The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1139

When Don Juan is a small boy, his father dies, leaving the boy in the care of his mother, Donna Inez. Donna Inez is a righteous woman who made her husband’s life miserable. She has her son tutored in the arts of fencing, riding, and shooting, and she attempts to rear him in a moral manner. The young Don Juan reads widely in the sermons and lives of the saints, but he does not seem to absorb from his studies the qualities his mother thinks essential.

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At sixteen, he is a handsome lad much admired by his mother’s friends. Donna Julia, in particular, often looks pensively at the youth. Donna Julia is just twenty-three and married to a man of fifty. Although she loves her husband, or so she tells herself, she thinks often of young Don Juan. One day, finding herself alone with him, she gives herself to the young man. The young lovers spend long hours together during the summer, and it is not until November that Don Alfonso, her husband, discovers their intrigue. When Don Alfonso finds Don Juan in his wife’s bedroom, he tries to throttle him. Don Juan overcomes Don Alfonso and flees, first to his mother’s home for clothes and money. Then Donna Inez sends him to Cadiz, there to begin a tour of Europe. The good lady prays that the trip will mend his morals.

Before his ship reaches Leghorn, a storm breaks it apart. Don Juan spends many days in a lifeboat without food or water. At last the boat is washed ashore, and Don Juan falls exhausted on the beach and sleeps. When he awakens, he sees bending over him a beautiful girl, who tells him that she is called Haidée and that she is the daughter of the ruler of the island, one of the Cyclades. Her father, Lambro, is a pirate, dealing in jewels and slaves. She knows her father will sell Don Juan to the first trader who comes by, so Haidée hides Don Juan in a cave and sends her maids to wait on him.

When Lambro leaves on another expedition, Haidée takes Don Juan from the cave and they roam together over the island. Haidée gives jewels, fine foods, and wines to Don Juan, for he is the first man she ever knew except for her father and for her servants. Although Don Juan still tries to think of Donna Julia, he cannot resist Haidée. A child of nature and passion, she gives herself to him with complete freedom. Don Juan and Haidée live an idyllic existence until Haidée’s father returns unexpectedly. Don Juan again fights gallantly, but at last he is overcome by the old man’s servants and put aboard a slave ship bound for a distant market. He never sees Haidée again, and he never knows that she dies without giving birth to his child.

The slave ship takes Don Juan to a Turkish market, where he and another prisoner are purchased by a black eunuch and taken to the palace of a sultan. There Don Juan is made to dress as a dancing maiden and present himself to the sultana, the fourth and favorite wife of the sultan. She passed by the slave market and saw Don Juan and wants him for a lover. In order to conceal his sex from the sultan, she forces the disguise on Don Juan. Even at the threat of death, however, Don Juan will not become her lover, for he still yearns for Haidée. His constancy might have wavered if the sultana was not an infidel, for she is young and beautiful.

Eventually Don Juan escapes from the palace and joins the army of Catherine of Russia. The Russians are at war with the sultan from whose palace Don Juan fled. Don Juan is such a valiant soldier that he is sent to St. Petersburg to carry the news of a Russian victory to Empress Catherine. Catherine also casts longing eyes on the handsome stranger, and her approval soon makes Don Juan the toast of her capital. In the midst of his luxury and good fortune, Don Juan grows ill. Hoping that a change of climate will help her favorite, Catherine resolves to send him on a mission...

(The entire section contains 1833 words.)

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