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Lord Byron's "Don Juan"

The essay focuses on the major themes of the poem and how it reflects the times it was written in as well as Lord Byron' s personal life. In his poem "Don Juan", Lord Byron explores the sophisticated realm of the human nature and emotions.

The Romantic Era (1776-1830) occurred in Europe and was a period of overcrowded cities, dirty streets and poverty due to the Industrial Revolution and the aftermath of the power scuffles in Europe. During this era ? the arts flourished and a new perspective in poetry was developed. The Romantics wrote about the simplicity of rural life, nature and beauty, the exaltation of the emotions over the reason, intimate, private matters and the abuses of society. Among the most renowned poets of the Romantic Era was George Gordon, Lord Byron who wrote about love, satires of society and basic human nature. In his famous poem ?Don Juan?, Lord Byron reveals human nature and discusses the sophisticated realm of human feelings, attitudes and emotions.
The poet discusses the societal attitudes of the time through the characters? actions and attitudes. Also, reflecting the Romantic Era the poet?s narrative statements illustrate the society of the time as described by Graham Hough - ? ?it is rather a picture of society ? and Juan is there to show the way the natural man might live in.? Among these attitudes is a strong focus on wealth and beauty. There is a prevailing focus on external beauty illustrating the shallowness of humans. Throughout the poem, the author conveys this theme of human?s focus and fascination with beauty:
? 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.
One with her auburn tresses lightly bound,
And fair brows gently drooping, as the fruit.
Nods from the tree, was slumbering with soft breath
And lips apart, which showed the pearls beneath.? (Lord Byron, Canto VI, 65, lines 513-521)

Lord Byron illustrates the tendency to focus on beauty as he begins the introduction and description of new characters starting with their look. The human fascination with external beauty is demonstrated even further as the poet conveys the beauty through comparisons to nature. The elaborate imagery of nature is common among the Romantic poets because it was one the most important themes during the Romantic Era and ?Romantic poems habitually imbue the landscape with human life, passion and expressiveness? . Lord Byron uses scenes or elements of nature to strengthen his description of one?s beauty such as in ?Her brow was white and low, her cheek?s pure dye / Like twilight rosy still with the set sun? (Lord Byron, Canto II, 118, lines 937-938). The poet also displays the human greed and focus on materialistic things throughout the poem ? as one problem the society has to face. The revelation of this aspect is evident in
?He had an only daughter, call?d Haidee,
The greatest heiress of the Eastern Isles;
Besides, so very beautiful was she,
Her dowry was nothing to her smiles;? (Lord Byron, Canto II, 128, lines 1016-1020)

Reading the poem, the concept of wealth and power appears ? reflecting on the society?s obsession with wealth and possibly how the Industrial Revolution let so many thrive while others sunk into poverty. Even though the poet describes the girl?s beauty in the quotation ? he feels obliged to discuss her financial status as it was important in those days for matchmaking. The poet emphasizes wealth several times in the poem as he talks about the rich setting of the Sultan?s place; compares woman?s features to precious materials such as pearls and amber; and describes Haidee?s dress decorated with jewels and made of expensive material. Looking at his own life, money brought about unexpected changes as he went from a poor aristocrat, with no access to the higher circles to a wealthy, famous man who was welcomed at any societal gathering of any level. To note, the poet introducing the characters based on their exterior beauty and following by their wealth illustrates the human obsession with artificial things and greed.
As a Romantic, Lord Byron talks extensively about love and human nature. The poem greatly exposes loveless marriages and the mirage of expectations in the society of marriage being the ultimate nest of eternal love. According to Andrew Sanders, the recognized literature critique, ? Juan?s adventures and misadventures, and the narrator?s wordly-wise commentary on them, served to debunk a series of received ideas and perceptions ranging from the fidelity in love?? . The perception of love and misunderstanding of feelings is evident in this excerpt:
?The love and marriage rarely combine,
Although they both are born in the same clime;
Marriage from love, like vinegar from wine ?
A sad, sour, sober beverage ? by time
It sharpn?d from its high celestial flavour
Down to a very homely household savour.? (Lord Byron, Canto III, 5, lines 35- 41)
Even if there are feelings in the marriage ? it is merely passion that burns out over time or turns into faking the feelings that are not there. The main character, Don Juan, experiences many affairs and infatuations that he believes to be love throughout the poem. The tendency of humans to mask their sexual desires is illustrated in the example of Catherine the Great and how often the other feelings are mistaken to be love. The fact that at the time people engaged in many frivolities and the nature of humans being involved in the infatuations appears in the poem frequently through the characters? affairs. The people during the Romantic Age indulged in frivolities ? ?the amorously frivolous world of aristocratic London society? as stated by Andrew Sanders and the human tendency of frivolities and promiscuous nature are exposed. The multiple infatuations are aimed at representing the society of the time as mentioned in the poem ? One man alone at first her heart can move / She then prefers him in the plural number,? (Lord Byron, Canto V, 39, lines 310-312). In the poem, Don Juan thought he was madly in love with Donna Julia, but upon their separation he never recalled her as a true lover would, and easily became involved with Heidee. Spending so much time with her, he thought she was his love and that he could not exist without her, but once again ? after their induced separation he became involved with another woman. Don Juan reflects the men and the women of the time who were making unrealistic promises of love to their lovers, but upon separation moved on to another person and engaged in other frivolities. Lord Byron himself is a direct example of this trend as he was, according to his biographies, in love with Augusta and as soon as they were separated he started admiring other women. The trend of cheating, disloyalty and unfaithfulness is portrayed in the poem. In ? The heart is like the sky, a part of heaven, / But changes night and day too, like the sky.? (Lord Byron, Canto II, 214, lines 1706-1708), the poet uses nature once again and similes to compare the frequent changes of heart towards a person and possibly explain the inconsistency among lovers or spouses. Once again, Byron demonstrates the Romantic Era as The Norton Anthology of English Literature states ? And while most of the Romantic lyrics begin with an aspect or change of aspect in the natural scene, this serves only as a stimulus to the most characteristic human activity.? The idea of cheating on spouses relates to how the nature changes always ? just like the lover?s heart will. By using nature changes, the poet equates this eternal tendency in humans to cheat like the nature?s everlasting changes.
The most dominant theme of the poem is the exploration and revelation of human emotions and feelings, and how these flaws are the underlying causes for societal problems. This theme of the poem ?accompanies the Romantic respect for emotions ? which tends to equate virtue with reliance upon feelings?? . The poet emphasizes the significance of the feelings by capitalizing and personifying the feelings, such as ?the traits of sleeping Sorrow?? (Lord Byron, Canto VI, 67, line 532) and links them to some natural phenomena such as the rage and typhoon. The feelings of rage and anger and how they affect one?s actions are described in the poem as the effects of the expression of these feelings results in violence and problems. The first example is the quotation that talks about the Sultana?s reaction towards Don Juan?s refusal of her love in
? Her rage was but a minute?s, and ?twas well
A moment?s more had slain her; but the while
It lasted ?twas a short glimpse to hell;
Like the ocean warring against a rocky isle;
And the deep passions flashing through her form
Her wish was but to ?kill, kill, kill?, like Lear?s,
And then her thirst of blood was quench?d in tears.? (Lord Byron, Canto V, 135,lines 1072-1079)
Illustrating human nature, she possesses short temper and refusal to abide her decision provokes this dangerous combination of feelings. Without analyzing or thinking, she is ready to kill Don Juan ? thus reflecting real people who commit crimes when they are enraged by someone?s actions. The poet demonstrates the great human flaw of anger and revenge, and desire to inflict pain when something or someone opposes the person. The theme of unnecessary military slaughter or the acts of tyranny and injustice are expressed in
?Upon a taken bastion where they lay
Thousands of slaughtered men, a yet warm group
Of hundred women, who had found their way
To this vain refuge, made the good heart throb.? (Lord Byron, Canto IX, 29, lines 230-234)
He uses the fact of Napoleon?s war in 1812 which brought so much poverty and turmoil in Europe, and the battle of Ismail between the Turks and the Russians. The human flaw of waste and violence is exposed in the above quotation as many innocent civilian people were killed mercilessly by the soldiers for no apparent or justifiable reasons. The episode of the war also conveys the idea how humans manage to kill each other and find excuses for it to justify themselves ? such as the ?holy war? related to religious clashes. The theme of deceit as a human flaw is evident in the poem, especially in this quotation:
? Kisses, sweet words, embraces, and all that,
May look like what it is ? neither here nor there,
They are put on as easily as a hat,
Or rather bonnet, which the fair sex wear,
Trimmed either heads or hearts to decorate,
Which form an ornament, but no more part
Of heads, than their caresses of the heart? (Lord Byron, Canto VI, 14, 106-111)

