seen the landholders without a rap" (84)), are all equally part with Juan of this "mighty Babylon" (23): London. Similarly, in Canto IV, when Juan, himself otherwise preoccupied, is passing the "shores of Ilion" (75) in a pirate ship, and the narrator elaborately describes these shores anyway, the transition to his own experience and the first-person pronoun is not a jolt for the reader two stanzas on: "but where I sought for Ilion's walls, / The quiet sheep feeds, and the tortoise crawls" (77); because she already clearly apprehends that these are not Juan's perceptions. The narrator's younger self is nearly as distant and non-reflexive a device as Juan; he is more meditative a protagonist, perhaps, having travelled as Childe Harold did, a tourist; but he is, like Juan, objectified, the butt of irony DIGRESSION / 162 ("school-boy feelings" (78)), and he, too, is ascribed actions in the active past tense ("I sought" (77); "I found" (78)). Many of the longer and more variable digressions occur at the ends and, even more frequently, at the beginnings of cantos. Both these positions help to mute the effect of transgression for the reader, though the initial position does this more effectively because an ending must be predicted or tagged before it occurs, whereas a beginning is self-evident. Reading or reciting a long poem will normally take several sessions; the books or cantos of epics imitate the earlier oral tradition of separate performances of manageable lengths. Pulci, Boiardo and Ariosto stylized into the written tradition the oral ottava rima narrative convention of addressing the "real" audience at these points. A t the beginning of a canto, the poet "invit[es] his audience to listen and remind[s] them of where he had broken off the last canto." A t the end of a canto, the audience is "often asked to return and hear the next canto . . . [and] sometimes a vague prediction of what the next canto will contain is made." 6 4 Of course, Don Juan's beginnings and endings are usually more complex than this, but they do almost always contain an address to readers or a discussion of the text and its progress.6 5 Even without the traditional convention to give these passages respectability, however, they would "naturally" seem less transgressive than similar passages occurring in mid-canto. The narrator signals pauses in the otherwise continuous present time of his narrating (and the receiver's reading) at these points: he goes off at the end of Canto IX "to take a quiet ride in some green lane" (85); and at the end of Canto XII he orders the reader to take time out to "read all the National-Debt sinkers" (89). As prelude to and aftermath of these separations of narrator, reader and text, some form of DIGRESSION / 163 farewell and some kind of re-assembly of relationships and materials seem natural. Even when the narrator does not begin with some remark about his intentions ("I want a hero" (I, 1); "I now mean to be serious" (XIII, 1)), but launches at once into a speculation on Newton (X), Berkeley (XI) or avarice (XII), these passages are not strictly transgressive, since nothing precedes them on the fresh new page for the speaker to transgress. The descent from these speculations into the story is transgressive, but the narrator normally proceeds somewhat gradually, keeping his reader clearly informed about his progress: "And now to business.—Oh, my gentle Juan! / Thou art in London" (XII, 23). Taking all things into account, I must conclude that digression is a much more complex device in Don Juan than most critics have estimated. A better strategy than to regard it as one separate category is to see it as the result of three tendencies on the part of the narrator. Two of these—the accumulative and the "digressive" —are fairly similar; the other—the transgressive—is quite different in nature. The reader recognizes these tendencies in the minute particulars of the poem as well as in the larger structures, and often she discovers their more extreme manifestations in the shorter examples. In the case of transgression, its most shocking effects are to be found in narrative structures which cannot be defined as digressions. Context is extremely important in consideration of all these tendencies, as it may foreground or background them in a great many ways and to very variable degrees. Also, they may be used to manipulate context, rather than vice versa, as when a long transgressive aside is used to distract the reader's attention from a crucial point in the plot, so that the narrator may execute a transition to another thread of narrative, or may suggest time passing within the story. These narrative strategies are employed, subtly, DIGRESSION / 164 by most writers of fiction; however, few narrators uncover their strategies as disarmingly, or show the abyss over which they leap as disturbingly—or, indeed, execute these dizzying take-offs into other fictional or diagetic worlds as frequently—as Byron's transgressive narrator in this poem. NOTES TO CHAPTER IV : Edwin Morgan, "Voice, Tone and Transition in Don Juan," Wrath and Rhyme, ed. Alan Bold (New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1983) 70. 2John Jump, Byron (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972) 112. 3 A . B . England, Byron's Don Juan and Eighteenth-Century Literature (Lewisburg: Bucknell U P , 1975) 161. See also T. S. Eliot, who, in his essay on Byron, writes about the earlier poet's "genius for digression, for wandering away from his subject (usually to talk about himself) and then suddenly returning to it." On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber, 1957) 202. 4Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1971) 266. England 161. 6 M . K . Joseph, Byron the Poet (London: Victor Gollancz, 1964) 334. 'Alv in B. Kernan, The Plot of Satire (New Haven: Yale U P , 1965) 176-79. 'Jerome J . McGann, Don Juan in Context (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1976) 107-14. 'See Anne K . Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1980) 53, where she writes of the "antithetical voice of the narrator" in the digressions; and Peter L . Thorslev, Jr., Romantic Contraries (New Haven: Yale U P , 1984) 173-75, where he examines the way the ironic narrator "undermines" in his asides the love of Haidee and Juan presented in the narrative. 1 0 W . T. Ross, "Digressive Narrative and Narrative Technique in Byron's Don Juan," diss., U of Virginia, 1970, 109. n " B y r o n is quite capable of a two-line digression." Ross 108. DIGRESSION / 165 l 2Ross 108-09. "Joseph 334. 1 4Ross 110. "Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1978) 248. 1 6 M . M . Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, (Austin: U of Texas P, 1981) 5-6. 1 7Bakhtin 43-49. "The narrator in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (New York: Dutton, i981) frequently compares Eugene with Childe Harold (ch.l, v.38, 22; ch.4, v.44, 107; ch.8, v.8, 198). In Eugene's library there is a portrait of Byron, and, among "Some works" which had been "exempt" from Eugene's "contempt," are those of the "bard of Don Juan and Giaour" (ch.7, v. 19, 173; v.22, 174). But besides these parodic uses and the melodramatic epigraph to chapter 8 (193), the poem has a similar chatty tone and sense of narrator's time to those of Don Juan. "Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse, (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1980) 235. "Genette 234. 2 1The title of Ross's dissertation includes the term "digressive narrator" and the theme of digressiveness is pursued throughout the work. Unfortunately, Ross's observation that some digressions are the result of this insouciant tendency leads him to assume that they all are, and he does not notice that metalepsis is rather different. 2 2Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. (New York: Liveright, 1961) 32-33. "Tzvetan Todorov, "Narrative-Men," The Poetics of Prose (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1977) 73. 2 4Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot (New York: Knopf, 1984) 104. This Freudian theory, utilized by Todorov and exploited and developed by Brooks, implicitly contains Roland Barthes' structural analysis of narratives (exhaustively laid out in Image-Music-Text (New York: Hil l and Wang, 1977)) and his strip-tease metaphor for reading (The Pleasure of the Text (New York: Hi l l and Wang, 1977) 10-11). The reader longs to tear off the veil faster, and will sometimes "boldly skip (no one is watching) descriptions, explanations, analyses, conversations." However, in doing this the reader deprives him- or herself of the pleasure of the entire process, the "gradual unveiling," which is, in fact, essentially a postponement of the end. "For a discussion of this tradition, see William A . Clung, The Country House in English Renaissance Poetry (Berkeley: U of California P, 1977), DIGRESSION / 166 especially "Later Estate Poems: Cotton and Pope" (174-80), which includes mention of Byron's Norman Abbey stanzas. "John Milton, Paradise Lost IV, from line 285: "where the Fiend / Saw undelighted all delight." Poetical Works (London: Oxford UP, 1966) 281. "Paul West, Byron and the Spoiler's Art (London: Chatto and Windus, 1960) 63. "Truman Guy Steffan, Byron's Don Juan I : The Making of a Masterpiece (Austin: U of Texas P, 1957) 65. Steffan quotes from a letter to John Murray (August 26, 1813) on the subject of the growth of The Giaour, in which Byron refers to "this snake of a poem—which has been lengthening its rattles every month" and then uses the same image as a covering metaphor for the growth of Don Juan as well. Byron, Letters and Journals III (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1974) 100. 2 9 Kernan 178, 176-77. 3 0Roland Barthes, who, in his "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives," coins for the more "trivial incidents or descriptions" in a narrative the term "catalysers," claims that these "catalysers" are never "purely redundant." Unlike the "risky," "potentially implausible framework of "nuclei" (the "real hinge-points of the narrative"), "the catalysers lay out areas of safety, rests, luxuries." Also, they "[maintain] the contact between narrator and addressee." Image-Music-Text (New York: Hi l l and Wang, 1977) 93-95. 3 lPeter Conrad, Shandyism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978) 103. "See Antonio's "Letter About the Novel," Friedrich Schlegel, Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, (University Park: The Pennsylvania State U P , 1968) 96. "Conrad 100. 3 4West, Byron and the Spoiler's Art 63. 