The African Muse of a Russian Poet

Author: Apollon DAVIDSON

The African Muse of a Russian Poet

Apollon DAVIDSON

THE MUSE of distant wanderings. The muse of faraway lands. It is now difficult to find out who used these words for the first time. We are accustomed to them, and yet they go on stirring our imagination. More often than not, they are associated with Nikolai Gumilev's poetry. That was what he called his muse. His poetry, plays, letters, even his talks with friends—all are full of dreams of travelling.

His muse drew him to distant regions, above all Africa, which seemed strange and mysterious at the time.

Africa's sky was not the only one that he saw. He travelled to many European countries and lived for a long time in Paris. And he wrote about various regions of the earth. Alien Sky, a collection of his poetical works, includes pages devoted to America, Asia and, needless to say, his native Europe. But Africa played an uncommon role in his poetry and life.

Gumilev's love of Africa was part of his destiny—it accompanied him from the time he wrote his early verse to The Tent, the latest collection published during his lifetime. The collection is composed entirely of poems about Africa, which he addressed with the passion of a man "condemned" to love it. His Introduction to The Tent sounds almost like a prayer: "It is about you, my Africa stunned by the roar of beasts and the clatter of hoofs, wrapped in flames and smoke, that the seraphims whisper in heaven."

Africa was a theme which ran through Gumilev's life. Suffice it to recall his poems written in various periods: "African Night", "Lake Chad", "Mic: An African Poem", "The Giraffe", "The Leopard", "The Rhinoceros", "The Hyena", "The Red Sea", "Egypt", "The Sahara", "The Sudan", "Abyssinia", "Galla", "The Somalian Peninsula", "Liberia", "Madagascar", "Zambezi", "The Suez Canal", "Ezbekiye", "The Equatorial Forest", "Niger", "Dahomey", "Damara: ...

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