Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

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Re: Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

Postby admin » Tue Aug 14, 2018 10:17 pm

Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 8/14/18



Georges-Charles d'Anthès

Baron Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès (5 February 1812 – 2 November 1895) was a French military officer and politician. Despite his later career as a senator under the Second French Empire, D'Anthès is mostly known for fatally wounding the eminent Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in a duel in 1837.


Born in Colmar to aristocratic Alsatian parents, the first boy among six children, he was destined for a military career. He was therefore sent to Saint-Cyr, the premier French military academy, and, in 1830, as cavalry officer, he supported Charles X's party during the July Revolution. After the exile of Charles X, d'Anthès refused to serve under the July Monarchy, resigned from the army and withdrew to his father's home in Alsace.

As he was authorized by the French government to serve abroad without losing his nationality, he set off first for Prussia, then for Russia. In St. Petersburg, he succeeded in entering the Knights Guards of the Empress as cornet. Two years later, in 1836, he became lieutenant.

His family ties and good looks gave him access to St. Petersburg high society. It was there that he met the Dutch plenipotentiary to the court, Baron Heeckeren, who, after a lengthy correspondence and a journey to Alsace, proposed to d'Anthès's father that he adopt his son as his own heir. After the agreement of the King of the Netherlands, Georges-Charles d'Anthès took the name of Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès.

From booklet by Prince A. Trubetskoy: "...d'Anthès was known for his antics, quite inoffensive and appropriate to youths except the one, of which we learnt much later. I don't know what to say: whether he took Heeckeren or Heeckeren took him... All in all, ... in the intercourse with Heeckeren he was ever a passive partner".

D'Anthès met Pushkin and his wife, Natalia, a beautiful and flirtatious young woman who had many admirers. D'Anthès courted her in a compromising way. Soon after he was refused by Natalia Pushkina, a number of Pushkin's closest friends, as well as to Pushkin himself received copies of an anonymous lampoon on Pushkin. The lampoon was a mock letter awarding Pushkin the title of Deputy Grand Master and Historiographer of the Order of Cuckolds. Pushkin accused Heeckeren to be the lampoon's author, though the true author has never been established. Expert research ruled out Heeckeren authorship as the lampoon (written in French) contained errors extremely unlikely for a native speaker, and such authorship would have been too risky for a diplomat. In the complicated affair that ensued, D'Anthès married Natalia's sister, Yekaterina Goncharova, on 10 January 1837. It has been suggested that d'Anthès's engagement and marriage to Natalia's sister was devised to contradict society gossip that he was in pursuit of Natalia. In any event, this was not enough to settle the conflict between the two new brothers-in-law. After marrying Yekaterina, D'Anthès continued to behave provocatively with Natalie, instigating a new duel challenge.

On the evening of 27 January 1837, d'Anthès fired first, mortally wounding Pushkin in the stomach. Pushkin, who had fought several duels, managed to rise and shoot at d'Anthès, but only wounded him lightly in the right arm. As he lay on his deathbed, Pushkin sent a message to d'Anthès pardoning him of any wrongdoing. Pushkin died two days later, after which d'Anthès was imprisoned at Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. Dueling was illegal in Russia, and d'Anthès was called to court, but he was pardoned by the Emperor. Stripped of his rank, he was escorted back to the frontier and ordered to leave Russia permanently. In Berlin, he was joined by his wife, and the couple returned to France, in his father's region. There he began a successful political career: as first president of the local assembly, then member of the National Constituent Assembly from 1848 to 1852, and, at last, irremovable senator from 1852 to 1870.

His wife died on 15 October 1843 while giving birth to their fourth child. He died on 2 November 1895 at his family house of Soultz-Haut-Rhin (Sulz/Oberelsaß), then part of the German Empire.


Biography: Baron Georges Charles d'Anthès de Heeckeren
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Re: Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

Postby admin » Tue Aug 14, 2018 10:34 pm

Nikolai Martynov
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 8/14/18



Nikolai Martynov, watercolor by Thomas Wright

Nikolai Solomonovich Martynov (Russian: Николай Соломонович Мартынов) (1815–1875) was the Russian army officer who fatally shot the poet Mikhail Lermontov in a cliff-edge duel on July 27, 1841,[1] despite Lermontov's supposedly having made it known that he was going to shoot into the air.


Wikisource Ralston, William Ralston Shedden (1911). "Lermontov, Mikhail Yurevich". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 484–485.

External links

S. K. Kravchenko (1981). "МАРТЫ́НОВ Николай Соломонович (1815–75)" [Nikolai Solomonovich Martynov (1815–75)]. Lermontov Encyclopedia. Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 20, 2018. (in Russian)
L. M. Arinstein, V. A. Manuilov (1981). "ДУЭЛИ Лермонтова" [Duels of Lermontov]. Lermontov Encyclopedia. Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 21, 2011. (in Russian)
Brief Biography of Lermontov at with mention of the duel (in English)


Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (1814-41)
by University of Virginia
Accessed: 8/14/18


Mikhail Lermontov was descended on his father's side from a Scottish soldier named Learmont who had entered the Russian service in the 17th century. His mother was a member of the Stolypin family. She died when he was three, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. Lermontov became interested in Byron at an early age, and the poetry he wrote in his youth reflects this interest: "No, I am not Byron, I am another / As yet unknown chosen one, / A wanderer, persecuted by the world as he was, / But only with a Russian soul...."

In 1830 Lermontov entered Moscow University and spent two years there. He became a Cavalry Cadet in 1832, and received a commission in the Hussar Life Guards, where he avidly pursued the image of the carefree, hedonistic, daring Guards officer. Due to his modest income and appearance, however, he made less of an impression in high society than he wished, and he would acutely recall the slights to his pride in later years. When Alexander Pushkin was killed in a duel in 1837, Lermontov wrote a biting and bitter poem blaming the court aristocracy for letting Pushkin be killed. The poem circulated in manuscript form, and it caused a sensation. Lermontov was court martialled and transferred to a regiment of the line in the Caucasus. He was soon pardoned however, and he was restored to the Guards. Now he returned to Petersburg, a kind of triumphal hero with the reputation of a persecuted poet. He could contrast this sudden fame and adulation with the disregard he had received from the same social set just a few years earlier.
His short novel, A Hero of Our Time, was written during the years 1838-39, and the imprint of Lermontov's personal experience is evident in the text. The novel appeared in print in 1840.

Lermontov's troubles with the authorities were not over, however. In 1840 he managed to insult the Tsar's daughter at a masquerade ball, and he fought a duel with the son of the French ambassador. For this, he was again sent to the Caucasus, where he distinguished himself in military action. Then, in 1841, while taking a rest in the spa town of Pyatigorsk, he became involved in a dispute with an old schoolmate named Martynov over the affections of a woman. Martynov had adopted native dress in an attempt to impress the woman, and Lermontov teased him mercilessly. Martynov challenged Lermontov to a duel, and on July 15, the young writer was shot to death on a hillside outside the town.
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Re: Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

Postby admin » Wed Aug 15, 2018 4:52 am

Part 1 of 2

Nikolay Nekrasov
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 8/14/18



Not to be confused with Nikolai Vissarionovich Nekrasov.

And you, stubborn heirs
Of fathers renowned for meanness,
Who with servile heel trod underfoot the shards Of families by Fortune frowned upon!
You, greedy crowd standing near the throne,
Of Freedom, Genius and Glory the hangman!
You hide behind the protection of law,
Before you, the court and truth—all is silent!
But there is also divine judgment, you cronies of corruption!
There is a terrible judge: he waits;
He is not swayed by tinkling gold,
And knows your thoughts and affairs beforehand.
Then in vain will you resort to slander:
It will not help you again,
And with all your black blood you shall not wash away
The righteous blood of the poet!

-- The Promise of Mikhail Lermontov, by Denise M. Henderson

Necro may refer to:

• necro-, the Greek prefix meaning death
• Necromancy, a type of magic
• Necrophilia, the sexual attraction to corpses
• Necropolis, a large ancient cemetery

-- Necro, by Wikipedia

Nikolay Nekrasov
Nekrasov in 1870
Born Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov
10 December [O.S. 28 November] 1821
Nemyriv, Russian Empire
Died 8 January 1878 [O.S. 28 December 1877] (aged 56)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Occupation Poet, publisher
Language Russian
Nationality Russian
Spouse Fyokla Viktorova

Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov (Russian: Никола́й Алексе́евич Некра́сов, IPA: [nʲɪkɐˈlaj ɐlʲɪkˈsʲejɪvʲɪtɕ nʲɪˈkrasəf] (About this sound listen), 10 December [O.S. 28 November] 1821 – 8 January 1878 [O.S. 28 December 1877]) was a Russian poet, writer, critic and publisher, whose deeply compassionate poems about peasant Russia made him the hero of liberal and radical circles of Russian intelligentsia, as represented by Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolay Chernyshevsky and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

On who must be reckoned
The greatest of sinners:
"The publican," one says,
And one, "The Pomyéshchick,"
Another, "The peasant."
This last was a carter,
A man of good standing
And sound reputation,
No ignorant babbler.
He'd seen many things
In his life, his own province
Had traversed entirely.
He should have been heard.

The peasants, however,
Were all so indignant
They would not allow him
To speak. As for Klímka,
His wrath is unbounded,
"You fool!" he is shouting.
"But let me explain."

"I see you are all fools,"
A voice remarks roughly:
The voice of a trader
Who squeezes the peasants
For laputs or berries
Or any spare trifles.
But chiefly he's noted
For seizing occasions
When taxes are gathered,
And peasants' possessions
Are bartered at auction.
"You start a discussion
And miss the chief point.
Why, who's the worst sinner?
Consider a moment."
"Well, who then? You tell us."

"The robber, of course."

"You've not been a serf, man,"
Says Klímka in answer;
"The burden was heavy,
But not on your shoulders.
Your pockets are full,
So the robber alarms you;
The robber with this case
Has nothing to do."
"The case of the robber
Defending the robber,"
The other retorts.
"Now, pray!" bellows Klímka,
And leaping upon him,
He punches his jaw.
The trader repays him
With buffets as hearty,
"Take leave of your carcase!"
He roars.
"Here's a tussle!"
The peasants are clearing
A space for the battle;
They do not prevent it
Nor do they applaud it.
The blows fall like hail.
"I'll kill you, I'll kill you!
Write home to your parents!"
"I'll kill you, I'll kill you!
Heh, send for the pope!"
The trader, bent double
By Klímka, who, clutching
His hair, drags his head down,
Repeating, "He's bowing!"
Cries, "Stop, that's enough!"
When Klímka has freed him
He sits on a log,
And says, wiping his face
With a broadly-checked muffler,
"No wonder he conquered:
He ploughs not, he reaps not,
Does nothing but doctor
The pigs and the horses;
Of course he gets strong!"
The peasants are laughing,
And Klímka says, mocking,
"Here, try a bit more!"
"Come on, then! I'm ready,"
The trader says stoutly,
And rolling his sleeves up,
He spits on his palms.
"The hour has now sounded
For me, though a sinner,
To speak and unite you,"

Ióna pronounces.
The whole of the evening
That diffident pilgrim
Has sat without speaking,
And crossed himself, sighing.
The trader's delighted,
And Klímka replies not.
The rest, without speaking,
Sit down on the ground.


My brothers, how grievous
The sins of the nobles!"
"And yet not as great
As the sin of the peasant,"
The carter cannot here
Refrain from remarking.

-- Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?, by Nicholas Nekrasov

He is credited with introducing into Russian poetry ternary meters and the technique of dramatic monologue (On the Road, 1845).[1] As the editor of several literary journals, notably Sovremennik, Nekrasov was also singularly successful and influential.[2]


Early years

Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov was born in Nemyriv (now in Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine), Podolia Governorate. His father Alexey Sergeyevich Nekrasov (1788-1862) was a descendant from Russian landed gentry, and an officer in the Imperial Russian Army.[3] There is some uncertainty as to his mother's origins. According to Brokhaus & Efron (and this corresponds with Nekrasov's 1887 autobiographical notes), Alexandra Zakrzewska was a Polish noblewoman, daughter of a wealthy landlord who belonged to szlachta. The church metrics tell a different story, and modern Russian scholars have her name as Yelena Andreyevna. "Up until recently the poet's biographers had it that his mother belonged to the Polish family. In fact she was a daughter of an Ukrainian state official Alexander Semyonovich Zakrevsky, the owner of Yuzvino, a small village in the Podolia Governorate," Korney Chukovsky asserted in 1967.[4] Pyotr Yakubovich argued that the metrics might have been tempered with so as to conceal the fact that the girl had been indeed taken from Poland without her parents' consent (Nekrasov in his autobiography states as much).[5][note 1] D.S.Mirsky came up with another way of explaining this discrepancy by suggesting that Nekrasov "created the cult of his mother, imparted her with improbable qualities and started worshipping her after her death."[6]

In January 1823 Alexey Nekrasov, ranked army major, retired and moved the family to his estate in Greshnevo, Yaroslavl province, near the Volga River, where young Nikolai spent his childhood years with his five siblings, brothers Andrey (b. 1820), Konstantin (b. 1824) and Fyodor (b. 1827), sisters Elizaveta (b. 1821) and Anna (b. 1823).[2][3] This early retirement from the army, as well as his job as a provincial inspector, caused Aleksey Sergeyevich much frustration resulting in drunken rages against both his peasants and his wife. Such experiences traumatized Nikolai and later determined the subject matter of his major poems that portrayed the plight of the Russian peasants and women. Nekrasov's mother loved literature and imparted this passion to her son; it was her love and support that helped the young poet to survive the traumatic experiences of his childhood which were aggravated by images of social injustice, similar to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's childhood recollections.[5][7][8] "His was a wounded heart, and this wound that never healed served as a source for his passionate, suffering verse for the rest of his life," the latter wrote.[3]

Education and literary debut

Every summer Nekrasov would go hunting to his brother's estate of Karabikha near Yaroslavl (now a memorial museum).

In September 1832 Nekrasov joined the Yaroslavl Gymnasium but quit it prematurely. The reasons for this might have been the alleged trouble with tutors whom he wrote satires on (no archive documents confirm this)[9] as well as Alexey Sergeyevich's insistence that his son should join the military academy. The biographer Vladimir Zhdanov also mentions the father's unwillingness to pay for his children's education; he certainly was engaged at some point in a long-drawn correspondence with the gymnasium authorities on this matter. Finally, in July 1837 he took two of his elder sons back home, citing health problems as a reason, and Nikolai had to spend a year in Greshnevo, doing nothing besides accompanying his father in his expeditions. The quality of education in the gymnasium was poor, but it was there that Nekrasov's interest in poetry grew: he admired Byron and Pushkin, notably the latter's "Ode to Freedom".[2]

According to some sources he has been then 'sent' to Saint Petersburg by his father, but Nekrasov in his autobiography maintained that it was his own decision to go, and that his brother Andrey assisted him in trying to persuade their father to procure all the recommendations required.[4] "By the age of fifteen the whole notebook [of verses] has taken shape, which was the reason why I was itching to flee to the capital," he remembered.[7] Outraged by his son's refusal to join the Cadet Corps, the father stopped supporting him financially. The three-year period of his "Petersburg tribulations" followed when the young man had to live in extreme conditions and once even found himself in a homeless shelter.[2] Things turned for the better when he started to give private lessons and contribute to the Literary Supplement to Russky Invalid, all the while compiling ABC-books and versified fairytales for children and vaudevilles, under the pseudonym Perepelsky.[5] In October 1838 Nekrasov debuted as a published poet: his "Thought" (Дума) appeared in Syn Otechestva.[10] In 1839 he took exams at the Saint Petersburg University's Eastern languages faculty, failed and joined the philosophy faculty as a part-time student where he studied, irregularly, until July 1841.[8] Years later detractors accused Nekrasov of mercantilism ("A million was his demon," wrote Dostoyevsky). But, "for eight years (1838-1846) this man lived on the verge of starvation... should he have backstepped, made peace with his father, he'd found himself again in total comfort," Yakubovish noted. "He might have easily become brilliant general, outstanding scientist, rich merchant, should he have put his heart to it," argued Nikolai Mikhaylovsky, praising Nekrasov's stubbornness in pursuing his own way.[5]

In February 1840 Nekrasov published his first collection of poetry Dreams and Sounds, using initials "N. N." following the advise of his patron Vasily Zhukovsky who suggested the author might feel ashamed of his childish exercises in several years' time.[10] The book, reviewed favourably by Pyotr Pletnyov and Ksenofont Polevoy, was dismissed by Alexey Galakhov and Vissarion Belinsky. Several months later Nekrasov retrieved and destroyed the unsold bulk of his first collection; some copies that survived have become a rarity since.[8] Dreams and Sounds was indeed a patchy collection, but not such a disaster as it was purported to be and featured, albeit in embryonic state, all the major motifs of the later Nekrasov's poetry.[2][5]

Nekrasov and Panayev visiting sick Belinsky. By A.Naumov

Nekrasov's first literary mentor Fyodor Koni who edited theatre magazines (Repertoire of Russian Theatre, then Pantheon, owned by Nikolai Polevoy), helped him debut as literary critic. Soon he became a prolific author and started to produce satires ("The Talker", "The States Official") and vaudevilles ("The Actor", "The Petersburg Money-lender"), for this publication and Literaturnaya Gazeta. Nekrasov's fondness for theater prevailed through the years, and his best poems (Russian Women, The Railway, The Contemporaries, Who Is Happy in Russia?) all had a distinct element of drama to them.[3]

In October 1841 Nekrasov started contributing to Andrey Krayevsky's Otechestvennye Zapiski (which he did until 1846), writing anonymously.[10] The barrage of prose he published in the early 1840s was, admittedly, worthless, but several of his plays (notably, No Hiding a Needle in a Sack) were produced at the Alexandrinsky Theatre to some commercial success.[3] In 1842 (a year after his mother's death) Nekrasov returned to Greshnevo and made peace with his father who was now quite proud of his son's achievements.[5]

In 1843 Nekrasov met Vissarion Belinsky and entered his circle of friends which included Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Panayev and Pavel Annenkov. Belinsky, obsessed with the ideas of the French Socialists, found a great sympathizer in Nekrasov for whom horrors of serfdom in his father's estate were still a fresh memory.[3] "On the Road" (1845) and "Motherland" (1846), two of Nekrasov's early realistic poems, delighted Belinsky.[11] The poet claimed later that those early conversations with Belinsky changed his life and commemorated the critic in several poems ("In the Memory of Belinsky", 1853; "V.G.Belinsky", 1855; "Scenes from The Bear Hunt", 1867). Before his death in 1848, Belinsky granted Nekrasov rights to publish various articles and other material originally planned for an almanac, to be called the "Leviathan".[3]

In the mid-1840s Nekrasov compiled, edited and published two influential almanacs, The Physiology of Saint Petersburg (1845)[note 2] and Saint Petersburg Collection (1846), the latter featuring Fyodor Dostoyevsky's first novel, Poor Folk. Gathering the works of several up and coming authors (Ivan Turgenev, Dmitry Grigorovich, Vladimir Dal, Ivan Panayev, Alexander Hertzen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky among them), both books were instrumental in promoting the new wave of realism in Russian literature. Several Nekrasov's poems found their way into the First of April compilation of humour he published in April 1846. Among the curiosities featured there was the novel The Danger of Enjoying Vain Dreams, co-authored by Nekrasov, Grigorovich and Dostoyevsky.[10] Among the work of fiction written by Nekrasov in those years was his unfinished autobiographical novel The Life and Adventures of Tikhon Trostnikov (1843-1848); some of its motifs would be found later in his poetry ("The Unhappy Ones", 1856; On the Street, 1850, "The Cabman", 1855). Part of it, the "St. Petersburg Corners", featured in the Physiology of St. Petersburg, was treated later as an independent novelette, an exponent of the "natural school" genre.[3][12]

Sovremennik and Otechestvennye Zapiski


In November 1846 Panayev and Nekrasov acquired[note 3] a popular magazine Sovremennik which had been founded by Alexander Pushkin but lost momentum under Pyotr Pletnyov.

hold em up
it's a street arrest
and we're dealin with identity theft
you need a publication
i don't see why i got to
you need a press release
as to assimilate
journo-fascist profiteers
pornotastic pioneers
bonbonbastic puppeteers
get away from me
how can you write what we read
that ain't my reality
you disabuse humanity
and fealty

-- Identity Theft, by Nellie McKay

Much of the staff of the old Otechestvennye Zapiski, including Belinsky, abandoned Andrey Krayevsky's magazine, and joined Sovremennik to work with Nekrasov, Panayev and Alexander Nikitenko, a nominal editor-in-chief. In the course of just several months Nekrasov managed to draw to the invigorated magazine the best literary forces of Russia. Among the works published in it in the course of the next several years were Ivan Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, Dmitry Grigorovich's Anton Goremyka, Ivan Goncharov's A Common Story, Alexander Hertzen’s Magpie the Thief and Doctor Krupov. One of the young authors discovered by Nekrasov was Leo Tolstoy who debuted in Sovremennik with his trilogy Childhood, Boyhood and Youth.[3]

Nekrasov managed to save the magazine during the 'Seven years of darkness' period (1848-1855) when it was balancing on the verge of closure and he himself was under the secret police' surveillance.[10] In order to fill up the gaps caused by censorial interference he started to produce lengthy picturesque novels (Three Countries of the World, 1848-1849, The Dead Lake, 1851), co-authored by Avdotya Panayeva, his common-law wife.[3][13] His way of befriending censors by inviting them to his weekly literary dinners proved to be another useful ploy. Gambling (a habit shared by male ancestors on his father's side; his grandfather lost most of the family estate through it) was put to the service too, and as a member of the English Club Nekrasov made a lot of useful acquaintances.[3]

In 1854 Nekrasov invited Nikolai Chernyshevsky to join Sovremennik, in 1858 Nikolai Dobrolyubov became one of its major contributors. This led to the inevitable radicalisation of the magazine and the rift with its liberal flank. In 1859 Dobrolyubov's negative review outraged Turgenev and led to his departure from Sovremennik.[10] But the influx of young radical authors continued: Nikolai Uspensky, Fyodor Reshetnikov, Nikolai Pomyalovsky, Vasily Sleptsov, Pyotr Yakubovich, Pavel Yakushkin, Gleb Uspensky soon entered the Russian literary scene.[3] In 1858 Nekrasov and Dobrolyubov founded Svistok (Whistle), a satirical supplement to Sovremennik. The first two issues (in 1859) were compiled by Dobrolyubov, from the third (October 1858) onwards Nekrasov became this publication's editor and regular contributor.[14]

In June 1862, after the series of arsons in Petersburg for which radical students were blamed, Sovremennik was closed, and a month later Chernyshevsky was arrested. In December Nekrasov managed to get Sovremennik re-opened, and in 1863 published What Is to Be Done? by the incarcerated author.[3]

Nekrasov in the 1860s.

In 1855 Nekrasov started working upon his first poetry collection and on October 15, 1856, The Poems by N. Nekrasov came out to great public and critical acclaim.[3] "The rapture is universal. Hardly Pushkin's first poems, or Revizor, or Dead Souls could be said to have enjoyed such success as your book," wrote Chernyshevsky on November 5 to Nekrasov who was abroad at the time, receiving medical treatment.[15] "Nekrasov's poems… brandish like fire," wrote Turgenev.[16] "Nekrasov is an idol of our times, a worshipped poet, he is now bigger than Pushkin," wrote memoirist Elena Stakensneider.[3][10] Upon his return in August 1857, Nekrasov moved into the new flat in the Krayevsky's house on Liteiny Lane in Saint Petersburg where he resided since then for the rest of his life.[10]

The 1861 Manifest left Nekrasov unimpressed. "Is that freedom? More like a fake, a jibe at peasants," he said, reportedly, to Chernyshevsky on March the 5th, the day of the Manifest's publication. His first poetic responses to the reform were "Freedom" ("I know, instead of the old nets they'd invented some new ones...")[17]


"A mane grey and bushy
Which covered his shoulders,
A huge grizzled beard
Which had not seen the scissors
For twenty odd years,
Made Savyéli resemble
A shaggy old bear,
Especially when he
Came out of the forest,
So broad and bent double.
The grandfather's shoulders
Were bowed very low,
And at first I was frightened
Whenever he entered
The tiny low cottage:
I thought that were he
To stand straight of a sudden
He'd knock a great hole
With his head in the ceiling.
But Grandfather could not
Stand straight, and they told me
That he was a hundred.
He lived all alone
In his own little cottage,
And never permitted
The others to enter;
He couldn't abide them.
Of course they were angry
And often abused him.
His own son would shout at him,
'Branded one! Convict!'
But this did not anger
Savyéli, he only
Would go to his cottage
Without making answer,
And, crossing himself,
Begin reading the scriptures;
Then suddenly cry
In a voice loud and joyful,
'Though branded—no slave!'...