3 i Kernan 174. "McGann, Don Juan in Context 104. "This cancelled preface appears in the variorum edition of Don Juan used in this dissertation (II, 3-7). It is a parody of Wordsworth's preface to "The Thorn" and was probably abandoned precisely because the narrator became more and more obviously a portrayal of Byron himself as Don Juan progressed. After announcing as early as II, 105, that he had swum the Hellespont (a feat of which Byron often boasted), this narrator had already become too central for the pretence that he was entering the scene only as an "English Editor" (6) to be plausible. In any case, the poem, unlike the preface, never gives the reader instructions to regard itself as having dual authorship. The potentially Spanish DIGRESSION / 167 persona of the speaker in parts of Canto I is soon subsumed by Byron, who sometimes lies, for example, when he talks of his "grandmother's review—the British" (I, 109), and sometimes tells the truth, as when he mentions his "grand-dad's 'Narrative'" (II, 137). "Genette 263. "Mellor 31. Also, McGann, Fiery Dust (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968) 287; Kar l Kroeber, Romantic Narrative Art (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1960) 145; Louis Kronenberger, The Polished Surface (New York: Knopf, 1969) 153; Jump 140. ""Mellor 4, 5. "'Chatman 146-264. "Chatman 167. "'Chatman 168. ""Chatman 248-53. Chatman's distinction between the self-conscious devices of Romantic irony (to be found in Jacques le fataliste) and the "deconstrucive" devices of certain modern novels and films (Becket's Watt and Vertov's The Man with the Movie Camera, for example), seems confusing and inadequately drawn (251). When the narrator in Don Juan exclaims: "Much English I cannot pretend to speak" (II, 165), he is surely being as "deconstructive" as Beckett's narrator when he posits a girl with haemophilia in Watt; and yet Don Juan has been claimed as a seminal work of Romantic irony by Mellor, Thorslev, Conrad and R. R. Pemberton ("The Romantic Irony of Lord Byron," diss., U of California, 1974). Mellor's distinction between Romantic irony and later philosophical positions which also conceive the universe as chaos (existentialism, for example), seems more useful. According to her, the later philosopher confronts the same disjointed world as the Romantic ironist; yet his observer experiences not exuberance but angst. The true Romantic ironist is exhilarated by the endless abundance of a chaotic universe; Lewis Carrol and the existentialists are terrified by it. Becket's reaction could perhaps be described as disgust. Mellor 186-89. "5Genette 219. "'Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Gentleman (New York: Modern Library, n.d.) 629. "'Ross 110. "'Conrad 100. "'Conrad 104. "England 161. DIGRESSION / 168 5 1Ross 110. "Conrad 96. "England examines the influence of the eighteenth-century writers on Byron in some detail. He concludes that "the kinds of rhetorical structure to which Byron in his own rhetoric in Don Juan is most closely and most frequently related do not represent those aspects of eighteenth-century literature of which he was most consciously an advocate [i.e., aspects of the style of Pope, in particular]" (148). However, England concedes that Byron did possess some of the characteristics of the earlier period, and these are to be found mostly in the type of control exercised over his subject-matter, a control Byron discovered and admired in Fielding, and which he contrasted favourably with what he called the "vulgarity" of his own contemporaries (149-50). This "vulgarity," whose implications England does not pursue, is obviously to be associated with a setting free of words or subject-matter—of which Conrad would probably approve. " W . B . Yeats, "The Statues," The Collected Poems (London: MacMillan, 1952) 375. "Conrad 96. "Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound II, iv, 11.115-16, Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1968) 238. "Chatman 203. "Genette 234. "Joseph 334. '"Joseph defines "'digression' properly so-called" as "passages in which Byron temporarily takes leave of the story to make some personal aside or general statement, for which there is no immediate basis in the story" (199). "See chapter VI , note 19. "Byron parodies his own frequent use of this expletive at the end of Canto I: "But I, being fond of true philosophy, / Say very often to myself 'Alas! '" (220). "The narrator normally dominates and shares the reader's present, however, as chapter V I demonstrates. "Robert M . Durling, The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1965) 93-94. "Canto XIII of Don Juan is an exception to this rule: it ends with narrative. What makes its conclusion feel final is that all the characters retire to bed at this point. (Of course, Canto X V I , which is the last part of the poem DIGRESSION / 169 that Byron sent to his publisher, ends in media res rather more spectacularly, but even in the face of the existing fragment of Canto X V I I , the reader cannot know for sure that Canto X V I would have ended where it now ends had Byron lived to continue his poem.) CHAPTER V THE POET AS TRANSGRESSOR Among the howls of moral outrage with which Don Juan was greeted on its first publication were several strongly-worded protests against what was seen as a treacherous inconstancy in its poetic mode. Byron was not to be forgiven by those early readers for "passing at once with a surprising and unaccountable indifference, from images of pathos, beauty, and grandeur, to ludicrous and burlesque similes and expressions."1 The desire was expressed that "the fine poetry, which almost redeems the third Canto . . . from reprobation, had not been mixed up with very much that is equally frivolous and foolish."2 William Blackwood, in a private letter, confessed that it "was not the grossness or blackguardism which struck [him], but it was the vile, heartless, and cold-blooded way this fiend attempted to degrade every sacred and tender feeling of the human heart."3 The most perceptive and ambiguous of these complaints deserves to be quoted at length. William Hazlitt, in a fascinating essay on Byron and Scott which was interrupted and transformed towards the end by the news of Byron's death, writes the following: The Don Juan indeed has great power; but its power is owing to the force of the serious writing, and to the contrast between that and the flashy passages with which it is interlarded. From the sublime to 170 T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 171 the ridiculous is but one step. You laugh and are surprised that anyone should turn round and travestie himself: the drollery is in the utter discontinuity of ideas and feelings. He makes virtue serve as a foil to vice; dandyism is, (for want of any other) a variety of genius. A classical intoxication is followed by the splashing of sodawater, by frothy effusions of ordinary bile. After the lightning and hurricane, we are introduced to the interior of the cabin and the contents of the washhand basins. The solemn hero of tragedy plays Scrub in the farce. This is 'very tolerable and not to be endured.' The noble lord is almost the only writer who has prostituted his talents in this way. He hallows in order to desecrate, takes a pleasure in defacing the images of beauty his hands have wrought, and raises our hopes and our belief in goodness to Heaven only to dash them to earth again and break them in pieces the more effectually from the very height they have fallen. Our enthusiasm for genius or virtue is thus turned into a jest by the very person who has kindled it, and who thus fatally quenches the spark of both. It is not that Lord Byron is sometimes serious and sometimes trifling, sometimes profligate and sometimes moral; but when he is most serious and most moral, he is only preparing to mortify the unsuspecting reader by putting a pitiful hoax upon him. This is a most unaccountable anomaly. It is as if the eagle were to build its eyry in a common sewer, or the owl were seen soaring to the mid-day sun. Such a sight might make one laugh, but one would not wish or expect it to occur more than once." This is not mere "peevish invective";5 it contains wonderful insights and much unwilling admiration. The age whose cant Byron deplored was becoming over-serious as well as increasingly moralistic. Hazlitt, like so many of his contemporaries, simply could not bear the sublimity of "lightning" and "hurricane" to be juxtaposed to the mundane—the "interior of the cabin"—or the sordid—the "contents of the wash-hand basins." His fastidiousness expresses the time's growing suspicion that dignity is incompatible with the acknowledgement of bodily functions, and that what is sacred must not be ridiculed. However, despite all this incipient Victorianism, Hazlitt puts his finger unerringly on the pulse of Don Juan. The poem works on the reader by "contrast," "discontinuity," "travestie," "hoax"; she finds its most disturbing characteristic to be its transgressiveness, not so much in the formal and T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 172 narrative aspects discussed in previous chapters, as in its moral, sentimental and metaphysical consistencies. Don Juan is profoundly ironical, and yet, in tone, it is not ironical all of the time. The reader will probably remember afterwards the bluff humour of the man of the world, the tolerant teasing of the aging roue who, self-mocking but unembittered, has seen through all the deceptions of innocence and hypocrisy without losing his capacity for pity or for admiration. And yet in the actual experience of reading she is conscious of many other notes outside this range and often discordant with it. She hears in "real time" a sequence of melodies on different instruments and in shifting keys which do not always set each other off to best advantage or modulate harmonically from one to another. Neither discord nor hiatus is a necessary feature of the ironic mode. The narrator of even a long novel can retain a sceptical distance from characters and events, without necessarily undercutting all their aspirations and outcomes. Fielding does this in Tom Jones, even at moments of great sentimental importance to his hero and heroine: Jones, who had hitherto held his lovely burden in his arms, now relinquished his hold; but gave her at the same instant a tender caress, which, had her senses been then perfectly restored, could not have escaped her observation. As she expressed therefore, no displeasure at this freedom, we suppose she was not sufficiently recovered from her swoon at the time. 6 Passages similar to this do occur in Don Juan, at times when the narrator purports to know more than the characters and the reader infers more than he directly tells her, while both narrator and reader retain a humorous affection for the characters, despite the characters' self-deception or blindness: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 173 I cannot know what Juan thought of this, But what he did, is much what you would do; His young lip thank'd it with a grateful kiss, And then, abash'd at its own joy, withdrew In deep despair, lest he had done amiss, Love is so very timid when 'tis new: She blush'd, and frown'd not, but she strove to speak, And held her tongue, her voice was grown so weak. (I, 112) But then some passages like the following—which deals, significantly, with Juan's affair with Haidee, not Julia—appear to contradict the ironies of the preceding: They fear'd no eyes nor ears on that lone beach, They felt no terrors from the night, they were A l l in all to each other: though their speech Was broken words, they thought a language there,— And all the burning tongues the passions teach Found in one sigh the best interpreter Of nature's oracle—first love,—that all Which Eve has left her daughters since her fall. (II, 189) This is the lyric impulse run wild; the reader can imagine nothing very like it in prose. As for analysing the passage narratively, she finds extricating the narrator's voice from his empathic enrapture with his characters' feelings almost impossible—at least, until the couplet.7 This stanza, like many Romantic and visionary poems, creates for the reader the imaginative fulfilment of the author's most fervent wish. His own "broken words" are asked to go beyond language and become invisible signs of the "burning tongues the passions teach." As McGann claims of The Island, this vision is "true because it may be true, always." 