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Don Juan


My fantasy is proud and plain:
To grasp the crop, leap the stirrup,
Outrace sluggish time,
And always kiss fresh lips;

And in old age before Christ’s grace,
With ash on head and eyes cast down
Breast burdened by an iron cross,
At last to take salvation’s burden.

For only then, released from orgy,
Like sleepwalkers, night done,
Scared white by a silent stalker,

Might wake, so I recall this paltry atom
Had neither child from any woman
Nor help from any human brother.
Among the many versions of the Don Juan legend, undoubtedly the most popular throughout the 19th century were the 1787 opera Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838) and George Gordon Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) long mock-heroic poem Don Juan (published in cantos between 1818 and 1820). But in Russia, Aleksandr Pushkin’s (1799-1837) drama of 1830, The Stone Guest, and Aleksandr Dargomyzhskii’s (1813-1869) final opera of the same name were also well known. A more recent version, Richard Strauss’s (1864-1949) 1888 tone poem Don June, Op.20 swept Europe with acclaimed performances by almost every major orchestra. Gumilev is likely to have been familiar with all of these. The Russian pronunciation of “Жуан” (“Juan”) is like Byron’s with a hard “j” and 2 syllables (jew-on) not like the Spanish 1 syllable “whan.”

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