There is no other poet loved as dearly by Isabella as Byron. She has dedicated numerous pages to his poetry, most of which are faithful representations of the works themselves. It is unknown in what medium Isabella would have accessed these poems – perhaps she was copying them from a publications or a newspaper printing – but whatever their origin, Isabella had a particular affinity (or, at the very least, regular access to) two particular poems.
Previously, we had looked at a selection from Byron’s Don Juan Canto I, and further in the book Isabella has included two stanzas from Canto II: 52 and 53. Canto II deals primarily with a shipwreck, hence the title of this week’s post, and Isabella has preserved two stanzas dealing with the wreck itself.
This particular scene, this shipwreck, is perhaps most famously depicted by Eugène Delacroix, in his painting Shipwreck of Don Juan which is on display at the Louvre in Paris.
Whether Delacroix was inspired by Byron, or if the two artists were inspired by the same source material is unknown. But the vivid imagery conjured both by Byron and depicted by Delacroix, make Isabella’s interest in this particular episode understandable.
Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell,
Then shriek’d the timid and stood still the brave,
Then some leaped overboard, with dreadful yell,
As eager to anticipate their grave;
And the sea yawn’d around her like a hell,
And down she suck’d with her the whirling wave,
Like one who grapples with his enemy
And strives to strangle him before he die.
And first one universal shriek there rush’d,
Louder than the loud ocean, like a crash,
Of echoing thunder, and then all was hush’d
Save the wild wind and the remorseless dash
Of billows; but at intervals there gushed
Accompanied with a convulsive splash,
A solitary shriek – the bubbling cry
Of some strong swimmer in his agony.