8 Writers of novels, except perhaps of the perennial popular romance which thrives on purple passages, usually employ narrative strategies which distance them a little from the most emotional discourse. The commonest of these T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 174 strategies is probably to compose the novel in direct speech—dramatic exchanges between characters—so that the implied author is absolved from immediate responsibility for it and, in fact, many ironies of situation can be manipulated to deny his unqualified assent. In the nineteenth-century novel, where narration generally stops short of the bedroom door, love affairs can be suggested very effectively by these dramatic exchanges. The epistolary novel also allows characters to pour out their souls at great length, without forcing the novelist to identify his discourse exactly with theirs. Irony of tone, such as that evident in the extract from Fielding above, is another great standby for protecting the implied author's independence. Sterne's irony is often more subtle and can take the form of a kind of empiricism instead of Fielding's knowing winks. When Tristram is most moved by his uncle Toby's treatment of the fly, he is still anatomising in himself the "vibration of most pleasurable sensations."9 First-person character narrators, whose perception of events is limited by their involvement in them, also let the implied author off the hook—though to varying degrees, depending on the amount of vision or limitation ascribed to this narrator. Multiple first-person narratives in a novel preclude authoritative vision more effectively, as in that epistolary mode which uses multiple writers. Wuthering Heights, with all its poetic determinism, is significantly given through a network of narrators, the "outermost," Lockwood, being in some ways the least reliable. But even omniscience can be used as a kind of distancing technique. The novelistic author, while depicting characters who are often subject to strong emotions and enthusiasms, may remain himself calm, pretending at least to a god-like serenity and impartiality. George Eliot, with all her sympathy for her characters, is apt to ensconce her narrator on higher ground, thus: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 175 Nor can I suppose that when Mrs. Casaubon is discovered in a fit of weeping six weeks after her wedding, the situation will be regarded as tragic. Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. 1 0 Even Dickens, that partial and indignant artist, allows himself outbursts like the following very rarely, and when he does, they come, like Eliot's more subtle effusions, from well above his characters' heads: The light is come upon the dark benighted way. Dead! Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day. 1 1 But in poetry the exclamatory mode has been well established, at least, in the vatic tradition of hymn, ode, elegy and epic. The vates irritabilis may become over-excited by his subject-matter. Shelley in lyrical frenzy writes thus of a situation similar to that of Juan and Haidee: The Meteor to its far morass returned: The beating of our veins one interval Made still; and then I felt the blood that burned Within her frame, mingle with mine, and fall Around my heart like fire; and over all A mist was spread, the sickness of a deep And speechless swoon of joy, as might befall Two disunited spirits when they leap In union from this earth's obscure and fading sleep.1 2 However, The Revolt of Islam, if it is ironic at all, is so only in the broadest philosophic sense. Its voice, throughout its system of narrators, is one voice; its tone is consistently passionate; no-one would make a case for calling it a novel. Don Juan, on the other hand, despite its stanza, has fairly justifiably been taken—or mistaken—for a novel, 1 3 and indeed, it is one, at least, most of the T H E POET AS T R A N S G R E S S O R / 176 time, by any definition that will include formal poetic style within the genre. However, there are some sections of the poem which would strain even the most inclusive definition to breaking point. If a distinction is to be made between the lyric and the novel, then passages like the single-voiced stanza last quoted from Don Juan must be better identified by the lyrical—or vatic—definition. Pushkin, writing a much less controversially novelistic poem, Eugene Onegin, tends to avoid the vatic stance.1 4 When an oracular voice is introduced in prose, it is often in parody, as with Fielding's " A Short Hint of What We Can Do in the Sublime, and a Description of Miss Sophia Western." 1 5 Herman Melville, in his different, American, mystical kind of prose, still puts his least ironical notes of the sublime into the mouth of a character—Ahab—and in actual dramatic form; they are not direct messages from the implied author: The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out. I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where'er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass. 1 6 Significantly, Ahab's words are in iambics. Just as prose becomes more metrical as it becomes more emotional, so the poetic line encourages a more emotional tone than prose. This is because, as discussed in earlier chapters, the demand for stress cuts down the grammatical superfluities of the sentence, paring it to the blatant bone; and because the insistent "beat, upbeat, pause" pattern of expectation creates a discipline of its own, outside the sentence's meaning, which will allow the sentence to say, unsentimentally, things that cannot easily be said without embarrassment in prose. And Byron, playing possibilities on his instrument, plays too upon those strings which vibrate most directly, without syncopation, the strings of the human heart; and then, nonchalantly, without T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 177 explanation, he returns to the ironic harmonies of discord which appeal to the brain's distrust of the heart, leaving the hearts of such readers as William Hazlitt feeling betrayed and travestied. If the poem contained no stanzas like the following, perhaps Hazlitt would have approved of Don Juan more, but perhaps again he would not have responded to it at all: Oh Hesperus! thou bringest all good things— Home to the weary, to the hungry cheer, To the young bird the parent's brooding wings, The welcome stall to the o'erlabour'd steer; Whate'er of peace about our hearthstone clings, Whate'er our household gods protect of dear, Are gather'd round us by thy look of rest; Thou bring'st the child, too, to the mother's breast. (Il l , 107) This "true voice of feeling" 1 7 must have touched a chord in Tennyson, for he echoes it in more melancholy tones in In Memoriam: Sad Hesper o'er the buried sun And ready, thou, to die with him, Thou watchest all things ever dim And dimmer, and a glory done: The team is loosen'd from the wain, The boat is drawn upon the shore; Thou listenest to the closing door, And life is darkened in the brain. 1 8 But a reader may wonder how Tennyson's stomach would have turned at the juxtaposition of the following two stanzas, which grotesquely parody "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and the Book of Genesis: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 178 About this time a beautiful white bird, Web-footed, not unlike a dove in size And plumage, (probably it might have err'd Upon its course) pass'd oft before their eyes, And tried to perch, although it saw and heard The men within the boat, and in this guise It came and went, and flutter'd round them till Night fell:—this seem'd a better omen still. But in this case I also must remark, 'Twas well this bird of promise did not perch, Because the tackle of our shatter'd bark Was not so safe for roosting as a church; And had it been the dove from Noah's ark, Returning there from her successful search, Which in their way that moment chanced to fall, They would have eat her, olive-branch and all. (II, 94-95) This passage smacks distinctly of prose rather than poetry. The rhymes are all masculine and unremarkable; also, repeated enjambment forces the stanza into the background (except for the second couplet, which is foregrounded for its "punchline" effect). And the urge to explain, expansively, to determine the reader's response quite consciously rather than by means of the symbol's own inherent mysteriousness, is definitely novelistic. Although the reader is reminded of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" here, she finds in fact the spareness of Coleridge's symbolic poetry to be starkly different from the above: A t length did cross an Albatross, Thorough the fog it came; As if it had been a Christian soul, We hailed it in God's name. 1 9 In similar contrast is the gnomic simplicity of the King James Bible: But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. 2 0 T H E POET AS T R A N S G R E S S O R / 179 If this is poetic prose, then Byron's passage is very prosaic poetry, and the prose that it imitates is of a type quite familiar to a reader of novels. This reader is used to being teased about being a reader of poetry, and to being shown that the prosaic truth is rather different and less romantic than poetry often suggests. Examples of this tendency are to be found in Fielding, 2 1 but I prefer to use an anachronistic example from Melville, because the Byronic Platonist is here the parodic victim, and because the parody has such a Byronic flavour: For nowadays, the whale-fishery furnishes an asylum for many romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded young men, disgusted with the carking care of earth, and seeking sentiment in tar and blubber. Childe Harold not infrequently perches himself upon the mast-head of some luckless disappointed whale-ship, and in moody phrase ejaculates: — 'Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll! Ten thousand blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain . ' 2 2 What infuriated Hazlitt and his contemporaries, though, was not that Byron was writing an ironic, novelistic poem, but that he was compiling a disturbing medley of ironies and sincerities which would not finally precipitate out into the consistency expected by a nineteenth-century reader of either a Romantic poem or an ironic novel. The most upsetting section of Don Juan was probably the Haidee episode, for in it occur the most sustained examples of the lyric mode, and, perhaps, the widest discrepancies between styles, between events and voice, and between narrator and characters. Summarizing all the shocks to which the narrator subjects the reader within this long passage is not easy. Some of the transitions are into digressions which are largely irrelevant, such as the one triggered by the simile: "When o'er the brim the sparkling bumpers reach" (II, T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 180 178-81), discussed in chapter III. Other digressions are more relevant, drawing parallels between the story and the narrator's past experience: "'Tis pleasing to be school'd in a strange tongue / B y female lips and eyes" (II, 164); or suggesting that the experience of love is a very general one: "Oh Love! of whom great Caesar was the suitor" (II, 205-07); or probing into characters' motives: "But Juan! had he quite forgotten Julia?" (II, 208). However, the reader is not struck most forcibly by relative relevancy or irrelevancy in these asides. Even the metaleptic hiatus is for her muted by a much stronger sense of transgression, deriving simply from change of tone. The "digressive" passages vary widely in tone from despairing cynicism to wry elegiac sadness, but all of them are motivated by a profound scepticism about love which will not, by any effort of wrenching on the part of the reader, tally with the ideal of enduring, monogamous, romantic love which the narrator appears, in the narrative passages, to share with his protagonists at this stage. The narrative charts, in strikingly lyrical stanzas, and with a sympathy sufficiently empathic at times to efface the narrator's personality altogether, a love affair so perfectly ideal as to contradict every doubt, sneer and sophism of which the narrator's voice is