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Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

I love you - love you, even as I
Rage at myself for this obsession,
And as I make my shamed confession,
Despairing at your feet I lie.
I know, I know - it ill becomes me,
I am too old, time to be wise...
But how?.. This love - it overcomes me,
A sickness this in passion's guise.
When you are near I'm filled with sadness,
When far, I yawn, for life's a bore.
I must pour out this love, this madness,
There's nothing that I long for more!
When your skirts rustle, when, my angel,
Your girlish voice I hear, when your
Light step sounds in the parlor - strangely,
I turn confused, perturbed, unsure. …

Nobody has been able to say “I love you” in a more passionate, desperate, deep and yet elegant and tasteful way. That is what distinguishes Alexander Pushkin from any person in the world, alive or dead. He was a genius, and no renowned person in Russia is worshipped more. Pushkin pours out our Russian soul - gleeful, suffering, generous, confused, glorious and unsure… In St. Petersburg Pushkin is everywhere. The streets, parks, boulevards, squares and riversides keep the sound of his heroes’ steps. Russian painting and music abound in Pushkin’s ideas, plots, characters, and moods. The time when he lived is called “the Golden Age of the Russian literature”. He is the ONE who influenced the cultural development of Russia in every way.

Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin was born on May, 26 (June, 6), 1799 in Moscow. On his father’s side he originated from an impoverished boyar family, the members of which were known for their rebellious temper – for instance, in 1697, Peter the Great executed Fyodor Pushkin for his meddling into the Streletsk Uprising affair. On his mother’s side Pushkin was a great grandson of the favorite of Peter the Great Abram Hannibal, son of an Abyssinian prince under the rule of the Turkish Sultan. 8-year-old Abram was brought to Constantinople as a prisoner of war, where a Russian envoy bought him for his tsar. He was baptized in Poland and given to Peter the Great who took to the boy immediately. Later he sent him to France to study military science. With the death of Peter Hannibal fell in disfavor but when Peter’s daughter Elizabeth ascended the throne, he returned to favor again, became very prosperous and reached a high post. The Hannibals continued to serve in the Russian Army and Navy. Alexander Pushkin’s mother was Abram Hannibal’s granddaughter. These opposite family traditions influenced Pushkin’s attitude to Peter the Great and Russian autocracy in general – in his poetry he glorifies both freedom and Russian politics.

As a child, Pushkin was greatly influenced by the French and Russian culture. His father Sergey Lvovich and uncle Vasily Lvovich were ardent adepts of the French culture. The boy was brought up by French tutors; he began reading French poets and writers very early in life – their works were in abundance in his father’s extensive library. The Russian basis of his upbringing was laid by his grandmother and by his nanny Arina Rodionovna, whom he immortalized in his works. Vasily Lvovich knew a lot of Russian writers of that time, and such famous people as V. Zhukovsky and N. Karamzin were often guests of the Pushkins.

In 1811, Pushkin entered the Tsarskoe Selo Lyceum which was founded by Alexander I for the children of Russian nobles and was aimed at raising the state elite. It was the humanities that prevailed in the perfect education the lyceum gave. Pushkin was one of the best students. He knew French literature excellently and had an insight into the problems of politics. His first poem was published in 1814, and in 1817 he became a member of the literary circle “Arzamas” where he met a lot of prominent men of letters.

The Patriotic War of 1812 had a strong impact on Pushkin. Tsarskoe Selo was visited by a great number of brilliant Imperial army officers having just returned from the European campaigns. Among them was P. Chaadaev, later a close friend of Pushkin. Having graduated from the lyceum, Alexander was appointed a State Foreign Affairs College official, but continued to lead a high society life composing poetry, having political arguments and meddling into love affairs. In literature, he drew inspiration from his favorite French and Italian poets – Parnee, Voltaire, Lebrain, De Lil, Ariosto, Tasso; among Russian ones he admired Derzhavin, Zhukovsky and Karamzin. Having been influenced by these authors, he wrote his “romantic” lyrical-epic poem Ruslan and Ludmila (1817-1821) and a lot of smaller poems in the taste of French poetic epistles and elegies, classical and pre-romantic. He also wrote several sharp epigrams and poems to social and political subjects. Nicholas I did not like the spirit of free-thinking in them and told the author to leave St. Petersburg. He was transferred to an official post in Ekaterinoslav. Thus in 1820 began the second period in Pushkin’s personal and literary biography – the South exile (the Caucasus, Crimea, Ukraine and Moldavia).

