Last Updated on June 3, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536
Context: While supposedly writing the epic of Don Juan, Byron uses his vehicle for all sorts of digressions, personal reminiscences, tirades against England, and side-slaps at poets. For instance, in Canto IV, commenting on criticisms against licentiousness in his earlier cantos, he says he will skip over certain episodes and "leave them to the purer pages of Smollett, Prior, Ariosto, Fielding." The poem's slender plot follows the adventures of Don Juan, sent by his bluestocking mother on a tour of Europe following discovery of his affair with one of her young married friends, Donna Julia. Sailing from Cadiz to Italy, Juan's ship is wrecked in a storm. After days in a lifeboat without food or water, the young man is washed ashore almost unconscious. He finds a lovely girl bending over him, Haidée, daughter of the island's ruler, the pirate Lambro. Knowing that her father will sell him as a slave, she hides Juan in a cave. Then when Lambro leaves on an expedition, she brings him to her home, lavishes food on him, loads him with jewels, and as a passionate child of Nature, unacquainted with men, gives herself utterly to him. Though trying to think of Donna Julia, he cannot resist Haidée. Interrupting the story for an apostrophe to Greece and a consideration of fame, along with further insults to the Lake Poets, such as a comment that perhaps Homer sometimes nods, but Wordsworth sometimes awakens, Byron returns to the idyl of Juan and Haidée. It is interrupted by the return of her father, the pirate. He discovers Juan, who is wounded resisting capture. As he is taken aboard ship, Haidée loses her mind in grief at her lover's capture, and in the often quoted line, "Whom the gods love, die young," she leaves the story, and Juan never sees her again or knows that she died giving birth to his child. Juan is shipped off to a slave market along with Circassian beauties, Nubians, and others. Byron ends the fourth canto without telling of Juan's fate, "because the Canto has become too long." After a digression about the poet's "passion for the name of Mary," Byron gets back to the slave market where the youthful Juan and a thirty-year-old Englishman are sold to a eunuch from the sultana's palace. She, wanting Juan for a lover, compels him to dress as a dancing maiden, to conceal his sex from the sultan. In a conversation with the Englishman, Juan learns that the man's first wife died, his second one abandoned him, and he ran away from the third. Seeing Juan's pale and melancholic looks, his friend asks about his experiences. Juan replies that he is not deploring his present lot as a slave, for he has borne hardships "which have the hardiest overworn. . . .
On the rough deep. But this last blow–" and here
He stopp'd again, and turn'd away his face.
"Ay," quoth his friend, "I thought it would appear
That there had been a lady in the case;
And these are things which ask a tender tear,
Such as I, too, would shed if in your place;
I cried upon my first wife's dying day,
And also when my second ran away."