capable. No compromise is reached between the two discourses. Stanzas like the following occur one below the other: The lady watch'd her lover—and that hour Of Love's, and Night's, and Ocean's solitude O'erflow'd her soul with their united power; Amidst the barren sand and rocks so rude She and her wave-worn love had made their bower, Where nought upon their passion could intrude, And all the stars that crowded the blue space Saw nothing happier than her glowing face. T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 181 Alas! the love of women! it is known To be a lovely and a fearful thing; For all of theirs upon that die is thrown, And if 'tis lost, life hath no more to bring To them but mockeries of the past alone, And their revenge is as the tiger's spring, Deadly, and quick, and crushing; yet as real Torture is theirs, what they inflict they feel. (II, 198-99) And the narrator can be much more cynical than this: contradicting himself, he later claims that for woman, though "One man alone at first her heart can move; / She then prefers him in the plural number, / Not finding that the additions much encumber" (III, 3). On occasion, he will shift alarmingly from elegy to levity within a single stanza: Alas! they were so young, so beautiful, So lonely, loving, helpless, and the hour Was that in which the heart is always full, And, having o'er itself no further power, Prompts deeds eternity cannot annul, But pays off moments in an endless shower Of hell-fire—all prepared for people giving Pleasure or pain to one another living. (II, 192) M y reader may not become, like Hazlitt, enraged by this transgressiveness, but she must infallibly be disturbed, because to the end of the poem she cannot honestly, taking everything into account, formulate What Byron Has to Say About Love in Don Juan; because it will not formulate, unless something is left out or added—except as a contradiction. On the one hand, she is tempted to accept the ironical view that love gives the highest illusion of happiness offered in this world of illusions, and yet is impossible to sustain, though it may offer itself time after time, each time with its same deceptive suggestion of both newness and permanence. As John Johnson, the man who has had three wives, puts it, without disparaging the brightness of life's later T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 182 illusions: ". . . . A l l , when life is new, Commence with feelings warm and prospects high; But time strips our illusions of their hue, And one by one in turn, some grand mistake Casts off its bright skin yearly like the snake. '"Tis true, it gets another bright and fresh, Or fresher, brighter; but the year gone through, This skin must go the way too of all flesh, Or sometimes only wear a week or two . . . ." (V, 21-22) And Juan's further adventures in the poem seem continually to support this view, and to ironize the Haidee episode merely by his living on to love again. But, on the other hand, the reader finds that this episode is simply not presented as one among a sequence of such affairs. Time stops here, in defiance of change: Moons changing had roll'd on, and changeless found Those their bright rise had lighted to such joys As rarely they beheld throughout their round; And these were not of the vain kind which cloys, For theirs were buoyant spirits, never bound By the mere senses; and that which destroys Most love, possession, unto them appear'd A thing which each endearment more endear'd. (IV, 16) The narrator cannot do anything to make his protagonists move; nothing remains to narrate but iteration. His more and more frequent remarks about the necessity of such perfect lovers' dying young are really a comment about this kind of romance: after the consummation, nothing further is left to say, and the story must logically end here. And although Lambro's satanic entry into their paradise scatters the lovers, fragments the narrative and propels it forward through Juan into the cumulative onward changes which Don Juan stories T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 183 conventionally follow, for Haidee the tale does end here. Haidee is totally consistent and absolutely faithful not only to Juan but to her blood, which, like her mother's, "partakes the planet's hour" (IV, 56); and, in fact, she belongs not at all to the novel or the Don Juan genres, but to romance or tragedy. The novel (and this Don Juan) is full of fallible, backsliding people, who have ideals and yet deceive themselves, or are, like Juan, heroic only by accidents of circumstance. But Haidee is essentially heroic and contradicts by her very presence every speculation on the infidelity of woman to be found in the poem. She dies of love magnificently—and by a literary convention not evident elsewhere in the story. Modern critics, such as Mellor and Thorslev, encourage readers to regard the Haidee episode within its context as a good example of Romantic irony. The romance is presented with lyricism and enthusiasm and yet it is, in the long view, ironically negated by the life-affirming story of Juan which transcends it. Mellor is at pains to point out that "the authentic romantic ironist is as filled with enthusiasm as he is with scepticism. He is as much a romantic as an ironist." 2 3 Like the existentialists, he inhabits, as Thorslev explains at length, an "open universe," 2 4 though he has more faith than the existentialists "in the ability of man to cope" with i t . 2 5 Defying closed systems, the Romantic ironist repudiates the overdetermined ending of romance, which must conclude with love or death or both. (These alternatives are not mutually exclusive, for love and death are the light and dark sides of the same coin.) A l l this is easy for the reader to accept in the long view, but the long view does not adequately detail the actual texture of a sentence or stanza as experienced during an actual reading of a long work. Much more consistent and less transgressive works than T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 184 Don Juan fit the definition of Romantic irony quite adequately. Readers of Eugene Onegin and Wilhelm Meister are not subjected to the same kind of emotional jolts that the reader of Don Juan experiences in the short view. As mentioned before, the narrator could conceivably be ironic all the time, without being unsympathetic to the story or its protagonists. The fact that Byron is a master of the ironic technique and uses it superbly in this very work makes the non-ironic passages all the more remarkable. Conversely, the non-ironic passages offer a disturbing background to the ironic voice, foregrounding it sharply by contrast. Irony of tone requires a little twisting of the truth, or exhibition of bad faith, or slantwise perspective on things; it is, in fact, a dialogic mode in which two or more voices are in dialectical tension with one another: And Julia's voice was lost, except in sighs, Until too late for useful conversation; The tears were gushing from her gentle eyes, I wish, indeed, they had not had occasion, But who, alas! can love, and then be wise? Not that remorse did not oppose temptation, A little still she strove, and much repented, And whispering "I will ne'er consent"—consented. (I, 117) In this stanza, the dialectics of Julia's conscience and Julia's desires, and the narrator's moralism and his humanism, create a complex network into which the witty clinching of the couplet falls not as a bawdy guffaw so much as a complicated, knowing smile. The reader sympathises deeply with both Juan and Julia throughout this first erotic episode, but when it comes forcibly—and comically—to an end, she does not feel Juan's voyage into further adventures to be a betrayal of her loyalties, whatever it may be of Julia's. Even the tragic tone of Julia's final letter from the nunnery is undermined by the fact that it T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 185 "was written upon gilt-edged paper / With a neat little crow-quill, slight and new" (I, 198). This is Romantic irony without pain, because the reader has been prepared, by ironies of tone throughout the episode, for the ironies of event which end it. Passages which exhibit no irony of tone are spoken by a single voice in absolute seriousness and sincerity; they demand reciprocally from the reader, by their very nature, absolute assent. The reader who gives assent to such a passage, having tried it carefully for ironic traps, were she later to find her trust betrayed by ironies not potentially present in this passage, would have a certain justification for feeling indignant. Although the more dialogic or ironic sections may elicit from her at times a sympathy or assent which she cannot curtail with ease, a great deal of the pleasure of such sections is her sense of "having been had." She, like Juan or Julia, is being seduced by a situation into too strong a commitment, when the narrator is, in fact, playing with her affections. However, the monological passages are not set-ups for the reader in this way, and for these, too, she must be alert. Only ironies of situation finally assail Haidee's place in the poem; Aurora Raby, the English beauty whose final significance is not established because of the poem's premature end, is probably intended for a similar fate: Early in years, and yet more infantine In figure, she had something of sublime In eyes which sadly shone, as seraphs' shine. A l l youth—but with an aspect beyond time; Radiant and grave—as pitying man's decline; Mournful—but mournful of another's crime, She look'd as if she sat by Eden's door, And grieved for those who could return no more. (XV, 45) Despite the revisions, alternatives and repetitions in this stanza, it exhibits none T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 186 of that playful experimentalism evident elsewhere through these effects. The narrator is determining and overdetermining an image; even the "as i f constructions are the attempts of a speaker to catch up with an absolutely clear, absolutely authoritative vision. These repeated attempts serve almost as the repetitions of incantation to wrap the speaker more and more closely into his speech and into intimacy with the thing invoked by the speech. The reader is co-opted into assent so strong as to approach identification with him; dialectic is out of the question. One might contrast this stanza to the following on Dudu, another winsome woman attractive to Juan, in order to hear the difference between the single voice and the more syncopated ironic voice: She was not violently lively, but Stole on your spirit like a May-day breaking; Her eyes were not too sparkling, yet, half-shut, They put beholders in a tender taking; She look'd (this simile's quite new) just cut From marble, like Pygmalion's statue waking, The Mortal and the Marble still at strife, And timidly expanding into life. (VI, 43) A n awareness of others' (and the narrator's) preference for liveliness and sparkling eyes, and a metalingual consciousness of his own role as entertainer of a reader whose sympathies and tastes can be "toyed with," contend in this stanza with the narrator's sympathetic representation of his subject. Out of this slight contention comes the stanza's irony and the precise individual shade of its irony. Both Mellor and Thorslev agree that Romantic irony—and Don Juan as their touchstone case—fits into Wayne Booth's system of classification as "unstable, overt, infinite" irony. 