Almost immediately upon his arrival to Ekaterinoslav Pushkin started on a journey through the Caucasus and Crimea together with the family of general Raevsky, a celebrated hero of the 1812 war. This journey made a great impression on Pushkin. The Raevskies introduced him to G. G. Byron’s poetry. The splendor of the Caucasus, the charm of the Crimea and the exotic surroundings of these places had an outpour in Pushkin’s “Byronic” poems Caucasian Captive (1820-21) and the Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1821-23). After the journey Pushkin served in Kishinev and Odessa. Here he led a life of a gambler and duel-maker, having affairs with Amalia Riznich, the wife of a Dalmatian negotiator, with Countess Elisabeth Branitskaya – a Polish aristocrat woman and wife of general-governor of Novorossiysk count Vorontsov, and with Caroline Sobanskaya who was known for being into political intrigues and having an affair with the famous Polish poet A. Mitskevich.

Soon Pushkin started his ingenious monumental work Eugene Onegin (1823-31). In 1824 Pushkin was sent to the Pskov region, to his father’s estate Mikhailovskoe. He was living in the very heart of Russia where ancient traditions of Russia were heartfelt. His reading habits changed and so did the spirit of his works. He took W. Scott’s historical romanticism and W. Shakespeare’s psychological realism close to heart. Karamzin’s monumental History of the Russian State also had a great influence over the poet, especially its extensive commentaries where ancient Russian sources and chronicles were generously cited. We find this change in Eugene Onegin’s middle chapters that carry us over to the peaceful Russian provincial village, to the Russian customs, rituals and provincial types having experienced no foreign influence. In 1824-25 Pushkin works on his famous Boris Godunov following the high poetics of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The same motif of personal freedom and slavery, born leader and adventurer, “small Napoleon” prevails also in his later works Mozart and Salieri, Avaricious Knight, the Shot (all three 1830), and is obviously present in the Queen of Spades (1833). Besides the abovementioned large works in these years Pushkin created a number of masterpieces of his love lyrics, referring partly to his old emotions and partly to his new affair with Anna Kern.


To Alexandra Ivanovna Osipova

I love you - love you, even as I

Rage at myself for this obsession,

And as I make my shamed confession,

Despairing at your feet I lie.

I know, I know - it ill becomes me,

I am too old, time to be wise...

But how?.. This love - it overcomes me,

A sickness this in passion's guise.

When you are near I'm filled with sadness,

When far, I yawn, for life's a bore.

I must pour out this love, this madness,

There's nothing that I long for more!

When your skirts rustle, when, my angel,

Your girlish voice I hear, when your

Light step sounds in the parlor - strangely,

I turn confused, perturbed, unsure.

You frown - and I'm in pain, I languish;

You smile - and joy defeats distress;

My one reward for a day's anguish

Comes when your pale hand, love, I kiss.

When you sit bent over your sewing,

Your eyes cast down and fine curls blowing

About your face, with tenderness

I childlike watch, my heart o'erflowing

With love, in my gaze a caress.

Shall I my jealousy and yearning

Describe, my bitterness and woe

When by yourself on some bleak morning

Off on a distant walk you go,

Or with another spend the evening

And, with him near, the piano play,

Or for Opochka leave, or, grieving,

Weep and in silence pass the day?..

Alina! Pray relent, have mercy!

I dare not ask for love - with all

My many sins, both great and small,

I am perhaps of love unworthy!..

But if you feigned love, if you would

Pretend, you'd easily deceive me,

For happily would I, believe me,

Deceive myself if but I could!





* * *

What means my name to you?.. 'Twill die

As does the melancholy murmur

Of distant waves or, of a summer,

The forest's hushed nocturnal sigh.

Found on a fading album page,

Dim will it seem and enigmatic,

Like words traced on a tomb, a relic

Of some long dead and vanished age.

What's in my name?.. Long since forgot,

Erased by new, tempestuous passion,

Of tenderness 'twill leave you not

The lingering and sweet impression.

But in an hour of agony

Pray speak it, and recall my image,

And say, "He still remembers me,

His heart alone still pays me homage."


Pushkin desperately wanted to break away from his country seclusion. Lonely country life depressed him, and with the help of his friends he tried to get a permission to choose a place of living to his own taste. Suddenly tsar Alexander ? died in 1825, and the new emperor Nicholas I called the poet to Moscow. They had a tete-a-tete conversation resulting in Nicholas bestowing forgiveness and promising him patronage. Nicholas was not the least charmed by Pushkin. The tsar knew he had a dangerous enemy, and he wanted to make him harmless by controlling his every step. That is why he decided to make “friends” with the poet. Pushkin became tragically dependent on the tsar’s wishes.

In this fourth period of his life (1826-1831) the poet traveled between St. Petersburg, Moscow and Mikhailovskoe. He made friends with the Polish poet A. Mitskevich, who was an outcast in Poland then, but had great success in the Russian high society and literary circles. Pushkin translated two of his ballads and part of the poem Conrad Vallenrod. The influence of the personality and works of Mitskevich is seen in Pushkin’s Mermaid (1829-32), Poltava (1828) and Egyptian Nights (1825). We find some echo of Mitskevich’s poetry even in Pushkin’s greatest work the Bronze Horseman (1833).

