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From Byron's Don Juan:

By Jove! he was a noble fellow, Johnson,
And though his name, than Ajax or Achilles,
Sounds less harmonious, underneath the sun soon
We shall not see his likeness: he could kill his
Man quite as quietly as blows the monsoon
Her steady breath (which some months the same still is):
Seldom he varied feature, hue, or muscle,
And could be very busy without bustle;

What is the meaning of this phrase? "The monsoon remains at the same low intensity for some months"? Why is the word *still** italicized?

  • I suspect still is italicized so the line rhymes with Achilles and kill his. Otherwise, you'd be likely to stress is and make Byron turn over in his grave. – Peter Shor Jan 14 '18 at 17:55
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The sense of ‘still’ that works in this line is:

still, adv. 3.a. With reference to action or condition: Without change, interruption, or cessation; continually, constantly; on every occasion, invariably; always. Obsolete exc. poetic.

Oxford English Dictionory

So Byron means that the monsoon wind quietly blows “her steady breath” without interruption for some months. But in context, the choice of phrasing is unfortunate, because you can’t use ‘still’ when describing the weather without calling to mind a more common sense of the word:

still, adj. 1. Motionless; not moving from one place, stationary; also, remaining in the same position or attitude, quiescent.

which is quite the opposite of what is meant. The impression I get is that the difficulty of writing ottava rima in English, where there are not nearly so many rhymes as in Italian where the verse form originated, causes Byron to get himself into syntactic and semantic tangles, and sometimes he solves them by throwing down his pen and leaving the mess for the reader to figure out. In this stanza, however, the rhymes are so inventive that maybe we don’t mind that the sense has gone astray.

The word ‘still’ is italicized to tell the reader where to put the stress so that ‘still is’ rhymes with ‘Achilles’ and ‘kill his’. (As pointed out in a comment by Peter Shor.)

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