Heaven, Hell and Marriage

Francesca da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paulo Malatesta, with husband Giovanni, spying on them (Ingres).
Francesca da Rim­i­ni and her broth­er-in-law Paulo Malat­es­ta, with hus­band Gio­van­ni, spy­ing on them (Ingres).

Over the past few days I’ve fin­ished edit­ing my record­ing of Can­to III of Don Juan. That makes 8 of the six­teen com­plete Canto’s that I’ve record­ed (Can­to I, twice).

Can­tos I and IV and XIII-XVI are avail­able from Librivox.org. Can­to I (a sec­ond record­ing) is also avail­able on the iBook store (but­ton to the left) as a free, illus­trat­ed, read-along audio book.

My record­ings of Can­tos II and III have not been released. I’m not sure yet how, or when, I’ll release them. Can­to II is noth­ing if not a ‘rip-roar­ing tale’ of storms at sea, ship­wreck, can­ni­bal­ism and sex on the beach. It was pub­lished, anony­mous­ly, with Can­to I and in spir­it, at least, the two form a sort of unit. They both focus on Juan’s nar­ra­tive — with Byron­ic excur­sions, of course.

Can­tos III and IV, draft­ed first as one long book and then split and slight­ly reworked, are quite dif­fer­ent from the first two. Can­to III has almost no nar­ra­tive action. It’s one long build-up to the fate of the lovers Juan and Haidée at the hands of her father, the pirate and slaver Lam­bro — with even longer Byron­ic excur­sions.

The ‘excur­sions’ include essays on fame and lit­er­a­ture, satires on love and mar­riage, skew­er­ing attacks on the flac­cid verse and fame of the “Lak­er” poets (Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge), reflec­tions on reli­gion, fam­i­lies and a sharply-word­ed call to Greeks to rise up against their Turk­ish over­lords. This last — Byron’s first for­ay into the rebel­lion that would take his life just a few years lat­er — is in the form of a ‘song’ com­posed for a feast offered by Juan and Haidée.

The Isles of Greece” is half-famil­iar to many peo­ple who know noth­ing else of Byron’s epic (because it has been includ­ed in many antholo­gies). But I won­der how many who rec­og­nize the title recall its rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­tent and its exas­per­a­tion with Greek com­pla­cen­cy.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, I pub­lished here an anno­tat­ed text of Can­to III. For now, I’m releas­ing just a sam­ple of the record­ing that goes with it. Here are vers­es 5–11 of the Can­to: Byron on heav­en, hell and mar­riage.