2 6 They are looking, of course, at the long view, taking the whole poem into account, and they do not detail the varieties of T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 187 stable, covert or finite ironies and their non-ironic counterparts that occur locally in the work. The most important parameter in Booth's tripartite system is the first: the stable-unstable dichotomy. Booth himself is decidedly wary of unstable ironies, especially when they are infinite in scope, because their meaning remains unfixed and unfixable; it is impossible for the reader to assign value finally to any proposition within an unstable-ironic work: The author—insofar as we can discover him, and he is often very remote indeed—refuses to declare himself for any stable proposition, even the opposite of whatever proposition his irony vigorously denies. The only sure affirmation is that negation that begins all ironic play: "this affirmation must be rejected," leaving the possibility, and in infinite ironies, the clear implication, that since the universe (or at least the universe of discourse) is inherently absurd, all statements are subject to ironic undermining. No statement can really "mean what it says." 2 7 Booth does not directly concern himself with Romantic irony and uses only modern examples of unstable irony. Although he declares that the open universe must be portrayed by means of unstable irony, he does not sufficiently pursue the implications of an open universe. Concentrating on the negative aspect of irony, he overlooks the force and enthusiasm with which affirmations can be made in this chaotic universe—even when they are, simultaneously or later, to be ironized or negated. Booth seems to fall here into the camp of Hegel and Kierkegaard, who regard irony as "infinite absolute negativity," 2 8 in contrast to that of Friedrich Schlegel, the main proponent of Romantic irony, who sees irony as containing both positive and negative propositions equally, without necessarily valorizing the negative over the positive. Schlegel's "absolute synthesis of absolute antithesis, the continual self-creating interchange of two conflicting thoughts," 2 9 makes enthusiastic affirmations and subsequently contradicts them in order not to T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 188 be trapped by them into determinism. Romantic irony requires an "eternal agility" 3 0 in order to remain balanced and conscious of contradictory alternatives. D. C. Muecke, in his book The Compass of Irony, unlike Booth in A Rhetoric of Irony, takes cognizance of this binary, paradoxical possibility, and he claims that Romantic irony "does not take sides but regards both sides critically." 3 1 The great problem with Romantic irony is the one pinpointed by Hegel in his brief critique of Schlegel in The History of Philosophy: it requires an infinite ability to play. He writes: It can make a pretence of knowing all things, but it only demonstrates vanity, hypocrisy, and effrontery. Irony knows itself to be master of every possible context; it is serious about nothing, but plays with all forms. 3 2 Hegel conceives play and seriousness to be mutually exclusive, and valorizes what he sees as the responsible, adult alternative. This position can be attacked from several angles. Sartre would claim seriousness to be the undesirable element: "Man is serious when he takes himself for an object";33 Schiller, and others, would establish play as primary to, and inclusive of, seriousness: "man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays." 3 4 However, something in the nature of man is resistant to play: weariness and despair can make him refuse, temporarily or permanently, to participate in the game. The reader does not have to be as disparaging of play as Hegel is to see that "eternal agility" is not easy for finite man, to whom the life-drive is often and finally overshadowed by a death-wish. 3 5 Sir Walter Ralegh, in whose writings the immanence of death is a haunting reality, points the paradox more clearly and more poignantly: T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 189 Thus march we playing to our latest r es t -Only we die in earnest, that's no jest. 3 6 Even with a work like Don Juan, in which the narrator seems at times to possess an infinite agility, a reader, like Hazlitt, can easily flag behind him in the face of death or love and cry "Enough!" Desire for an end to all this play can coexist with the best of motives; it can derive from a knowledge that the game requires a kind of heartlessness on the part of the players and a suspicion that heartlessness in the face of death is in fact what the life-affirming impulse amounts to. To fall from the Schlegelian interpretation of irony into the Hegelian one is all too easy: the paradox of affirmation and negation is much more difficult to sustain than the valorizing of negation which sees the affirmation as a kind of hoax, a set-up to be shot down by a cynically smiling fiend. The reason why the Julia episode is easier to stomach than the Haidee affair is that it is more "ironic" than "Romantic"; its relative lack of affirmation and the more consistent irony of tone in its narration valorize the negative side all along. The earlier passage is Romantic irony without pain perhaps because it is not as good an example of Romantic irony as the later one. This critique of Romantic irony per se is not irrelevant to a reading of Don Juan. The search for limits to, or stabilities within, its irony is for the reader synonymous with her quest for comprehension of its final meanings. The quest may, of course, end up in acknowledgement of the absence of final meanings; but this essentially amounts to the same thing. In the ultimate ironizing of the Haidee romance, the pain experienced by the reader is part of the narrator's experience too: he mourns for the lovers in many elegiac asides, such as that beginning "Alas! they were so young, so beautiful" (II, 192). Thus, T H E POET AS T R A N S G R E S S O R / 190 at the outer limits of its ironic scale, the poem seems to include a critique of irony itself. Hazlitt's response is one of the responses inscribed within the text, although many other responses are also inscribed and this one is not at the top of the hierarchy. The implied reader of Don Juan transcends Hazlitt's objections, even while conscious of them. Don Juan's narrator transgresses himself obsessively on many other subjects in addition to romantic love. Almost the whole of Cantos VII to IX is' devoted to the subject of military glory, which, with various meditations on poetic glory and other types of fame, forms a major theme of the poem. A Victorian would perhaps like the keynote to be struck in the elegiac sublime, thus: Oh, foolish mortals! Always taught in vain! Oh, glorious laurel! since for one sole leaf Of thine imaginary deathless tree, Of blood and tears must flow the unebbing sea. (VII, 68) But this tragic vision can be travestied by a kind of Falstaffian undermining of the concept itself: An uniform to boys, is like a fan To women; there is scarce a crimson varlet But deems himself the first in Glory's van. But Glory's Glory; and if you would find What that is—ask the pig who sees the wind! At least he feels it, and some say he sees, Because he runs before it like a pig; Or, if that simple sentence should displease, Say that he scuds before it like a brig, A schooner, or—but it is time to ease This Canto, ere my Muse perceive fatigue. (VII, 84-85) Then again, the narrator will turn around and talk of the "all-cloudless Glory" of George Washington (IX, 8), and will extoll the battlefields of Washington and T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 191 Leonidas as "holy ground" (VIII, 5), amid other stanzas that at length develop the "true portrait of one battle-field" (VIII, 12) as closer to hell than anything else human nature can conceive: A l l that the mind would shrink from of excesses; A l l that the body perpetrates of bad; A l l that we read, hear, dream of man's distresses; A l l that the Devil would do if run stark mad; A l l that defies the worst which pen expresses; A l l by which Hell is peopled, or as sad As Hell—mere mortals who their power abuse,— Was here (as heretofore and since) let loose. (VIII, 123) And then, soon after this passionate, single-voiced outburst, occurs the following passage, which has offended certain modern critics," as well as (probably) Hazlitt before them: Some odd mistakes too happened in the dark, Which show'd a want of lanthorns, or of taste-Indeed the smoke was such they scarce could mark Their friends from foes,—besides, such things from haste Occur, though rarely, when there is a spark Of light to save the venerably chaste: — But six old damsels, each of seventy years, Were all deflowered by different Grenadiers. (VIII, 130) It is difficult to locate the speaker's position here, perhaps for want of "lanthorns" on the reader's, or of "taste" on his part. On the subject of poetic glory, the poem is equally ambivalent. Like all types of fame, this glory is dependent on the elusive faculty of memory. The narrator exclaims at one point: "Why I'm Posterity—and so are you; / And whom do we remember? Not a hundred" (XII, 19). And yet, in the face of readers who disapprove of him, he declares (for future time) that he himself "will be read" (X, 28). Also, he includes an invocation to "thou eternal Homer!" T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 192 (VII, 80), whose irony does not touch the poet's immortality, only the goriness of his subject-matter. Then again, he undermines the eternity of Homer and of all poets and heroes alike: The time must come, when both alike decay'd, The chieftain's trophy, and the poet's volume, Will sink where lie the songs and wars of earth, Before Pelides' death, or Homer's birth. (IV, 104) Inevitably, Byron is not always as dignified as this—or as Shelley in "Ozymandias," which has a similar theme to the following stanza: What are the hopes of man? Old Egypt's King Cheops erected the first pyramid And largest, thinking it was just the thing To keep his memory whole, and mummy hid; But somebody or other rummaging, Burglariously broke his coffin's lid: Let not a monument give you or me hopes, Since not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops. (I, 219) Of course these speculations on fame and glory are intimately related to an area in which the narrator is more consistently sceptical: metaphysics. However, he manages to be transgressive here in other ways, for example in his frequent self-admonitions to keep off the subject: "But I am apt to grow too metaphysical" (IX, 41); "But I'm relapsing into metaphysics" (XII, 72); But here again, why will I thus entangle Myself with metaphysics? None can hate So much as I do any kind of wrangle; And yet, such is my folly, or my fate, I always knock my head against some angle About the present, past, or future state. (XV, 91) But these laments, like his ridiculous fib about the "regularity" of his poetic design, which "Forbids all wandering as the worst of sinning" (I, 7), are not T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 193 meant to be taken for a second seriously, and, in fact, they cover up more important transgressions. The reader, thinking of the poem in retrospect, will probably remember its universe as consisting of endless Cuvieresque cycles of "falls and rises" (IX, 55)," in which the "snatch[ing]" of "certainty" is impossible (XIV, 1), although even Berkeleyan scepticism is seen as a kind of egotistical wish-fulfilment: "all's ideal—all ourselves" (XI, 2); and, in any case, "who can believe it?" (XI, 1). Systems themselves are cyclic, consuming one another and thereby precluding total belief: But System doth reverse the Titan's breakfast, And eats her parents, albeit the digestion Is difficult. Pray tell me, can you make fast, After due search, your faith to any question? Look back o'er ages ere unto the stake fast You bind yourself, and call some mode the best one. Nothing more true than not to trust your senses; And yet what are your other evidences? (XIV, 2) Fairly consistent with this sceptical attitude is to construct, whimsically, a possible universe, based lightly on the evidence of Cuvier's fossils and mammoths, in which creations are cyclic, each one smaller perhaps than the last, but all equally fallen: How will—to these young people, just thrust out From some fresh Paradise, and set to plough, And dig, and sweat, and turn themselves about, And plant, and reap, and spin, and grind, and sow, Ti l l all the Arts at length are brought about, Especially of war and taxing,—how, I say, will these great relics, when they see 'em, Look like the monsters of a new Museum? (IX, 40) (The grossest of these "great relics," being, needless to say, King George the Fourth (39).) But not so consistent is to construct, similarly, a new age which T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 194 is, in fact, a "millennium": an age to end ages and cycles, in which the reader can assume that "war and taxing" have ceased because "thrones" have been abolished and the world has achieved freedom: For I will teach, if possible, the stones To rise against Earth's tyrants. Never let it Be said that we still truckle unto thrones;— But ye—our children's children! think how we Showed what things were before the world was free! That hour is not for us, but 'tis for you: And as, in the great joy of your millennium, You hardly will believe such things were true As now occur, I thought that I would pen you 'em; But may their very memory perish too!