Eating Your

Don Juan has been banished from Spain, and he sails forth on a ship that founders in a storm. He and several others manage to get into a life-boat before it sinks, and they spend the next weeks drifting around on the Mediterranean. When the food runs out, they begin, as people will, to contemplate a meal made up of their companions. First there is Don Juan's dog; then his tutor; finally, they cast their eyes on "the master's mate" who --- fortunately for him --- had developed a certain social disease in Cadiz which makes the others loathe to consume him.

As always in "Don Juan," the author uses irony, understatement, and a droll versification to describe what is, after all, a fairly gruesome adventure. And, as always in Byron, the story rests on wonderful details: the leather caps and shoes; the dog that Juan --- because of his affection for his companion --- refuses to consume (until he finally "accepts a paw"); then the whispering; and finally (taking Juan's last love letter forcibly from him) drawing the straws. The victim is Juan's tutor, who says his prayers, kisses his crucifix, then offers his neck and wrist to the doctor. Because he couldn't, in the middle of the sea, be reimbursed, the doctor "had his first choice of morsels for his pains" (he chooses the blood.)

Possibly the most jolting --- and the most wry --- stanza is the one that begins,

    The sailors ate him, all save three or four,
    Who were not quite so fond of animal food...

Note the switch of calling a human animal food. Then,

    To these was added Juan, who, before
    Refusing his own spaniel, hardly could
    Feel now his appetite increased much more...

This shows a fine understatement --- "hardly could feel his appetite increased." Then,

    'T was not to be expected that he should,
    Even in extremity of their disaster,
    Dine with them on his pastor and his master.

In these final lines, we have the best blending of rhythm, and rhyme --- interior and endline ("pastor and his master") --- and a rich, sly humor, the kind of humor that will always mark Byron as a poetic wonder, one that caused Shelley to despair that he should ever even think of trying to compete with him in the creation of verse.

§     §     §

George Gordon, Lord Byron

'T is thus with people in an open boat,
   They live upon the love of life, and bear
More than can be believed, or even thought,
    And stand like rocks the tempest's wear and tear;
And hardship still has been the sailor's lot,
    Since Noah's ark went cruising here and there;
She had a curious crew as well as cargo,
Like the first old Greek privateer, the Argo.

But man is a carnivorous production,
    And must have meals, at least one meal a day;
He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon auction,
    But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey;
Although his anatomical construction
    Bears vegetables, in a grumbling way,
Your labouring people think beyond all question,
Beef, veal, and mutton, better for digestion.

And thus it was with this our hapless crew;
    For on the third day there came on a calm,
And though at first their strength it might renew,
    And lying on their weariness like balm,
Lull'd them like turtles sleeping on the blue,
    Of ocean, when they woke they felt a qualm,
And fell all ravenously on their provision,
Instead of hoarding it with due precision.

The consequence was easily foreseen ---
    They ate up all they had, and drank their wine,
In spite of all remonstrances, and then
    On what, in fact, next day were they to dine?
They hoped the wind would rise, these foolish men!
    And carry them to shore; these hopes were fine,
But as they had but one oar, and that brittle,
It would have been more wise to save their victual.

The fourth day came, but not a breath of air,
    And Ocean slumber'd like an unween'd child:
The fifth day, and their boat lay floating there,
    The sea and sky were blue, and clear, and mild ---
With their one oar (I wish they had had a pair)
    What could they do? and hunger's rage grew wild:
So Juan's spaniel, spite of his entreating,
Was kill'd and portion'd out for present eating.

On the sixth day they fed upon his hide,
    And Juan, who had still refused, because
The creature was his father's dog that died,
    Now feeling all the vulture in his jaws,
With some remorse received (though first denied)
    As a great favour one of the fore-paws,
Which he divided with Pedrillo, who
Devour'd it, longing for the other too.

The seventh day, and no wind --- the burning sun
    Blister'd and scorch'd, and, stagnant on the sea,
They lay like carcasses; and hope was none,
    Save in the breeze that came not; savagely
They glared upon each other --- all was done,
    Water, and wine, and food, --- and you might see
The longings of the cannibal arise
(Although they spoke not) in their wolfish eyes.

At length one whisper'd his companion, who
   Whisper'd another, and thus it went round,
And then into a hoarser murmur grew,
    An ominous, and wild, and desperate sound;
And when his comrade's thought each sufferer knew,
    'T was but his own, suppressed till now, he found:
And out they spoke of lots for flesh and blood,
And who should die to be his fellow's food.

But ere they came to this, they that day shared
    Some leathern caps, and what remain'd of shoes;
And then they look'd around them and despair'd,
    And none to be the sacrifice would choose;
At length the lots were torn up, and prepared,
    But of materials that much shock the Muse ---
Having no paper, for the want of better,
They took by force from Juan Julia's letter.

The lots were made, and mark'd, and mix'd, and handed,
    In silent horror, and their distribution
Lull'd even the savage hunger which demanded,
    Like the Promethean vulture, this pollution;
None in particular had sought or plann'd it,
    'T was nature gnaw'd them to this resolution,
By which none were permitted to be neuter
And the lot fell on Juan's luckless tutor.

He but requested to be bled to death:
    The surgeon had his instruments, and bled
Pedrillo, and so gently ebb'd his breath,
    You hardly could perceive when he was dead.
He died as born, a Catholic in faith,
    Like most in the belief in which they 're bred,
And first a little crucifix he kiss'd,
And then held out his jugular and wrist.

The surgeon, as there was no other fee,
    Had his first choice of morsels for his pains;
But being thirstiest at the moment, he
    Preferr'd a draught from the fast-flowing veins:
Part was divided, part thrown in the sea,
    And such things as the entrails and the brains
Regaled two sharks, who follow'd o'er the billow
The sailors ate the rest of poor Pedrillo.

The sailors ate him, all save three or four,
    Who were not quite so fond of animal food;
To these was added Juan, who, before
    Refusing his own spaniel, hardly could
Feel now his appetite increased much more;
    'T was not to be expected that he should,
Even in extremity of their disaster,
Dine with them on his pastor and his master.

'T was better that he did not; for, in fact,
    The consequence was awful in the extreme;
For they, who were most ravenous in the act,
    Went raging mad --- Lord! how they did blaspheme!
And foam and roll, with strange convulsions rack'd,
    Drinking salt water like a mountain-stream,
Tearing, and grinning, howling, screeching, swearing,
And, with hyæna-laughter, died despairing.

Their numbers were much thinn'd by this infliction,
    And all the rest were thin enough, Heaven knows;
And some of them had lost their recollection,
    Happier than they who still perceived their woes;
But others ponder'd on a new dissection,
    As if not warn'd sufficiently by those
Who had already perish'd, suffering madly,
For having used their appetites so sadly.

And next they thought upon the master's mate,
    As fattest; but he saved himself, because,
Besides being much averse from such a fate,
    There were some other reasons: the first was,
He had been rather indisposed of late;
    And that which chiefly proved his saving clause
Was a small present made to him at Cadiz,
By general subscription of the ladies.

Of poor Pedrillo something still remain'd,
    But was used sparingly, --- some were afraid,
And others still their appetites constrained,
    Or but at times a little supper made;
All except Juan, who throughout abstain'd,
    Chewing a piece of bamboo and some lead:
At length they caught two boobies and a noddy,
And then they left off eating the dead body.


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