"Savyéli would gather
The berries and mushrooms
From spring till late autumn,
And snare the wild rabbits;
Throughout the long winter
He lay on the oven
And talked to himself.
He had favourite sayings:
He used to lie thinking
For whole hours together,
And once in an hour
You would hear him exclaiming:
"'Destroyed … and subjected!'
Or, 'Ai, you toy heroes!
You're fit but for battles
With old men and women!'
"'Be patient … and perish,
Impatient … and perish!'
"'Eh, you Russian peasant,
You giant, you strong man,
The whole of your lifetime
You're flogged, yet you dare not
Take refuge in death,
For Hell's torments await you!'...

[H]e told me the story.
"'The peasants in old days
Were serfs as they now are,
But our race had, somehow,
Not seen its Pomyéshchick;
No manager knew we,
No pert German agent.
And barschin we gave not,
And taxes we paid not
Except when it pleased us,—
Perhaps once in three years
Our taxes we'd pay.'...

"'The times were so blessed,—
And folk had a saying
That our little village
Was sought by the devil
For more than three years,
But he never could find it.
Great forests a thousand
Years old lay about us;
And treacherous marshes
And bogs spread around us;
No horseman and few men
On foot ever reached us....

They were good times!
In these days the Barin
Lives under your window;
The roadways go spreading
Around, like white napkins—
The devil destroy them!
We only were troubled
By bears, and the bears too
Were easily managed.
Why, I was a worse foe
By far than old Mishka,
When armed with a dagger
And bear-spear. I wandered
In wild, secret woodpaths,
And shouted, ''My forest!''...

"'At last our Pomyéshchick
Invented a new game:
He sent us an order,
''Appear!'' We appeared not.
Instead, we lay low
In our dens, hardly breathing.
A terrible drought
Had descended that summer,
The bogs were all dry;
So he sent a policeman,
Who managed to reach us,
To gather our taxes,
In honey and fish;
A second time came he,
We gave him some bear-skins;
And when for the third time
He came, we gave nothing,—
We said we had nothing.
We put on our laputs,
We put our old caps on,
Our oldest old coats,
And we went to Korójin
(For there was our master now,
Stationed with soldiers).
''Your taxes!'' ''We have none,
We cannot pay taxes,
The corn has not grown,
And the fish have escaped us.''
''Your taxes!'' ''We have none.''
He waited no longer;
''Hey! Give them the first round!''
He said, and they flogged us.
"'Our pockets were not
Very easily opened;
Shaláshnikov, though, was
A master at flogging.
Our tongues became parched,
And our brains were set whirling,
And still he continued.
He flogged not with birch-rods,
With whips or with sticks,
But with knouts made for giants.
At last we could stand it
No longer; we shouted,
''Enough! Let us breathe!''
We unwound our foot-rags
And took out our money,...

And so by the ikons
We swore all together
That next time we rather
Would die of the beating
Than feebly give way.
It seems the Pomyéshchick
Had taken a fancy
At once to our roubles,
Because after that
Every year we were summoned
To go to Korójin,
We went, and were flogged.
"'Shaláshnikov flogged like
A prince, but be certain
The treasures he thrashed from
The doughty Korójins
Were not of much weight.
The weak yielded soon,
But the strong stood like iron
For the commune. I also
Bore up, and I thought:
''Though never so stoutly
You flog us, you dog's son,
You won't drag the whole soul
From out of the peasant;
Some trace will be left.'...

He sent us a German.[48]
Through vast, savage forests,
Through sly sucking bogs
And on foot came the German,
As bare as a finger.
"'As melting as butter
At first was the German:
''Just give what you can, then,''
He'd say to the peasants.

"'''We've nothing to give!''...

''Well, if you can't pay
You should work, little peasants.''

"'''What work should we do?''

"'''You should dig some deep ditches
To drain off the bog-lands.''

We dug some deep ditches.

"'''And now trim the forest.''

"'''Well, well, trim the forest….''
We hacked and we hewed
As the German directed,
And when we look round
There's a road through the forest!...

And now he's established
A village ispravnik,
They live like two brothers.
His courtyard at all times
Is teeming with strangers,
And woe to the peasants—
The fallen Korójins!
He sucked us all dry
To the very last farthing;
And flog!—like the soul
Of Shaláshnikov flogged he!...

"'But how could you bear it?'

"'Ah, how could we bear it?
Because we were giants—
Because by their patience
The people of Russia
Are great, little Grandchild.
You think, then, Matróna,
That we Russian peasants
No warriors are?
Why, truly the peasant
Does not live in armour,
Does not die in warfare,
But nevertheless
He's a warrior, child.
His hands are bound tight,
And his feet hung with fetters;
His back—mighty forests
Have broken across it;
His breast—I will tell you,
The Prophet Elijah
In chariot fiery
Is thundering within it;
And these things the peasant
Can suffer in patience.
He bends—but he breaks not;
He reels—but he falls not


And Vlass, the old Elder,
Has placed his great palm
On the head of his godson.
"Is serfdom revived?
Will they drive you to barschin
Or pilfer your hayfields?"
Says Grísha in jest.
"The hay-fields? You're joking!"

"Well, what has gone wrong, then?
And why were you singing
'The Hungry One,' brothers?
To summon the famine?"
"Yes, what's all the pother?"
Here Klímka bursts out
Like a cannon exploding.
The others are scratching
Their necks, and reflecting:
"It's true! What's amiss?"
"Come, drink, little 'Earthworms,'
Come, drink and be merry!
All's well—as we'd have it,
Aye, just as we wished it.
Come, hold up your noddles!

-- Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?, by Nicholas Nekrasov

... and Korobeiniki (1861). The latter was originally published in the Red Books series started by Nekrasov specifically for the peasant readership. These books were distributed by 'ophens', vagrant traders, not unlike the korobeinikis Tikhonych and Ivan, the two heroes of the poem.[3] After the second issue the series were banned by censors.[10]

In 1861 Nekrasov started campaigning for the release of his arrested colleague, Mikhail Mikhaylov, but failed: the latter was deported to Siberia. More successful was his plea for the release of Afanasy Shchapov: the decree ordering the Petersburg historian's demotion to a monastery was retrieved by Alexander II.[10] After his father's death Nekrasov in May 1862 bought the Karabikha estate and since then has visited it on the yearly basis.[3]

In April 1866, after Dmitry Karakozov's attempt on the life of the Tsar, Nekrasov, so as to save Sovremennik from closure,[10] wrote the "Ode to Osip Komissarov" (the man who saved the monarch's life by pushing Karakozov aside) to read it publicly in the English Club. His another poetic address greeted Muravyov the Hangman, a man responsible for the brutal suppression of the 1863 Polish Uprising, who was now in charge of the Karakozov case. Both gestures proved to be futile and in May 1866 Sovremennik was closed for good.[10]

In the end of 1866 Nekrasov purchased Otechestvennye Zapiski to become this publication's editor with Grigory Yeliseyev as his deputy (soon joined by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin) and previous owner Krayevsky as an administrator.[10] Among the authors attracted to the new OZ were Alexander Ostrovsky and Gleb Uspensky. Dmitry Pisarev, put in charge of the literary criticism section, was later succeeded by Alexander Skabichevsky and Nikolai Mikhaylovsky.[3]

In 1869 OZ started publishing what turned out to be Nekrasov's most famous poem, Who Is Happy in Russia? (1863–1876). In 1873 a group of narodniks in Geneva printed the misleadingly titled, unauthorized Collection of New Poems and Songs by Nekrasov, featuring all the protest poems banned in Russia, a clear sign of what an inspiration now the poet has become for the revolutionary underground.[10]
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Part 2 of 2

Illness and death

Nekrasov in late 1877. Portrait by Ivan Kramskoy

For many years Nikolai Nekrasov suffered from a chronic throat condition.[8] In April 1876 severe pains brought about insomnia that lasted for months. In June Saltykov-Shchedrin arrived from abroad to succeed him as an editor-in-chief of OZ. Still unsure as to the nature of the illness, doctor Sergey Botkin advised Nekrasov to go to the Crimea. In September 1876 he arrived at Yalta where he continued working on Who Is Happy in Russia's final part, "The Feast for All the World". Banned by censors, it soon started spreading in hand-written copies all over Russia.[10] In December the high-profile concilium led by Nikolay Sklifosovsky diagnosed the intestinal cancer.

In February 1877 groups of radical students started to arrive to Yalta from all over the country to provide moral support for the dying man. Painter Ivan Kramskoy came to stay and work upon the poet's portrait. One of the last people Nekrasov met was Ivan Turgenev who came to make peace after years of bitter feud.[10] The surgery performed on 12 April 1877 by Theodor Billroth who was invited from Vienna by Anna Alexeyevna Nekrasova brought some relief, but not for long.[10] "I saw him for the last time just one month before his death. He looked like a corpse... Not only did he speak well, but retained the clarity of mind, seemingly refusing to believe the end was near," remembered Dostoyevsky.[18]

Nikolai Alekseyevich Nekrasov died on 8 January 1878. Four thousand people came to the funeral and the procession leading to the Novodevichy Cemetery turned into a political rally.[10] Fyodor Dostoyevsky delivered a keynote eulogy, calling Nekrasov the greatest Russian poet since Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. One section of the crowd, the followers of Chernyshevsky (with Georgy Plekhanov as one of their leaders), chanted "No, he was greater!"[19] Members of Zemlya i Volya alongside other radical groups (with wreaths "From the Socialists") were also present. "His funeral was one of the most striking demonstration of popularity ever accorded to a Russian writer," according to Mirsky.[20]

Private life

Avdotya Panayeva

Nikolai Nekrasov met Avdotya Panayeva in 1842 when she was already a promising writer and a popular hostess of a literary salon. The 26-year-old Nekrasov fell in love but had to wait several years for her emotional response and at least on one occasion was on the verge of suicide, if one of his Panayeva Cycle poems, "Some time ago, rejected by you... " is to be believed. For several years she was "struggling with her feelings" (according to Chernyshevsky), then in 1847 succumbed. "This was the lucky day I count as my whole life's beginning," wrote Nekrasov later.[2]

The way Nekrasov moved into Panayev's house to complete a much-ridiculed love triangle seen by many as a take on the French-imported idea of the 'unfettered love' which young Russian radicals associated with the Socialist moral values. In reality the picture was more complicated. Ivan Panayev, a gifted writer and journalist, proved to be 'a family man of bachelor habits', and by the time of Nekrasov's arrival their marriage has been in tatters. Avdotya who saw gender inequality as grave social injustice, considered herself free from marital obligations but was still unwilling to sever ties with a good friend. A bizarre romantic/professional team which united colleagues and lovers (she continued 'dating' her husband, sending her jealous lodger into fits of fury) was difficult for both men, doubly so for a woman in a society foreign to such experiments.[2]

Panayev and Nekrasov, by Nikolai Stepanov

The Panayevs' home soon became the unofficial Sovremennik' headquarters. In tandem with Panayeva (who used the pseudonym N.N.Stanitsky) Nekrasov wrote two huge novels, Three Countries of the World (1848-1849) and The Dead Lake (1851). Dismissed by many critics as little more than a ploy serving to fill the gaps in Sovremennik left by censorial cuts and criticised by some of the colleagues (Vasily Botkin regarded such a manufacture as 'humiliating for literature'), in retrospect they are seen as uneven but curious literary experiments not without their artistic merits.[2]

Nekrasov's poems dedicated to and inspired by Avdotya formed the Panayeva Cycle which amounted "in its entirety... to a long poem telling the passionate, often painful and morbid love story," according to a biographer.[21][22] It is only these poems that the nature of their tempestuous relationship could be judged by. There was a correspondence between them, but in a fit of rage Panayeva destroyed all letters ("Now, cry! Cry bitterly, you won’t be able to re-write them," - Nekrasov reproached her in a poem called "The Letters"). Several verses of this cycle became musical romances, one of them, "Forgive! Forget the days of the fall..." (Прости! Не помни дней паденья...) has been set to music by no less than forty Russian composers, starting with Cesar Cui in 1859, and including Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.[23]

Zinaida Nekrasova

In 1849 Panayeva gave birth to a son, but the boy soon died. Another death, of Ivan Panayev in 1862, drove the couple still further apart.[24] The main reason for Panayeva's final departure, though, was Nekrasov's 'difficult' character. He was prone to fits of depression, anger, hypochondria and could spend days "sprawling on a couch in his cabinet, greatly irritated, telling people how he hated everybody but mostly himself," according to Zhdanov.[2] "Your laughter, your merry talking could not dispel my morbid thoughts/They only served to drive my heavy, sick and irritated mind insane," he confessed in a poem.[25]

In 1863, while still with Panayeva, Nekrasov met the French actress Celine Lefresne, who was at the time performing at the Mikhaylovsky Theatre with her troupe. She became his lover; Nekrasov, when in France, stayed in her Paris flat several times; she made a visit to Karabikha in 1867. Celine was a kindred spirit and made his journeys abroad a joy, although her attitude towards him has been described as 'dry'. Nekrasov helped Celine financially and bequeathed her a considerable sum of money (10,5 thousand rubles).[26]

In 1870 Nekrasov met and fell in love with 19-year-old Fyokla Anisimovna Viktorova [he is 49 years old], a country girl for whom he invented another name, Zinaida Nikolayevna (the original one was deemed too 'simple').[2] Educated personally by her lover, she soon learned many of his poems by heart and became in effect his literary secretary. Zina was treated respectfully by the poet's literary friends, but not by Anna Alexeyevna, Nekrasov's sister who found such mésalliance unacceptable. The two women made peace in the mid-1870s, as they were bedsitting in turns for the dying poet. On April 7, 1877, in a symbolic gesture of gratitude and respect, Nekrasov wed Zinaida Nikolayevna at his home.[27]


Nekrasov's first collection of poetry, Dreams and Sounds (Мечты и звуки), received some favourable reviews but was promptly dismissed as 'bland and mediocre'[5] by Vissarion Belinsky, the most respected Russian literary critic of the 19th century. It was Belinsky, though, who first recognized in Nekrasov the talent of harsh, witty realist. "Do you know that you are indeed a poet, and the true one?" he exclaimed upon having read his poem, "On the Road" (В дороге, 1845), as Ivan Panayev reminisced. The autobiographical "Motherland" (Родина, 1846), banned by censors and published ten years later "drove Belinsky totally crazy, he learnt it by heart and sent it to his Moscow friends," according to the same source.[11][28]

"When from the darkness of delusion..." (Когда из мрака заблужденья..., 1845), arguably the first poem in Russia about the plight of a woman driven to prostitution by poverty, brought Chernyshevsky to tears. Of "Whether I ride the dark street though the night..." (Еду ли ночью по улице темной..., 1847), another harrowing story of a broken family, dead baby and a wife having to sell her body to procure money for a tiny coffin, Ivan Turgenev wrote in a letter to Belinsky (November 14): "Please tell Nekrasov that... [it] drove me totally mad, I repeat it day and night and have learnt it by heart."[29] "Among his earlier verses there is the one truly timeless, that's been recognized by many (including Grigoryev and Rozanov) as something so much more important than just a verse - the tragic tale of a doomed love balancing on the verge of starvation and moral fall, - the one that starts with the words 'Whether I ride the dark street through the night...'," wrote Mirsky.[6]

Nekrasov in 1856

The Poems by N. Nekrasov, published in October 1856, made their author famous. Divided into four parts and opening with the manifest-like "The Poet and the Citizen" (Поэт и гражданин), it was organized into an elaborate tapestry, parts of it interweaved to form vast poetic narratives (like On the Street cycle). Part one was dealing with the real people's life, part two satirised 'the enemies of the people', part three revealed the 'friends of the people, real and false', and part four was a collection of lyric verses on love and friendship. The Part 3's centerpiece was Sasha (Саша, 1855), an ode to the new generation of politically-minded Russians, which critics see as closely linked to Turgenev's Rudin.[3] In 1861 the second edition of The Poems came out (now in 2 volumes). In Nekrasov's lifetime this ever-growing collection has been re-issued several times.[3] The academic version of the Complete N.A. Nekrasov, ready by the late 1930s, had to be shelved due to the break out of the World War II; it was published in 12 volumes by the Soviet Goslitizdat in 1948-1953.[30]

1855-1862 were the years of Nekrasov's greatest literary activity.[31] One important poem, "Musings By the Front Door" (Размышления у парадного подъезда, 1858), was banned in Russia and appeared in Hertzen's Kolokol in January 1860.[10] Among others were "The Unhappy Ones" (Несчастные, 1856), "Silence" (Тишина, 1857) and "The Song for Yeryomushka" (Песня Еремушке, 1859), the latter turned into a revolutionary hymn by the radical youth.[3]

Nekrasov responded to the 1861 land reform with Korobeiniki (Коробейники, 1861), the tragicomic story of the two 'basket-men', Tikhonych and Ivan, who travel across Russia selling goods and gathering news. The fragment of the poem's first part evolved into a popular folk song.[3] "The most melodious of Nekrasov's poems is Korobeiniki, the story which, although tragic, is told in the life-affirming, optimistic tone, and yet features another, strong and powerful even if bizarre motif, that of 'The Wanderer's Song'," wrote Mirsky.[6]

Among Nekrasov's best known poems of the early 1860 were "Peasant Children" (Крестьянские дети, 1861), highlighting moral values of the Russian peasantry, and "A Knight for an Hour" (Рыцарь на час, 1862), written after the author's visit to his mother's grave.[32] "Orina, the Soldier's Mother" (Орина, мать солдатская, 1863) glorified the motherly love that defies death itself, while The Railway (Железная дорога, 1964), condemning the Russian capitalism "built upon peasant's bones," continued the line of protest hymns started in the mid-1840s.[3]

"Grandfather Frost the Red Nose" (Мороз, Красный нос, 1864), a paean to the Russian national character, went rather against the grain with the general mood of the Russian intelligentsia of the time, steeped in soul-searching after the brutal suppression of the Polish Uprising of 1863 by the Imperial forces.[3] "Life, this enigma you've been thrown into, each day draws you nearer to demolition, frightens you and seems maddeningly unfair. But then you notice that somebody needs you, and all of a sudden your whole existence gets filled with the meaning; the feeling that you're an orphan needed by nobody, is gone", wrote Nekrasov to Lev Tolstoy, explaining this poem's idea.[33]

In the late 1860s Nekrasov published several important satires. The Contemporaries (Современники, 1865), a swipe at the rising Russian capitalism and its immoral promoters,[3] is considered by Vladimir Zhdanov as being on par with the best of Saltykov-Shchedrin's work. The latter too praised the poem for its power and realism.[34] In 1865 the law was passed abolishing preliminary censorship but toughening punitive sanctions. Nekrasov lambasted this move in his satirical cycle Songs of the Free Word (Песни свободного слова), the publication of which caused more trouble for Sovremennik.[10]

Nekrasov's Дедушка Мазай и зайцы ("Grandfather Mazay and the Hares") remains among the most popular children's poems in Russia. Illustration by Boris Kustodiev

In 1867 Nekrasov started his Poems for Russian Children cycle, concluded in 1873. Full of humour and great sympathy for the peasant youth, "Grandfather Mazay and the Hares" (Дедушка Мазай и зайцы) and "General Stomping-Bear" (Генерал Топтыгин) up to this day remain the children's favourites in his country.[3]

The rise of the Narodniks in the early 1870s coincided with the renewal of interest in the Decembrist revolt in Russia. It was reflected in first Grandfather (Дедушка, 1870), then in a dilogy called Russian Women ("Princess Trubetskaya", 1872; "Princess M.N. Volkonskaya, 1873), the latter based upon the real life stories of Ekaterina Trubetskaya and Maria Volkonskaya, who followed their Decembrist husbands to their exile in Siberia.[3][10]

In the 1870s the general tone of Nekrasov's poetry changed: it became more declarative, over-dramatized and featured the recurring image of poet as a priest, serving "the throne of truth, love and beauty." Nekrasov's later poetry is the traditionalist one, quoting and praising giants of the past, like Pushkin and Schiller, trading political satire and personal drama for elegiac musings.[35] In poems like "The Morning" (Утро, 1873) and "The Frightful Year" (Страшный год, 1874) Nekrasov sounds like a precursor to Alexander Blok, according to biographer Yuri Lebedev. The need to rise above the mundane in search for universal truths forms the leitmotif of the lyric cycle Last Songs (Последние песни, 1877).[3]

Among Nekrasov's most important works is his last, unfinished epic Who Is Happy in Russia? (Кому на Руси жить хорошо?, 1863-1876), telling the story of seven peasants who set out to ask various elements of the rural population if they are happy, to which the answer is never satisfactory. The poem, noted for its rhyme scheme ("several unrhymed iambic tetrameters ending in a Pyrrhic are succeeded by a clausule in iambic trimeter". - Terras, 319) resembling a traditional Russian folk song, is regarded Nekrasov's masterpiece.[3][8]

Recognition and legacy

Nikolai Nekrasov is considered one of the greatest Russian poets of the 19th century, alongside Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov.[3] In 1850s-1860s Nekrasov (backed by two of his younger friends and allies, Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov) became the leader of a politicized, social-oriented trend in the Russian poetry (evolved from the Gogol-founded natural school in prose) and exerted the strong influence upon the young radical intelligentsia. "What's prompted the Russian student's trend of 'merging with the people' was not the Western Socialism, but the Narodnik-related poetry of Nekrasov, which was immensely popular among the young people," argued the revolutionary poet Nikolai Morozov.[36]

Nekrasov in the 1860s. Photographed by Sergey Levitsky. Nekrasov, as a real innovator in the Russian literature, was closely linked to the tradition set by his great predecessors, first and foremost, Pushkin. - Korney Chukovsky, 1952[37] Nekrasov was totally devoid of memory, unaware of any tradition and foreign to the notion of historical gratitude. He came from nowhere and drew his own line, starting with himself, never much caring for anybody else. - Vasily Rozanov, 1916[38]

In 1860 the so-called 'Nekrasov school' in the Russian poetry started to take shape, uniting realist poets like Dmitry Minayev, Nikolai Dobrolyubov, Ivan Nikitin and Vasily Kurochkin, among others. Chernyshevsky praised Nekrasov for having started "the new period in the history of Russian poetry."[3]

Nekrasov was credited for being the first editor of Fyodor Dostoyevsky whose debut novel Poor Folk made its way into the St. Petersburg Collection which (along with its predecessor, 1845's The Physiology of Saint Petersburg) played the crucial role in promoting the realism in Russian literature. A long-standing editor and publisher of Sovremennik, he turned it into the leading Russian literary publication of his time, thus continuing the legacy of Pushkin, its originator. During its 20 years of steady and careful literary policy, Sovremennik served as a cultural forum for all the major Russian writers, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, and Leo Tolstoy, as well as Nekrasov's own poetry and prose. His years at the helm of Sovremennik, though, were marred by controversy. "Nekrasov was a genius editor, and his gift of procuring the best literature and the best authors at the height of their relevancy, bordered on miracle," acknowledged Mirsky, but as such he was "a ruthless manipulator, first and foremost, for whom any means justified the end" and who "shamelessly exploited the enthusiasm of his underpaid authors."[6]

