Don Juan – V. Bryusov

Russian Silver Age poetry translations (occasional), 39/?

Valery Bryusov (1873-1924) was one of the founders of Russian Symbolism. Raised in a family of freed serfs who were against all religion, so that he was “raised with principles of strict materialism and atheism” and read Darwin rather than fairy tales, he received an excellent education but was expelled from his first high school for promoting atheist ideas (he finished his second). He was fascinated by Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, and translated them, as well as Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry (which translations I have read, and approve) and languages as far from Russian as Japanese: Wikisource has Bryusov’s translation of Matsui’s Basho’s famous “frogs in the old pond” haiku.

In his 1900 collection “Tertia vigilia” (The Third Watch; most of his collection titles were not in Russian), Bryusov had a cycle called “The Favourites of the Ages” in which he imagined poems either from the perspective of, or addressed to, famous historical and mythical figures: Essarhadon, Dante, Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots, Napoleon, Orpheus, Psyche… This poem is from the perspective of Don Juan. It is in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, and this time I did succeed in having only two rhymes through the original eight lines. I took a few liberties with the wording (for example, the original mentions only “plateaus” but the double meaning of the word “defile” was too tempting to pass up).

If after reading this poem, you too want Don Juan to get punched in the face, read the previous poem about Don Juan in this series, Alexander Blok’s The Strides of the Commendatore.

 

***

Don Juan

Yes, I’m a sailor! A wanderer of the seas,
In endless waves a seeker of strange isles.
I yearn for new hues in a different breeze,
New tongues and alien plateaus and defiles.

And women come to my passionate pleas
Obedient, with but begging in their smiles!
As painful veils drop off their souls at ease,
They give their all — their wonders and their trials.

In love, souls open to the farthest side,
And brighter grow their sacred depths so wide
Where all things are deliberate and rare.

Yes! I destroy! Like Vampyre, lives I drain!
But each soul offers a new world again,
And tempts anew with secrets undeclared.

Valery Bryusov, May 12 – July 25, 1900; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 2016.

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