In 1831, after the first unsuccessful proposal in 1829, Pushkin married Natalie Goncharova. Before the marriage he had spent the autumn of 1830 in Boldino, his father’s village in the Nizhniy Novgorod region. This autumn came down into literature as “the Boldino autumn” because at that time Pushkin wrote a number of his masterpieces – The stories of Belkin, Little Tragedies, The history of the Goryukhino village. The marriage took place in Moscow in February, 1831. First the newly-wed couple settled in Tsarskoe Selo and then in St. Petersburg. Beautiful Natalie drew the attention of Nicholas I, and to see her more often at the balls in the Palace he awarded Pushkin with some minor court rank. The poet was deeply offended by this “honor”, though Nicholas considered it to be the sign of his favor.

During this hard period of his life, Pushkin wrote the Bronze Horseman and his wonderful fairy-tales, including The tale of tsar Saltan (1831) and The tale of the Golden Cockerel (1834) that abound in different hints at his own situation.

Pushkin wrote historical novels as well. Such are his unfinished Moor of Peter the Great (1828), Captain’s Daughter (1836), History of the Pugachev’s Rebellion (1833-34). Other works of this period are his unfinished Dubrovsky (1832-33), a romantic story the Queen of Spades and the famous poem Monument (1836).

In 1834, J. Dantes, a French royalist who served in the Russian Army and the stepson of a Dutch envoy baron Hekkern, started to ardently court Natalie Pushkina. On November, 4, 1836, Alexander Pushkin received an anonymous letter that said he was “appointed” a Master of the Order of Deceived Spouses. For some reasons, Pushkin suspected Hekkern had written the slanderous “diploma”, and he offered Dantes a duel. That very time the duel was prevented – his friends settled the matter, and Dantes proposed to Natalie’s sister. Pushkin agreed to their marriage on condition that Dantes would never see Natalie again. However, they met secretly on January, 25, 1837, and Pushkin got to know it. Next day he sent Hekkern an insulting letter, and Dantes challenged him to a duel that took place on January, 27. Dantes was only lightly wounded, and Pushkin was mortally wounded and died on January, 29, 1837.

The role Pushkin played in the Russian literature is absolutely unique. He became its milestone, having marked the highest achievements of the 18th century and the beginning of the literary process of the 19th century. Pushkin created the Standard Russian language canon, merging its oral and written variants. He introduced Russia to all the European literary genres as well as a great number of West European writers thus having added the Russian literature to the European one and vice versa. Lermontov, Turgenev, Goncharov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, setting aside all the others – are Pushkin’s successors in the Russian literature. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin marks the beginning of the development of the Russian novel, and the classical couple Onegin – Tatiana appears on the scene of the Russian literature time and again. This work has always inspired Russian psychological novel writers. The diversity of the content and delicacy of Pushkin’s verse have been estimated by all the new generations of the writers – both in Russia and overseas. Pushkin’s critical articles, historical works and his letters are no less valuable for literature. His correspondence is an unsurpassable autobiographical source as well as the encyclopedia of the cultural and social events of that epoch. Pushkin’s brilliant intelligence, sharpness of his opinion, his devotion to poetry, realistic thinking and incredible historical and political intuition make him one of the greatest Russian national geniuses.

Here are some other poems of Alexander Pushkin:


Spinning storm clouds, rushing storm clouds,

Hazy skies, a hazy night,

And a furtive moon that slyly

Sets the flying snow alight.

On we drive... The waste is boundless,

Nameless plains skim past, and hills.

Gripped by fear, I sit unmoving...

Tink-tink-tinkle go the bells.

"Coachman, come, wake up!.." "The horses

They are weary, sir, and slow;

As for me, I'm nearly blinded

By this blasted wind and snow!

There's no road in sight, so help me;

What to do?.. We've lost our way.

It's the demon that has got us

And is leading us astray.

"Look! He's close; he plays and teases,

Blows and spits, and, all unseen,

With a laugh our horses pushes

To the edge of a ravine.

Now he'll rise, a giant milepost,

Straight before me; now, a spark,

Flash and gleam, and, sinking, vanish

Of a sudden in the dark."

Spinning storm clouds, rushing storm clouds,

Hazy skies, a hazy night,

And a furtive moon that slyly

Sets the flying snow alight.

Spent from circling round, the horses

Jerk and stop... The bells go dead.

"That a stump or wolf?" "Yer Honor,

I don't rightly see ahead."

