from DON JUAN
~ by George Gordon, Lord Byron
Bob Southey! You’re a poet, poet laureate,
And representative of all the race.
Although ’tis true that you turned out a Tory at
Last, yours has lately been a common case.
And now my epic renegade, what are ye at
With all the tuneful lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like four and twenty blackbirds in a pye,
‘Which pye being opened they began to sing’
(This old song and new simile holds good),
‘A dainty dish to set before the King’
Or Regent, who admires such kind of food.
And Coleridge too has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumbered with his hood,
Explaining metaphysics to the nation.
I wish he would explain his explanation.
You, Bob, are rather insolent, you know,
At being disappointed in your wish
To supersede all warblers here below,
And be the only blackbird in the dish.
And then you overstrain yourself, or so,
And tumble downward like the flying fish
Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob,
And fall back for lack of moisture quite a dry Bob.
And Wordsworth in a rather long Excursion
(I think the quarto holds five hundred pages)
Has given a sample from the vasty version
Of his new system to perplex the sages.
‘Tis poetry, at least by his assertion,
And may appear so when the Dog Star rages,
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the tower of Babel.
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,
Which makes me wish you’d change your lakes for ocean.
Lord Byron satirizes the Lake District Poets, Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, for becoming part of the Tory establishment. They had been partisans of the French Revolution in their youths. These stanzas are part of Byron’s introduction to the Don Juan cantos, which he dedicates to the laureate, whom he calls a “dry bob,” slang for an impotent fuck. (Or might you prefer “intercourse sans intromission?” Or “orgasmic dysfunction?”)
Byron mounted a similar attack on the previous generation in his first major work, English Bards And Scotch Reviewers, wherein he showed more allegiance to the classicism of Alexander Pope than to the romanticism of early nineteenth century poetry. Many years later, Byron again attacked Southey in The Vision of Judgement, after Southey referred to Percy Bysshe Shelley and Byron as The Satanic School. Southey was laureate for thirty years, throughout Byron’s career, and was thus his favorite target for satire.
The younger poets living risky, adventurous, tempestuous, and disturbingly sexy lives in the Mediterranean, must have been quite a puzzle to the more sedate and settled Southey, who easily outlived Shelley and Byron. They both died early from misadventures in the southern sunshine.
(John Keats also died in the Mediterranean, and while still young. It was the English Romantic thing to do.)
Southey reportedly referred to Byron and Shelley carrying on with Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughters at Lake Geneva as “a league of incest,” a remark for which Byron unsuccessfully sought a duel. Southey had seemed to imply Byron was having carnal intimacy with both young women, which Byron stoutly denied in his correspondence, as he swore he was only seducing one.