2015 Volume 39and40 Pages 21-36
Marilyn Butler wrote in her Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries (1981) that “In the long run the classic riposte to The Excursion was Byron’s Don Juan, which gaily substituted a sexual ethic for Wordsworth’s solemn asceticism.” Taking the hint from this comment, I have made a comparison of these two poems. The essay’s main objective is to show how ‘sketchy’ and ‘detailed’ these poems are in their own ways. Byron talks about The Excursion in Don Juan and finds it too long, and unintelligible. He makes use of certain ideas and stylistic traits of The Excursion in Don Juan, when he describes parodistically a love-sick Juan in Canto I. Since both poems claim to be epic, the essay probes their respective epic pretentions. On feature of the epic conventions, catalogue, is discussed in both poems, since it ties in with the topic of ‘sketchy’ and ‘detailed’. While Byron gives a detailed account of the love stories of such colourful ladies as Julia and Haidee in Don Juan, Wordsworth’s poem is lacking in sexual connotation. When the Wanderer talks about Margaret, he mainly deals with her sorrow caused by the desertion of her husband. Wordsworth is sketchy in this respect. Yet he describes the Wanderer’s repeated visits with Margaret in a detailed way, with respect to the lapse of time with its seasonal changes. Byron and Wordsworth are both ‘detailed’ and ‘sketchy’ in their own respective ways. In the words of Jerome McGann, for Byron “every detail fascinates”, and Wordsworth is interested in “transnatural referents”.