Don Juan: a Poem

“Poets are born”—and so are whores—the trade is
Grown universal: in these canting days
Women of fashion must of course be ladies
And whoring is the business that still pays.
Playhouses, ballrooms—there the masquerade is,
To do what was of old, and nowadays
Their maids, nay wives, so innocent and blooming
Cuckold their spouses to seem honest women.

There’s much said about love and more of women.
I wish they were as modest as they seem:
Some borrow husbands till their cheeks are blooming,
Not like the red rose blush—but yellow cream.
Lord, what a while those good days are in coming—
Routs, masques and balls—I wish they were a dream
—I wish for poor men luck, an honest praxis,
Cheap food and clothing, no corn laws or taxes.

I wish—but there is little got by wishing—
I wish that bread and great coats ne’er had risen,
I wish that there was some such word as “pishun”—
For rhyme sake, for my verses must be dizen
With dresses fine—as hooks with baits for fishing.
I wish all honest men were out of prison;
I wish MPs would spin less yarn—nor doubt
But burn false bills and cross bad taxes out.

I wish young married dames were not so frisky,
Nor hide the ring to make believe they’re single;
I wish small beer was half as good as whisky
And married dames with buggers would not mingle.
There’s some too cunning far and some too frisky,
And here I want a rhyme, so write down “jingle”
And there’s such putting in—in whores’ crim.con.—
Some mouths would eat forever and eat on.

Children are fond of sucking sugar candy
And maids of sausages—larger the better.
Shopmen are fond of good cigars and brandy,
And I of blunt—and if you change the letter
To C or K it would be quite as handy
And throw the next away—but I’m your debtor
For modesty—yet wishing nought between us,
I’d haul close to a she as Vulcan did to Venus.

I really can’t tell what this poem will be
About—nor yet what trade I am to follow.
I thought to buy old wigs—but that will kill me
With cold starvation—as they’re beaten hollow.
Long speeches in a famine will not fill me
And madhouse traps will take me by the collar,
So old wig bargains now must be forgotten—
The oil that dressed them fine has made them rotten.

I wish old wigs were done with ere they’re mouldy,
I wish—but here’s the papers large and lusty
With speeches that full fifty time they’ve told ye
—Noble Lord John to sweet Miss Fanny Fusty
Is wed—a lie, good reader, I ne’er sold ye
—Prince Albert goes to Germany and must he
Leave the queen’s snuff-box where all fools are strumming?
From addled eggs no chickents can be coming.

Whigs strum state fiddle strings until they snap
With cuckoo, cuckold, cuckoo year by year.
The razor plays it on the barber’s strap
—The scissors grinder thinks it rather queer
That labour won’t afford him “one wee drap”
Of ale or gin or half-and-half or beer
—I wish Prince Albert and the noble dastards
who wed the wives would get the noble bastards.

I wish Prince Albert on his German journey,
I wish the Whigs were out of office and
Pickled in law books of some good attorney,
For ways and speeches few can understand:
They’ll bless ye when in power—in prison scorn ye
And make a man rent his own house and land—
I wish Prince Albert’s queen was undefiled—
And every man could get his wife with child.

I wish the devil luck with all my heart
As I would any other honest body;
His bad name passes by me like a f—t
Stinking of bromstone—then like whisky toddy
We swallow sin which seems to warm the heart
—There’s no imputing any sin to God—he
Fills hell with work—and isn’t it a hard case
to leave old Whigs and give to hell the carcass.

Me-b—ne may throw his wig to little Vicky
And so resign his humbug and his power,
And she with the young princess mount the dickey—
On ass milk diet for her German tour,
Asses like ministers are rather tricky:
I and the country proves it every hour,
W-ll—gt-n and M-lb—ne in their station,
Gobblers to queens—are physic to the nation.

These batch of toadstools on this rotten tree
Shall be the cabinet of any queen,
Though not such cobblers as her servants be—
They’re of God’s making, that is plainly seen.
Not red nor green nor orange—they are as free
To thrive and flourish as the Whigs have been,
But come tomorrow—like the Whigs forgotten,
You’ll find them withered, stinking, dead and rotten.

Death is an awful thing, it is by God;
I’ve said so often and I think it now.
’Tis rather droll to see an old wig nod,
Then doze and die, the devil don’t know how.
Odd things are wearisome and this is odd—
’Tis better work than kicking up a row.
I’m weary of old Whigs and old Whigs’ heirs
And long been sick of teasing God with prayers.

I’ve never seen the cow turn to a bull,
I’ve never seen the hoorse become an ass,
I’ve never seen an old brawn clothed in wool—
But I have seen full many a bonny lass
And wish I had one now beneath the cool
Of these high elms—Muse, tell me where I was—
O, talk of turning, I’ve seen Whig and Tory
Turn imps of hell—and all for England’s glory.

I love good fellowship and wit and punning,
I love “true love” and, God my taste defend,
I hate most damnably all sorts of cunning—
I love the Moor and Marsh and Ponders End—
I do not like the song of “cease your funning,”
I love a modest wife and trusty friend
—Bricklayers want lime as I want rhyme for fill-ups,
So here’s a health to sweet Eliza Phillips.

Eliza, now the summer tells
Of spots where love and beauty dwells;
Come and spend a day with me
Underneath the forest tree
Where the restless water flushes
Over mosses, mounds and rushes,
And where love and freedom dwells
With orchis flowers and foxgloves bells,
Come dear Eliza, set me free
And o’er the forest roam with me.

