Read by Fleur Adcock
The style of 'Beppo', Byron's light-hearted Venetian romp, is more relaxed than that in some of his earlier work. He wrote it in 1817 when he was living in Venice, and I've chosen to read some stanzas in praise of Italy and its culture, as opposed to the dour gloom of Britain, the country Byron had now left for ever. I love his description of the Italian language, which is also a language I fell passionately in love with myself.
With all its sinful doings, I must say,
That Italy’s a pleasant place to me,
Who love to see the Sun shine every day,
And vines (not nail’d to walls) from tree to tree
Festoon’d, much like the back Scene of a play,
Or Melodrame, which people flock to see
When the first act is ended by a dance
In Vineyards copied from the South of France.
I like on Autumn evenings to ride out,
Without being forced to bid my Groom be sure
My Cloak is round his middle strapp’d about,
Because the skies are not the most secure;
I know too that, if stopp’d upon my route
Where the green alleys windingly allure,
Reeling with grapes red waggons choke the way –
In England ‘twould be dung, dust, or a dray.
I also like to dine on Becaficas,
To see the Sun set, sure he’ll rise tomorrow,
Not through a misty morning twinkling weak as
A drunken man’s dead eye in maudlin sorrow,
But with all Heaven t’ himself; the Day will break as
Beauteous as cloudless, nor be forced to borrow
That sort of farthing candlelight which glimmers
Where reeking London’s smoky Caldron simmers.
I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,
Which melts like kisses from a female mouth,
And sounds as if it should be writ on satin,
With syllables which breathe of the sweet South,
And gentle liquids gliding all so pat in
That not a single accent seems uncouth –
Like our harsh Northern whistling, grunting guttural,
Which we’re obliged to hiss, and spit, and sputter all.
I like the women too (Forgive my folly!)
From the rich peasant cheek of ruddy bronze,
And large black eyes that flash on you a volley
Of rays that say a thousand things at once,
To the high Dama’s brow, more melancholy,
But clear, and with a wild and liquid Glance,
Heart on her lips, and Soul within her eyes,
Soft as her clime, and Sunny as her skies.
Eve of the land which still is Paradise!
Italian Beauty! didst thou not inspire
Raphael, who died in thy embrace, and vies
With all we know of Heaven, or can desire
In what he hath bequeath’d us?–in what guise,
Though flashing from the fervour of the Lyre,
Would Words describe thy past and present Glow,
While yet Canova can create below?
‘England! with all thy faults I love thee still!’
I said at Calais, and have not forgot it;
I like to speak and lucubrate my fill;
I like the Government (but that is not it);
I like the freedom of the press and quill;
I like the Hapeas Corpus (when we’ve got it);
I like a parliamentary debate,
Particularly when ’tis not too late;
I like the taxes, when they’re not too many;
I like a sea-coal fire, when not too dear;
I like a beef-steak, too, as well as any;
Have no objection to a pot of beer;
I like the weather – when it is not rainy –
That is, I like two months of every Year;
And so God save the Regent, Church, and King!
Which means that I like all and every thing.