From Byron's Don Juan:

But those who scaled, found out that their advance
Was favour'd by an accident or blunder:
The Greek or Turkish Cohorn's ignorance
Had palisado'd in a way you'd wonder
To see in forts of Netherlands or France

(Though these to our Gibraltar must knock under) --
Right in the middle of the parapet
Just named, these palisades were primly set:

So that on either side some nine or ten
Paces were left, whereon you could contrive
To march; a great convenience to our men,
At least to all those who were left alive,
Who thus could form a line and fight again;
And that which farther aided them to strive
Was, that they could kick down the palisades,
Which scarcely rose much higher than grass blades.

I first thought that "Ignorance had palisadoed cohorns there, just like you may see in forts of Netherlands".

But why is there the possessive s after "cohorn"? Okay.. let's try to assume that "Cohorn's ignorance" is subject in this clause. This "ignorance" had "palisadoed" something - but what exactly?

And "palisades not higher than grass blades"? What is he talking about? I can't wrap my mind around this, and thus I fail to understand these three lines. What do they mean, in plain English?

1 Answer 1


Palisado is an obsolete form of palisade, which as a verb means:

To equip with a palisade

... a palisade (noun) in this context being:

A wall of wooden stakes, used as a defensive barrier.

As a verb, "palisade" is usually transitive (has an object), but in context its meaning as an intransitive verb is clear: the object is implied without being mentioned. We can get some idea of the usage of the verb by checking the examples on this Wiktionary page:

  • 1853, Mary Howitt., Strife and Peace:

The sea breaks upon this coast against a palisadoed fence of rocks and cliffs, around which swarm flocks of polar birds with cries and screams.

  • 1816, Robert Kerr, A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Volume 17:

At Chaco they had a little earthen fort, with a small ditch palisadoed round it, and a few old honeycombed guns without carriages, and which do not defend the harbour in the least.

Cohorn, in this verse, apparently refers to the Dutch engineer Menno van Coehoorn. At least according to Peter Cochran, ed., Aspects of Byron's Don Juan; in the chapter "Mary Shelley's Fair-Copying of Don Juan", he writes:

At VIII, 46, 3, 3, Byron has to identify the Dutch engineer as "Cohorn".

Here, it seems that "Cohorn" is being used as a metonym for engineer, otherwise "Greek or Turkish Cohorn" would make no sense. So we have both metonymy and hypallage in the line "The Greek or Turkish Cohorn's ignorance".

OK, now let's look at your bolded lines again:

The Greek or Turkish Cohorn's ignorance
Had palisado'd in a way you'd wonder
To see in forts of Netherlands or France

Translating this into "plain English", as you asked for:

The ignorant Greek or Turkish engineers had done a bad job of fortifying the defences - you wouldn't see that in Dutch or French forts!

The object of "palisado'd" here is implied by context: it's the parapet being stormed by "our men". The subject is the "ignorance" only via hypallage: it was the Cohorns (engineers) who palisado'd the parapet, but it was their ignorance which screwed up the job.

  • Ah! I thought "cohorn" was a portable mortar. I never wondered why it's capitalized. And I construed the wrong meaning for "you'd wonder". Jan 13, 2018 at 13:14
  • 1
    @CopperKettle "Cohorn" is the most confusing word in this passage, I think. It does seem to mean a portable mortar nowadays, but that doesn't make sense in context; I literally had to Google what is a cohorn byron to find some references for this.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 13, 2018 at 13:18
  • The engineer was Menno van Coehoorn (1641–1704) and the rhetorical figure is hypallage (whereby "Cohorn's ignorance" is used to mean "ignorant Cohorn"). Mar 6, 2022 at 12:38

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