Here I see the morning sun
Among the beech tree’s shadows run,
That into gold the short sward turns,
Where each bright yellow blossom burns
With hues that would his beams outshine,
Yet nought can match those smiles of thine—
I try to find them all the day
But none are nigh when thou’rt away;
Though flowers bloom now on every hill,
Eliza is the fairest sill.

The sun wakes up the pleasant morn
And finds me lonely and forlorn,
Then wears away to sunny noon,
The flowers in bloom, the birds in tune,
While dull and dowie all the year,
No smiles to see, no voice to hear,
I in this forest prison lie
With none to heed my silent sigh
And underneath this beechen tree
With none to sigh for, love, but thee.

Now this new poem is entirely new
As wedding gowns or money from the mint;
For all I know, it is entirely true,
For I would scorn to put a lie in print
—I scorn to lie for princes—so would you—
And ere I shoot, I try my pistol flint:
The cattle salesman knows the way in trying
And feels his bullocks ere he thinks of buying.

Lord bless me, now the day is in the gloaming
And every evil thought is out of sigh.
How I should like to purchase some sweet woman
Or else creep in with my two wives tonight—
Surely that wedding day is on the coming.
Absence like physic poisons all delight—
Mary and Martha both an evil omen,
Though both my own—they still belong to no man.

But to our text again—and pray where is it?—
Begin as persons do at the beginning,
Take the first line, friend, and you cannot miss it:
“Poets are born” and so are whores for sinning
—Here’s the court circular—O Lord, is this it?—
Court cards like lists of—not the naked meaning—
Here’s Albert going to Germany, they tell us,
And the young queen down in the dumps and jealous.

Now have you seen a tramper on raceourses
Seeking an honest penny as his trade is,
Crying a list of all the running horses
And showing handbills of the sporting ladies?
—In bills of fare you’ll find a many courses,
Yet all are innocent as any maid is.
Put these two dishes into one and dress it,
And if there is a meaning—you may guess it.

Don Juan was ambassador from Russia
But had no hand in any sort of tax;
His orders hung like blossoms of the fuschia
And made the ladies’ hearts to melt like wax;
He knew Napoleon and the King of Prussia,
And blowed a cloud o’er spirits, wine or max,
But all his profits turned out losses rather,
Tpo save one orphan which he forced to father.

There’s Doctor Bottle-imp who deals in urine,
A keeper of state prisoners for the queen,
As great a man as is the Doge of Turin,
And save in London is but seldom seen,
Yclep’d old All-n, made-rained ladies curing,
Some p-x-d like Flora and but selcom clean.
The new road o’er the forest is the right one
To see red hell and further on the white one.

Earth hells or b-gg-r sh-ps or what you please,
Where men close prisoners are and women ravished,
I’ve often seen such dirty sights as these,
I’ve often seen good money spent and lavished
To keep bad houses up for doctors’ fees,
And I have known a b-gg-r’s tally traversed
Till all his good intents began to falter
—When death brought in his bill and left the halter.

O glorious constitution, what a picking
Ye’ve had from your tax harvest and your tithe—
Old hens which cluck about that fair young chicken,
Cocks without spurs that yet can crow so blithe:
Truth is shut up in prison while ye’re licking
The gold from off the gingerbread—be lithe
In winding that patched broken old state clock up,
Playhouses open—but madhouses lock up.

Give toil more pay where rank starvation lurches
And pay your debts and put your books to rights,
Leave whores and playhouses and fill your churches,
Old cloven-foot your dirty victory fights;
Like theft he still on nature’s manor poaches
And holds his feasting on another’s rights.
To show plain truth you act in bawdy farces,
Men show their tools—and maids exposes their arses

Now this day is the eleventh of July
And being Sunday I will seek no flaw
In man or woman—but prepare to die.
In two days more I may that ticket draw
And so may thousands more as well as I
Today is here—the next whoever saw;
And in a madhouse I can find no mirth pay
—Net Tuesday used to be Lord Byron’s birthday.

Lord Byron, poh—the man wot writes the werses
And is just what he is and nothing more,
Who with his pen lies like the mist disperses
And makes all nothing as it was before,
Who wed two wives and oft the truth rehearses
And might have had some twenty thousand more,
Who has been dead, so fools their lies are giving
And still in Allen’s madhouse caged and living

If I do wickedness, today being Sunday
Can I by hearing prayers or singing psalms
Clear off all debts twixt God and man on Monday,
And lie like an old hull that dotage calms?
And is there such a word as Abergundy?—
I’ve read that poem called the “Isle of Palms”
—But singing sense, pray tell me if I can
Live an old rogue and die an honest man?

I wish I had a quire of foolscap paper
Hot pressed—and crow pens—how I could endite!
A silver candlestick and green wax taper,
Lord bless me, what fine poems I would write!
The very tailors they would read and caper
And mantua-makers would be all delight.
Though laurel wreaths my brows did no’er environ,
I think myself as great a bard as Byron.

I have two wives and I should like to see them
Both by my side before another hour;
If both are honest I should like to be them,
For both are fair and bonny as a flower,
And one, O Lord—now do bring in the tea, mem—
Were bards’ pens steamers each of ten horsepower,
I could not bring her beauties fair to weather,
So I’ve towed both in harbour blest together.

Now i’n’t this canto worth a single pound
From anybody’s pocket who will buy?
As thieves are worth a halter, I’ll be bound;
Now honest reader, take the book and try
And if as I have said it is not found,
I’ll write a better canto by and by—
So, reader, now the money till unlock it
And buy the book and help to fill my pocket.

John Clare (1793–1864)