Don Juan "No Sterner Moralist Than Pleasure"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"No Sterner Moralist Than Pleasure"

Context: The youthful Don Juan, banished from Spain and packed off to sea as discipline for an amorous scrape, ends his voyage as a castaway on an island shore. The beautiful Haidée, daughter of the pirate Lambro who has made her "the greatest heiress of the Eastern Isles," finds the half-drowned youth lying emaciated and unconscious on the sand. She and her maid carry him to a cave and, for fear that her father will return from the sea, find the lad, and sell him into slavery, secretly nurse him back to life and health. Inevitably the two young people fall in love and live together hidden from the world until rumors of Lambro's death send them to claim Haidée's inheritance and install themselves as master and mistress of her father's domains. The lovers, happy in each other, decree that revelry shall be the order of the days and nights and open the doors of the palace to all comers. The poet describes a dinner at which the "lady and her lover [sit] . . . in their beauty and their pride" as they preside over their guests and the feast of a hundred dishes with which they are served. Of the wall coverings in the great dining hall, he says:

The hangings of the room were tapestry, made
Of velvet panels, each of different hue,
And thick with damask flowers of silk inlaid;
And round them ran a yellow border too;
The upper border, richly wrought, display'd,
Embroider'd delicately o'er with blue,
Soft Persian sentences, in lilac letters,
From poets, or the moralists their betters.
These Oriental writings on the wall,
Quite common in those countries, are a kind
Of monitors adapted to recall,
Like skulls at Memphian banquets, to the mind
The words which shook Belshazzar in his hall,
And took his kingdom from him: You will find,
Though sages may pour out their wisdom's treasure,
There is no sterner moralist than Pleasure.