— Yet if perchance remembered, still disdain you 'em More than you scorn the savages of yore, Who painted their bare limbs, but not with gore. And when you hear historians talk of thrones, And those that sate upon them, let it be As we now gaze upon the Mammoth's bones, And wonder what old world such things could see, Or hieroglyphics on Egyptian stones, The pleasant riddles of Fu tu r i t y -Guessing at what shall happily be hid, As the real purpose of a Pyramid. (VIII, 135-37) The tone of this passage is variable, lightening from the prophetic fervour of "I will teach . . . the stones / To rise," to the breeziness of "I thought that I would pen you 'em," and, in the fanciful elaboration of the pastimes of this new age, the earlier certainty of its existence ("ye—our children's children!") seems to become diffused into an airy speculation, a possibility. The same question that arises in the reader over the Haidee episode recurs here: does this airiness, this insouciant changing of tone, really ironize or negate the serious apocalyptic tone of the earlier part? Widening the question, the reader finds that it turns into the old one about Romantic as well as any other kind of unstable irony: where T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 195 is the author?—is he actually for anything?—does he merely include these positive, apparently unambiguous senses of endings, such as this millennium and Haidee's tale, as possibilities among the others, thereby contradicting their finality, ironizing their value as endings, putting, in Hazlitt's phrase, "pitiful hoaxfes]" upon the "unsuspecting reader," until she learns at last not to trust or believe at all? The answer, at least in the short term, is that she must go on perceiving and responding without losing trust or belief; she must acquire an extraordinary agility, a profound playfulness which will allow her to continue following the narrator over hiatus and transgression, through passion, probability, possibility and whimsy, with the kind of scepticism which postpones judgement almost indefinitely without shedding compassion or the courage to remain in the game. The narrator expects this high standard of agility from his reader, for he leads her across "canals of contradiction" (XV, 88) to float "Like Pyrrho, on a sea of speculation" (IX, 18), or to sail "in the Wind's Eye," "leaving land far out of sight" (X, 4), only at the least expected moment to be perplexed by "Indigestion / (Not the most 'dainty Ariel ')" (XI, 3), or, while soaring aloft, by a wing-sprain of the Pegasus on which he and she are riding (IV, 1). Talking of his poem, he loves to puzzle the reader with the problem of truth and fiction, sometimes by formulating a paradoxical truth: "And after all, what is a lie? 'Tis but / The truth in masquerade" (XI, 37); "Fiction / Is that which passes with least contradiction" (XV, 3); "Apologue, fable, poesy and parable, / Are false, but may be render'd also true" (XV, 89); "Don Juan, who was real, or ideal,— / For both are much the same, since what men think / Exists when once the thinkers are less real" (X, 20). Sometimes, instead of a truth, he will tell an T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 196 enigmatic lie: "Besides, my Muse by no means deals in fiction: / She gathers a repertory of facts" (XIV, 13); "But then the fact's a fact—and 'tis the part / Of a true poet to escape from fiction" (VIII, 86); "But I detest all fiction even in song, / And so must tell the truth" (VI, 8); "Haidee and Juan were not married, but / The fault was theirs, not mine" (III, 12). The narrator is well aware of possible objections raised by rheumatic readers anxious for a place of rest from all these acrobatics, and he takes delight in pulling supports out from under them: Also observe, that like the great Lord Coke, (See Littleton) whene'er I have expressed Opinions two, which at first sight may look Twin opposites, the second is the best. Perhaps I have a third too in a nook, Or none at all—which seems a sorry jest; But if a writer should be quite consistent, How could he possibly show things existent? If people contradict themselves, can I Help contradicting them, and every body, Even my veracious self?—But that's a lie; I never did so, never will—how should I? He who doubts all things, nothing can deny; Truth's fountains may be clear—her streams are muddy, And cut through such canals of contradiction, That she must often navigate o'er fiction. (XV, 87-88) Several red herrings are concealed here, apart from the side-swipe at the confusedness of English property law ("Coke," "Littleton"). The reader retains a glimmering suspicion that expressing "opinions" is not on quite the same level as "show[ing] things existent." Theoretically, the possibility exists of showing very inconsistent things existent without expressing inconsistent opinions about them. The whole passage smells suspiciously of fish. True, Byron's narrator often appears to inhabit a metaphysical universe of no fixed form, because his T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 197 scepticism is so profound as to be sceptical of scepticism itself ("So little do we know what we're about in / This world, I doubt if doubt itself be doubting" (IX, 17)). But as far as his social universe goes, "people contradict themselves" because they deceive themselves—and one another—and the narrator sees quite clearly through all their cant. His "opinions" are not, in fact, as inconsistent as he claims. The purpose of the passage is to obfuscate and confound—and also to pull the leg of—a reader who might moralistically object to the poem's broad and tolerant attitudes, here, as the preceding stanzas indicate, to the propriety of a young virgin's having sexual day-dreams. The narrator goes on to explain, once again, the reasons for his metaphysical scepticism: that truth and falsity are inextricably linked in the paradox of fiction. Then he asks: "But what's reality? Who has its clue? / Philosophy? No; she too much rejects. / Religion? Yes; but which of all her sects?" (XV, 89), suggesting that the reader is no more privileged on this point than the narrator himself. What is easy for the reader to overlook here is the sympathy to religion half-hidden within the hostility to "sects" and their narrow perspectives—she would find it even easier if she happened to belong to a sect herself. But this sympathy is only the first indication of the moral standpoint quite steadily adhered to in this section. Two stanzas on, the narrator's belief in toleration is much more clearly delineated when he claims that he "wish[es] well to Trojan and to Tyrian" (XV, 91) and, in the next, he lays all his cards on the table, rising, despite the comic rhyme, the outworn volcano image and the slightly apologetic tone, to a passion that strikes a note of disarming sincerity over his familiar b'ete noire, the tyrant who stands in opposition to tolerance and liberty: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 198 But though I am a temperate Theologian, And also meek as a Metaphysician, Impartial between Tyrian and Trojan As Eldon on a lunatic commission,— In politics my duty is to show John Bull something of the lower world's condition. It makes my blood boil like the springs of Hecla, To see men let these scoundrel Sovereigns break law. (XV, 92) The narrator has offered a perch, after all, as a reward for the reader who has exhibited sufficient suppleness and stamina to follow him over the tight-ropes and swings; and it is, apparently, a stable one. Friedrich Schlegel, in a passage quoted also by Muecke, 3 9 points to the infinite regress which unstable irony is finally sucked into. Byron's poem stops short of this: Finally, there is the irony of irony. Generally speaking, the most fundamental irony of irony is that even it becomes tiresome if we are always confronted with it. But what we want this irony to mean in the first place is something that happens in more ways than one. For example, if one speaks of irony without using it, as I have just done; if one speaks of irony ironically without in the process being aware of having fallen into a far more noticeable irony; if one can't disentangle oneself from irony anymore, as seems to be happening in this essay on incomprehensibility; if irony turns into a mannerism and becomes, as it were, ironical about the author; if one has promised to be ironical for some useless book without first having checked one's supply and then having to produce it against one's will, like an actor full of aches and pains; and if irony runs wild and can't be controlled any longer. What gods will rescue us from all these ironies? 