Bride of the Sun and Sister of the Moon

( from “Don Juan”  by Lord Byron, 1824)

A crowd of shivering slaves of every nation,
And age, and sex, were in the market ranged;
Each bevy with the merchant in his station:
Poor creatures! their good looks were sadly changed.
All save the blacks seem’d jaded with vexation,
From friends, and home, and freedom far estranged;
The negroes more philosophy display’d, —
Used to it, no doubt, as eels are to be flay’d…

Juan was juvenile, and thus was full,
As most at his age are, of hope and health;
Yet I must own he looked a little dull,
And now and then a tear stole down by stealth;
Perhaps his recent loss of blood might pull
His spirit down; and then the loss of wealth,
A mistress, and such comfortable quarters,
To be put up for auction amongst Tartars,

Were things to shake a stoic; ne’ertheless,
Upon the whole his carriage was serene:
His figure, and the splendour of his dress,
Of which some gilded remnants still were seen,
Drew all eyes on him, giving them to guess
He was above the vulgar by his mien;
And then, though pale, he was so very handsome;
And then — they calculated on his ransom…

Just now a black old neutral personage
Of the third sex stept up, and peering over
The captives, seem’d to mark their looks and age,
And capabilities, as to discover
If they were fitted for the purposed cage:
No lady e’er is ogled by a lover,
Horse by a blackleg, broadcloth by a tailor,
Fee by a counsel, felon by a jailor,

As is a slave by his intended bidder.
‘T is pleasant purchasing our fellow-creatures;
And all are to be sold, if you consider
Their passions, and are dext’rous; some by features
Are bought up, others by a warlike leader,
Some by a place — as tend their years or natures;
The most by ready cash — but all have prices,
From crowns to kicks, according to their vices.

The eunuch, having eyed them o’er with care,
Turn’d to the merchant, and begun to bid
First but for one, and after for the pair;
They haggled, wrangled, swore, too — so they did!
As though they were in a mere Christian fair
Cheapening an ox, an ass, a lamb, or kid;
So that their bargain sounded like a battle
For this superior yoke of human cattle…

The purchaser of Juan and acquaintance
Bore off his bargains to a gilded boat,
Embark’d himself and them, and off they went thence
As fast as oars could pull and water float;
They look’d like persons being led to sentence,
Wondering what next, till the caïque was brought
Up in a little creek below a wall
O’ertopp’d with cypresses, dark-green and tall…

Baba eyed Juan, and said, “Be so good
As dress yourself-” and pointed out a suit
In which a Princess with great pleasure would
Array her limbs; but Juan standing mute,
As not being in a masquerading mood,
Gave it a slight kick with his Christian foot;
And when the old negro told him to “Get ready,”
Replied, “Old gentleman, I’m not a lady.”

“What you may be, I neither know nor care,”
Said Baba; “but pray do as I desire:
I have no more time nor many words to spare.”
“At least,” said Juan, “sure I may enquire
The cause of this odd travesty?” — “Forbear,”
Said Baba, “to be curious; ‘t will transpire,
No doubt, in proper place, and time, and season:
I have no authority to tell the reason.” …

“I offer you a handsome suit of clothes:
A woman’s, true; but then there is a cause
Why you should wear them.” — “What, though my soul loathes
The effeminate garb?” — thus, after a short pause,
Sigh’d Juan, muttering also some slight oaths,
“What the devil shall I do with all this gauze?”
Thus he profanely term’d the finest lace
Which e’er set off a marriage-morning face…

One difficulty still remain’d — his hair
Was hardly long enough; but Baba found
So many false long tresses all to spare,
That soon his head was most completely crown’d,
After the manner then in fashion there;
And this addition with such gems was bound
As suited the ensemble of his toilet,
While Baba made him comb his head and oil it.

And now being femininely all array’d,
With some small aid from scissors, paint, and tweezers,
He look’d in almost all respects a maid,
And Baba smilingly exclaim’d, “You see, sirs,
A perfect transformation here display’d;
And now, then, you must come along with me, sirs,
That is — the Lady:” clapping his hands twice,
Four blacks were at his elbow in a trice.