The conservatives among his contemporaries regarded him a dangerous political provocateur. "Nekrasov is an outright communist... He's openly crying out for the revolution," reported Faddey Bulgarin in his letter to the Russian secret police chief in 1846.[39] Liberal detractors (Vasily Botkin, Alexander Druzhinin, Ivan Turgenev among them) were horrified by the way "ugly, anti-social things creep into his verse," as Boris Almazov has put it,[40] and the 'antipoetic' style of his verse (Grigoryev, Rozanov).[41] "The way he pushes such prosaic subject matter down into poetic form, is just unthinkable," Almazov wrote in 1852.[42] "Nekrasov most definitely is not an artist," insisted Stepan Dudyshkin in 1861.[43]

Attacks from the right and the center-right caused Nekrasov's reputation no harm and "only strengthened [his] position as a spiritual leader of the radical youth," as Korney Chukovsky maintained. More damage has been done (according to the same author) by those of his radical followers who, while eulogizing 'Nekrasov the tribune,' failed to appreciate his 'genius of an innovator'.[44] "His talent was remarkable if not for its greatness, then for the fine way it reflected the state of Russia of his time," wrote soon after Nekrasov's death one of his colleagues and allies Grigory Yeliseyev.[45] "Nekrasov was for the most part a didactic poet and as such... prone to stiltedness, mannerisms and occasional insincerity," opined Maxim Antonovich.[46] Georgy Plekhanov who in his 1902 article glorified 'Nekrasov the Revolutionary' insisted that "one is obliged to read him... in spite of occasional faults of the form" and his "inadequacy in terms of the demands of esthetic taste."[47]

According to one school of thought (formulated among others by Vasily Rosanov in his 1916 essay), Nekrasov in the context of the Russian history of literature was an "alien... who came from nowhere" and grew into a destructive 'anti-Pushkin' force to crash with his powerful, yet artless verse the tradition of "shining harmonies" set by the classic.[38] Decades earlier Afanasy Fet described Nekrasov's verse as a 'tin-plate prose' next to Pushkin's 'golden poetry'. Korney Chukovsky passionately opposed such views and devoted the whole book, Nekrasov the Master, to highlight the poet's stylistic innovations and trace the "ideological genealogy", as he put it, from Pushkin through Gogol and Belinsky to Nekrasov.[31][48] Mirsky, while giving credit to Chukovsky's effort, still saw Nekrasov as a great innovator who came first to destroy, only then to create: "He was essentially a rebel against all the stock in trade of 'poetic poetry' and the essence of his best work is precisely the bold creation of a new poetry unfettered by traditional standards of taste," Mirsky wrote in 1925.[6]

Modern Russian scholars consider Nekrasov a trailblazer in the Russian 19th-century poetry who "explored new ways of its development in such a daring way that before him was plain unthinkable," according to biographer Yuri Lebedev. Mixing social awareness and political rhetoric with such conservative subgenres as elegy, traditional romance and romantic ballad, he opened new ways, particularly for the Russian Modernists some of whom (Zinaida Gippius, Valery Bryusov, Andrey Bely and Alexander Blok) professed admiration for the poet, citing him as an influence.[3] Vladimir Mayakovsky did as much in the early 1920s, suggesting that Nekrasov, as 'a brilliant jack-of-all-trades' would have fitted perfectly into the new Soviet poetry scene.[49]

Nekrasov enriched the traditional palette of the Russian poetry language by adding to it elements of satire, fuellieton, realistic sketch and, most importantly, folklore and song-like structures. "Of all the 19th century poets he was the only one so close to the spirit of a Russian folk song, which he never imitated - his soul was that of a folk singer," argued Mirsky. "What distinguishes his verse is its song-like quality," wrote Zinaida Gippius in 1939.[50] "The greatest achievement in the genre of the folk Russian song," according to Misky is the poem Who Is Happy in Russia?, its style "totally original, very characteristic and monolith. Never does the poet indulges himself with his usual moaning and conducts the narrative in the tone of sharp but good-natured satire very much in the vein of a common peasant talk... Full of extraordinary verbal expressiveness, energy and many discoveries, it's one of the most original Russian poems of the 19th century."[6]

Nekrasov is recognized as an innovator satirist. Before him the social satire in Russia was "didactic and punishing": the poet satirist was supposed to "rise high above his targets to bombard them easily with the barrage of scorching words" (Lebedev). Nekrasov's dramatic method implied the narrator's total closeness to his hero whom he 'played out' as an actor, revealing motives, employing sarcasm rather than wrath, either ironically eulogizing villains ("Musings by the Front Door"), or providing the objects of his satires a tribune for long, self-exposing monologues ("A Moral Man", "Fragments of the Travel Sketches by Count Garansky", "The Railroad").[3]

Tomb of Nikolay Nekrasov at the Novodevichy Cemetery (Saint Petersburg).

What interested Nekrasov himself so much more than the stylistic experiments, though, was the question of "whether poetry could change the world" and in a way he provided an answer, having become by far the most politically influential figure in the Russian 19th-century literature. Vladimir Lenin considered him "the great Russian Socialist"[51] and habitually treated his legacy as a quotation book which he used to flay enemies, left and right.[37] In the Soviet times scholars tended to promote the same idea, glorifying Nekrasov as a 'social democrat poet' who was 'fighting for the oppressed' and 'hated the rich'.[52]

Unlike many of his radical allies, though, Nekrasov held the Orthodox Christianity and 'traditional Russian national values' in high esteem. "He had an unusual power of idealization and the need to create gods was the most profound of his needs. The Russian people was the principal of these gods; next to it stood equally idealized and subjectively conditioned myths of his mother and Belinsky," noted Mirsky. Nekrasov's poetry was admired and profusely quoted by liberals, monarchists, and nationalists, as well as Socialists.[52] Several of his lines (like "Seyat razumnoye, dobroye, vetchnoye..." - "To saw the seeds of all things sensible, kind, eternal..." or "Suzhdeny vam blagiye poryvi/ No svershit nichevo ne dano". - "You're endowed with the best of intentions / Yet unable to change anything") became the commonplace aphorisms in Russia, overused in all kinds of polemics.[53]

With verdicts upon Nekrasov's legacy invariably depending upon the political views of reviewers, the objective evaluation of Nekrasov's poetry became difficult. As D.S. Mirsky noted in 1925, "Despite his enormous popularity among the radicals and of a tribute given to him as a poet by enemies like Grigoryiev and Dostoyevsky, Nekrasov can hardly be said to have had his due during his lifetime. Even his admirers admired the matter of his poetry rather than its manner, and many of them believed that Nekrasov was a great poet only because matter mattered more than form and in spite of his having written inartistically. After Nekrasov's death his poetry continued to be judged along the party lines, rejected en bloc by the right wing and praised in spite of its inadequate form by the left. Only in relatively recent times has he come into his own, and his great originality and newness being fully appreciated."[6]


Nekrasov's estate in Karabikha, his St. Petersburg home, as well as the office of Sovremennik magazine on Liteyny Prospekt, are now national cultural landmarks and public museums of Russian literature. Many Libraries are named in his honor. One of them is the Central Universe Science Nekrasov Library in Moscow.

Selected bibliography


• "The Money-lender" (Rostovshchik, 1844)
• "On the Road" (V doroge, 1845)
• "Motherland" (1846)
• "The Doghunt" (Psovaya okhota, 1846)
• On the Street (Na Ulitse, 1850), 4 poems cycle
• "The Fine Match" (Prekrasnaya partia, 1852)
• "Unmowed Line" (Neszhataya polosa, 1854)
• "Vlas" (1855)
• "V.G. Belinsky" (1855)
• Sasha (1855)
• "The Forgotten Village" (Zabytaya derevnya, 1855)
• "Musings at the Front Door" (Razmyshlenya u paradnovo pod’ezda, 1858)
• "The Unhappy Ones (Neschastnye, 1856)
• "The Poet and the Citizen" (Poet i grazhdanin, 1856)
• "Silence" (Tishina, 1857)
• "The Song for Yeryomushka" (Pesnya Yeryomushke, 1859)
• Korobeiniki (1861)
• "The Funeral" (Pokhorony, 1861)
• "Peasant Children" (Krestyanskiye deti, 1861)
• "A Knight for An Hour" (Rytsar na thas, 1862)
• "Green Roar" (Zelyony shum, 1862) • "Orina, the Soldier's Mother" (Orina, mat soldatskaya, 1863)
• The Railway (Zheleznaya doroga, 1864)
• "Grandfather Frost the Red Nose" (Moroz, Krasny nos, 1864)
• Contemporaries (Sovremenniki, 1865)
• Songs of the Free Word (Pesni svobodnovo slova, 1865-1866)
• Poems for Russian Children (Stikhotvorenya, posvyashchyonnye russkim detyam, 1867-1873)
• "The Bear Hunt. Scenes from the lyrical comedy" (Medvezhya okhota, 1867)
• Grandfather (Dedushka, 1870)
• "The Recent Times" (Nedavneye vremya, 1871)
• Russian Women (Russkiye zhenshchiny: 1872-1873), a dilogy
• "The Morning" (Utro, 1873)
• "The Horrible Year" (Strashny god, 1874)
• The Last Songs (Poslednye pesni, 1877), a cycle
• Who Is Happy in Russia? (Komu na Rusi zhit khorosho, 1863-1876)


• There is No Hiding a Needle in a Sack (Shila v meshke ne utayich, 1841)


• The Life and Adventures of Tikhon Trostnikov(Zhizn i pokhozhdenya Tikhona Trostnikova, 1843-1848) - autobiographical novel, unfinished


1. Yakubovich dismissed the once popular notion of a Polish girl having been kidnapped by a visiting Russian officer against her will, pointing to "Mother", Nekrasov's autobiographical verse describing an episode when he discovered in his family archives his mother's letter written hectically (and apparently in a fit of passion, in French and Polish) which suggested she was at least for a while deeply in love with the army captain.
2. The term "physiology" was applied in those times to a short literary real life sketch, describing in detail the life of a certain social strata, group of professionals, etc.
3. Panayev donated 35 thousand rubles. The Kazan Governorate landlord Grigory Tolstoy was not among the sponsors, contrary to what some Russian sources maintain. Tolstoy, who ingratiated himself with the mid-19th-century Russian revolutionary circles in France (and was even mentioned in the Marx-Engelscorrespondence, as a 'fiery Russian revolutionary' who, after having had the long conversation with Marx, declared his intention to sell his whole estate and give the moneys to the revolutionary cause, but seemed to forget about the promise upon his return home) indeed promised Nekrasov to provide the necessary sum, but failed to produce a single kopeck, according to Korney Chukovsky's essay Nekrasov and Grigory Tolstoy.


1. History of Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature, by Dmitrij Cizevskij et al. Vanderbilt University Press, 1974. Page 104.
2. Vladimir Zhdanov (1971). "Nekrasov". Molodaya Gvardiya Publishers. ЖЗЛ (The Lives of Distinguished People) series. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
3. Lebedev, Yu, V. (1990). "Nekrasov, Nikolai Alekseyevich". Russian Writers. Biobibliographical Dictionary. Vol. 2. Ed. P.A.Nikolayev. Moscow. Prosveshchenye Publishers. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
4. Chukovsky, K.I.. Commentaries to N.A.Nekrasov's Autobiography. The Works by N.A.Nekrasov in 8 vols. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow. 1967. Vol. VIII. Pp. 463-475.
5. Pyotr Yakubovich (1907). "Nikolai Nekrasov. His Life and Works". Florenty Pavlenkov’s Library of Biographies. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
6. Mirsky, D.S. (1926). "Nekrasov, N.A. The History of the Russian Literature from the Ancient Times to 1925. (Russian translation by R.Zernova)". London: Overseas Publications Interchange Ltd, 1992. Pp. 362-370. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
7. Nekrasov N.A. Materials for Biography. 1872. The Works by N.A.Nekrasov in 8 vol. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow. 1967. Vol. VIII. Pp. 413-416.
8. "Nekrasov, Nikolai Alexeyevich". Russian Biographical Dictionary. 1911.
9. The Works by A.Skabichevsky, Vol. II, Saint Petersburg, 1895, p.245
10. Garkavi, A.M. N.A.Nekrasov's biography. Timeline. The Works by N.A.Nekrasov in 8 vol. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow. 1967. Vol. VIII. Pp. 430-475
11. Panayev, Ivan. Literary Memoirs. Leningrad, 1950. P.249.
12. Zhdanov, p. 335.
13. An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, Volume 1, Taylor & Francis, 1991.
14. Maksimovich, A.Y. Nekrasov in The Whistle. Literary Heritage. The USSR Academy of Science. 1946. Vol. 49/50. Book I. Pp. 298—348
15. The Complete N.Chernyshevsky, Vol. XIV. P. 321.
16. The Complete Works by I.Turgenev in 28 volumes. Letters. Vol. III. P. 58.
17. Zhdanov, p.364
18. Dostoyevsky, F.M., The Diary of a Writer. Russian Classics. Moscow, 2006. P.601
19. Dostoyevsky, F.M., The Diary of a Writer. Russian Classics. Moscow, 2006. P.604
20. Mirsky, D.S. (1926). Nekrasov, N.A. The History of the Russian Literature from the Ancient Times to 1925. (curtailed version) London: Overseas Publications Interchange Ltd, 1992. - Pp. 362-370. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
21. Yevgenyev-Maximov, V. The Life and Works of N.A. Nekrasov, Vol. 2. 1950, р. 272.
22. Kuzmenko, Pavel. The Most Scandalous Triangles of the Russian History. Moscow, Astrel Publishers2012
23. Ivanov, G.K. Russian Poetry in Music. Moscow, 1966, Pp. 245-246.
24. Chukovsky, Korney. N.A. Nekrasov and A.Y.Panayeva. 1926
25. Ni smekh, no govor tvoi vesyoly / Ne progonyali tyomnykh dum: / Oni besili moi tyazholy, / Bolnoi i razdrazhonny um.
26. Stepina, Maria. Nekrasov and Celine Lefresne-Potcher[permanent dead link]. Commentaries to one episode of the biography. Nekrasov Almanac. Nauka Publishers, Saint Petersburg, Vol XIV. Pp 175—177
27. Skatov, Nikolai. Fyokla Anisimovna Viktorova, alias Zinaida Nikolayevna Nekrasova. Molodaya Gvardiya. The Lives of Distinguished People series. 1994. ISBN 5-235-02217-3
28. Chukovsky, K.I., Garkavi, A.M. The Works by N.A.Nekrasov in 8 vol. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow. 1967. Commentaries. Vol. I. Pp. 365-415
29. Turgenev, Ivan. Letters in 13 volumes. Vol.I, Moscow-Leningrad, 1961, p. 264.
30. Notes to the Works by N.A.Nekrasov in 8 vol. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow. 1967. Vol. I. P. 365.
31. Korney Chukovsky. Teachers and Precursors. Gogol. IV. 77-141
32. Kovalevsky, P.M. Poems and Memoirs. Petrograd, 1912. P. 279.
33. The Complete N.A.Nekrasov. Moscow, 1952. Vol. X. Pp. 344--345.
34. Zhdanov, 376.
35. Skatov, N.N. Nekrasov. Contemporaries and Followers// Современники и продолжатели. P.258
36. Morozov, N.A. Stories of My Life // Повести моей жизни. Moscow, 1955.Vol I. P. 352).
37. Chukovsky, Vol.V, p.470
38. Rozanov, Vasily. Novoye Vremya, 1916, No.4308. January 8
39. Shchyogolev, Pavel. One Episode in the Life of V.G. Belinsky. Days of the Past. 1906. No.10, p. 283
40. Boris Almazov, Moskvityanin, No.17. Section VII. P.19
41. Apollon Grigoryev. Moskvityanin. 1855, Nos. 15-16, p.178
42. Moskvityanin, 1852. No.13. Section V, p. 30.
43. Otechestvennye Zapiski, 1861, No.12, Pp. 87, 194
44. Korney Chukovsky. Nekrasov the Master. The Works by Korney Chukovsky. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura Publishers. Moscow. 1966. Vol.4, Pp.186-187
45. Otechestvennye Zapiski. 1878. No.3, p.139.
46. Slovo. 1878. No.2, Pp. 116-117.
47. Plekhanov, G.V. Iskusstvo i Literatura //Art and Literature. Moscow, 1848. P.624
48. Korney Chukovsky. Nekrasov and Pushkin. The Works by Korney Chukovsky. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura Publishers. Moscow. 1966. Vol.4
49. Chukovsky, Vol.IV, p.371
50. Zinaida Gippius (1939). "Nekrasov's Enigma (The Arithmetics of Love collection)". Rostok, 2003, Saint Petersburg. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
51. Chukovsky, Vol.V, p.492
52. Chukovsky, Vol.V, p.472
53. Chukovsky, Vol.V, p.484


• "Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov" in the Russian Biographical Dictionary (online)
• Terras, Victor. A History of Russian Literature. ISBN 0-300-04971-4

External links

• Several poems by Nekrasov translated into English
• Works by Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov at Project Gutenberg
• Works by or about Nikolay Nekrasov at Internet Archive
• Works by Nikolay Nekrasov at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
• English translations of 3 poems by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky, 1921
• English translations of 4 poems
• Some texts by Nikolai Nekrasov in the original Russian
• Nekrasov Library

Poems by Nikolay Nekrasov

• Korobeiniki (1861)
• The Railway (1864)
• Grandfather (1870)
• Russian Women (1872-1873)
• Who Is Happy in Russia? (1863-1876)
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Alexander Pushkin
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Accessed: 8/16/18



Alexander Pushkin by Orest Kiprensky
Born Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
26 May 1799
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died 29 January 1837 (aged 37)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Occupation Poet, novelist, playwright
Language Russian, French
Nationality Russian
Alma mater Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum
Period Golden Age of Russian Poetry
Genre Novel, novel in verse, poem, drama, short story, fairytale
Literary movement Romanticism
Notable works Eugene Onegin, The Captain's Daughter, Boris Godunov, Ruslan and Ludmila
Spouse Natalia Pushkina (m. 1831)
Children Maria, Alexander Fremke, Grigory, Natalia
Relatives Sergei Lvovich Pushkin, Nadezhda Ossipovna Gannibal

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (English: /ˈpʊʃkɪn/[1]; Russian: Александр Сергеевич Пушкин[note 1], tr. Aleksándr Sergéyevich Púshkin, IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr sʲɪˈrɡʲejɪvʲɪtɕ ˈpuʂkʲɪn] (About this sound listen); 6 June [O.S. 26 May] 1799 – 10 February [O.S. 29 January] 1837) was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era[2] who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet[3][4][5][6] and the founder of modern Russian literature.[7][8]

Pushkin was born into Russian nobility in Moscow. His father, Sergey Lvovich Pushkin, belonged to Pushkin noble families. His matrilineal great-grandfather was Abram Petrovich Gannibal. He published his first poem at the age of 15, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. Upon graduation from the Lycee, Pushkin recited his controversial poem "Ode to Liberty", one of several that led to his being exiled by Tsar Alexander the First.

Ode to Liberty
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Listless Cytherean princess1, sing
No more. Begone out of my view!
But you, great scourge of tsar and king,
Proud Muse of Freedom, where are you?
Come rip my laurels off. Bring stones
And crush this coddled lyre. Let me
Sing to the world of Liberty
And shame that scum upon the thrones.

Reveal to me the noble path
Where that exalted Gaul2 once strode,
When you in storied Days of Wrath
Inspired in him a dauntless Ode.
Now, flighty Fortune's favored knaves,
Tremble, O Tyrants of the Earth!
But ye: take heed now, know your worth
And rise as men, ye fallen slaves!

I cannot cast my gaze but see
A body flayed, an ankle chained,
The useless tears of Slavery,
The Law perverted and profaned.
Yea, everywhere iniquitous
Power in the fog of superstition
Ascends: Vainglory's fateful passion,
And Slavery's gruesome genius.

Heavy on every sovereign head
There lies a People's misery,
Save where the mighty Law is wed
Firmly with holy Liberty,
Where their hard shield is spread for all,
Where in a Nation's faithful hand
Among mere equals in the land
The sword can equitably fall3

The Mosaic account of the creation, whether taken as divine authority or merely historical, is full to this point, the unity or equality of man. The expression admits of no controversy. "And God said, Let us make man in our own image. In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." The distinction of sexes is pointed out, but no other distinction is even implied. If this be not divine authority, it is at least historical authority, and shows that the equality of man, so far from being a modern doctrine, is the oldest upon record.

-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

To smite transgression from on high
With one blow, righteously severe
In fingers uncorrupted by
Ravenous avarice or fear.
O Monarchs, ye are crowned by will
And law of Man, not Nature's hand.
Though ye above the people stand,
Eternal Law stands higher still.

The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him.

-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

But woe betide the commonweal
Where it is blithely slumbering,
Where Law itself is forced to kneel
Before the Masses, or the King.
Here is the Man: witness he bears
To his forebears’ infamous error
And in the storm of recent Terror
Laid down royal neck for theirs.

King Louis to his death ascends4
In sight of hushed posterity,
His crownless, beaten head he bends:
Blood for the block of perfidy.
The Law stands mute, the People too.
And down the criminal axe-blade flies
And lo! A ghastly purple5 lies
Upon a Gaul enslaved anew.

You autocratic psychopath,6
You and your throne do I despise!
I watch your doom, your children's death
With hateful, jubilating eyes.
Upon your forehead they descry
The People’s mark of true damnation.
Stain of the world, shame of creation,
Reproach on earth to God on high!

And I hope that you die
And your death will come soon
I will follow your casket
By the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
'Til I’m sure that you’re dead

-- Masters of War, by Bob Dylan

When on the dark Neva the star
Of midnight makes the water gleam,
When carefree eyelids near and far
Are overwhelmed with peaceful dream,
The poet, roused with intellect,
Sees the lone tyrant's statue loom
Grimly asleep amid the gloom,
The palace now a derelict,7

And Clio's8 awesome call he hears
Behind those awesome walls of power.
Vivid before his sight appears
The foul Caligula's last hour.
In stars and ribbons he espies
Assassins drunk with wine and spite
Approaching, furtive in the night
With wolfish hearts and brazen eyes.

And silent stands the faithless guard,
The drawbridge downed without alarm,
The gate in dark of night unbarred
By treason’s mercenary arm.
O shame! O terror of our time!
Those Janissary beasts burst in9
And slash, the Criminal Sovereign
Is slaughtered by unholy crime.

Henceforward, Monarchs, learn ye well:
No punishment, no accolade,
No altar and no dungeon cell
Can be your steadfast barricade.
The first bowed head must be your own
Beneath Law's trusty canopy
Then Peoples' life and liberty
Forevermore shall guard your throne.



1 I.e. Venus Aphrodite, associated in antiquity with the Ionian island of Cythera.

2The identity of this "exalted Gaul" is one of the many quarrels with which scholars of Pushkinian minutiae have busied themselves. Possibilities range from Nabokov's suggestion of the minor poet Ponce Denis Ecouchard Le Brun, to the sadly underrated (by modern critics) poet André Chénier who died on the guillotine at the age of 31, to Jacques de Molay- last grand master of the Knights Templar. For a variety of reasons Chénier seems the most likely, or rather, the only likely choice. But obviously this is a question of interest to historians and the appreciator of poetry doesn't, or at least shouldn't, care.

3 C.f. Guillaume Thomas Raynal's Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes where he writes:

La loi n'est rien, si ce n'est pas un glaive qui se promène indistinctement sur toutes les têtes, et qui abat ce qui s'élève au-dessus du plan horizontal sur lequel il se meut. La loi ne commande à personne ou commande à tous. Devant la loi, ainsi que devant Dieu, tous sont égaux.

The law is nothing, unless it be a sword passing indiscriminately over all heads, and smiting all that rise above the horizontal plane in which it moves. The law governs none, or governs all. Before the Law as before God, all are equal

4King Louis XVI, guillotined in 1793 during the reign of Terror.

5i.e. Napoleonic purple.

6 i.e. Napoleon. Yeah, I know, "psychopath" wasn't a word in the early 19th century.

7 The Tyrant here referred to is Tsar Paul I, father of the then-current Tsar Alexander I. The poem was written in the Turgenevs' apartment which looked out across the canal at the Mikhailovsky Castle, the scene of Paul's assassination in 1801- an event envisioned in the subsequent two stanzas. In Pushkin's time, Paul was considered and depicted as a royal psychopath who ignored the will of his subjects.