4 0 Byron's narrator may not find any gods or transcendental metaphysics to rescue him, but he does discover certain enduring values which are not travestied within his poem—nor even without it, in that metatext completed in Greece in 1824, the life of the poet himself. Looking into the theme of love for absolutes is not likely to prove a fruitful search. This is a Don Juan poem and, despite the fact that its Don is, T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 199 unlike his archetype, no heartless seducer, the story must run its cumulative polygamous course, pausing though it does, sadly, over the loss of at least one of its women. The narrator—and, as everybody knows and knew, the poet too—is an older Don Juan, more cynical and talkative, but perhaps no wiser in love than his hero. He claims early on that his "days of love are over, [him] no more / The charms of maid, wife, and still less of widow, / Can make the fool of which they made before" (I, 216), but this turns out to be a lie: during the time of composition he admits to the temptations "last night" of "the prettiest creature, fresh from Milan" (II, 209). He also lies, one way or another, when he says first that he "never married" (I, 53) and later on that he has indeed been wed and that "the young lady made a monstrous choice" (XII, 38). (Of course the reader knows the proposition to reject, knowing the poet's life, which is alluded to as a public fact in the second.) But with or without lies, contradictions, changes of opinion and variations in tone from cynicism to reverence, a Don Juan is not a character to apply to for absolute values in the field of erotic love. Women are replaceable, says his, story, whatever instincts or wishes he may have to the contrary. He must play a role of life-affirming opportunism, whether he ends up as "in the Pantomime / Sent to the devil" (I, 1), or not. The reader cannot know how Byron would have ended his poem had he lived to complete i t ; 4 1 but then neither can she imagine a more satisfactory ending than the last stanza of Canto X V I , which freezes Juan into the attitude of uncompleted desire, like a parody of Keats's "Bold lover," 4 2 with his hand poised for eternity on the palpitating bosom of the Duchess of Fitz-Fulke. However, even this moment of significant gesture is subverted and replaced in most editions of Don Juan, in which this last section sent by Byron for T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 200 publication is followed by the fragment of Canto X V I I found with his body at Missolonghi. In the fragment, Juan and the Duchess, passed beyond their moment of mischief and passion, appear pale and worn at breakfast, that most mundane of meals, to confront the other characters' searching and accusatory eyes. Juan's life, at least, is finally ironic, endlessly progressive (or regressive), driven by desire and circumstance through continual cycles of possession and loss, of affirmation and negation, of construction and deconstruction. Inhabiting an open universe, he is deprived, fittingly, of the opportunity of dying—that inexorable closure which is the fate of. all living beings and of some fictional characters (including the inscribed reader: "and what know you, I Except perhaps that you were born to die?" (XIV, 3)). But Haidee escapes Juan's fate and rescues herself from the ironic universe. She is not a Don Juan, not the subject of the poem; she is denied the status of protagonist granted doubly to the lovers in a romance, as in Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Criseyde, and yet she offers an alternative, a turning the poem itself refuses, into the ambivalence of a blind alley which is also a way out. Her story's blindness is its closure, its determinism; her escape is from meaninglessness. To die of love is to affix meaning permanently and heroically to a life; it is also to negate freedom, possibility and even love itself in love's breathing, instinctual reality. Her death does suffer from irony, in the long run, because Juan does not die too and because it occurs within the context of a Don Juan story; but it nevertheless represents an unrealized possibility of transcending the ironies of erotic love. Not Juan, nor the narrator, nor Byron could die of love, or even commit themselves finally and irrevocably to one human being. As the existentialists T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 201 have discovered, total commitment to some human ideal is the way out of the labyrinth of absurdity; martyrdom is merely a possible result of this commitment and, perhaps, the clearest way of representing and proving it. The reader must conclude that for Byron the implied author of Don Juan, as for Byron the man, monogamy was a profoundly problematic concept. But other concepts were not at all problematic for him. Had he lived in another age in which the complexities of political liberty were more immediately evident, he might have been more ironical on the subject; but he was born neither too early nor too late, suffering none of the disillusionments of the modern era, nor of Wordsworth's generation, who were old enough to have witnessed the horrifying progress of Revolution into Terror in France. Don Juan was written in an age of anachronism and reaction: the Congress System and the hated "Holy Alliance" had re-established legitimacy and the ancien regime in Europe; fear of revolution on the part of rulers everywhere manifested itself in new forms of oppression; even the Lake Poets, who had dreamed of "democracy" and had "prated to the world of Pantisocracy" (III, 93), now turned "Tory at / Last" (Ded., 1). In his recorded writings and conversations, Byron remained immovable in his belief in human freedom; he spoke in the House of Lords only three times, once on behalf of the Frame-Breakers, once in defence of Roman Catholic emancipation and once in favour of a general reform of Parliament; he worked for the unification movement in Italy and went to Greece to join the national revolution against the Turkish oppressor. Dying there of illness rather than battle-wounds, he nevertheless escaped, at least for a generation, the possible irony of this death by becoming in the minds of his contemporaries a martyr, a battlecry and a slogan that finally won the war for Greece. To encounter the following stanza in Don Juan is almost uncanny: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 202 And I will war, at least in words (and—should M y chance so happen—deeds) with all who war With Thought;—and of Thought's foes by far most rude, Tyrants and Sycophants have been and are. I know not who may conquer: if I could Have such a prescience, it should be no bar To this my plain, sworn, downright detestation Of every despotism in every nation. (IX, 24) This is the true, single voice of the man. To insist here on a distinction between a narrator, an "implied author" and a "real author" on Chatman's scheme4 3 would be pointless, indeed misleading. Byron died and integrated himself. His life is now a closed text and one which impinges on his poem to reduce—at certain points—all ironic distances and perspectives. Less ambiguously than Haidee, the lover of liberty has rescued himself from the "irony of irony": " A terrible beauty is born." 4 4 The theory of the death (metaphorical) of the author has never been very successful in studies of Byron. 4 5 G. Wilson Knight calls him "a man in whom poetry has become incarnate." 4 6 In reading Don Juan, at least, the reader would be guilty of sheer sophistry were she to ignore the known life of the author, to which the poem alludes continually, using it as a subtext, often to ironic effect. The narrator tells lies on occasion, but intends that he should be found out. Jumps from text to metatext, from fact to fiction and back again are frequent; the poem is constantly getting outside itself or pulling the outside into itself. In Don Juan, the reader is justified in regarding the death (real) of the "real author" as registering itself in the text, or rather, as occupying that space of white paper underneath the fourteenth stanza of Canto X V I I , and the silence that follows the utterance of the last line. The narrator is Byron in a mask T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 203 and, occasionally, Byron without a mask. Absolutely no reason exists for the reader to believe that Byron would not have continued to write the poem had he continued to live: as Balachandra Rajan claims, Don Juan is not a fragment in the way Christabel is a fragment.4 7 The narrator-author dies as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die: he simply "fail[s] to reappear," ceases to speak. 4 8 The reader may be permitted to assume that certain questions have for him been answered, or at least stilled, those which "every body one day will / Know very clearly—or at least lie still" (XI, 4). But this is whimsy, or digression. What is important to the argument of this dissertation is that hatred of tyranny is indeed a stable foothold for the reader in the stormy abyss of the poem's universe. And Byron offers another. He once remarked to Lady Blessington: "There are but two sentiments to which I am constant—a strong love of liberty, and a detestation of cant, and neither is calculated to gain me friends." 4 9 "Love of liberty" is a positive ideal, the thing for which he was prepared to die; "detestation of cant" is a negative one which may exist in a poem in wholly ironic form. However, irony deriving from a definite hatred of a definite thing is stable irony and does not leave the reader floating in the gulf as unstable ironies do. Byron's word "cant" covered a host of evils, which Joseph explains at length in his chapter on the subject.50 Cant can loosely be defined as self-deception, though, naturally, it includes deception of others as well as hypocrisy and refers specifically to a mode of discourse, which may be an inner thought-process or a public rhetoric. In Byron's characters, cant may be treated with a fairly gentle teasing: "One hand on Juan's carelessly was thrown, / Quite by mistake—she thought it was her own" (I, 109). For fellow poets, his irony can take the form of bluff raillery: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 204 You—Gentlemen! by dint of long seclusion From better company, have kept your own At Keswick, and, through still continued fusion Of one another's minds, at last have grown To deem as a most logical conclusion, That Poesy has wreaths for you alone: There is a narrowness in such a notion, That makes me wish you'd change your lakes for ocean. (Ded., 5) Or it may deepen to a sneer: Such names at present cut a convict figure, The very Botany Bay in moral geography; Their loyal treason, renegado rigour, Are good manure for their more bare biography. Wordsworth's last quarto, by the way, is bigger Than any since the birthday of typography; A drowsy frowzy poem, call'd the "Excursion," Writ in a manner which is my aversion. He there builds up a formidable dyke Between his own and others' intellect. (III,. 94-95) But when he deals with the worst kind of political cant—epitomized by the hated foreign minister, Castlereagh, Marquess of Londonderry—he does not often or for long retain the good humour essential to keeping his irony comic: Oh, gentle ladies! should you seek to know The import of this diplomatic phrase, Bid Ireland's Londonderry's Marquess show His parts of speech; and in the strange displays Of that odd string -of words, all in a row, Which none divine, and every one obeys, Perhaps you may pick out some queer no-meaning, Of that weak wordy harvest the sole gleaning. T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 205 I think I can explain myself without That sad inexplicable beast of p r e y -That Sphinx, whose words would ever be a doubt, Did not his deeds unriddle them each day— That monstrous Hieroglyphic—that long Spout Of blood and water, leaden Castlereagh! (IX, 49-50) The malapropisms for which Castlereagh was notorious could not for long remain funny to one who ascribed most of the atrocities in Europe and the British Isles to him and his Congress System. In fact, this is the point at which "love of liberty" and "hatred of cant" coincide, because Byron, like George Orwell , 5 1 saw the connection between obfuscation and oppression, between Castlereagh's "set trash of phrase" (Ded., 13) and the "disgusting trade" of "States to be curb'd, and thoughts to be confined" (Ded., 14). He could rise to the high style in single-voiced, savage invective on this subject:52 Cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant! Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin's gore, And thus for wider carnage taught to pant, Transferr'd 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 fix'd, And offer poison long already mix'd. (Ded., 12) The irony here is not humorous at all; it is a sense of monstrous incongruency: a talent which is also no talent, a relationship of sisterhood which is also one of cannibalism. But Byron's hatred of cant drives him not only to the negative sublime. He is capable of lifting up heroic examples of figures impervious to cant: T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 206 If, fallen in evil days on evil tongues, Milton appeal'd to the Avenger, Time, If Time, the Avenger, execrates his wrongs, And makes the word "Miltonic" mean "sublime," He deigned not to belie his soul in songs, Nor turn his very talent to a crime; He did not loathe the Sire to laud the Son, But closed the tyrant-hater he begun. (Ded., 10) Clearly, this positive ideal is one and a piece with Byron's own most fervent intentions: to fight Tyranny and its tools both in "words" as a poet and in "deeds" as a man until his life was "closed." More hidden than this is an unvoiced hope of being himself avenged by Time—a hope which, despite Cheops's disappointment and the wrackful siege of mutability, he expresses more than once in Don Juan. Although a poet's immortality may be a more relative matter than the arrogant and blind would like to believe (in the end it may amount only to "Some dull M S . oblivion long has sank, / Or graven stone found in a barrack's station" (III, 89)), the narrator discovers a mysterious wonder in himself at the endurance of the written word over the thought that gave rise to it, and the man that thought: But words are things, and a small drop of ink, Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think; 'Tis strange, the shortest letter which man uses Instead of speech, may form a lasting link Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces Frai l man, when paper—even a rag like this, Survives himself, his tomb, and all that's his. (Ill, 88) The wonder has to communicate, to recreate itself in the reader, because of the brilliant metaleptic trick coiled with the word "this" in the penultimate line. "This" is still "here"; it points permanently at itself, even on another "rag" imprinted over a century after the poet's death. T H E POET AS TRANSGRESSOR / 207 After testing the ground and ascertaining the stable places, the reader may, i f she chooses, make forays into the more washy parts of the morass and risk her weight on them for a while. She may, if she is of a sentimental turn or in an enthusiastic mood, make a case for Byron's idealization of love over his travestying of it, or for his hopes of immortality over his apprehensions of nothingness. Irony demands collaboration between reader and writer; the hovering balance between contradictory positions is as difficult for a reader to sustain as for a writer—perhaps more so, for she has to fathom the author's intention as we l l , " and, where this is not clear, she may find herself hovering for nothing while the writer, if only she knew it, is pacing out a solid path for her somewhere else. M y reader, who is a sceptic and would rather do any amount of hovering than risk her weight on the deceptive footholds around the quicksand, is heartened by the knowledge that secure ground is to be found in certain clearly visible places, and though she herself remains mostly balanced in the ironic position over the other issues in Don Juan, she is aware that more positive interpretations of its romance, morality and metaphysics are viable, given that the issue of liberty is unambivalent. Her feeling is that even when an answer is given somewhere in the poem, the poet demands that its apprehension be postponed almost indefinitely, so that the manifold complexities of the problem be perceived and pondered as they deserve. Don Juan demands agility of its reader in order to prevent her from becoming a moribund consumer of cant. T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 208 NOTES TO CHAPTER V 'Quoted by Willis M . Pratt in Byron's Don Juan IV: Azotes on the Variorum Edition (Austin: U of Texas P, 1957) 295. The source is an anonymous contribution to the New Monthly Magazine (XII [August, 1819], 75-78), by an author who called himself "W. C." 2Pratt, 303. From the Edinburgh Magazine L X X X V I I I (August, 1821) 105-08. 3Pratt 296. Letter to William Magiun (Mrs. Oliphant, Annals of a Publishing House I, 380-81). "William Hazlitt, "Lord Byron," The Spirit of the Age or Contemporary Portraits (London: Grant and Richards, 1904) 100-01. 5Hazlitt 104. 'Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling (New York: Random House, 1931) 210. 'This couplet is probably not ironic, though it is explanatory, which is a slightly more distant mode than that of the sestet. Byron did not feel that Eve had left her daughters a very great legacy besides the capacity for love (see X I V , 23-25); for this he profoundly pitied them. "Jerome McGann, Fiery Dust (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968) 202. 'Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (New York: Modern Library, n.d.) 202. '"George Eliot, Middlemarch (London: Oxford U P , 1967) 207. "Charles Dickens, Bleak House (London: Everyman, 1966) 596. "Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Revolt of Islam V I , xxxiv, Poetical Works (London, Oxford UP, 1968) 102. This passage is, of course narrated by a character, Laon; but the whole poem is presented as a vision and its characters, already dead or divine in the first place, personify the authoritative voices of inspired prophecy within the interior world of the single self. Their dialogue is not dialectic so much as cumulative—or perhaps concentric. As with Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, the main problem confronting a reader of this poem is the question of who is speaking at a given time. Being voices of the single self, they are not very clearly distinguished one from another. 13See Elizabeth French Boyd, Byron's Don Juan (New York: Humanities P, 1958) vi: "Don Juan is . . . a novel in verse." Also, Ka r l Kroeber, Romantic Narrative Art (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1960) 148: "Much more persuasive [than to call it an epic] is the tendency of modern critics to describe Don Juan as a novel." T H E POET A S T R A N S G R E S S O R / 209 "Pushkin calls Eugene Onegin a "novel" within the work itself ((New York: Dutton, 1981) ch.VIII, v.50, 221). This Russian Byronist avoids using all the rhapsodic possibilities of his verse: he allows it to trespass from the more "novelistic" type of narration only as far as some lyrical descriptions of nature and a few elegiac passages on love in the narrator's slightly world-weary voice. Tatyana's discourse is, of course, more empassioned, but she herself is vulnerable to irony "Fielding 109-12. "Herman Melville, Moby Dick (New York: Random House, 1926) 166. 17See Herbert Read, The True Voice of Feeling (London: Faber, 1953) 67. "Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam, Poems and Plays (London: Oxford U P , 1968) 262. "Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Poems (London: Everyman, 1973) 175. "Genesis 8: 9. 2 1 For example, " A Wonderful Long Chapter Concerning the Marvellous, Being Much the Longest of A l l Our Introductory Chapters," Fielding, 332-39. "Melville 157. "Anne K . Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge: Harvard U P , 1980) 5. "See Peter L . Thorslev, Jr. , chapter 6: "The Open Universe and Romantic Irony," Romantic Contraries (New Haven: Yale U P , 1984) 142-86. "Thorslev 144. See also Mellor's chapter entitled "Fear and Trembling: From Lewis Carrol to Existentialism" (165-84). "Mellor 23; Thorslev 175. "Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1974) 240-41. "Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony (London: Collins, 1966) 278. 2 9Friedrich Schlegel, "Athenaeum Fragments," Lucinde and the Fragments (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1971) 176. 3 0Schlegel, "Ideas," Lucinde and the Fragments 247. 3 1 D . C. Muecke, The Compass of Irony (London: Methuen, 1969) 200. T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 210 3 2 G . W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy III, (New York: Humanities P, 1955) 507. 3 3Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (London: Methuen, 1957) 580. 3 4Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967) 107. See also Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (Boston: Beacon, 1968) 173: "We have to conclude . . . that civilization is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play like a babe detaching itself from the womb: it arises in and as play, and never leaves it." Also, Roger Callois, Man, Play, and Games (New York: Glencoe, 1958) 175: "Play is a total activity. It involves a totality of human behavior and interests." 3 5Sigmund Freud, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (New York: Liveright, 1961), vividly—and, to his generation, shockingly—delineates life's motivational forces as arising out of a struggle "between the life instincts (Eros) and the death instincts" (55). He speculates that death itself is not a biological necessity but a result of mental compulsion by the ego's "death instincts" (38-41). "S i r Walter Ralegh, "On the Life of Man," Selected Writings (Great Britain: Carcanet, 1984) 55. "See Andrew Rutherford, Byron (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1961) 179. Also, Leslie A . Marchand, Byron's Poetry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965) 204. "Many critics have seen "Rising and falling" as the poem's major theme (Mellor 64). See, especially, George M . Ridenour, chapter 2: " A Waste and Icy Clime," The Style of Don Juan (USA: Yale U P , 1969) 19-50; M . K . Joseph, " ' A Versified Aurora Borealis': the Fal l and the Ice Age," Byron the Poet (London: Victor Gollancz, 1964) 223-34; Robert F . Gleckner, Byron and the Ruins of Paradise (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P, 1967) 330. 3 9Muecke 201-02. (He uses a different translation.) ""Schlegel, "On Incomprehensibility," Lucinde and the Fragments 279. "See Joseph 156-59, for a summary and discussion of the possible endings proposed for Don Juan. Byron apparently changed his mind more in terms of what he had already written than because of some previous plan or external whim. 4 2See John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn": "Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal," in Poetical Works (London: Oxford U P , 1967) 210. "Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell U P , 1978) 151. 4 4"Easter 1916," The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1952) 202-05. T H E POET A S TRANSGRESSOR / 211 4 5See Roland Barthes's influential essay, "The Death of the Author," Image-Music-Text (New York: Hil l and Wang, 1977) 142-48. Also chapter II, note 21. 4 6 G . Wilson Knight, Lord Byron (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967) 3. 4 7 In The Form of the Unfinished (Princeton: Princeton U P , 1985), Balachandra Rajan argues that "Byron's work, in its acceptance of the actual and its indifference to the purposive, swings the balance of power from the whole to the fragment" (181). He claims, moreover, that the "right of the poem to remain unfinished is evident in everything it makes of i t se l f (182-83). "Appropriately enough," he claims, "this satire on the unfinished ends by being itself unfinished, but it also implicitly bestows upon the unfinished the status of a literary tradition" (17). Christabel, on the other hand, he describes as an "incomplete" poem, a poem "which ought to be completed" (14). 4 8 Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (London: Faber, 1967) 61. See also near the play's end, where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in stark contrast to the players' melodramatic representations of death, simply disappear in midsentence (91). 4 9Ernest J . Lovell, Jr. , ed., Lady Blessington's Conversations of Lord Byron (Princeton: Princeton U P , 1969) 220. "Joseph, chapter VIII: "The Age of Cant" 283-317. "Although Orwell's "Newspeak" may seem to be more a matter of overdefmition than of obfuscation, one of its functions is "not so much to express meanings as to destroy them"—a very similar function to that of the "queer no meaning, / Of t