“You, sir,” said Baba, nodding to the one,
‘Will please to accompany those gentlemen
To supper; but you, worthy Christian nun,
Will follow me: no trifling, sir; for when
I say a thing, it must at once be done.
What fear you? think you this a lion’s den?
Why, ‘t is a palace; where the truly wise
Anticipate the Prophet’s paradise…

Before they enter’d, Baba paused to hint
To Juan some slight lessons as his guide:
“If you could just contrive,” he said, “to stint
That somewhat manly majesty of stride,
‘T would be as well, and (though there’s not much in ‘t)
To swing a little less from side to side,
Which has at times an aspect of the oddest; —
And also could you look a little modest,

“‘T would be convenient; for these mutes have eyes
Like needles, which may pierce those petticoats;
And if they should discover your disguise,
You know how near us the deep Bosphorus floats;
And you and I may chance, ere morning rise,
To find our way to Marmora without boats,
Stitch’d up in sacks — a mode of navigation
A good deal practised here upon occasion.”

With this encouragement, he led the way
Into a room still nobler than the last;
A rich confusion form’d a disarray
In such sort, that the eye along it cast
Could hardly carry anything away,
Object on object flash’d so bright and fast;
A dazzling mass of gems, and gold, and glitter,
Magnificently mingled in a litter…

In this imperial hall, at distance lay
Under a canopy, and there reclined
Quite in a confidential queenly way,
A lady; Baba stopp’d, and kneeling sign’d
To Juan, who though not much used to pray,
Knelt down by instinct, wondering in his mind,
What all this meant: while Baba bow’d and bended
His head, until the ceremony ended.

The lady rising up with such an air
As Venus rose with from the wave, on them
Bent like an antelope a Paphian pair
Of eyes, which put out each surrounding gem;
And raising up an arm as moonlight fair,
She sign’d to Baba, who first kiss’d the hem
Of her deep purple robe, and speaking low,
Pointed to Juan who remain’d below.

Her presence was as lofty as her state;
Her beauty of that overpowering kind,
Whose force description only would abate:
I’d rather leave it much to your own mind,
Than lessen it by what I could relate
Of forms and features; it would strike you blind
Could I do justice to the full detail;
So, luckily for both, my phrases fail…

She spake some words to her attendants, who
Composed a choir of girls, ten or a dozen,
And were all clad alike; like Juan, too,
Who wore their uniform, by Baba chosen;
They form’d a very nymph-like looking crew,
Which might have call’d Diana’s chorus “cousin,”
As far as outward show may correspond;
I won’t be bail for anything beyond…

The lady eyed him o’er and o’er, and bade
Baba retire, which he obey’d in style,
As if well used to the retreating trade;
And taking hints in good part all the while,
He whisper’d Juan not to be afraid,
And looking on him with a sort of smile,
Took leave, with such a face of satisfaction
As good men wear who have done a virtuous action.

When he was gone, there was a sudden change:
I know not what might be the lady’s thought,
But o’er her bright brow flash’d a tumult strange,
And into her dear cheek the blood was brought,
Blood-red as sunset summer clouds which range
The verge of Heaven; and in her large eyes wrought,
A mixture of sensations might be scann’d,
Of half voluptuousness and half command.

Her form had all the softness of her sex,
Her features all the sweetness of the devil,
When he put on the cherub to perplex
Eve, and paved (God knows how) the road to evil;
The sun himself was scarce more free from specks
Than she from aught at which the eye could cavil;
Yet, somehow, there was something somewhere wanting,
As if she rather order’d than was granting…

Her very smile was haughty, though so sweet;
Her very nod was not an inclination;
There was a self-will even in her small feet,
As though they were quite conscious of her station —
They trod as upon necks; and to complete
Her state (it is the custom of her nation),
A poniard deck’d her girdle, as the sign
She was a sultan’s bride (thank Heaven, not mine!)…

Whate’er she saw and coveted was brought;
Whate’er she did not see, if she supposed
It might be seen, with diligence was sought,
And when ‘t was found straightway the bargain closed;
There was no end unto the things she bought,
Nor to the trouble which her fancies caused;
Yet even her tyranny had such a grace,
The women pardon’d all except her face.