8- Clio: the muse of History.

9 Janissaries: i.e. assassins fierce and ruthless as Turkish troops.

While under the strict surveillance of the Tsar's political police and unable to publish, Pushkin wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was serialized between 1825 and 1832.

Pushkin was fatally wounded in a duel with his brother-in-law, Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès, also known as Dantes-Gekkern, a French officer serving with the Chevalier Guard Regiment, who attempted to seduce the poet's wife, Natalia Pushkina.


Pushkin's father, Sergei Lvovich Pushkin (1767–1848), was descended from a distinguished family of the Russian nobility that traced its ancestry back to the 12th century.[9][10]

Pushkin's mother, Nadezhda (Nadya) Ossipovna Gannibal (1775–1836), was descended through her paternal grandmother from German and Scandinavian nobility.[11][12] She was the daughter of Ossip Abramovich Gannibal (1744–1807) and his wife, Maria Alekseyevna Pushkina (1745–1818).

Major S. L. Pushkin – father of the poet

Ossip Abramovich Gannibal's father, Pushkin's great-grandfather, was Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781), an African page kidnapped to Constantinople as a gift to the Ottoman Sultan and later transferred to Russia as a gift for Peter the Great. Abram wrote in a letter to Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter, that Gannibal was from the town of "Lagon". Largely on the basis of a mythical biography by Gannibal's son-in-law Rotkirkh, some historians concluded from this that Gannibal was born in a part of what was then the Abyssinian Empire.[13] Vladimir Nabokov, when researching Eugene Onegin, cast serious doubt on this origin theory. Later research by the scholars Dieudonné Gnammankou and Hugh Barnes eventually conclusively established that Gannibal was instead born in Central Africa, in an area bordering Lake Chad in modern-day Cameroon.[13][14] After education in France as a military engineer, Gannibal became governor of Reval and eventually Général en Chef (the third most senior army rank) in charge of the building of sea forts and canals in Russia.

Nadezhda Gannibalova – mother of the poet

Pushkin exam at lyceum

Early life

Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at 15. When he finished school, as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo, near Saint Petersburg, his talent was already widely recognized within the Russian literary scene. After school, Pushkin plunged into the vibrant and raucous intellectual youth culture of the capital, Saint Petersburg. In 1820, he published his first long poem, Ruslan and Ludmila, with much controversy about its subject and style.

Social activism

While at the Lyceum, Pushkin was heavily influenced by the Kantian liberal individualist teachings of Alexander Petrovich Kunitsyn, who Pushkin would later commemorate in his poem 19 October.[15] Pushkin also immersed himself in the thought of the French Enlightenment, to which he would remain permanently indebted throughout his life, particularly Diderot and Voltaire, whom he described as "the first to follow the new road, and to bring the lamp of philosophy into the dark archives of history."[16][17]

Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. That angered the government and led to his transfer from the capital in May 1820.[18] He went to the Caucasus and to Crimea and then to Kamianka and Chișinău, where he became a Freemason.

Pushkin's married lover, Anna Petrovna Kern, for whom he probably wrote the most famous love poem in Russian.

He joined the Filiki Eteria, a secret organization whose purpose was to overthrow Ottoman rule in Greece and establish an independent Greek state. He was inspired by the Greek Revolution and when the war against the Ottoman Turks broke out, he kept a diary recording the events of the national uprising.


He stayed in Chișinău until 1823 and wrote two Romantic poems, which brought him acclaim: The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. In 1823, Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he again clashed with the government, which sent him into exile on his mother's rural estate of Mikhailovskoye (near Pskov) from 1824 to 1826.[19]

In Mikhaylovskoye, Pushkin wrote nostalgic love poems which he dedicated to Elizaveta Vorontsova, wife of Malorossia's General-Governor.[20] Then Pushkin continued work on his verse-novel Eugene Onegin.

In Mikhaylovskoye, in 1825, Pushkin wrote the poem To***. It is generally believed that he dedicated this poem to Anna Kern, but there are other opinions. Poet Mikhail Dudin believed that the poem was dedicated to the serf Olga Kalashnikova.[21] Pushkinist Kira Victorova believed that the poem was dedicated to the Empress Elizaveta Alekseyevna.[22] Vadim Nikolayev argued that the idea about the Empress was marginal and refused to discuss it, while trying to prove that poem had been dedicated to Tatyana Larina, the heroine of Eugene Onegin.[21]

Authorities summoned Pushkin to Moscow after his poem "Ode to Liberty" was found among the belongings of the rebels from the Decembrist Uprising (1825). Being exiled in 1820, Pushkin's friends and family continually petitioned for his release, sending letters and meeting with Tsar Alexander I and then Tsar Nicholas I on the heels of the Decembrist Uprising. Upon meeting with Tsar Nicholas I Pushkin obtained his release from exile and began to work as the tsar's Titular Counsel of the National Archives. However, because insurgents in the Decembrist Uprising (1825) in Saint Petersburg had kept some of Pushkin's earlier political poems the tsar retained strict control of everything Pushkin published and he was unable to travel at will.

During that same year (1825), Pushkin also wrote what would become his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, while at his mother's estate. He could not however, gain permission to publish it until five years later. The original and uncensored version of the drama was not staged until 2007.

Around 1825–1829 he met and befriended the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, during exile in central Russia.[23] In 1829 he travelled through the Caucasus to Erzurum to visit friends fighting in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War.[24] In the end of 1829 Pushkin wanted to set off on a journey abroad, the desire reflected in his poem Poedem, ia gotov; kuda by vy, druz’ia...[25] He applied for permission for the journey, but received negative response from Nicholas I on 17 January 1830.[26]

Around 1828, Pushkin met Natalia Goncharova, then 16 years old and one of the most talked-about beauties of Moscow. After much hesitation, Natalia accepted a proposal of marriage from Pushkin in April 1830, but not before she received assurances that the Tsarist government had no intentions to persecute the libertarian poet. Later, Pushkin and his wife became regulars of court society. They officially became engaged on 6 May 1830, and sent out wedding invitations. Due to an outbreak of cholera and other circumstances, the wedding was delayed for a year. The ceremony took place on 18 February 1831 (Old Style) in the Great Ascension Church on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street in Moscow. When the Tsar gave Pushkin the lowest court title; Gentlemen of the Chamber, the poet became enraged, feeling that the Tsar intended to humiliate him by implying that Pushkin was being admitted to court not on his own merits but solely so that his wife, who had many admirers including the Tsar himself, could properly attend court balls.[18]

Georges d'Anthès

In the year 1831, during the period of Pushkin's growing literary influence, he met one of Russia's other great early writers, Nikolai Gogol. After reading Gogol's 1831–1832 volume of short stories Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, Pushkin supported him and would feature some of Gogol's most famous short stories in the magazine The Contemporary, which he founded in 1836.


By the autumn of 1836, Pushkin was falling into greater and greater debt and faced scandalous rumours that his wife had a love affair. On 4 November he sent a challenge to a duel for Georges d'Anthès (Dantes-Gekkern). Jacob van Heeckeren, d'Anthès' adoptive father, asked the duel be delayed by two weeks. With efforts by the poet's friends, the duel was cancelled. On 17 November Georges d'Anthès made a proposal to Natalia Goncharova's (Pushkina's) sister – Ekaterina Goncharova. The same day Pushkin sent the letter to refuse the duel. The marriage didn't resolve the conflict. Georges d'Anthès continued to pursue Natalia Goncharova in public. Rumours that Georges married Natalia's sister just to save her reputation started to spread. On 26 January (7 February) of 1837 Pushkin sent a "highly insulting letter" to Heeckeren. The only answer for that letter could be a challenge to a duel, and Pushkin knew it. Pushkin received the formal challenge to a duel through his sister-in-law, Ekaterina Gekkerna, approved by d'Anthès, on the same day through the attaché of the French Embassy Viscount d'Archiac. Since Dantes-Gekkern was the ambassador of a foreign country, he could not fight a duel – it would mean the immediate collapse of his career. The duel with d'Anthès took place on 27 January at the Black River. Pushkin was wounded in a hip and the bullet penetrated into the abdomen. At that time that kind of wound was fatal. Pushkin learned about it from the medic Arendt, who did not conceal the true state of affairs. Two days later, on 29 January (10 February) at 14:45 Pushkin died of peritonitis.

By Pushkin's wife's request he was put in the coffin in an evening dress – not in chamber-cadet uniform, the uniform provided by the tsar. The funeral service was assigned to the St. Isaac's Cathedral, but it was moved to Konyushennaya church. The ceremony took place at a large gathering of people. After the funeral, the coffin was lowered into the basement, where it stayed until 3 February, before the departure to Pskov. Alexander Pushkin was buried on the territory of the monastery Svyatogorsk Pskov province beside his mother. His last home is now a museum.

Natalia Goncharova, Pushkin's wife. Painted by Ivan Makarov (1849).


Pushkin had four children from his marriage to Natalia: Maria (b. 1832), Alexander (b. 1833), Grigory (b. 1835) and Natalia (b. 1836) the last of whom married morganatically into the royal house of Nassau to Nikolaus Wilhelm of Nassau and became the Countess of Merenberg.

Only the lines of Alexander and Natalia still remain. Natalia's granddaughter, Nadejda, married into the British royal family (her husband was the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh).[27] Descendants of the poet now live around the globe in the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and the United States.



Critics consider many of his works masterpieces, such as the poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. His poetic short drama Mozart and Salieri (like The Stone Guest, one of the so-called four Little Tragedies, a collective characterization by Pushkin himself in 1830 letter to Pyotr Pletnyov[28]) was the inspiration for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus as well as providing the libretto (almost verbatim) to Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart and Salieri. Pushkin is also known for his short stories. In particular his cycle The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, including "The Shot", were well received. Pushkin himself preferred his verse novel Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life and which, starting a tradition of great Russian novels, follows a few central characters but varies widely in tone and focus.

Onegin is a work of such complexity that, while only about a hundred pages long, translator Vladimir Nabokov needed two full volumes of material to fully render its meaning in English. Because of this difficulty in translation, Pushkin's verse remains largely unknown to English readers. Even so, Pushkin has profoundly influenced western writers like Henry James.[29] Pushkin wrote The Queen of Spades, which is included in Black Water, a collection of short stories of a fantastic nature by major writers, compiled by Alberto Manguel.


Pushkin's works also provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (La Dame de Pique, 1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name.

Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov (two versions, 1868–9 and 1871–2) ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel; Cui's Prisoner of the Caucasus, Feast in Time of Plague, and The Captain's Daughter; Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa; Rachmaninoff's one-act operas Aleko (based on The Gypsies) and The Miserly Knight; Stravinsky's Mavra, and Nápravník's Dubrovsky.

Additionally, ballets and cantatas, as well as innumerable songs, have been set to Pushkin's verse (including even his French-language poems, in Isabelle Aboulker's song cycle "Caprice étrange"). Suppé, Leoncavallo and Malipiero have also based operas on his works.[30]

The Desire of Glory, which has been dedicated to Elizaveta Vorontsova, was set to music by David Tukhmanov (Vitold Petrovsky – The Desire of Glory on YouTube), as well as Keep Me, Mine Talisman – by Alexander Barykin (Alexander Barykin – Keep Me, Mine Talisman on YouTube) and later by Tukhmanov.


Pushkin is considered by many to be the central representative of Romanticism in Russian literature although he was not unequivocally known as a Romantic. Russian critics have traditionally argued that his works represent a path from Neoclassicism through Romanticism to Realism. An alternative assessment suggests that "he had an ability to entertain contrarities [sic] which may seem Romantic in origin, but are ultimately subversive of all fixed points of view, all single outlooks, including the Romantic" and that "he is simultaneously Romantic and not Romantic".[2]

Russian language

According to Vladimir Nabokov,

Pushkin's idiom combined all the contemporaneous elements of Russian with all he had learned from Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Batyushkov, Karamzin and Krylov:

1. The poetical and metaphysical strain that still lived in Church Slavonic forms and locutions

2. Abundant and natural gallicisms

3. Everyday colloquialisms of his set

4. Stylized popular speech by making a salad of the famous three styles (low, medium elevation, high) dear to the pseudoclassical archaists and adding the ingredients of Russian romanticists with a pinch of parody.[31]

Pushkin is usually credited with developing Russian literature. He is seen as having originated the highly-nuanced level of language which characterizes Russian literature after him, and he is also credited with substantially augmenting the Russian lexicon. Whenever he found gaps in the Russian vocabulary, he devised calques. His rich vocabulary and highly-sensitive style are the foundation for modern Russian literature. His accomplishments set new records for development of the Russian language and culture. He became the father of Russian literature in the 19th century, marking the highest achievements of the 18th century and the beginning of literary process of the 19th century. He introduced Russia to all the European literary genres as well as a great number of West European writers. He brought natural speech and foreign influences to create modern poetic Russian. Though his life was brief, he left examples of nearly every literary genre of his day: lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, the short story, the drama, the critical essay and even the personal letter.
His work as a critic and as a journalist marked the birth of Russian magazine culture which included him devising and contributing heavily to one of the most influential literary magazines of the 19th century, the Sovremennik (The Contemporary, or Современник). Pushkin inspired the folk tales and genre pieces of other authors: Leskov, Yesenin and Gorky. His use of Russian language formed the basis of the style of novelists Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov and Leo Tolstoy, as well as that of subsequent lyric poets such as Mikhail Lermontov. Pushkin was analysed by Nikolai Gogol, his successor and pupil, and the great Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky. The last mentioned also produced the fullest and deepest critical study of Pushkin's work, which still retains much of its relevance.


• In 1929, Soviet writer, Leonid Grossman, published a novel, The d'Archiac Papers, telling the story of Pushkin's death from the perspective of a French diplomat, being a participant and a witness of the fatal duel. The book describes him as a liberal and a victim of the Tsarist regime. In Poland the book was published under the title Death of the Poet.
• In 1937, the town of Tsarskoye Selo was renamed Pushkin in his honour.
• There are several museums in Russia dedicated to Pushkin, including two in Moscow, one in Saint Petersburg, and a large complex in Mikhaylovskoye.
• Pushkin's death was portrayed in the 2006 biographical film Pushkin: The Last Duel. The film was directed by Natalya Bondarchuk. Pushkin was portrayed on screen by Sergei Bezrukov.
• The Pushkin Trust was established in 1987 by the Duchess of Abercorn to commemorate the creative legacy and spirit of her ancestor and to release the creativity and imagination of the children of Ireland by providing them with opportunities to communicate their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
• A minor planet, 2208 Pushkin, discovered in 1977 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Chernykh, is named after him.[32] A crater on Mercury is also named in his honour.
• MS Aleksandr Pushkin, second ship of the Russian Ivan Franko class (also referred to as "poet" or "writer" class).
• A station of Tashkent metro was named in his honour.
• The Pushkin Hills[33] and Pushkin Lake[34] were named in his honour in Ben Nevis Township, Cochrane District, in Ontario, Canada.
• UN Russian Language Day, established by the United Nations in 2010 and celebrated each year on 6 June, was scheduled to coincide with Pushkin's birthday.[35]
• A statue of Pushkin was unveiled inside the Mehan Garden in Manila, Philippines to commemorate the Philippines–Russia relations in 2010.[36]
• The Alexander Pushkin diamond, the second largest found in Russia and the former territory of the USSR, was named after him.
• On 28 November 2009, a Pushkin Monument was erected in Asmara, capital of Eritrea.[37]
• In 2005 a monument to Pushkin and his grandmother Maria Hannibal was commissioned by an enthusiast of Russian culture Just Rugel in Zakharovo, Russia. Sculptor V. Kozinin


• Portrait of Pushkin 1800–1802 by Xavier de Maistre
• Self-portrait, 1820s
• Portrait of A. Pushkin by Pyotr Sokolov (1831)
• Portrait of A. Pushkin by Pyotr Sokolov (1836)
• Portrait of A. Pushkin by Carl Mazer (1839)
• "Pushkin's Farewell to the Sea" by Ivan Aivazovsky and Ilya Repin (1877)
• Portrait of A. Pushkin by Konstantin Somov (1899)
• Portrait of Pushkin by Vasily Mate (1899)
• Pushkin's room while he was a student at the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum
• Pushkin's writing table
• Duel of Alexander Pushkin and Georges d'Anthès
• The vest Pushkin wore during his fatal duel in 1837
• Monument to Alexander Pushkin in Bakhchysarai, Crimea
• Alexander Pushkin statue, St. Petersburg, Russia.


Narrative poems

• 1820 – Ruslan i Ludmila (Руслан и Людмила); English translation: Ruslan and Ludmila
• 1820–21 – Cawcazskiy plennik (Кавказский пленник); English translation: The Prisoner of the Caucasus
• 1821 – Gavriiliada (Гавриилиада) ; English translation: The Gabrieliad
• 1821–22 – Bratia razboyniki (Братья разбойники); English translation: The Robber Brothers
• 1823 – Bahchisarayskiy fontan (Бахчисарайский фонтан); English translation: The Fountain of Bakhchisaray
• 1824 – Tsygany (Цыганы); English translation: The Gypsies
• 1825 – Graf Nulin (Граф Нулин); English translation: Count Nulin
• 1829 – Poltava (Полтава)
• 1830 – Domik v Kolomne (Домик в Коломне); English translation: The Little House in Kolomna
• 1833 – Anjelo (Анджело); English translation: Angelo
• 1833 – Medny vsadnik (Медный всадник); English translation: The Bronze Horseman
• 1825–1832 (1833) – Evgeniy Onegin (Евгений Онегин); English translation: Eugene Onegin


• 1825 – Boris Godunov (Борис Годунов); English translation by Alfred Hayes: Boris Godunov
• 1830 – Malenkie tragedii (Маленькие трагедии); English translation: The Little Tragedies
• Kamenny gost (Каменный гость); English translation: The Stone Guest
• Motsart i Salieri (Моцарт и Сальери); English translation: Mozart and Salieri
• Skupoy rytsar (Скупой рыцарь); English translations: The Miserly Knight, The Covetous Knight
• Pir vo vremya chumy (Пир во время чумы); English translation: A Feast in Time of Plague


• 1828 – Arap Petra Velikogo (Арап Петра Великого); English translation: The Moor of Peter the Great, unfinished novel
• 1831 – Povesti pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina (Повести покойного Ивана Петровича Белкина); English translation: The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin
• Vystrel (Выстрел); English translation: The Shot, short story
• Metel (Метель); English translation: The Blizzard, short story
• Grobovschik (Гробовщик); English translation: The Undertaker, short story
• Stantsionny smotritel (Станционный смотритель); English translation: The Stationmaster, short story
• Baryshnya-krestianka (Барышня-крестьянка); English translation: The Squire's Daughter, short story
• 1834 – Pikovaa dama (Пиковая дама); English translation: The Queen of Spades, short story
• 1834 – Kirjali (Кирджали); English translation: Kirdzhali, short story
• 1834 – Istoria Pugachyova (История Пугачева); English translation: A History of Pugachev, study of the Pugachev's Rebellion
• 1836 – Capitanskaa dochka (Капитанская дочка); English translation: The Captain's Daughter, novel
• 1836 – Puteshestvie v Arzrum (Путешествие в Арзрум); English translation: A Journey to Arzrum, travel sketches
• 1836 – Roslavlyov (Рославлев); English translation: Roslavlev, unfinished novel
• 1837 – Istoria sela Goryuhina (История села Горюхина); English translation: The Story of the Village of Goryukhino, unfinished short story
• 1837 – Egypetskie nochi (Египетские ночи); English translation: Egyptian Nights, unfinished short story
• 1841 – Dubrovsky (Дубровский); English translation: Dubrovsky, unfinished novel

Fairy tales in verse

• 1825 – Жених; English translation: The Bridegroom
• 1830 – Сказка о попе и о работнике его Балде; English translation: The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda
• 1830 – Сказка о медведихе; English translation: The Tale of the Female Bear (was not finished)
• 1831 – Сказка о царе Салтане; English translation: The Tale of Tsar Saltan
• 1833 – Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке; English translation: The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
• 1833 – Сказка о мертвой царевне; English translation: The Tale of the Dead Princess
• 1834 – Сказка о золотом петушке; English translation: The Tale of the Golden Cockerel


1. In Pushkin's day, his name was written Александръ Сергѣевичъ Пушкинъ.


1. "Pushkin". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
2. Basker, Michael. Pushkin and Romanticism. In Ferber, Michael, ed., A Companion to European Romanticism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
3. Short biography from University of Virginia. Retrieved 24 November 2006.
4. Allan Reid, "Russia's Greatest Poet/Scoundrel". Retrieved 2 September 2006.
5. "Pushkin fever sweeps Russia". BBC News, 5 June 1999. Retrieved 1 September 2006.
6. "Biographer wins rich book price". BBC News, 10 June 2003. Retrieved 1 September 2006.
7. Biography of Pushkin at the Russian Literary Institute "Pushkin House". Retrieved 1 September 2006.
8. Maxim Gorky, "Pushkin, An Appraisal". Retrieved 1 September 2006.
9. "Aleksander Sergeevich Pushkin's descendants at". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
10. Н. К. Телетова [N. K. Teletova] (2007).
11. Лихауг [Lihaug], Э. Г. [E. G.] (November 2006). "Предки А. С. Пушкина в Германии и Скандинавии: происхождение Христины Регины Шёберг (Ганнибал) от Клауса фон Грабо из Грабо [Ancestors of A. S. Pushkin in Germany and Scandinavia: Descent of Christina Regina Siöberg (Hannibal) from Claus von Grabow zu Grabow]". Генеалогический вестник [Genealogical Herald].–Санкт-Петербург [Saint Petersburg]. 27: 31–38.
12. Lihaug, Elin Galtung (2007). "Aus Brandenburg nach Skandinavien, dem Baltikum und Rußland. Eine Abstammungslinie von Claus von Grabow bis Alexander Sergejewitsch Puschkin 1581–1837". Archiv für Familiengeschichtsforschung. 11: 32–46.
13. New Statesman. New Statesman Limited. 2005. p. 36. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
14. Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny, Ludmilla A. Trigos (eds.) (2006). Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness. Northwestern University Press. p. 31. ISBN 0810119714. Retrieved 7 January2015.
15. Schapiro, Leonard (1967). Rationalism and Nationalism in Russian Nineteenth Century Political Thought. Yale University Press. p. 48–50. Schapiro writes that Kunitsyn’s influence on Pushkin’s political views was 'important above all.' Schapiro describes Kunitsyn's philosophy as conveying 'the most enlightened principles of past thought on the relations of the individual and the state,' namely, that the ruler’s power is 'limited by the natural rights of his subjects, and these subjects can never be treated as a means to an end but only as an end in themselves.'
16. Kahn, Andrew (2008). Pushkin's Lyric Intelligence. OUP Oxford. p. 283.
17. Pushkin, Alexander (1967). The Letters of Alexander Pushkin. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 164.
18. "Aleksandr Pushkin – Russiapedia Literature Prominent Russians". Russia: RT.
19. Images of Pushkin in the works of the black "pilgrims". Ahern, Kathleen M. The Mississippi Quarterly p. 75(11) Vol. 55 No. 1 ISSN 0026-637X. 22 December 2001.
20. (in Russian) P. K. Guber. Don Juan List of A. S. Pushkin. Petrograd, 1923 (reprinted in Kharkiv, 1993). pp. 78, 90–99.
21. (in Russian) Vadim Nikolayev. To whom «Magic Moment» has been dedicated? Archived 2 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
22. (in Russian) In an interview with Kira Victorova Archived 7 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
23. Kazimierz Wyka, Mickiewicz Adam Bernard, Polski Słownik Biograficzny, Tome XX, 1975, p. 696
24. Wilson, Reuel K. (1974). Pushkin's Journey to Erzurum. Springer. ISBN 978-90-247-1558-9.
25. Poedem, ia gotov; kuda by vy, druz’ia...(in Russian)
26. Pushkin, A.S. (1974). Sobranie sochinenii. Vol. 2. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaya Literatura. p. 581.
27. Pushkin Genealogy. PBS.
28. Anderson, Nancy K. (trans. & ed.) (2000). The Little Tragedies by Alexander Pushkin. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 1 & 213 n.1. ISBN 0300080255..
29. Joseph S. O'Leary, Pushkin in 'The Aspern Papers', the Henry James E-Journal Number 2, March 2000. Retrieved 24 November 2006.
30. Taruskin R. Pushkin in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. London & New York, Macmillan, 1997.
31. Vladimir Nabokov, Verses and Versions, page 72.
32. Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 179. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.
33. "Pushkin Hills". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
34. "Pushkin Lake". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
35. Wagner, Ashley (6 June 2013). "Celebrating Russian Language Day". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 30 December2013.
36. Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837). Plaque on the pedestal of Pushkin's statue at the Mehan Garden, Manila. Archived from the original on 27 September 2015.
37. (in Russian) "В Эритрее появится памятник Пушкину". Vesti. 26 November 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2017.

