I wrote this narrative poem during a night class at Northern Illinois University. It was the fall semester, 1972, and I was taking a history class to complete my on-campus graduation requirements before I left to student teach. After several weeks, I needed to find a way to stay focused. In my 19th century Russian language literature class, we were reading Pushkin's epic poem Evgenii Onegin (pronounced Yevgeniy Onegin). It became one of my favorite works.
So, rather than daydream or worse, I decided to try my hand at writing a narrative poem. Armed with a spiral notebook and pen, I went to class every Wednesday night with renewed enthusiasm. I developed a very structured format and the words just flowed from the pen onto the paper.
The story revolves around a beggar boy, born in abject poverty, but through a combination of luck and skill, survives to regain his lost inheritance. I was always fascinated with Scheherazade's 1001 Arabian Knights tales. It is from those tales that I chose to build this story.
I used Delacroix's works to illustrate some of the poem and I added two sections describing Delacroix and Pushkin. I created a certain structure – a design – I was trying to follow. I didn't always stick to the plan, but the poem is divided into twelve books (chapters), each book was to have twelve chapters (stanzas) and each chapter (stanza) was to have eight lines. The rhyme was AA-BB-CC-DD. And like Onegin, not all words rhymed all the time. It was fun to write!