Don Juan "Who, Alas! Can Love, And Then Be Wise?"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"Who, Alas! Can Love, And Then Be Wise?"

Context: The lovely Donna Julia is twenty-three and married to a man of fifty. In a household dedicated to the young Don Juan's moral education, she is, besides his mother and the ancient household servants, the only female the youth has ever known. She has watched him grow, and ". . . as a pretty child,/ Caress'd him often–. . ." Now, no longer a "child," he is sixteen: she is tremulous and shy, while he broods in solitude, "Tormented with a wound he [can] not know." All these signs Donna Julia sees and recognizes for what they are. She vows to herself she never will disgrace the marriage ring she wears, while "Love, then, within its proper limits/ Was Julia's innocent determination." One day in June, toward evening, she finds herself and Juan alone in a sequestered bower. "One hand on Juan's carelessly was thrown,/ Quite by mistake–she thought it was her own; . . ./ Yet there's no doubt she only meant to clasp/ His fingers with a pure Platonic squeeze." And then the moon comes up and sheds the "loving languor" that spells the end of all her resolution.

Oh Plato! Plato! you have paved the way,
With your confounded fantasies, to more
Immoral conduct by the fancied sway
Your system feigns o'er the controlless core
Of human hearts, than all the long array
Of poets and romancers:–You're a bore,
A charlatan, a coxcomb–and have been,
At best, no better than a go-between. 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.