Further reading

• Binyon, T. J. (2002) Pushkin: A Biography. London: HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-215084-0; US edition: New York: Knopf, 2003 ISBN 1-4000-4110-4
• Yuri Druzhnikov (2008) Prisoner of Russia: Alexander Pushkin and the Political Uses of Nationalism, Transaction Publishers ISBN 1-56000-390-1
• Dunning, Chester, Emerson, Caryl, Fomichev, Sergei, Lotman, Lidiia, Wood, Antony (Translator) (2006) The Uncensored Boris Godunov: The Case for Pushkin's Original Comedy University of Wisconsin Press ISBN 0-299-20760-9
• Feinstein, Elaine (ed.) (1999) After Pushkin: versions of the poems of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin by contemporary poets. Manchester: Carcanet Press; London: Folio Society ISBN 1-85754-444-7
• Pogadaev, Victor (2003) Penyair Agung Rusia Pushkin dan Dunia Timur (The Great Russian Poet Pushkin and the Oriental World). Monograph Series. Centre For Civilisational Dialogue. University Malaya. 2003, ISBN 983-3070-06-X
• Vitale, Serena (1998) Pushkin's button; transl. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux ISBN 1-85702-937-2
• DuVernet, M. A. (2014) Pushkin's Ode to Liberty. US edition: Xlibris ISBN 978-1-4990-5294-7
• Телетова, Н. К. (Teletova, N. K.) (2007) Забытые родственные связи А.С. Пушкина (The forgotten family connections of A. S. Pushkin). Saint Petersburg: Dorn OCLC 214284063
• Wolfe, Markus (1998) Freemasonry in life and literature. Munich: Otto Sagner ltd. ISBN 3-87690-692-X
• Wachtel, Michael. "Pushkin and the Wikipedia" Pushkin Review 12–13: 163–66, 2009–2010
• Jakowlew, Valentin. "Pushkin's Farewell Dinner in Paris" (Text in Russian) Koblenz (Germany): Fölbach, 2006, ISBN 3-934795-38-2.
• Galgano Andrea (2014). The affective dynamics in the work and thought of Alexandr Pushkin, Conference Proceedings, 17th World Congress of the World Association for Dynamic Psychiatry. Multidisciplinary Approach to and Treatment of Mental Disorders: Myth or Reality?, St. Petersburg, 14–17 May 2014, In Dynamische Psychiatrie. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychotherapie, Psychoanalyse und Psychiatrie – International Journal for Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, and Psychiatry, Berlin: Pinel Verlag GmbH, 1–3, Nr. 266-268, 2015, pp. 176–191.

External links

• Alexander Pushkin at Encyclopædia Britannica
• Works by Aleksandr Pushkin at Project Gutenberg
• Works by or about Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin at Internet Archive
• Works by Alexander Pushkin at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
• Biographical essay on Pushkin. By Mike Phillips, British Library(Pdf).
• The Pushkin Review, annual journal of North American Pushkin Society. Retrieved 2010-10-19
• English translations of Pushkin's poems. Retrieved 2013-04-26
• English translation of "The Tale of the Female Bear"
• List of English translations of Eugene Onegin with extracts
• List of English translations of The Bronze Horseman with extracts
• Alexander Pushkin. Mozart and Saliery in English
• Alexander Pushkin. Boris Godunov in English
• Alexander Pushkin. The Bronze Horseman in English
• Alexander Pushkin poetry(rus)
• Pushkin's poetry translated to English by Margaret Wettlin

Alexander Pushkin

Narrative poems

• Ruslan and Ludmila (1820)
• The Prisoner of the Caucasus (1820–1822)
• The Gabrieliad (1821)
• The Fountain of Bakhchisaray (1823)
• The Gypsies(1827)
• Poltava (1829)
• The Bronze Horseman (1833)

Short poems

• "I Loved You" (1830)
• "To the Slanderers of Russia" (1831)

Verse fairy tales

• The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda (1830)
• The Tale of Tsar Saltan(1831)
• The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (1833)
• The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights (1833)
• The Tale of the Golden Cockerel (1834)

Verse novel

• Eugene Onegin (1833)


• The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin (1830)
• "The Shot"
• "The Blizzard"
• The Moor of Peter the Great (1827)
• Dubrovsky (1833)
• The Queen of Spades(1834)
• A Journey to Arzrum (1835–1836)
• The Captain's Daughter (1836)


• Boris Godunov (1825)
• The Little Tragedies
• A Feast in Time of Plague (1830)
• Mozart and Salieri (1830)
• The Stone Guest (1830)


• Anton Delvig
• Abram Petrovich Gannibal (great-grandfather)
• Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès
• Anna Petrovna Kern
• Pyotr Pletnyov
• Vasily Pushkin (uncle)
• Natalia Pushkina (wife)
• Pyotr Vyazemsky

Related articles

• Dostoyevsky Speech
• Literaturnaya Gazeta
• Mikhaylovskoye Museum Reserve
• Pushkin House
• Pushkin is Our Everything
• Pushkin Museum
• Pushkin Prize
• Pushkin studies
• Pushkinskaya Square
• Sovremennik
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Re: Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

Postby admin » Thu Aug 16, 2018 8:35 am

Part 1 of 3

Mikhail Lermontov
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 8/16/18



Will you, poet, who is mocked, reawake!
Or, will you never avenge against those who spurn—
From the golden scabbard unsheathe your blade,
Covered with the rust of scorn?

-- from ‘The Poet,’ 1838

E’er since the judge eterne
The prophet’s omniscience gave me,
In people’s eyes do I discern
The pages of malice and enmity.

To proclaim love I came
And the pure truths of learning:
All my neighbors, enraged,
At me stones were hurling

With embers I strewed my head,
From the cities did I flee
And thus I live in the desert;
Like the birds, on food divine and free.

-- The Prophet, 1841

Mikhail Lermontov
Mikhail Lermontov in 1837
Born Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov
October 15 [O.S. October 3] 1814
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died July 27 [O.S. July 15] 1841 (aged 26)
Pyatigorsk, Caucasus Oblast, Russian Empire
Occupation Poet, novelist, artist
Nationality Russian
Period Golden Age of Russian Poetry
Genre Novel, poem, drama
Literary movement Romanticism, pre-realism

Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (/ˈlɛərmənˌtɔːf, -ˌtɒf/;[1] Russian: Михаи́л Ю́рьевич Ле́рмонтов, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈil ˈjurʲjɪvʲɪtɕ ˈlʲɛrməntəf]; October 15 [O.S. October 3] 1814 – July 27 [O.S. July 15] 1841) was a Russian Romantic writer, poet and painter, sometimes called "the poet of the Caucasus", the most important Russian poet after Alexander Pushkin's death in 1837 and the greatest figure in Russian Romanticism. His influence on later Russian literature is still felt in modern times, not only through his poetry, but also through his prose, which founded the tradition of the Russian psychological novel.


Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov was born in Moscow into the respectable noble family of Lermontov, and he grew up in the village of Tarkhany (now Lermontovo in Penza Oblast).[2] His paternal family descended from the Scottish family of Learmonth, and can be traced to Yuri (George) Learmonth, a Scottish officer in the Polish-Lithuanian service who settled in Russia in the middle of the 17th century.[3][4][5] He had been captured by the Russian troops in Poland in the early 17th century, during the reign (1613–1645) of Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov.[2] Family legend asserted that George Learmonth descended from the famed 13th-century Scottish poet Thomas the Rhymer (also known as Thomas Learmonth).[2] Lermontov's father, Yuri Petrovich Lermontov, like his father before him, followed a military career. Having moved up the ranks to captain, he married the sixteen-year-old Maria Mikhaylovna Arsenyeva, a wealthy young heiress of a prominent aristocratic Stolypin family. Lermontov's maternal grandmother, Elizaveta Arsenyeva (née Stolypina), regarded their marriage as a mismatch and deeply disliked her son-in-law.[6] On October 15, 1814, in Moscow where the family temporarily moved to, Maria gave birth to her son Mikhail.[7]

Early life

Maria Mikhaylovna Lermontova (1795–1817), the mother of the poet

The marriage proved ill-suited and the couple soon grew apart. "There is no strong evidence as to what had precipitated the quarrels they've had. There are reasons to believe Yuri has got tired of his wife's nervousness and frail health, and his mother-in-law's despotic ways," according to literary historian and Lermontov scholar Alexander Skabichevsky. An earlier biographer, Pavel Viskovatov, suggested the discord might have been caused by Yuri's affair with a young woman named Yulia, a lodger who worked in the house.[8][9] Apparently it was her husband's violent, erratic behavior and the resulting stresses that accounted for Maria Mikhaylovna's early demise. Her health quickly deteriorated, she developed tuberculosis and died on 27 February 1817, aged only 21.[7][2]

Nine days after Maria's death a final row broke out in Tarkhany and Yuri rushed away to his Kropotovo estate in Tula Governorate where his five sisters resided. Yelizaveta Arsenyeva launched a formidable battle for her beloved grandson, promising to disinherit him if his father took the boy away. Eventually the two sides agreed that the boy should stay with his grandmother until the age of 16. Father and son separated and, at the age of three, Lermontov began a spoilt and luxurious life with his doting grandmother and numerous relatives. This bitter family feud formed a plot of Lermontov's early drama Menschen und Leidenschaften (1830), its protagonist Yuri bearing strong resemblance to the young Mikhail.[4][6][10]

The Poet
by Mikhail Lermontov (1830, age 16)
translated by Denise M. Henderson

And when Raphael, so inspired,
The pure Virgin’s image, blessed,
Completed with his brush afire,
By his art enraptured
He before his painting fell!
But soon was this wonderment
In his youthful breast tamed
And, wearied and mute,
He forgot the celestial flame.

Thus the poet: a thought flashing,
As he, heart and soul, his pen dashing,
With the sound of his famed lyre
Charms the world; in quiet deep
It sings, forgetting in heavenly sleep
Thou, thou! The idol of his soul!
Suddenly, his fiery cheeks grow cold,
All his tend’rest passions
Are quiet, and flees the apparition!
But how long, how long the mind holds
The very first impression.

Yuri Petrovich Lermontov (1787–1831), the poet's father

In June 1817 Yelizaveta Alekseyevna moved her grandson to Penza. In 1821 they returned to Tarkhany and spent the next six years there.[7] The doting grandmother spared no expense to provide the young Lermontov with the best schooling and lifestyle that money could buy. He received an extensive home education, became fluent in French and German, learned to play several musical instruments and proved a gifted painter.[5][9] While living with the grandmother, Mikhail hardly met with his father.

But the boy's health was fragile, he suffered from scrofula and rickets (the latter accounted for his bow-leggedness) and was kept under close surveillance of a French doctor, Anselm Levis. Colonel Capet, a Napoleon army prisoner-of-war who settled in Russia after 1812, was the boy's first, and best-loved governor.[11] A German pedagogue, Levy, who succeeded Capet, introduced Mikhail to Goethe and Schiller. He didn't stay for long and soon another Frenchman, Gendrot, replaced him, soon joined by Mr. Windson, a respectable English teacher recommended by the Uvarov family. Later Alexander Zinoviev, a teacher of Russian literature, arrived. The intellectual atmosphere in which Lermontov grew up resembled that experienced by Aleksandr Pushkin, though the domination of French had begun to give way to a preference for English, and Lamartine shared popularity with Byron.[5][9][12]

Looking for a better climate and treatment at the mineral springs for the boy, Arsenyeva twice, in 1819 and 1820, took him to the Caucasus where they stayed at her sister E.A. Khasatova's. In summer 1825, as the nine-year-old's health started to deteriorate, the extensive family traveled south for the third time.[7] The Caucasus greatly impressed the boy, inspiring a passion for its mountains and stirring beauty. "Caucasian mountains for me are sacred", he wrote later. It was there that Lermontov experienced his first romantic passion, falling for a nine-year-old girl.[5][13]

Yelizaveta Arsenyeva, Lermontov's grandmother

Fearing that Lermontov's father would eventually claim his right to bring up his son, Arsenyeva strictly limited contact between the two, causing young Lermontov much pain and remorse. Despite all the pampering lavished upon him, and torn by the family feud, he grew up lonely and withdrawn. In another early autobiographical piece, "Povest" (The Tale), Lermontov described himself (under the guise of Sasha Arbenin) as an impressionable boy, passionately in love with all things heroic, but otherwise emotionally cold and occasionally sadistic. Having developed a fearful and arrogant temper, he took it out on his grandmother's garden as well as on insects and small animals ("with great delight he would squash a hapless fly and bristled with joy when a stone he'd thrown would kick a chicken off its feet").[14] Positive influence came from Lermontov's German governess Christina Rhemer, a religious woman who introduced the boy to the idea of every man, even if that man was a serf, deserving respect. In fact, Lermontov's poor health served in a way as a saving grace, Skabichevsky argued, for it prevented the boy from further exploring the darker sides of his character and, more importantly, "taught him to think of things... seek pleasures that he couldn't find in the outer world, deep inside himself."[15]

Returning from his third trip to the Caucasus in August 1825, Lermontov begun his regular studies with tutors in French and Greek, starting to read German, French and English authors' original texts.[5] In summer 1827 the 12-year-old for the first time travelled to his father's estate in Tula Governorate. In autumn of that year he and Yelizaveta Arsenyeva moved to Moscow.[4][16]

School years

Lermontov as a child

After having received a year of private tutoring, in February 1829 the thirteen-year old Lermontov took exams and joined the 5th form of the Moscow University's boarding-school for the nobility's children.[17] Here his personal tutor was poet Alexey Merzlyakov, alongside Zinoviev, who taught Russian and Latin.[7] Under their influence the boy started to read a lot, making the best of his vast home library, which included books by Mikhail Lomonosov, Gavrila Derzhavin, Ivan Dmitriev, Vladislav Ozerov, Konstantin Batyushkov, Ivan Krylov, Ivan Kozlov, Vasily Zhukovsky, and Alexander Pushkin.[15] Soon he started editing an amateur student journal. One of his friends, his cousin Yekaterina Sushkova (Khvostova, in marriage) described the young man as "married to a hefty volume of Byron". Yekaterina had at one time been the object of Lermontov's affections and to her he dedicated some of his late 1820s poems, including "Nishchy" (The Beggar).[18] By 1829 Lermontov had written several of his well-known early poems. While "Kavkazsky Plennik" (Caucasian Prisoner), betraying strong Pushkin influence and borrowing from the latter, "The Corsair", "Prestupnik" (The Culprit), "Oleg", "Dva Brata" (Two Brothers), as well as the original version of "The Demon" were impressive exercises in Romanticism. Lord Byron remained the major source of inspiration for Lermontov, despite the attempts of his literary tutors, including Semyon Rayich, the head of the school's literature class, to divert him from that particular influence. The short poem "Vesna" (The Spring), published in 1830 by the amateur Ateneum magazine, marked his informal publishing debut.[5][16][16]

Along with his poetic skills, Lermontov developed an inclination towards poisonous wit and cruel, sardonic humor. His ability to draw caricatures was matched only by his ability to pin someone down with a well aimed epigram. In the boarding school Lermontov proved an exceptional student. He excelled at the 1828 examinations; he recited a Zhukovsky poem, performed a violin étude and won the first prize for his literary essay.[5] In April 1830 the University's boarding school was transformed into an ordinary gymnasium and Lermontov, like many of his fellow-students, promptly quit.[7][15]

Moscow University

In August 1830 Lermontov enrolled in Moscow University's philological faculty.[7] "Petty arrogance" (as Skabichevsky puts it) prevented him from joining any of the three radical students' circles (those led respectively by Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolai Stankevich and Alexander Hertzen). Instead he drifted towards an aristocracic clique, but even this cream of the Moscow's "golden youth" detested the young man for being too aloof, while still giving him credit for having charisma. "Everyone could see that Lermontov was obnoxious, rough and daring, and yet there was something alluring in his firm moroseness," fellow-student Wistengof admitted.[19]

Lermontov's handwritten request to Moscow University for leave

Attending lectures faithfully, Lermontov would often read a book in the corner of the auditorium, and never took part in student life, making exceptions only for incidents involving grand-scale trouble-making. He took an active part in the notorious 1831 Malov scandal (when a jeering mob drove the unpopular professor out of the auditorium), but wasn't formally reprimanded (unlike Hertzen, who found himself incarcerated).[5][7] A year into his university studies, the final, tragic act of the family discord played itself out. Deeply affected by his son's alienation, Yuri Lermontov left Arsenieva's house for good, only to die a short time later of consumption.[20] His father's death under such circumstances was a terrible loss for Mikhail and is reflected in his poems "Forgive Me, Will We Meet Again?" and "The Terrible Fate of Father and Son". For some time he seriously considered suicide; tellingly, each of his early dramas Menschen und Leidenschaften (1830) and A Strange Man (1831) ends with a protagonist killing himself.[21] All the while, judging by his diaries, Lermontov, maintained a keen interest in European politics. Some of his University poems like "Predskazaniye" (The Prophecy) were highly politicised; the unfinished "Povest Bez Nazvaniya" (The Untitled Novel)'s theme was the outbreak of popular uprising in Russia. Several other verses written at the time – "Parus" (The Sail), "Angel Smerti" (Angel of Death) and "Ismail-Bei" – later came to be regarded among his best.[5]

The Prophecy
by Mikhail Lermontov
translated by Yevgeny Bonver

A year will come, the year of Russia, last,
When the monarchs' crown will be cast;
Mob will forget its former love and faith,
And food of many will be blood and death;
When the cast off law will not guard
A guiltless woman and a feeble child;
When the plague on bodies, sick or dead,
Among the gloomy villages will spread,
To call from huts with pieces of a rag,
And dearth will maim this poor earth as plague;
And on the lakes will fateful glow lay:
A mighty man will come in this black day.
You'll recognize this man and understand,
Why he will have the shining knife in hand:
And woe for you! -- Your moans and appeals
He will consider just as funny things;
And all his image will be awful now,
As his black mantle and his lofty brow.

The Sail
by Mikhail Lermontov (1832, 18 years old)
by Denise M. Henderson

Gleams white a solitary sail
In the haze of the light blue sea.—
What seeks it in countries far away?
What in its native land did leave?

The mast creaks and presses,
The wind whistles, the waves are playing;
Alas! It does not seek happiness,
Nor from happiness is fleeing!

Beneath, the azure current flows,
Above, the golden sunlight streaks:—
But restless, into the storm it goes,
As if in storms there is peace!

The Angel
by Mikhail Lermontov (1834)
translated by Denise M. Henderson

An angel flew in the midnight sky,
And sang a lullaby;
And all around, the stars and the moon,
Heeded that holy song.

He sang of the blessedness of the innocent,
’Neath Eden’s tents,
About the great God he sang,
And his praise was unfeigned.

A young soul he held in his hands,
For the world of tears and sadness,
And the sound of his song in the young soul
Remained—without words, but whole.

And for a long time on earth that soul stayed,
But never could he trade
Heaven’s music, soaring,
For the songs of earth so boring.

In Lermontov's first year as a student no exams were held: the University closed for several months due to the outbreak of cholera in Moscow. In his second year Lermontov started to have serious altercations with several of his professors. Thinking little of his chances of passing the exams, he opted to leave, and on June 18, 1832, received the two-year-graduate certificate.[5][7]


In mid-1832 Lermontov, accompanied by grandmother, traveled to Saint Petersburg, with a view of joining the Saint Petersburg University's second-year course. This proved impossible and, unwilling to repeat the first year, he enrolled into the prestigious School of Cavalry Junkers and Ensign of the Guard, under pressure from his male relatives but much to Arsenyeva's distress. Having passed the exams, on November 14, 1832, Lermontov joined the Life-Guard Hussar regiment as a junior officer.[20][22] One of his fellow cadet-school students, Nikolai Martynov, the one whose fatal shot would kill the poet several years later, in his biographical "Notes" decades later described him as "the young man who was so far ahead of everybody else, as to be beyond comparison," a "real grown-up who'd read and thought and understood a lot about the human nature."[16]

Lermontov in 1834. Portrait by Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets

The sort of glittering army career which tempted young noblemen of the time proved a challenge for Lermontov. Books there were a rarity and reading was frowned upon. Lermontov had to indulge mostly in physical competitions, one of which resulted in a horse-riding accident which left him with a broken knee that produced a limp.[20] Learning to enjoy the heady mix of drills and discipline, wenching and drinking sprees, Lermontov continued to sharpen the poisonous wit and cruel humour which would often earn him enemies.[9][22] "The time of my dreams has passed; the time for believing is long gone; now I want material pleasures, happiness that I can touch, happiness that can be bought with gold, that one can carry it in one's pocket as a snuff-box; happiness that beguiles only my senses while leaving my soul in peace and quiet," he wrote in a letter to Maria Lopukhina dated August 4, 1833.[20]

Concealing his literary aspirations from friends (relatives Alexey Stolypin and Nikolai Yuriev among them), Lermontov became an expert in producing scabrous verses (like "Holiday in Peterhof" "Ulansha", and "The Hospital") which were published in a school's amateur magazine Shkolnaya Zarya (School-Years' Dawn) under monikers "Count Diarbekir" and "Stepanov". These pieces earned him much notoriety and, with a hindsight, caused harm, for when in July 1835 for the first time ever his poem "Khadji-Abrek" was published (in Biblioteka Dlya Chteniya, without its author's consent: Nikolai Yuriev took the copy to Osip Senkovsky and he furthered it to print), many refused to take the young author seriously.[5][22]

Upon his graduation in November 1834, Lermontov joined the Life-Guard Hussar regiment stationed near St. Petersburg in Tsarskoye Selo, where his flatmate was his friend Svyatoslav Rayevsky. Grandmother's lavish financial support (he had his personal chefs and coachmen) enabled Lermontov to plunge into a heady high-society mix of drawing-room gossip and ballroom glitter.[9] "Sardonic, caustic and smart, brilliantly intelligent, rich and independent, he became the soul of the high society and the leading spirit in pleasure trips and sprees," Yevdokiya Rostopchina remembered.[23] "Extraordinary, how much youthful energy and precious time had Lermontov managed to spare upon wanton orgies and base love-making, without seriously damaging his physical and moral strength", biographer Skabichevsky marvelled.[23]

By now Lermontov had learnt to lead a double life. Still keeping his passions secret, he took a keen interest in Russian history and medieval epics, which would be reflected in The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov ...

The Lay of Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich, His Young Oprichnik and the Stouthearted Merchant Kalashnikov
by Mikail Lermontov

Hail to thee, all hail, Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich!
Tis of thee our lay we did make, O Tsar!
Aye, of thee, and thy well-liked oprichnik,
And the stouthearted merchant Kalashnikov.
In the ancient manner we made the lay,
To the strains of the psaltery sing it we did,
We intoned it loud and we chanted it,
And all good Christian folk took delight in it.
As for boyar Matvei Romodanovsky,
He to each gave a goblet of foaming mead,
And his lady fair did to us present,
On a silver tray laid out prettily,
A right handsome towel sewn with silken thread.
For three days and three nights in the feast we joined
Sing we did 'thout end, but they clamoured for more


Nay, 'tis not the sun shining bright in the sky,
With the clouds at its beauty marvelling;
Tis the Tsar at his board seated, proud of mien,
Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich in his crown of gold.
And behind him there stand his serving men,
And before him the boyars and princes sit,
His oprichniks they sit to each side of him.
To the glory of God does the good Tsar feast,
Merry makes the Tsar to his heart's content.