The poet establishes how easy it is for humans to pretend or deceive because of their selfish intentions. In the quotation, he describes how people put on an act as easily as dressing up in the morning to impress or fool someone. Although here he uses fake expressions of love, the deceit is present in more fragments of the poem. Some of the most notorious include the Sultana?s faked feelings towards the Sultan and dressing up Don Juan as a woman to fool the guards; Donna Julia hiding Don Juan and deceiving her husband; Don Juan?s mothers fake accusations of her husband being insane; and the Russians using the military technique of visual deceit to fool the enemy during the battle. The human nature is revealed to be sneaky, conniving and dishonest ? leading to all the abuses and problems in the society. Sincerity is almost absent in the poem as all the characters display one or more of the human flaws and commit deceiving acts. Self love and being self centered seem to be the underlying cause of most problems in the human society. The example of self-love is shown in
?Self-love in man too beats all female art,
They lie, we lie, all lie,
And no one virtue yet, except Starvation,
Could stop that worst of vices ? Propagation? (Lord Byron, Canto VI, 19, lines 149-152).
Examining the poem, one can observe how the self-love and inconsideration towards others contributes to the combination of problems the society faces. A prominent example is Don Juan?s father, who cared only for himself and cheated on his wife to satisfy his own sexual needs. His actions taken out of selfishness led to a divorce, break up of his family and affecting the child. Juan himself was not concerned of consequences when he was involved with Julia, leading to his and her lives being ruined, a scandal and a shame for his family, and his deportation from the homeland. A more powerful example of this flaw was the royalty ? such as the Sultan who didn?t care for his nation?s well being as much as for his own satisfaction. Catherine the Great was concerned with her own wealth, power and acquiring more lands. All the wars that resulted in havoc, death, chaos, despair and misery are the fruits of selfishness of the rulers who cared only for their own good. Lord Byron talks about the many morals, emotions and the aspects of the human life ? but the narrative tale of Don Juan is never dull and keeps the reader interested as described by M.H.Abrams ???he avoids monotony by a dexterous turn from one object to another. He has the cardinal virtue of being never dull.?
In conclusion, ?Don Juan? is an elaborate satire of the society and a reflection of human nature, attitudes and feelings. Lord Byron reflects most of the characteristics of the Romantic Era such as the focus on emotions over reason, human nature and nature. He uses many historical references and poetic devices to emphasize the themes. The themes of human shallowness and artificial focus on wealth and beauty are conveyed through comparisons with nature and each other. The unexplored realm of human feelings that directly affect the humans? actions is displayed through the multiple deeds of the characters. According to the poem, all the abuses in human society exist due to human flaws and negative tendencies, such as self-love and inconsideration.

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