Juan, the latest of her whims, had caught
Her eye in passing on his way to sale;
She order’d him directly to be bought,
And Baba, who had ne’er been known to fail
In any kind of mischief to be wrought,
At all such auctions knew how to prevail:
She had no prudence, but he had; and this
Explains the garb which Juan took amiss…

But to the main point, where we have been tending: —
She now conceived all difficulties past,
And deem’d herself extremely condescending
When, being made her property at last,
Without more preface, in her blue eyes blending
Passion and power, a glance on him she cast,
And merely saying, “Christian, canst thou love?”
Conceived that phrase was quite enough to move.

At length, in an imperial way, she laid
Her hand on his, and bending on him eyes
Which needed not an empire to persuade,
Look’d into his for love, where none replies:
Her brow grew black, but she would not upbraid,
That being the last thing a proud woman tries;
She rose, and pausing one chaste moment, threw
Herself upon his breast, and there she grew…

This was an awkward test, as Juan found,
But he was steel’d by sorrow, wrath, and pride:
With gentle force her white arms he unwound,
And seated her all drooping by his side,
Then rising haughtily he glanced around,
And looking coldly in her face, he cried,
“The prison’d eagle will not pair, nor I
Serve a Sultana’s sensual phantasy.

“Thou ask’st if I can love? be this the proof
How much I have loved — that I love not thee!
In this vile garb, the distaff, web, and woof,
Were fitter for me: Love is for the free!
I am not dazzled by this splendid roof,
Whate’er thy power, and great it seems to be;
Heads bow, knees bend, eyes watch around a throne,
And hands obey — our hearts are still our own.” …

A tigress robb’d of young, a lioness,
Or any interesting beast of prey,
Are similes at hand for the distress
Of ladies who can not have their own way;
But though my turn will not be served with less,
These don’t express one half what I should say:
For what is stealing young ones, few or many,
To cutting short their hopes of having any? …

If I said fire flash’d from Gulbeyaz’ eyes,
‘T were nothing — for her eyes flash’d always fire;
Or said her cheeks assumed the deepest dyes,
I should but bring disgrace upon the dyer,
So supernatural was her passion’s rise;
For ne’er till now she knew a check’d desire:
Even ye who know what a check’d woman is
(Enough, God knows!) would much fall short of this.

Her rage was but a minute’s, and ‘t was well —
A moment’s more had slain her; but the while
It lasted ‘t was like a short glimpse of hell:
Nought’s more sublime than energetic bile,
Though horrible to see yet grand to tell,
Like ocean warring ‘gainst a rocky isle;
And the deep passions flashing through her form
Made her a beautiful embodied storm…

Her first thought was to cut off Juan’s head;
Her second, to cut only his — acquaintance;
Her third, to ask him where he had been bred;
Her fourth, to rally him into repentance;
Her fifth, to call her maids and go to bed;
Her sixth, to stab herself; her seventh, to sentence
The lash to Baba: — but her grand resource
Was to sit down again, and cry of course…

Juan was moved; he had made up his mind
To be impaled, or quarter’d as a dish
For dogs, or to be slain with pangs refined,
Or thrown to lions, or made baits for fish,
And thus heroically stood resign’d,
Rather than sin — except to his own wish:
But all his great preparatives for dying
Dissolved like snow before a woman crying…

So he began to stammer some excuses;
But words are not enough in such a matter,
Although you borrow’d all that e’er the muses
Have sung, or even a Dandy’s dandiest chatter,
Or all the figures Castlereagh abuses;
Just as a languid smile began to flatter
His peace was making, but before he ventured
Further, old Baba rather briskly enter’d.

“Bride of the Sun! and Sister of the Moon!”
(‘T was thus he spake) “and Empress of the Earth!
Whose frown would put the spheres all out of tune,
Whose smile makes all the planets dance with mirth,
Your slave brings tidings — he hopes not too soon —
Which your sublime attention may be worth:
The Sun himself has sent me like a ray,
To hint that he is coming up this way.”…

 

( Photo by NeoromantikA )

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