With a smile does he now bid his serving men
Fill his own gold cup full of rich, sweet wine,
Full of rich, sweet wine from beyond the seas,
And to pass it round to his henchmen bold -
The oprichniks drink and the Tsar they praise.

One amongst them all, he, a fine, brave youth,
But a wilful one, of unruly heart,
In the golden cup did not wet his lips;
Dark of face he sat, with his head bowed low
And his eyes cast down to the very ground,
Plunged in gloom sat he and in trying thought.

And the mighty Tsar sorely vexed was he,
Knit his brows he did, and with piercing gaze,
Like the hawk that, grim, from the heights above
Eyes the grey-blue dove, so the youth he eyed.
But the youth sat on, with his head bowed low....
In his wrath the Tsar brought his thick staff down;
With a deafening crash did its iron point
Full it sink and deep in the oaken floor -
Still the youth sat on, not a start gave he.
Then in thunderous tones did the Tsar speak up -
And the youth was roused from his revery.

"Hark and list, Kiribeyevich, brave my lad,
Is it treacherous thought thou dost harbour, say?
Dost thou envy the Tsar his glory and fame?
Of thy faithful service art weary grown?...
When the moon appears, the bright stars rejoice
That the paths of heaven wax luminous.
But should one amongst them hide its face,
To the shadowed earth it will, flashing, fall....
'Tis not meet for thee, Kiribeyevich,
Thus to scorn thy Tsar and his revelry;
Art thou not a Skuratov man by birth,
In Malyuta's own house and home brought up?..."

To his Tsar the oprichnik answer made,
'Fore him low, to the very ground, he bowed:

"Hear me out, my Tsar, hear me out, I pray!
Be not wroth with me, thy unworthy slave!
Wine won't quench the flames of a burning heart,
Gloomy thoughts and dark it will not drive off.
If I vex thee, sire, let thy will be done,
Bid them seize thy slave and his head chop off -
Heavy weighs it, Tsar, on my shoulders broad,
Of itself it bows to the grass-grown earth..."

Said to him the Tsar, with a laugh said he:
"What is there that grieves one so brave and young?
Is thy silken coat frayed and worn with age?
Is thy sable cap, once so fine, now torn?
Is thy purse, once full, free of jingling coin?
Has thy sword, once sharp, tarnished grown and blunt?
Has thy steed gone lame? Was he poorly shod?
Did a merchant's son knock thee off thy feet
In a fist fight fought on the river bank?"

Kiribeyevich of the curly locks
Proudly tossed his head as reply he made:

"Not a merchant's son, nor a boyar's son,
Nay, no man is there that can knock me down;
Fast my good steed runs, never falters he;
Bright as polished glass gleams my sabre sharp;
By thy favour, sire, on a festive day
Boast I do of dress rich as any man's;

When my steed I mount and go riding him
By the Moskva Stream and beyond as well,
With my silken sash round my waist wound tight
And my velvet cap trimmed with sable fur
On my curly head sitting rakishly,
At their gates appear fair young maids and wives,
By their gates they stand and they gaze at me,
And in whispers soft to each other speak.
Only one of them turns away from me,
With a striped silk veil her dear face she clothes...

"Search the whole of Russ, this our holy land,
And you'll never find one as fair, O Tsar:
Moves she gracefully as a white-winged swan,
Gentle is her gaze as a sweet young dove's,
Tender is her voice as a nightingale's,
Pink as dawn's first ray in the heavens high,
Bloom the roses two on her fresh young cheeks;
Twined with ribbons gay is her golden hair,
Tightly bound is it into silken plaits.
Down her shoulders, sire, run they playfully
And her bosom white touch caressingly.
Born was she in a merchant's house and home
And is named Alyona Dmitrevna.

"When I look at her I am not myself:
Strengthless grow my arms, limp they grow and weak,
And my eyes so keen, turn they dark and dim;
Sorrow fills my heart at the fearful thought
That the world alone I must roam, O Tsar.
In my charger swift I delight no more,
Nor in costly garb and in finery,
Little do I care for a well-stuffed purse....
Who is there the gold that is mine to share?
Before whom shall I of my prowess boast?
Tore whose gaze shall I my rich garb display?

"Give me leave to go to the Volga steppe,
Let me lead the life of a Cossack free.
My hot head will I there in battle lose,
By a Tatar hand 'twill be smitten off,
And the infidels for themselves will they
Take my sabre sharp and my goodly steed
And my saddle rich of Circassian make.
At my eyes the ravens will tear and peck,
On my lonely bones dreary rains will fall,
Without burial will my poor dust be
Blown across the steppe by a gusty wind... ."

To these words the Tsar with a laugh replied:
"Faithful servant mine, I will soothe thy pain,
To thy aid thy Tsar in thy grief will come.
Take my ruby ring and this necklace take -
Made of pearls is it full a Joy to see;
Find a clever wife for a matchmaker,
And these precious gifts have her bear in haste
To thy lady fair Alyona Dmitrevna:
If she'll have thee, lad, hold a wedding feast;
If she'll have thee not, be not sore of heart."

Hail to thee, all hail, Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich!
By thy cunning slave thou'rt deceived this day!
Aye, the truth has he from his Tsar withheld.
He has told thee not that his lady fair
Is another's wife, is a merchant's spouse
That in church was she to her husband wed
By our holy rites, by the Christian law.

* * *

Drink deep, my lads! Sing out in glee!
Come, lads, tune up the psaltery!
With your ringing music drive away care,
Bring cheer to our host and his lady fair!


In the market place the young merchant sat,
Tall and handsome Stepan Paramonovich
Of the honest house of Kalashnikov.
His gay silken wares laid he smartly out,
And his moneys he counted carefully,
In soft tones he called to the passers-by.
But 'twas little luck that the merchant had:
By his shop the rich folk they tarried not,
No one glanced within, no one bought his wares.

In the churches the vesper bells have rung,
O'er the Kremlin domes glow the sun's last rays;
Driven on by a singing, moaning wind,
Grey clouds scurry near and the heavens veil....
The great market place it has emptied fast,
And the merchant Stepan Paramonovich
Shuts behind him the massive oaken door,
Turns the figured key in the foreign lock,
And beside the shop, on an iron chain
His old watchdog, a snarling beast, he leaves.
Then, in thought immersed, off the merchant goes
To his home and wife across Moskva Stream.

Comes he soon enough to his fine, tall house,
And amazed he looks to all sides of him:
For his fair young wife does not welcome him,
Bare the table stands, with no cloth on it,
Tore the icon a single candle gleams.
Calls he then the aged servant woman:
"Come, speak up and say, Yeremeyevna,
Where's thy mistress gone that I see her not?
Where's my wedded wife, Alyona Dmitrevna?
And my children dear, did they weary grow
Of their noisy games, of their play and sport?
Were they put abed at an early hour?"

"O my master dear, Stepan Paramonovich,
Tis a full strange thing I will say to thee:
To the vespers went Alyona Dmitrevna;
But the priest and his wife are back from church,
They have lit a candle and at supper sit,
Yet thy lady fair she has not returned....
And the little ones they are not at play,
Nor are they abed and asleep, the dears;
It is wailing they are and sobbing loud,
For their mother crying and calling her."

By a fearful thought was he visited,
Was the youthful merchant Kalashnikov.
By the window he stood with troubled heart,
At the snow-clad street gazed he fretfully.
It was dark without, and the snow swept down.
And it covered the tracks of the passers-by.

Of a sudden he hears a door slam shut,
And a hurried step to his ear it comes....
Spins he round, and there - Heaven help us all! -
Stands his fair young wife, white of face she stands,
With her headpiece gone and her plaits untwined
And with hoarfrost powdered and melting snow,
And a look in her eye as of one insane,
And her ashen lips forming soundless words....

"Where hast thou been a'wandering, wife, my wife?
To what courtyard or square didst thou stray, come,
That thy head is bare and thy plaits undone
And thy clothing torn and in disarray?
From a wanton feast dost thou come this day?
With the boyars' sons hast thou, wife, caroused?
It was not for this we did plight our troth,
It was not for this 'fore the holy shrine
On our wedding morn we exchanged our rings.
Behind oaken doors will I put thee, wife,
With an iron lock I will lock thee fast.
Ne'er the light of day shalt thou see again,
Nay, nor cast a slur on my honest name."
When the poor young wife heard these scathing
Like an aspen leaf she began to shake;
She began to shake and to sob and weep;
Down her cheeks the bitter tears they rolled,
To her knees she sank at her husband's feet.
"O my lord, my own, O my radiant sun!
Hear me out or else slay me here and now.
Every word thou sayest to thy hapless wife
Is a knife of steel that doth pierce her heart.
Tis not death I fear be it e'er so cruel,
'Tis not idle rumour that frightens me,
'Tis my lord's displeasure I fear to risk.
"On my way I was from the church this night,
All alone I was when I thought I heard -
Just behind me, someone's footsteps come.
Glanced I round, and, oh, how my knees they shook! -
'Twas a man, my lord, running after me....
O'er my face my veil pulled I close in haste.
But the brazen one caught my hands in his,
In a whisper soft spoke he thus to me:
'Wherefore fearest thou me, my lovely one?
Not a robber am I, not a highwayman
But the Tsar's oprichnik Kiribeyevich,
Of Malyuta's own house and family....'
By these words was I frighted all the more,
My poor head it spun and my sight grew dim....
He embraced me then and he kissed me too,
Hold me close he did, and he whispered thus:
'Speak and tell me, love, what thou wishest for,
Speak and answer me, and it shall be thine!
Is it pearls or gold that thy heart doth crave,
Is't brocade or silk thou wouldst have from me?
I will dress thee, love, like a princess true,
Of our Moscow wives thou'lt the envy be!...
Do not let me die a poor sinner's death,
Do not let my love unrequited stay,
Love me, kiss me, do, ere we part this night!"

"And he kissed me then, kissed me many times,
Even now, my lord, when I'm safely back
In my husband's house, like a living flame
His cursed kisses burn on my cheeks and brow.
At their gates, I saw, stood the neighbours' wives,
And they gaped at us, and they laughed in scorn....

"From his grasp at last I did tear myself,
And for home I made at a run, my lord....
In the villain's hands did thy gifts remain,
Both my silken veil and my coverchief.
Me, the blameless one, hath he sorely wronged,
On my honest self hath he brought disgrace....
What wild tales of me will the neighbours spin?
To whose eyes shall I dare to show myself?...

"Pray, protect me, do, from the spiteful-tongued,
At thy faithful wife do not let them jeer!
Whom have I to trust but thy own sweet self
And to whom but thee can I turn for help?
But for thee am I in the world alone,
For my parents dear in the grave they lie,
In the cold, dark grave lie they do, alas!
Of my brothers two, one, the elder, left
For a distant shore and was seen no more,
And the younger, thou knowest, is a child in years,
Aye, a child in years and in wisdom too..."

It was thus spoke Alyona Dmitrevna,
Bitter tears she wept and her lot bemoaned.

Then the merchant Stepan Paramonovich
For his younger brothers in haste he sent,
And his brothers they came and they bowed to him,
In this wise they did speak, the two of them:
"At thy bidding we come, elder brother ours;
What misfortune is thine, tell us truthfully,
That we're summoned by thee at an hour so late
Of a frosty night in the wintertime?..."

"Hear me, brothers mine, and I'll tell you all.
Great mischance this day hath befallen me,
For the Tsar's oprichnik Kiribeyevich
On our honest name hath brought disgrace,
And a true man's heart cannot bear such wrong,
Such offence as this it cannot endure.
On the morrow the first fight is to be,
In the Tsar's own presence, on Moskva Stream....
With the Tsar's oprichnik I'll come to grips,
To the death the rascally knave I'll fight!
And should I be slain, then, my brothers dear,
Come you out in my stead and fight for truth,
Fight for honour and truth and be not afeared!
You are younger than I and of fresher strength,
You have sinned the less, and your souls are pure,
And perchance the Lord will be kind to you."

And the brothers two in reply they said:
"Where the wind it blows in the heavens high,
There the clouds, obedient, rush in haste.
When the blue-winged eagle with raucous cry
Calls his young to the field where lie the slain,
When he summons them to a gory feast,
At his call they come without dallying.
Thou'rt a father true, brother dear, to us,
'Tis for thee to say and for us to do;
That by thee we'll stand thou canst rest assured."

Drink deep, my lads! Sing out in glee!
Come, lads, tune up the psaltery!
With your ringing music drive away care,
Bring cheer to our host and his lady fair!


Over Moscow the great and golden-domed,
O'er the Kremlin walls, o'er its white stone walls,
Rises early morn in its crimson robes.
From beyond the hills comes the early morn,
And it steals o'er the housetops playfully,
And it drives off the clouds relentlessly.
Its gold tresses the morn o'er the blue skies spreads,
And its face it bathes in the snows so white,
Like a proud young beauty in a looking glass
It beholds itself in the heavens clear.
Why art thou awake, crimson morn so bright?
Why dost thou rejoice, early morn so fresh?

From the whole of ancient Moscow-town
Came the fighters bold, came the fighters brave,
For the fisticuffs on the holiday
Gathered they by the frozen Moskva Stream.
And the Tsar himself with his retinue,
His oprichniks all and his boyars came,
And he bade them stretch a long silver chain,
A long silver chain soldered fast with gold,
And to measure off on the river ice
A large open place for the sporting match.
Then the mighty Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich
Bade his heralds call out in ringing tones:
"Come ye forth, brave lads, come ye forth and fight
For to please the good Tsar, our father own!
Come ye forward, do, to the boxing ring;
Him who wins the match the Tsar will reward,
Him who loses it the Lord will forgive!"

'Thout a word Kiribeyevich now stepped forth,
Bowed he low to the Tsar and silently,
From his shoulders his velvet coat he flung,
His right hand on his hip he proudly placed,
With his hand his crimson hat set straight,
Stood he waiting so for a challenger....
Once, and twice, and thrice rang the heralds' cry,
But the fighting men, doughty fellows all,
Only nudged each other and never stirred.

Round the ring the oprichnik audacious walks,
To his rivals he calls disdainfully:
"Why so timid, ye men, why so thoughtful, say?
With your lives, ne'er you fear, I will let you off,
Give you time I will to repent your sins,
Only let us fight and amuse the Tsar."

Of a sudden the crowd it silent parts,
And the merchant Stepan Paramonovich
Of the name and house of Kalashnikov
Steps he boldly forth for all eyes to see.
First Stepan Paramonovich bows to the Tsar,
To the Kremlin then and its churches all,
To the Russian folk bows he afterward.
Like a falcon's eyes so his eyes they burn,
On the young oprichnik he rivets them,
And before him his stand takes loftily.
Now, he pulls on his gauntlets, his fighting gloves,
And his mighty shoulders he proudly squares,
And his curly beard strokes he languidly.

The oprichnik then spoke, and this he said:
"Tell me, valiant youth, of what house thou art
And what name is thine, speak and tell me plain,
For how otherwise will I know, my lad,
Over whom the priests are to chant their prayers,
And how I'm to boast of my victory."

And Stepan Paramonovich answered thus:
"By the name of Kalashnikov am I known,
Twas an honest man that did father me,
By the Lord's commands have I ever lived:
Never brought disgrace on another's wife,
Never stalked, a thief, in the dark of night,
Never hid myself from the light of day....
Thou hast said a truthful word and just:
Over one of us will the priests they chant,
On the morrow, at noon, and no later, mind,
At a merry feast with his comrades bold,
One of us will boast of his victory.
Not in jest or sport, for the folk to watch,
Do I challenge thee, thou infidel's son,
But to wage a fight to the bitter end!"

At the merchant's speech, Kiribeyevich
Turned he nigh as grey as the snow of spring,
And his sparkling eye darkened all at once,
Down his mighty back ran a sudden chill,
On his parted lips froze his words, unsaid....

Now the rivals two, silent, moved apart,
Thout another sound did the fight commence.

Kiribeyevich was the first to strike;
His gloved hand he waved and a crushing blow
Struck the merchant brave on his mighty chest.
And Stepan Paramonovich staggered and reeled;
On his breast there dangled a copper cross
With a relic from holy Kiev-town,
And this cross bit deep into his firm flesh,
And like dew the blood from beneath it dripped.
And he said to himself, said the merchant brave:
"What is fated to be is bound to be;
For the truth will I stand to the very end!"
And he steadied himself as he made to strike,
And he gathered his strength and with all his force
Fetched his hated rival a round-arm blow,
Hit him full he did on the side of the head.

And the young oprichnik he softly moaned,
And he swayed and dropped to the icy ground,
To the icy ground like a pine he fell,
Like a slender pine in a wintry grove
By an axe cut down at the very roots....
To the ground he fell, and he lay there, dead.
At this fearful sight was the Christian Tsar
Overcome by a blinding rage and fierce,
And he knit his brows, and he stamped his foot,
And he bade his men seize the merchant bold,
And to bring the knave 'fore his face at once.

Said the mighty Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich:
"Answer honestly, for I want the truth:
Was't with full intent or against thy will
Thou hast coldly slain my most trusted man,
My oprichnik, my Kiribeyevich?"

"I will tell thee true, o most righteous Tsar:
With intent have I slain thy trusted man;
But I'll tell thee not wherefore did I this,
To the Lord alone will I this disclose....
Have me put to death; bid me place my head
On the butcher's block for the axe to smite;
But I pray thee, Tsar, to my widowed wife
And my children dear show thou clemency,
To my brothers two be thou merciful."

'"Tis a right good thing, my brave lad and true,
And is well for thee, honest merchantman,
That so truthfully thou hast answered me.
To thy orphans young and thy widowed wife
From my treasury I'll allot a share.
And throughout the length and the breadth, my lad,
Of the Russian realm shall thy brothers two
From this day and on trade 'thout tithe or tax.
As for thee, brave heart, on the block shalt thou
Thy wild head lay down by the Tsar's command;
I will have the blade made keen and sharp,
I will have the headsman wear fine, rich dress,
The great bell for thee will I bid them ring
That all Moscow-town, all the folk might know
That thy Tsar to thee of his goodwill gave..."

To the market square the good townsfolk stream,
The bell's mournful knell o'er it, booming, floats,
Throughout Moscow-town evil tidings spreads.
On high ground the wooden scaffold rears;
In his scarlet blouse with its jeweled links
Does the headsman strut in front of the crowd
And await his victim right merrily.
His axe is well honed and made keen and sharp,
And he rubs his hands in open glee....
And the stouthearted merchant Kalashnikov
Bids his brothers farewell and embraces them.

"O my brothers own, dear are you to me!
Let me hold you close, let us now embrace,
For 'tis soon you and I will forever part....
Bow you low to my wife Alyona Dmitrevna,
Bow you low 'fore the house of our parents dear,
Bow you low to our friends and kinsmen all,
And then pray for me in the holy church,
For your brother pray and his sinful soul!"

And the merchant brave he was put to death,
'Twas a cruel death and a shameful one:
O'er him high the headsman raised his axe,
And his head rolled down from the bloody block.

Beyond Moskva Stream they buried him,
In the wide, open field where three roads meet:
To Tula, Ryazan and Vladimir towns;
O'er his grave a mound of damp earth they heaped,
And on that they set a maplewood cross,
And the boisterous winds cannot be stilled,
O'er his nameless grave they sing and play.
By the grave the good folk pass they do:
When an old man goes by, he crosses himself;
When a young man goes by, his shoulders he squares;
When a young maid goes by, she heaves a sigh;
When a minstrel goes by, he sings a song.

* * *

Ho, ye brave lads and true,
The makers of song,
Ye whose voices ring merry and loud and strong!
You began right well, and so end you must;
Sing in praise of the worthy, the honest and just!
To the freehanded boyar, glory and fame!
To his lovely lady, glory and fame!
And to all Christian folk, fame and glory!

and Borodino ...

by Mikhail Lermontov

Now tell me, Uncle, how'd it chance that
Our Moscow could be burnt to ashes
And captured by the French?
For up until the bitter end there
Were battles fierce and great in number,
And all of Russia still remembers
Borodino’s great clash!

-- You see, the chaps that I once chummed with
Were not like these saps now among us:
Real men, unlike you lads!
They battled, but their luck turned ill, and
So many brave young men were killed then.
But Moscow, if God had not willed it,
Would never have changed hands!

We stood there long in silence, waiting,
With hearts aflutter, wildly beating;
The old guard carped and fussed:
"Should we forget this whole affair, then?
Do our commanders not yet dare to
Impale French uniforms and tear them
With Russian bayonets?"

And then we found a wide, wide meadow,
Where we could see for miles ahead, so
We built there a redoubt.
Let’s keep our ears and eyes wide open!
No sooner had the dawn’s light shone on
The treetops and the Russian cannons –
The French were all about!

I packed the cannon full to bursting
And thought, well, let’s impress our guests, then!
Just wait, our dear Messieurs!
Why shrink from danger? Play along, now,
And like a wall we’ll fall upon you!
We’ll risk our lives and stand up strong now,
For this here land is ours!

We shot at them, they shot back at us
For two whole days – what utter madness!
We waited for the third.
“Go get the buckshot!” someone shouted.
And then upon the fateful meadow,
So filled with lawlessness, the shadow
Of nighttime dimmed the earth.

I lay me down to catch some shut-eye,
And I could hear throughout the night how
The Frenchmen laughed and played.
But we were silent, no one chattered;
One cleaned a cap that was all battered,
Another bit his lip and muttered
While sharpening his blade.

No sooner did the heavens brighten
Than everyone began to rise, and
The soldiers moved in rows.
Our colonel was so bold, determined:
The soldiers’ sire, the Tsar’s true servant!
We all shed tears when we interred him;
In peace he’s resting now.

He said to us, his eyes like candles,
“Men! Isn’t Moscow there behind us?
Let's die for Moscow now,
Just as our brothers died before us!”
We gave our oath in one great chorus
And then we did just as we promised
Throughout Borodino.

Well, what a day! Through the confusion
The Frenchmen moved, like strange illusions,
All straight towards our redoubt!
The lancers with their brilliant colors,
Dragoons in caps with tails of horses,
And all these figures flashed before us,
Not one of them stayed out.

You'll never see such ruthless battles!
The banners floated by like shadows
And flames glared through the smog;
The sabers rang and buckshot howled as
The fighters wore their strong arms out, and
The slain were stacked up in a mountain
So wide it stopped the balls.

The Frenchmen learned a fair amount that
They didn’t know of Russian combat,
For we fought tooth and nail!
The earth, just like our chests, was quaking;
The horses howled, their manes were shaking;
A thousand shouts and shots were making
One neverending wail …

Then dusk came. Everyone was ready
To start again when morning reddened
And fight until the end …
But suddenly the drumroll sounded,
The French fiends stopped and turned around, and
We then began to count the wounded –
We counted our dead friends.

Yes, there were folks in that brave era
Who had the hearts and souls of heroes:
Real men, unlike you lads!
They battled, but their luck turned ill, and
So many brave young men were killed then.
But Moscow, if God had not willed it,
Would never have changed hands!

... as well as a series of popular ballads. During what he later referred to as "four wasted years" he finished "Demon", wrote Boyarin Orsha, The Tambov Treasurer's Wife and Masquerade, his best-known drama. Through Rayevsky he became acquainted with Andrey Krayevsky, then the editor of Russky Invalid's literary supplement, in a couple of years' time to become the editor of the influential journal Otechestvennye Zapiski.[5]

Death of the Poet

Self-portrait, 1837

The death of Pushkin, who, as it was generally suspected, had fallen victim to an intrigue, ignited Russian high society. Lermontov, who himself never belonged to the Pushkin circle (there is conflicting evidence as to whether he'd met the famous poet at all), became especially vexed with Saint Petersburg dames' sympathizing with Georges-Charles de Heeckeren D'Anthès, a culprit whom he even considered challenging to a duel.[5]

Outraged and agitated, the young man found himself on the verge of nervous breakdown. Arsenyeva sent for Arendt, and the famous doctor who had spent with Pushkin his last hours related to Lermontov the exact circumstances of what had happened. The poem Death of the Poet, its final part written impromptu, in the course of several minutes, was spread around by Rayevsky and caused uproar.

