Although Byron’s work is usually classified in anthologies together with other romantic poets, and his works do contain some features that were so usual for romantic works, Lord Byron may be considered as poet who made a new hybrid genre in which he worked with different forms to make a style that was his personal. A study of Canto I of Don Juan allows people to distinguish how romantic and neoclassical features complement and disagree with one another in Lord Byron’s works. Rather than support himself with one poetic school, the poet was capable to draw from the power and advantages of some styles, and his works became much better in the result. “Don Juan: Canto I” demonstrate the method in which the interaction of neoclassical and romantic characteristics developed during the poet’s career.
Don Juan, which is a poem by Lord Byron, is a masterpiece that has roots deep in literary tradition. The romantic poet and satirist express his detestation for famous poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. In addition, Byron satirizes poetic conventions, the poets of his time and ancient philosophers (Knight, 2004). In the first lines Byron establishes a partially mocking and partially serious tone that passes through Don Juan, a truthfully representative part of the poem that establishes Byron’s exclusive mix of narrative comment and departure from the subject.
The most apparent neoclassical characteristic is Byron’s selection of a protagonist. This subject reflects the time of polite knighthood when men prove their love for beautiful modest ladies. In Canto I, the poet asserts: “I want a hero” – and he finally chooses Don Juan since contemporary heroes have just temporary fame. He makes up his mind to begin the epic from the beginning, opposing the tradition. Byron’s sense of humor and intelligence are at their sharpest in “Don Juan,” and he is kind in his dealing with the protagonist.
Byron explains that he is going to tell an unconventional story. Across this long poem, poet nestles different moral lessons that express classical and romantic ideals. Byron protects love as the highest objective, but asserts, unlike romantic poets, that this feeling has own limits and hard times. Thus, the booklover can see how the neoclassical figure of Don Juan is corrected by poet to deliver a message that the readers may understand as a reaction against the romantics’ position. Byron is rejecting the romantic tendency of creating emotionally exaggerated verse, wishing his works to reflect truth and real life.
Byron emphasizes on the satiric nature of his poem in a didactical manner. The poet uses mock epic to satirize poetic conventions. In Canto 1 of Don Juan, he chooses a hero for his tale. The mythical and familiar figure of Juan is set with a Spanish dimension (Raitt, 1983)
“In Seville was he born, a pleasant city, /
Famous for oranges and women-he /
Who has not seen it will be much to pity”
He criticizes the use of standardized metric form of poetic conventions. He also mocks the moralistic philosophy of past times. The poet utilizes a mixture of lyricism with irony of context or language as a major generic dislocation in the poem. His trust in satire allows him to form an argument against famous poets and philosophers. The poet acknowledges that romanticism is not honest, what is honest is seeing reality for what romanticism represents. He develops an emotional irony that invites the reader to feel a sense of sympathy or repulsion (Saglia, 2000).
Byron satirizes poetic convention, the poets of his time and ancient philosophers by including the emotions of the audience. He sides with libertinism and rejects the generic predictability of poetry and ancient philosophers. The poet replaces such renowned poets with a satire that is true to life. He highlights the moneymakers who are the real giants of modern culture.
At the finale of the Julia episode, poet digresses to discuss the essence of this work. “My poem is an epic, and is meant to be,” and Byron enumerates the well-known features of the epic. He is making fun of the customary regulations of the epic set on Aristotle’s Poetics. Byron sets out to depict the establishments and religion and to picture the social and political image of the times that make the epic modern. He deals with each aspect of society – serious or frivolous. The most important quality in the poem is its continually altering mood and tone, its sudden changes from depth to frivolity and tenderness to irony.
The poem begins with words “I want a hero.” But is Don Juan actually hero or antihero? He is a parody of the romantic hero – putty in lady’s hands, terrorized by angry husband, caught in comical situations. So, is there yet something attractive about him? And is he at least partially likeable for the things that make him unusual hero? In Canto 1 of the poem, “Don Juan” is able to establish the genealogy of an antihero who allows audience to witness his behaviors and exploits. The poet satirizes the reliance upon beauty instead of truth and displays one of the best deconstruction of romanticism.
By incorporating important and recognizable ideas from previous periods, Byron investigated and either accepted or rejected their conclusions, and used his own interpretations as a response to the wild emotional obsession of his romantic colleagues. Byron was not a transitional poet who stood on the edge between romanticism and neoclassicism. He used both genres to make an approach, which was his personal. Canto I creates a bridge between the neoclassical and romantic characteristics by putting them into discussion and resistance with one another.