The Damnation of Byron


When the great hero, adding to the charms
Of genius and his scandals, left the light
Stamped with the irresistible trade of arms,
The Hell of Women received him as their right.

Through the Infernal Fields he makes his way
Playing again, but on a giant stage,
His own Don Juan; pursuing day by day
Childe Harold’s last astonishing pilgrimage.

It is the landscape of erotic dreams:
The dim, brown plains, the country without air
Or tenderness of trees by hidden streams,
But cactus or euphorbia here and there

Thrusts up its monstrous phallus at the sky.
And moving against this silvered, lustrous green
Like a pink larva over the whole dry
Savannah of hell, the bodies of women are seen.

And at his coming all their beauties stir
Mysterious, like the freshening of a rose
As, the incomparable connoisseur,
Pale and serene across their world he goes,

Always there rises glowing in his path,
Superb and sensual, in the light that pours
A tarnished glory on the soil of death,
This leafless nakedness of tropic flowers;

The female body’s impersonal charm, the curves
Of a young head poised on its gracious stalk.
The idiom of her gesture he observes,
That tender dislocation of her walk.

Held in his brain’s deep lupanar they float,
The tapering trunk, the pure vase of the hips,
The breasts, the breasts to which the hands go out
Instinctive, the adoring finger-tips,

The thighs incurved, the skin misted with light,
The mouth repeating its own rich circumflex …
At first he moves and breathes in his delight
Drowned in the brute somnambulism of sex.

He is a kind of symbol of the male:
As a great bull, stiffly, deliberately
Crosses his paddock, lashing his brutal tail,
The sullen engine of fecundity,

So, in his first youth and his first desire,
His air of pride and the immortal bloom,
Once more he sets the feminine world on fire,
Passing in his romantic blaze of gloom.

Prodigious vigour flowers new in him:
Each morning nerves him with heroic lust.
His thoughts are women, he breathes, is clothed with them,
He sinks on something female in the dust.

He has them all, all the menagerie
Of race, the subtle stimulus of shapes:
Negresses in their first nubility
With the sad eyes and muzzles of young apes,

Vast Scandinavian divinities
Superbly modelled, for all their cowlike air,
The pale bread of their bellies magnificent rise
From the blond triangle of public hair,

And slender girls with delicate golden shanks
And elongated skulls from lost Peru …
The sensual emphasis of the Spaniard’s flanks,
And the callipygous haunches of the Jew.…

Dancers and whores, blue-stockings, countesses,
Types of La Fornarina and Caroline Lamb,
All the seductions of all mistresses,
The savage, the sentimental and the sham …

And yet he is alone. At first he feels
Nothing above the tumult of his blood,
While through his veins like the slow pox there steals
The deep significance of his solitude.

And from this feeling without haste or pause
Vengeance predestined sharpens, bit by bit;
As lust its anaesthesia withdraws
The force of his damnation grows from it.

Grows as the mind wakes inexorably
The critic, the thinker, the invincible
Intelligence at last detached and free
Wakes, and he knows … he knows he is in hell.

And there begins in him that horrible thing,
Clairvoyance, the cruel nightmare of escape:
He seeks companions: but they only bring
Wet kisses and voluptuous legs agape …

He longs for the companionship of men,
Their sexless friendliness. He cannot live
“Like the gods in Lucretius once again”
Nor ever in woman’s wit and charm forgive

The taint of the pervading feminine
Yet always to this nausea he returns
From his own mind—the emptiness within
Of the professional lover. As he learns

How even his own society has become
A horror, a loneliness he cannot bear,
The last stage of Don Juan’s martyrdom,
The last supreme resources of despair

Appear, and brutally lucid he descends
Simply to treat them as The Enemy.
His lust becomes revenge, his ardour lends
Insatiable pleasure to his insanity.

As he exhausts himself in the delights
Of torture, gourmandising in their pain,
Hate eats his features out: it seethes and bites
Like a slow acid. It destroys his brain.

Yet this resource betrays him, even this,
For like tormented demons, they adore
Their torment. They revere like savages
The god’s ferocity with lascivious awe.

Until, neurotic, hounded by strange fears,
At last his journey changes to a flight.
Delirious, broken, fugitive, he hears
Marching and countermarching in the night,

The panic of vague terrors closing in:
Whichever way he turns he hears them come.
Far off immeasurable steps begin,
Far off the ominous mumble of a drum,

And from the bounds of that dim listening land
Approaches with her grave incessant tread
The Eternal Goddess in whose placid hand
Are all the happy and all the rebellious dead.

Before her now he stands and makes his prayer
For that oblivion of the Second Death …
When suddenly those majestic breasts all bare
Riding the tranquil motion of her breath

Reveal the body of her divinity:
The torso spread marmoreal, his eyes
Downwards uncover its mighty line and see
Darkness dividing those prodigious thighs.

There as he stares, slowly she smiles at him …
And the great hero, mad with the terrible
Madness of souls, turns fleeing, while the dim
Plains heave with the immense derision of Hell.

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