Death of A Poet
by Mikhail Lermontov
translated by Denise M. Henderson

The poet’s murd’red!—slave of honor,
He fell, by rumor defamed,
With lead in the breast, and his proud head bowed
By a thirst for vengeance!
The poet’s soul had not withstood
The disgrace of petty-minded insults.
He rose against the opinion of the world
Alone, as formerly . . . and he’s murdered!
Murdered! . . . Now to what purpose is sobbing,
A useless chorus of empty praises,
And the pitiful prattle of excuses?
Fate’s sentence has been imposed!
Was it not you who first thus persecuted
So cruelly his free, bold gift,
And for amusement fanned
The fire that had somewhat abated?
So? Be happy. . . . He could not
Bear the final torments.
Extinguished, like a lamp, is the
Marvellous genius,
Withered the ceremonial crown.

His murderer, coldblooded,
Took aim . . . There was no salvation:
That empty heart beat steadily,
In the hand the pistol did not tremble
And how is that strange? From afar,
Like a thousand fugitives,
He, hunting for fortune and rank,
Thrown among us by the will of fate
Laughing, impudently despised
The language and customs of this alien land;
He could not spare our glory,
He could not understand in that bloody instant,
Against what he raised his hand!
And he is slain—and taken to the grave,
Like that bard, unknown but dear,
The prey of dull envy,
Whom he praised with such wonderful force,
Struck down, like him, by a pitiless hand.*
Why from peaceful delights and open-hearted friendship
Did he enter into this envious world—stifling
For a free heart and fiery passions?
Why did he extend a hand to petty slanderers,
Why did he believe the false words and caresses,
He, who from his youthful years understood people?

They removed the former garland, and a crown of thorns
Entwined with laurel put they on him:
But the secret spines harshly
Wounded the famous brow;
His last moments were poisoned
By the insidious whispers of derisive fools,
And he died—thirsting in vain for vengeance,
Secretly besieged by false hopes.
The sounds of his wonderful songs fell silent,
They will not ring out again:
The bard’s refuge is cramped and sullen,
And his lips are sealed.

Postscript to ‘Death of A Poet’

And you, stubborn heirs
Of fathers renowned for meanness,
Who with servile heel trod underfoot the shards Of families by Fortune frowned upon!
You, greedy crowd standing near the throne,
Of Freedom, Genius and Glory the hangman!
You hide behind the protection of law,
Before you, the court and truth—all is silent!
But there is also divine judgment, you cronies of corruption!
There is a terrible judge: he waits;
He is not swayed by tinkling gold,
And knows your thoughts and affairs beforehand.
Then in vain will you resort to slander:
It will not help you again,
And with all your black blood you shall not wash away
The righteous blood of the poet!

The last 16 lines of it, explicitly addressed to the inner circles at the court, all but accused the powerful "pillars" of Russian high-society of complicity in Pushkin's death. The poem portrayed that society as a cabal of self-interested venomous wretches "huddling about the throne in a greedy throng", "the hangmen who kill liberty, genius, and glory" about to suffer the apocalyptic judgment of God.[24]

The poem propelled Lermontov to an unprecedented level of fame. Zhukovsky hailed the "new powerful talent"; popular opinion greeted him as "Pushkin's heir". D'Anthes, still under arrest, felt so piqued he was now himself prepared to challenge the upstart to a duel. Alexander von Benckendorff, Arsenyeva's distant relative,[20] was willing to help her grandson out, but still had no choice but to report the incident to Nicholas I, who, as it turned out, had already received a copy of the poem (subtitled "The Call for the Revolution", from an anonymous sender). The authorities arrested Lermontov, on January 21 he found himself in the Petropavlovskaya fortress and on February 25 got banished as a cornet to the Nizhegorodsky dragoons regiment to the Caucasus.[7][25] During the investigation, in an act he considered cowardice, Lermontov faulted his friend, Svyatoslav Rayevsky, and as a result the latter suffered a more severe punishment than Lermontov did: was deported to the Olonets Governorate for two years to serve in a lowly clerk's position.[5][20][24]

First exile

An 1837 landscape by Lermontov. Tiflis, 1837

In the Caucasus Lermontov found himself quite at home. The stern and gritty virtues of the mountain tribesmen against whom he had to fight, no less than the scenery of the rocks and of the mountains themselves, were close to his heart. The place of his exile was also the land he had loved as a child. Attracted to the nature of the Caucasus and excited by its folklore, he studied the local languages, wrote some of his most splendid poems and painted extensively.[9] "Good people are here aplenty. In Tiflis, especially, people are very honest... The mountain air acts like balsam for me, all spleen has gone to hell, the heart starts beating, the chest heaves," Lermontov wrote to Rayevsky. By the end of the year he had travelled all along the Caucasian line, from Kizlyar Bay to Taman Peninsula, and visited central Georgia.[5]

Lermontov's first Caucasian exile was short: due to Benkendorff's intercession the poet was transferred to the Grodno cavalry regiment based at Nizhny Novgorod. His voyage back was a prolonged one, he made a point of staying wherever he was welcome. In Shelkozavodskaya Lermontov met A. A. Khastatov (his grandmother's sister's son), a man famous for his bravery, whose stories were later incorporated into A Hero of Our Times. In Pyatigorsk he had talks with poet and translator Nikolai Satin (a member of Hertzen and Ogaryov circle) and with some of the Decembrists, notably with the poet Alexander Odoyevsky (with whom, judging by "In Memoriam", 1839, he became quite close); in Stavropol became friends with Dr. Mayer who served as a prototype for Doctor Werner (a man Pechorin meets in "town S."). In Tiflis he drifted towards a group of Georgian intellectuals led by Alexander Chavchavadze, Nina Griboyedova's father.[5]

Lermontov took delight in painting mountain landscapes

The young officer's demeanor did not enchant everybody, though, and at least two of the Decembrists, Nikolai Lorer and Mikhail Nazimov, later spoke of him quite dismissively. Nazimov wrote years later:

"Lermontov often visited us and talked of all sort of things, personal, social and political. I have to say, we hardly understood each other... We were unpleasantly surprised by the chaotic nature of his views, which were rather vague. He appeared to be a low-brow realist, unwilling to let his imagination fly, which was strange, considering how high his poetry soared on its mighty wings. He mocked some of the government's reforms – the ones we couldn’t even dream of in our poor youth. Certain essays, promoting the most progressive European ideas which we were so enthusiastic about, – for who could have ever thought it possible for such things to be published in Russia? – left him cold. When approached with a straightforward question, he either kept silent or tried to get away with some sarcastic remark. The more we knew him, the more difficult it was for us to take him seriously. There was a spark of original thought in him, but he was still very young."[26]

Lermontov's journey to Nizhny took four months. He visited Yelizavetgrad, then stayed in Moscow and Saint Petersburg to enjoy himself at dancing parties and to revel in his immense popularity. "Lermontov's deportation to the Caucasus has made a lot of fuss and turned him into a victim, which did a lot to whip up his fame as a poet. People consumed his Caucasian poems greedily... On return he was met with enormous warmth in the capital and hailed as heir to Pushkin," wrote poet Andrey Muravyov.[5]

The little house in Pyatigorsk where Lermontov spent the two last months of his life
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Part 2 of 3

Warmly welcomed at the houses of Karamzin, Alexandra Smirnova, Odoyevsky and Rostoptchina, Lermontov entered the most prolific phase of his short literary career. In 1837–1838 Sovremennik published humorous lyrical verses and two longer poems, "Borodino" and "Tambovskaya Kaznatcheysha" (A Treasurer Dame from Tambov), the latter severely cut by censors. Vasily Zhukovsky's letter to Minister Sergey Uvarov made possible the publication of "Pesn Kuptsa Kalashnikova" (The Song of Merchant Kalashnikov), a historical poem which the author initially sent to Krayevsky in 1837 from the Caucasus, only to be thwarted by censors. His observations of the aristocratic milieu, where fashionable ladies welcomed him as a celebrity, occasioned his play Masquerade (1835, first published in 1842). His doomed love for Varvara Lopukhina was recorded in the novel Princess Ligovskaya (1836), which remained unfinished.[7] In those days Lermontov also took part in gathering and sorting out Pushkin's documents and unpublished poems.[5]

A Hero of Our Time

In February 1838, Lermontov arrived at Novgorod to join his new regiment.[7] In less than two months time, though, Arsenyeva ensured his transfer to the Petersburg-based Hussars Guard regiment. At this point, in Petersburg, Lermontov started working on A Hero of Our Time, a novel which later earned him recognition as one of the founding fathers of Russian prose.[5]

In January 1839 Andrey Krayevsky, now at the helm of Otechestvennye Zapiski, invited Lermontov to become a regular contributor. The magazine published two parts of the novel, "Bela" and "The Fatalist", in issues 2 and 4, respectively, the rest of it appeared in print during 1840 and earned the author widespread acclaim.[7] The partially autobiographical story, describing prophetically a duel like the one in which he would eventually lose his life, consisted of five closely linked tales revolving around a single character, a disenchanted, bored and doomed young nobleman. Later it came to be considered a pioneering classic of Russian psychological realism.[5][27]

Second exile

Countess Emilia Musina-Pushkina once confessed to a friend she fell in love with Lermontov; being a married woman, she's never compromised herself with an adultery. Countess Emilia, whiter than lily... But the heart of Emilia is like Bastille, disgruntled Lermontov had to concede in a well-known 1838 epigram.

Shallow pleasures offered by Saint Petersburg's high society had started to wear Lermontov down, his bad temper growing even worse. "What an extravagant man he is. Looks like he's heading for the imminent catastrophe. Insolent to a fault. Dying of boredom, getting vexed by his own frivolousness but having no will to break free from these surroundings. A strange kind of man," wrote Alexandra Smirnova, the lady-in-waiting and Saint Petersburg fashionable salon hostess.[16]

Lermontov's popularity at the salons of Princess Sofja Shcherbatova and of Countess Emilia Musina-Pushkina caused a lot of ill feeling among men vying for attention of these two most popular Petersburg society girls of the time.[7] In early 1840 Lermontov insulted one of these men, Ernest de Barante, the son of the French ambassador, in the presence of Shcherbatova. De Barante issued a challenge. The duel took place almost at the exact spot where Pushkin had received his fatal wound: by Tchernaya Retchka. Lermontov found himself slightly injured, then arrested and jailed. His visitors in jail included Vissarion Belinsky, an avid admirer of Lermontov's poetry who, like many, continued to have problems with making sense of his dual personality and incongruous, difficult character.[5]

Lermontov after the Valerik battle. D.Palen's drawning, 1840

Due to the patronage of the Guard's Commander, Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich, Lermontov received only a mild punishment; the Grand Duke chose to interpret the de Barante incident as a feat for "a Russian officer who came up to champion the honour of the Russian army". With the Tsar's initial demand for three months' imprisonment dropped, Lermontov went back to exile in the Caucasus, to the Tengin infantry regiment. In Karamzin's house where his friends gathered to say farewells, he churned out an ad lib, "Tuchi nebesnye, vechnye stranniki" (Heavenly clouds, eternal travelers...). It made its way as a final entry into Lermontov's first book of verse, published by Ilya Glazunov & Co in October 1840, and became one of his best-loved short poems.[28]

In early May 1840 Lermontov left Saint Petersburg, but arrived at Stavropol only on June 10, having spent a whole month in Moscow, visiting (among other people) Nikolai Gogol, to whom he recited his then-new poem Mtsyri.

The Novice*
by Mikhail Lermontov
Translated by Charles Johnston
*Lermontov's title for the poem is Mtsyri. He explains in a note: "Mtsyri in the Georgian language means 'a monk who does not serve,' something in the nature of a 'novice.'"

I did but taste a little honey, and, lo, I must die.

-- 1 SAMUEL XIV:43


Once, not so many years ago,
where soundingly together flow
Aragva and Kura -- the place
where, like two sisters, they embrace -- there
stood a monastery. Still
the traveller who comes down the hill
sees pillars of a crumbling gate,
towers, a church's vaulted state;
but from it now there's no perfume
of incense smoking in the gloom;
and late at night no chanting rolls,
no monks are praying for our souls.
Just an old watchman, feeble, grey,
attends the ruined church today;
by men forgotten he has been,
also by death, as he sweeps clean
gravestones with legends which keep green
tales of past fame -- of how, worn down
beneath the burden of his crown,
a certain king conveyed his land,
in such a year, to Russia's hand.
And so heaven's benediction fell
on Georgia! -- it has blossomed well;
the hedge that friendly bayonets made
since then has kept it unafraid,
enclosed in its own garden-shade.


Down from the mountains rode one day
a Russian general, on his way
to Tiftis, with a prisoner-child --
the boy was ill, the road had piled
up too much effort for him: wild
as mountain chamois, about six,
pliant and weak as kindling-sticks.
But in him his exhausted plight
had called forth some ancestral might
of spirit. For however faint
he felt, no groan, no least complaint
passed those young lips; he thrust aside
all ordinary food; in pride
and in silence he all but died.
A monk took pity on the waif,
tended his malady, and safe
in sheltering walls he lived on there,
brought back to health by loving care.
At first, detesting childish fun,
he ran away from everyone,
and, roaming silent, all alone,
looked to the east with sigh and groan --
yearnings too deep to understand
turned him towards his native land.
But soon his prison sentence grew
familiar, the strange language too;
then, christened by that holy man,
he never knew the world; his plan
in the full prime of youth was now
to utter the monastic vow;
when suddenly, one autumn night,
he vanished -- disappeared from sight.
Hills darkly wooded rose all round.
For three long days they searched the ground,
in vain; then on the steppe they found
him fainted, once more brought him in
back to the cloister; he was thin
and deathly pale and feeble too,
as from some fever he'd been through,
some hunger, while he'd been away,
or some ordeal. No word he'd say
to questions, visibly each day
he faded and approached his end.
Then came to him his reverend friend
with exhortation and with prayer;
proudly the sufferer heard him there,
then raised himself with all the strength
still left him, and thus spoke at length:


"I thank you, sir, for coming here
for my confession. In your ear
words are the medicine that best
will ease the burden of my chest.
To others I have done no ill,
and so my actions for you will
be profitless to hear about --
or can a soul be detailed out?
I've lived my short life in duress.
No, two such lives -- for one of stress
and terror, willingly I would
exchange them if I only could.
I've known one thought, one and the same,
a thought of passion and of flame:
worm-like, it lived in me; it ate
my soul away like fire in grate.
My dreams, from stifling cell's estate,
my prayers, it called to that brave world
where fears and battles are unfurled,
where lost in cloud are cliff and scree,
and where, like eagles, men are free.

This passion, in the dark midnight
nourished on tears, with all my might
to heaven and earth I shout today,
and for no pardon do I pray.


"Often I've heard how you did save
me, sir, from an untimely grave --
for what? ... alone, and glum, and pale,
a leaf torn off by blast of gale,
I've grown up within walls of gloom,
in soul a child, a monk by doom.
'Mother' and 'father' -- holy sounds --
could call no one; in the bounds
of sanctuary you hoped I'd lose
the natural human wish to use
these sweetest of all names. In vain:
they were inborn. Once and again
others I saw on every hand
with home, friends, parents, native land;
for me, not only no one dear --
not even dear ones' tombs were here!

Then, without wasting time to weep,
I took an oath I swore to keep:
that at some time my burning breast
just for a moment should be pressed
against someone's, perhaps unknown,
yet from a land that was my own.
But now, alas, they're dead, those dreams
in the full beauty of their gleams,
and, as I've lived, I'll find my grave
in alien soil, an orphaned slave.


"I have no horror of the tomb:
they say that suffering, in that room,
sleeps in cold, everlasting calm.
But, to stop living, ... there's the harm.
I'm young, young . .. Have you never known
the dreams to which wild youth is prone?
Have you not known, have you forgot,
how hate was sharp, how love was hot;
how the heart beat more keenly while
from some tall battlemented pile
you saw the sun, the fields spread round,
and air was nipping, and you found
deep in the wall's recess sometimes
a huddled nursling from far climes --
a young dove that, driven in by fear
of raging storms, has fluttered here?
Perhaps the glorious world today
has cooled for you: you're weak, you're grey,
you've lost the habit of desire.
But you no longer need that fire.
You've got things to forget -- for you,
you've lived -- I wish I could live too!


"You ask what I contrived to see
during the days while I was free?
Rich plains, and hills that trees had crowned,
woods running riot all around,
in whispering clusters, fresh as spring,
like brothers dancing in a ring.
And frowning cliffs I saw, whose heart
cleft by the torrent, beat apart;
I guessed their thoughts: diviner's art
was given to me from on high!
their stone embracings in the sky
long since cut off, each day, each night,
they long, they thirst to reunite;
but years and ages pass in vain --
and never they shall join again!
And I saw mountain crests that seem
fantastical as any dream,
where, at the earliest hour of dawn,
as if from altars, smoke was drawn
up from the peaks into the blue,
and little clouds came swarming through,
leaving their secret sleeping-place,
turning to east their hurrying face --
in a white caravan, like bands
of birds flown in from distant lands!
Far off I saw, through vapoury strands,
where, glittering diamond of the snows,
grey bastion -- Caucasus arose;
and then, for some strange reason, I
felt light of heart; in days gone by --
a secret voice so prompted me --
I'd lived there. I began to see
ever more clearly, now at last,
places and things from time long past.


"And I remembered father's hall,
and our ravine, our village, all
in cool shadow dispersed around;
I heard the evening thunder-sound
as homing horses galloped through,
the distant bark of dogs I knew.
On moonlight evenings, memory traced
the row of elders, swarthy-faced,
who sat with serious looks before
my father's porch; no, I saw more,
I saw the chiselled scabbards gleam,
on their long daggers ... Like a dream
a row of pictures, indistinct,
came and before my vision winked.
My father, as in life, all prinked
in armour, stood there; chain-mail clinked
as I remembered; light ablaze
from rifle-barrels, and that gaze,
that proud, indomitable stare;
and my young sisters too were there
their sweet eyes shone, their voices rang,
once more I listened as they sang
over my crib ... A torrent sprang
down our ravine; it roared, it rolled,
but it was shallow; on its gold
sands I would play at noon; my sight
pursued the swallows in their flight
as, when a storm of rain was due,
they grazed the water while they flew.
I saw again our peaceful hall;
at evening, round the hearth, we all
listened to tales that would recall
how men lived in days long since gone,
days when the world still brighter shone.


"What did I do, you seek to know,
while I had freedom? I lived -- so
my life were sadder far than this
dotage of yours, had it to miss
those three days of perfected bliss.
It's long since I began to yearn
to see far fields, and to discern
if earth was beautiful -- to learn
whether for freedom or for gaol
we come to this terrestrial vale.
So in that dreadful hour of night
when thunder struck you down with fright,
when by the altar, pressing round,
you lay all prostrate on the ground,
I fled. I'd have been glad to race,
to enfold in brotherly embrace
that storm! My gaze pursued each cloud,
my hands caught lightning-bolts ... Speak loud,
tell me, inside this walled-in space
what would you give me to replace
the friendship, keen, though brief and frail,
that stormy hearts feel for the gale?


"And so I ran, long hours and far,
I know not where! No single star
lighted me on my stumbling way.
Joyful it was for me to stray,
to let my tortured chest assay
the midnight freshness of the wood --
no more than that. I ran a good
long while, and then, worn out at last,
lay on a tussock thickly grassed,
and listened: no sounds of a chase.
The storm had died. A feeble trace
of light, a radiance, seemed to lie
between the earth and the dark sky,
and, patterned on it, stood out plain
the peaks of a far mountain-chain.
Silent, unmoving and unseen,
I lay; at times, from the ravine,
like a small child, a jackal wailed,
and smoothly, glitteringly scaled,
between the stones a serpent slipped;
and yet my soul was never gripped
by fear: wild as a beast, I slid,
snakelike, away from man, and hid.


"Storm-swollen, on the lower ground
a torrent roared, and its dull sound
resembled closely, so I found,
a hundred angry voices. I
could understand this wordless cry,
this unformed murmur -- endless shock
of wrangling with hard-fronted rock.
Now all at once the tumult fell
silent, now it began to swell
and break the stillness all about;
soon, on that misty height, rang out
the song of birds, and then the east
turned golden; suddenly released,
a breath shook leaves on every bough;
the sleepy flowers breathed perfume now,
and, like them, I saluted day,
looked out . .. and it's no shame to say,
as I peered round, I quaked with fear:
I had been lying on the sheer
brink of a frightful cliff; from here
an angry torrent, far below,
went whirling onward, and to show
the way down, steps cut in the face;
only a fiend expelled from grace,
thrown down from heaven, could ever dare
to seek hell's caverns down that stair.


"And, all around, God's garden bloomed.
Flowers that in bright raiment loomed
still kept a trace of tears divine,
and curling tendrils of the vine
wound brilliantly amid the sheen
cast by the leaves' pellucid green;
while, on them, heavy clusters slung
were like rich earrings as they hung
in splendour; sometimes to them flew
a flock of birds in timorous crew.
Once more I lay back on the ground,
once more I listened to that sound,
to those strange voices in the scrub
whispering away to every shrub
as if they had, by magic spell,
secrets of earth and sky to tell;
all nature's voices there were blurred
together; nowhere to be heard
one single human tongue to raise
the morning hour's majestic praise.
All that I felt then, all my mind
was thinking, left no trace behind;
if only I could tell it -- then
just for a flash I'd live again.
Heaven's vault, it was so clear and chaste
that morning, sharp eyes could have traced
the flight of angels; through and through,
such even, deep, translucent blue!
My eyes and my soul drowned; but soon
under the blaze of sultry noon
my reveries were all dispersed
and I began to pine with thirst.


"Then to the torrent from that height,
from crag to crag, as best I might,
clutching the pliant bushes, I
set off downhill. A rock would fly
from underfoot, and roll and bound;
smoking, the dust behind it wound;
it rumbled down, with jump and thud,
and then was swallowed in the flood;
dangling, I hung above the scree,
but death held no alarms for me,
for hands are strong when youth is free!
As I groped down the steep descent,
the mountain water's freshness went
aloft to meet me, and I fell
thirstily on the torrent-swell.
Then, all at once, a voice -- and light
footfalls ... and in instinctive fright
I ducked behind the scrub, and out
timidly I peered round about,
I listened with a kind of thirst.
And ever nearer, burst by burst,
the Georgian maiden's singing rang;
with such an artlessness she sang,
so sweet and clear and free her tone,
you'd think she'd learnt to sing alone
the names of loved ones of her own.
Nothing more simple than that strain,
but in my thought it lodged; again
at nightfall I can hear it ring,
as if, unseen, her soul should sing.


"Holding her pitcher on her head,
the maiden took the path that led
down to the mountain torrent's bed.
Sometimes, on rock, her foothold slipped;
she laughed as awkwardly she tripped.
Her dress was humble; down the track
she walked lightfooted and brushed back
her winding chadra. Sultry days
had covered in a golden haze
her face, her breast; and summer's glow
breathed from her mouth and cheeks. But so
deep was the darkness of her eyes,
so full of secrets to surmise,
love-secrets, that my head went round.
All I remember is the sound
the jug made as it slowly drowned,
a murmuring through the torrent flood ...
When I came to, and when the blood
had flowed back from my heart, she'd gone
some distance off; as she walked on,
slow, yet lightfooted, straight and trim
beneath her load, she was as slim
as any poplar-tree that stands
and queens it over neighbouring lands!
Not far away, in close embrace,
two cabins grown from the rock-face
loomed through the chilly evening mist;
above one's roof, in a blue twist,
smoke rose. As now, I see again
how the door gently opened, then
it shut once more! .. . For you, I know,
it's past conceiving why I'm so
brimful of yearning and so sad --
it's past conceiving, and I'm glad;
the memory of those moments I
would wish in me, with me to die.