Loud the snowstorm weeps and rages,

And the horses snort in fright.

O'er the plain the demon prances,

In the murk his eyes glow bright.

Off the horses start a'shudder,

And the bells go ting-a-ling...

Demons, demons without number

Gather round us in a ring.

In the eerie play of moonlight

They grimace, they wail and call,

Whirling, leaping, dancing madly

Like the windswept leaves of fall.

Why are they so wild, so restless?

Why so weird the sounds they make?

Could this be a witch's wedding?

Could this be a goblin's wake?

Spinning storm clouds, rushing storm clouds,

Hazy skies, a hazy night,

And a furtive moon that slyly

Sets the flying snow alight.

Skyward soar the whirling demons,

Shrouded by the falling snow,

And their plaintive, awful howling

Fills my heart with dread and woe.



The bard, when asks of him Apollo

No sacred offering, is deep

In worldly cares ere long and follows

A dismal road: dark, numbing sleep

His soul embraces; no sound reaches

Us from his lyre - mute does it rest;

Of all earth's mean and paltry creatures

He is perhaps the paltriest.

But lo!- the good god's voice his ear

Has reached, and from his torpor parted

Is he, his soul an eagle startled

And on the wing. Our pleasures drear

Now seem to him; so too does idle

And petty talk. He'll not his head

Bow in obeisance to an idol,

The darling of the herd. Instead,

Full of sweet sounds, in wild confusion

Of heart, to distant, lonely seas

That lick at empty shores he flees,

In windswept forests seeks seclusion...




Two roses do I bring to thee,

O fount of love that 'fore me dances.

Thy tears poetic comfort me,

Thy tender voice my soul entrances.

Thou greetest me as I draw near,

My face with silvered dew drops spraying.

Flow, flow, O fount, and, ceaseless playing,

Speak, speak thy story in my ear.

O fount of love, O fount of sadness,

From thy stone lips long tales I heard

Of far-off parts, of woe and gladness,

But of Maria ne'er a word...

Like poor and long forgot Zarema,

Is she, the harem's pallid sun,

Formed of the mists of idle dreaming

And of the stuff of visions spun?

The spirit's dim and vague ideal

Drawn by the hand of fantasy,

Is she a thing remote, unreal,

A phantom that must cease to be?..



Snow, frost and sunshine... Lovely morning!

Yet you, dear love, its magic scorning,

Are still abed... Awake, my sweet!..

Cast sleep away, I beg, and, rising,

Yourself a northern star, the blazing

Aurora, northern beauty, meet.

Last night a snowstorm raged, remember;

A turbid haze swam in the somber,

Wind-ravaged sky, and through the grey

Murk of the clouds the moon shone dully,

And you sat listless, melancholy...

But now - look out the window, pray -

'Neath lucid skies of clearest azure,

Great snowy carpets, winter's treasure,

A rich and dazzling sight, lie spread.

The wood is etched against them darkly,

The firs, rime-starred, are green and sparkling,

In shiny mail the stream is clad.

A mellow glow like that of amber

Illumes the room... 'Tis good to linger

Beside the gaily crackling stove,

And think and dream... But let our honest

Brown mare without delay be harnessed

That we may take a sledge ride, love.

We'll give free rein to her, and lightly,

The snow of morning gleaming brightly,

Skim over it, and, full of glee,

Cross empty fields and empty meadows,

A once green wood with trees like shadows,

A stream and bank long dear to me.




O'er the earth a storm is prowling,

Bringing whirling, blinding snow.

Like a beast I hear it howling,

Like an infant wailing low.

Now the thatch it rustles, playing

On our roof; now at our pane

Raps like someone homeward straying

And benighted in the plain.

Old our hut is, dark and dreary,

By a candle dimly lit...

Why so sad, my dear, and weary

At the window do you sit?

Is't because the storm is moaning

That so very still you keep?

Does your spindle's mournful droning

Put you quietly to sleep?

Come, O comrade solitary

Of this cheerless youth of mine,

Take a cup, and let us bury

All our many woes in wine!

Of a maid out by a river

Sing a little song to me

Or a tomtit, one that never

Leaves its home beyond the sea.

O'er the earth a storm is prowling

Bringing whirling, blinding snow.

Like a beast I hear it howling,

Like an infant wailing low.

Come, O comrade solitary

Of this cheerless youth of mine,

Take a cup and let us bury

All our many woes in wine!


* * *

Upon the hills of Georgia lies the haze of night...

Below, the Aragva foams... The sadness

That fills the void of days is, strangely, half delight,

'Tis both sweet pain and sweeter gladness.

Because you haunt my heart, it cannot be at rest,

And yet 'tis light and untormented

By morbid thoughts... It loves... It loves because it must,

Rejoicing in the love by fortune sent it.