"By the night's travail quite worn out
I lay down in the shades. Without
effort my eyes were sealed about
by blissful sleep ... I saw once more
that Georgian girl and, as before,
a strange, sweet yearning came to break
my heart and make it pine and ache.
I fought, I fought to breathe -- but soon
I woke up. And by now the moon
was high and shining; after it
a single cloudlet seemed to flit
with arms wide open for the embrace.
And the dark world was still; in space
far distant, ranges tipped with snow
sparkled away, and seemed to throw
a silhouette of silvery glow.
Splashing its banks, I heard the stream;
and in the cabin a faint gleam
would flicker up, and once more die;
just so, across the midnight sky,
a bright star shines, then dies up there!
I longed to ... but I didn't dare
go over to the hut. I'd planned
one thing -- to reach my native land;
one thing alone -- so hunger's pain
I quelled as best I could. Again
I started on the straightest way,
timid, without a word to say --
but all at once began to stray
as soon as in the forest's night
I'd lost the mountains from my sight.


"In my despair, to no avail,
I clutched, at moments on my trail,
some thorny bush, with ivy crowned:
eternal forest all around
grew denser, grimmer, every pace;
with million coal-black eyes, the face
of darkest night looked through the scrub,
peered through the twigs of every shrub ...
My head was turning; for a time
I tried the trees, began to climb;
but always, on the horizon's edge,
the same woods rose in spire and wedge.
Then I threw myself down and lay
sobbing in a despairing way,
biting the earth's damp breast; a spell
of weeping came, and my tears fell
to ground in scalding streams of dew ...
but help from men, I swear to you,
I'd have at no price ... Through and through,
like a steppe beast, to all their crew
I felt a stranger; and if my
weak tongue had by the feeblest cry
betrayed me, reverend father, why ,
I'd torn it out, as I may die.


"You will recall, no teardrop came
from me in childhood; all the same
I now was weeping without shame.
For who could see except the dark
forest, the moon high on its arc'?

Lit by its rays, all floored with sand
and moss, I saw before me stand,
impenetrably walled, a glade.
Suddenly there, a flickering shade,
two sparks of fire that darted round ...
from the dark forest in one bound
a creature sprang, rolled on its back,
lay playing on the sandy track.
It was the waste's eternal guest --
the huge snow-leopard. He caressed
a moistened bone, he gnawed it, squealed
for sheer enjoyment; then he wheeled
on the full moon his bloodshot eyes,
thumping his tail in friendliest wise --
his coat with silver gleams was shot.
I waited for the fight; I'd got
in hand a cudgel -- and on fire
my heart with sudden wild desire
for war and blood ... yes, fate, I'll say,
has led me on a different way ...
but if I'd lived at home, I swear
I'd never have been counted there
as one of those who feared to dare.


"I waited. Now, through shades of dark,
he smelt an enemy -- and hark,
a sad howl, like a groan, drawn out,
came forth ... In rage he set about
to paw and furrow up the sand,
he reared right up, as people stand,
he crouched, and his first furious leap
threatened me with eternal sleep.
But I forestalled him, and my stroke
was sure and swift. My cudgel broke
open his wide brow like an axe . ..
He toppled over in his tracks,
groaned like a man. But now once more,
though blood was streaming from his score
in a broad, thickly pulsing vein,
the mortal fight boiled up again.


"He rushed my chest in one swift bound;
but with my weapon I had found
his throat, twice I had turned it round ...
he whined, and with his final strength
began to jerk and twitch; at length,
like a snake-couple tight-enlaced,
more closely than two friends embraced,
we fell together, in dark night
continued on the ground our fight.
And at that moment I was wild
and fiercer than the desert's child,
the snow-leopard; like him, I blazed,
I howled -- as if I had been raised
by leopards and by wolves beneath
the woods' cool overhanging sheath.
It seemed as if I'd lost the power
of human language -- in that hour
my chest brought out a wild sound -- why,
it seemed from childhood never I
had learned to make a different cry ...

But weakness now crept on my foe,
he tossed, he turned, he breathed more slow,
he crushed me one last time . .. in ire
his staring pupils threatened fire --
then gently closed up in the deep
onset of everlasting sleep;
but, meeting death, he knew to keep
facing it and his conquering foe,
the way a fighting man should go!


"You see these deep scars on my chest
scooped where the leopard-talons pressed;
they haven't grown together, still
they gape; but earth's damp cover will
bring them the freshness of the field,
by death for ever they'll be healed.
I forgot all about them then,
called my reserves of strength again,
in deepest forest plunged in straight ...
But all in vain my fight with fate:
it laughed at me and my estate!


"I left the woodland. Now the day
was waking up; before its ray
the dance of travelling stars went out.
Then the dark forest all about
began to talk. From an aul*
far off, smoke started up. A full
boom from the gorge, a voiceless hum
blew on the wind ... I heard it come,
I sat and listened; but it died
just as the breeze did. Far and wide
I turned my gaze: that countryside,
surely I knew it? And a strong
terror came over me, for long
I couldn't credit that once more
I'd headed back to prison; or
that all these days I'd spent in vain
nursing my secret hope -- the pain,
the yearning patience every hour,
and all for what? ... That in the flower
of years, and hardly having seen
God's world, that having scarcely been
allowed in murmuring woods to know
the bliss of freedom, I must go
and carry with me to the tomb
the longing for my home, the gloom
of cheated hope and of self-blame,
of your compassion and its shame! ..

Still sunk in doubt, I lingered there,
I thought it all was some nightmare
Suddenly in the silence fell
once more the distant tolling bell
and all was lucid in no time ...
At once I'd recognised its chime!
How often from my childish eyes
it had chased out the bright disguise
of dreamland, forms of kith and kin,
the steppe's wild liberty, the spin
of lightfoot horses, and the shocks
of splendid fights among the rocks,
and I the winner! ... So I heard,
tearless and strengthless. In a word
it seemed my heart was where the chime
came from -- as if someone each time
struck it with iron. Then I knew,
though vaguely, nothing I could do
would to my homeland bring me through.



* Moslem village.


"Yes, I've deserved my destined course!
On the strange steppe a mighty horse,
with its unskilful rider thrown,
from far off will find out alone
the straightest, shortest homeward way ...
I cannot equal him. Each day
in vain my heart desires and yearns;
feeble the flame with which it burns,
plaything of dreams, malaise of mind.
On me my prison left behind
its brand ... Just so there grows in gaol
on the wet flags, alone and pale,
a blossom, and long time puts out
no youthful leaves, but waits about,
languishing for life-giving rays.
It waits, and there pass many days
till some kind hand, touched by the grief
of the poor bloom, to bring relief
moves it to a rose-garden, where
from every side there breathes an air
of life and sweetness
... But, once there,
no sooner comes the sunrise hour
than with its incandescent power
it scorches the gaol-nurtured flower.


"Just like that blossom, I was burned
by day's remorseless fire. I turned
to no avail my weary head,
I hid it in the grass; instead
my brow by withered leaf was wreathed
in thorny crown, and the earth breathed
into my face its breath of flame.
High up above me circling came
motes in the sun; the vapour steamed
from the white rocks. God's whole world seemed
numbed in a heavy slumber there,
the deep dull slumber of despair.
If only a cornerake from the hill
had called; if only the quick trill
of dragonfly wings, or a rill
childishly chattering ... Just a snake
was rustling through the dried-up brake;
across its yellow back, light played
as if upon a golden blade
engraved all down with letters, and
scattering a small wake of sand
it crawled meticulously, then
it played, it basked, it writhed again
in triple coil, then gave a start,
just as if scalded, in one dart
it dived inside the bushes' heart,
and deep in scrub it disappeared.


"But now the sky was calm, and cleared
of cloudscape. Far, through mists that steamed,
rose two dark mountains, and there gleamed
underneath one of them a wall --
our cloister's battlemented hall.
Aragva and Kura below
were lapping with their silvery flow
at feet of islands cool and fresh,
at whispering bushes and their mesh
of roots, and pulsing on their way
in gentle harmony ... but they
were too far off! I tried to rise --
everything whirled before my eyes;
I tried to shout -- my dried-up tongue,
voiceless and motionless it hung ...
I seemed to die. Herald of death,
a madness crushed me, squeezed my breath.
And then it seemed to me that I
on the moist bed had come to lie
of a deep river -- there I found
mysterious darkness all around.
And quenching my eternal thirst
the ice-cold stream, in bubbling burst,
into my chest came flowing deep ...
My only fear, to fall asleep,
so sweet, so blissful was my plight ...
And there above me in the height
wave thronged on wave, and through the bright
crystal of water the sun beamed,
with a moon's graciousness it gleamed ...
From time to time, across its ray
fish in bright flocks began to play.
And one, more friendly than her mates,
caressed me. Backed with scaly plates
of gold, I still can see her coat,
as round my head she came to float;
and, deeply gazing, her green eyes
were sweetly sad ... and a profound
amazement seized me at the sound
of her small voice's silvery strain:
it sang to me, then ceased again.

That voice, it seemed to say: 'My child,
do thou stay here with me:
our life down in this watery wild
is cool, and rich, and free.

'My sisters all I will enrol
and with our circling dance
we shall divert thy weary soul
and cheer thy fainting glance.

'Now sleep away, soft is thy bed,
thy sheet, shot through with gleams.
The years, the ages o'er thy head
will pass in wondrous dreams.

'Beloved, let me tell thee true,
I love thee, as down here
the current flowing freely through
and my own life are dear ... '

Long, long I listened; and I found
the stream had set its quiet sound,
the tale its lilting whisper told,
to music from that fish of gold.
I swooned. The light that God had lit
quenched in my eyes. The raving fit
passed from my fainting body then.


"So I was found, brought here again ...
I've finished, for you know what more
there is to tell. Believe me or
believe me not -- I do not care.
Just one thing grieves me, this I swear:
my body, lifeless, cold and dumb,
will never to my homeland come
to moulder there; my grievous thrall
in the deaf circle of this wall
will never be rehearsed, or claim
a sad repute for my dim name.


"Father, your hand, please, in farewell;
mine is on fire, as you can tell . ..
Since childhood, well-concealed, suppressed,
this flame has lived inside my breast;
but now there's nothing left that burns;
it's blazed its way out, and returns,
returns once more to Him who gives
just measure, to each man who lives,
of pain and peace ... but what do I
care? Yes, in realms behind the sky
my soul will find its refuge due ...
alas! I'd barter, for a few
moments among those steep and strange
rocks where my childhood used to range --
heaven and eternity I'd change ...


"But when I'm dying -- for that date,
believe me, there's not long to wait --
give orders I be carried out
into our garden, just about
where bloom two white acacias, where
the turf's so thick, and the cool air
so perfumed, and the leaves that play
so limpid-gold in the sun's ray!
There bid them set me; of bright day
and the sky's radiant blue I will
there for the last time drink my fill.
Thence Caucasus is clear to see!
perhaps, down from his summit, he
will send me, on the wind's cool breath,
his farewell ... and before my death
perhaps near by once more I'll hear
my native tongue! and someone dear,
I'll dream, some brother, or some friend,
how, gently, over me he'll bend,
how, tenderly, he'll wipe my brow
clean of death's icy sweat, and how
he'll sing to me in undertone
of that dear country, once my own ...
and so I'll sleep -- no curse, no groan!"

On arrival, Lermontov re-joined the Army as part of General Galafeyev's fighting unit on the left flank of the Caucasian front. The left flank had the mission of disarming the Chechen fighters led by Imam Shamil and of protecting the newly formed Russian Cossack settlement between the Kuban and Laba rivers. In early July the regiment entered Chechnya and went into action. Lermontov (according to the official report) "has been charged with the commandment of a Cossack troopers' unit whose duty it was to head into the enemy first". He became immensely popular with his men, whom regular army officers referred to as "the international gang of reckless thugs".[7]

Among officers Lermontov had his admirers and detractors. Generals Pavel Grabbe and Apollon Galafeyev both praised the young man for his reckless bravery. According to Baron Rossilyon, though, "Lermontov was an unpleasant and scornful man, always eager to seem special. He boasted his bravery -– the one thing one was not supposed to be that proud of in the Caucasus, where bravery was business as usual. He led the gang of dirty thugs who, without ever using firearms, charged Chechen auls, led partisan wars and were calling themselves 'the Lermontov army'."[7]

In July 1840 the Russian army got involved in a fierce battle at the Gekha forest. There Lermontov distinguished himself in hand-to-hand combat at the Battle of the Valerik River (July 11, 1840), the basis for his poem Valerik. "Lermontov's duty was to lead our forefront storm troopers and inform the headquarters of the advancement, which in itself was perilous since the enemy was everywhere around, in the forest and in the bushes. But this officer, defying danger, did an excellent job; he showed great courage and was always amongst those who'd break into the enemy lines first," General Galafeyev informed General Grabbe on October 8, 1840.[7][28]

The last portrait of Lermontov, by Kirill Gorbunov 1841

In early 1841 Arsenyeva received permission from the Minister of Defense, Count Kleinmichel, for Lermontov to visit Saint Petersburg. "Those three or four months he spent in the capital were, I think, the happiest time of his life. Received quite ecstatically by the high society, each morning he produced some beautiful verse and hasted to recite it to us in the evening. In this warm atmosphere good humour awoke in him again, he was always coming up with new jokes and pranks, making us all laugh for hours on end," Yevdokiya Rostopchina remembered.[7]

By the time both A Hero of Our Time and Poems by M.Y. Lermontov had been published, Lermontov, according to Skabichevsky, started to treat his poetic mission seriously. Looking for an early retirement that would have enabled him to start a literary career, he was making plans for his own literary journal which wouldn't follow European trends, unlike (in Lermontov's view) Otechestvennye Zapiski. "I've learnt a lot from Easterners and I am eager to delve deeper into the depth of an Eastern mindset, which remains a mystery not only to us, but to an Easterner himself. The East is a bottomless well of revelations," Lermontov was telling Krayevsky.[29]

It soon became clear that for an early retirement there was no hope. Besides, despite General Grabbe's insistence, Lermontov's name had been dropped from the list of officers eligible for awards. In February 1841 an incident at a ball launched by Countess Alexandra Vorontsova-Dashkova (when Lermontov involuntarily snubbed the Tsar's two daughters) caused concern among the imperial family and in the high military ranks. It transpired that upon his arrival in February Lermontov had failed to report to his commanding officer, as was required, going instead to a ball –- a grievous breach for someone serving under condition of punishment.[20] In April Count Kleinmichel issued an order for him to leave the city in 24 hours and join his regiment in the Caucasus. Lermontov approached a seer (the same Gypsy woman who'd predicted Pushkin's death "from a white man's hand") and asked if the time would ever come when he'd be allowed to retire. "You will get your retirement, but of such a kind after which you won't ask for more," she responded, which made Lermontov laugh heartily.[7][29]

The Prophet
by Mikhail Lermontov (1841)
translated by Denise M. Henderson

E’er since the judge eterne
The prophet’s omniscience gave me,
In people’s eyes do I discern
The pages of malice and enmity.

To proclaim love I came
And the pure truths of learning:
All my neighbors, enraged,
At me stones were hurling

With embers I strewed my head,
From the cities did I flee
And thus I live in the desert;
Like the birds, on food divine and free.

Earth’s obedient creature
Of the eternal preserver calls to me
And the stars do hear,
Their rays play joyfully.

And so in the noisy town, while
I hastily make my way,
With a self-satisfied smile,
Then the old men to the children say:

Look: Here’s an example for you!
He was proud, and did not dwell among us:
He wanted us to believe—the fool—
That God speaks with his lip!

And, children, upon him look:
How ill he is, and ashen,
Look how naked he is, and poor,

by Mikhail Lermontov (1841)
translated by Denise M. Henderson

Farewell, unwashed Russia,
Land of slaves, land of lords,
And you,* blue uniforms,
And thou, a people devoted to them.

Perhaps, beyond the wall of the Caucasus,
I will be concealed from your pashas,
From their eyes all-seeing,
And ears all-hearing.



* Lermontov uses the polite form of “you” in Russian in the first instance, and the familiar form of “thou” in the second instance. The blue uniforms are those of the Third Department secret police.
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The 1887 engraving from the 1841 coffin portrait

After visiting Moscow (where he produced no fewer than eight poetic pieces of invective aimed at Benkendorff), on May 9, 1841, Lermontov arrived to Stavropol, introduced himself to general Grabbe and asked for permission to stay in the town. Then, on a whim, he changed his course, found himself in Pyatigorsk and sent his seniors a letter informing them of his having fallen ill. The regiment's special commission recommended him treatment at Mineralnye Vody. What he did instead was embark upon the several weeks' spree. "In the mornings he was writing, but the more he worked, the more need he felt to unwind in the evenings," Skabichevsky wrote. "I feel I'm left with very little of my life," the poet confessed to his friend A. Merinsky on July 8, a week before his death.[7]

In Pyatigorsk Lermontov enjoyed himself, feeding on his notoriety of a social misfit, his fame of a poet second only to Pushkin and his success with A Hero of Our Time. Meanwhile, in the same salons his Cadet school friend Nikolai Martynov, dressed as a native Circassian, wore a long sword, affected the manners of a romantic hero not unlike Lermontov's Grushnitsky character. Lermontov teased Martynov mercilessly until the latter couldn't stand it anymore. On July 25, 1841 Martynov challenged his offender to a duel.[20] The fight took place two days later at the foot of Mashuk mountain. Lermontov allegedly made it known that he was going to shoot into the air. Martynov was the first to shoot and he aimed straight into the heart, killing his opponent on the spot.[7] On July 30 Lermontov was buried, without military honours, thousands of people attending the ceremony.

In January 1842 the Tsar issued an order allowing the coffin to be transported to Tarkhany, where Lermontov was laid to rest at the family cemetery. Upon receiving the news his grandmother Elizaveta Arsenyeva suffered a minor stroke. She died in 1845. Many of Lermontov's verses were discovered posthumously in his notebooks.[30]

Private life

Varvara Lopukhina in 1833

Mikhail Lermontov was a romantic who seemed to be continuously struggling with strong passions. Not much is known about his private life, though in verses dedicated to loved ones his emotional strife seems to have been exaggerated, while rumours concerning his real life adventures were unreliable and occasionally misguiding.[5]

Lermontov fell in love for the first time in 1825, while at the Caucasus, a girl of nine being the object of his desires. Five years later he wrote about it with great seriousness, seeing this early awakening of romantic feelings as a sign of his own exclusiveness. "So early in life, at ten! Oh, this mystery, this Paradise Lost, it will be tormenting my mind till the very grave. Sometimes I feel funny about it and am ready to laugh at this first love of mine, but more often I'd rather cry," the 15-year-old wrote in a diary. "Some people, like Byron, think early love is akin to the soul prone to fine arts, but I suppose this is the sign of soul that's got much music in it," added the young man for whom the English poet was an idol.[31]

At sixteen Lermontov fell in love with Yekaterina Sushkova (1812–1868), a friend of his cousin Sasha Vereshchagina, whom he often visited in Srednikovo village. Yekaterina failed to take her suitor seriously and in her "Notes" described him thus:

At Sashenka [Vereshchagina]'s I often met her cousin, a clumsy bow-legged boy of 16 or 17, with reddened eyes, which were clever and expressive nevertheless, who had a turned-up nose and caustic sneer... Everybody was calling him just Michel and so did I, never caring about his second name. Assigned to be my 'errand boy' he was carrying my hat, umbrella and gloves, leaving them behind from time to time... Both Sashenka and I, while giving him credit for his intelligence, still treated him like a baby which drove him mad. Trying to be perceived as a serious young man, he recited Pushkin and Lamartine and never parted with a huge volume of Byron."[18]

Several 1830–31 poems by Lermontov were dedicated to Sushkova, among them "Nishchy" (The Beggar Man) and "Blagodaryu!, Zovi nadezhdu snovidenyem" (Thank you! To call the hope a dream...).

Natalya Ivanova in the 1840s

In 1830 Lermontov met Natalya Ivanova (1813–1875), daughter of a Moscow playwright Fyodor Ivanov and had an affair with her, but little is known about it or why has it come to an end. Judging by thirty or so poems addressed to "N.F.I", the latter has finally chosen a man who was older and richer, much to the distress of a young man who took this as a 'betrayal'.[7]

While in the University 16-year-old Lermontov passionately fell in love with another cousin of his, Varvara Lopukhina (also sixteen at the time). The passion was said to be reciprocal but, pressed by her family, Varvara went on to marry Nikolai Bakhmetyev a wealthy 37-year-old aristocrat. Lermontov was astounded and heartbroken.[5]

Having graduated the Saint Petersburg cadet school, Lermontov embarked upon the easy-going lifestyle of a reckless young hussar, as he imagined it should be. "Mikhail, having found himself the very soul of the high society, liked to entertain himself by driving young women mad, feigning love for several days, just in order to upset matches," his friend and flatmate Alexey Stolypin wrote.[16]

In December 1834 Lermontov met his old sweetheart Yekaterina Sushkova at a ball in Saint Petersburg and decided to have a revenge: first he seduced, then, after a while dropped her, making the story public. Relating the incident in a letter to cousin Sasha Vereshchagina, he blatantly boasted about his newly found reputation of a 'Don Juan' which he's been apparently craving for. "I happened to hear several of Lermontov's victims complaining about his treacherous ways and couldn't restrict myself from openly laughing at the comic finales he used to invent for his vile Casanova feats," obviously sympathetic Yevdokiya Rostopchina recalled.

By 1840 Lermontov had sickened of his own reputation of a womanizer and a cruel heartbreaker, hunting for victims at balls and parties and leaving them behind devastated. Some of the stories were myth, like the one concerning the French author Adèle Hommaire de Hell; well-publicised at the time (and related at some length by Skabichevsky) it was proved later to have never happened.

Lermontov's love for Lopukhina (Bakhmetyeva) proved to be the only deep and lasting feeling of his life. His unfinished drama Princess Ligovskaya was inspired by it, as well as two characters in A Hero of Our Time, Princess Mary and Vera.[7] In his 1982 biography John Garrard wrote: "The symbolic relationship between love and suffering is of course a favorite Romantic paradox, but for Lermontov it was much more than a literary device. He was unlucky in love and believed he always would be: fate had ordained it."[20]


Lermontov's tombstone in Tarkhany

In his lifetime, Mikhail Lermontov published only one slender collection of poems (1840). Three volumes, much mutilated by censorship, were published a year after his death in 1841. Yet his legacy –- more than 30 large poems, and 600 minor ones, a novel and 5 dramas –- was immense for an author whose literary career lasted just six years.[16]

Inspired by Lord Byron, Lermontov started to write poetry at the age of 13. His late 1820s poems like "The Corsair", "Oleg", "Two Brothers", as well as "Napoleon" (1830), borrowed somewhat from Pushkin, but invariably featured a Byronic hero, an outcast and an avenger, standing firm and aloof against the world.[5]

In the early 1830s Lermontov's poetry grew more introspective and intimate, even diary-like, with dates often serving for titles. But even his love lyric, addressed to Yekaterina Sushkova or Natalya Ivanova, could not be relied upon as autobiographical; driven by fantasies, it dealt with passions greatly hypertrophied, protagonists posing high and mighty in the center of the Universe, misunderstood or ignored.[5][16]

In 1831 Lermontov's poetry ("The Reed", "Mermaid", "The Wish") started to get less confessional, more ballad-like. The young author, having found taste for plots and structures, was trying consciously to rein in his emotional urge and master the art of storytelling. Critic and literature historian D.S. Mirsky regards "The Angel" (1831) as the first of Lermontov's truly great poems, calling it "arguably the finest Romantic verse ever written in Russian." At least two other poems of that period -– "The Sail" and "The Hussar" –- were later rated among his best.[4][5]

In 1832 Lermontov tried his hand at prose for the first time. The unfinished novel Vadim, telling the story of the 1773–1775 Yemelyan Pugachev-led peasant uprising, was stylistically flawed and short on ideas. Yet, free of Romantic pathos and featuring well-crafted characters as well as scenes from peasant life, it marked an important turn for the author now evidently intrigued more by history and folklore than by his own dreams.[16]

Two branches of Lermontov's early 1830s poetry – one dealing with the Russian Middle Age history, another with the Caucasus – couldn't differ more. The former were stern and stark, featured a dark, reserved hero ("The Last Son of Freedom"), its straightforward storyline developing fast. The latter, rich with ethnographical side issues and lavish in colourful imagery, boasted flamboyant characters ("Ismail-Bey", 1832).[4]

Even as a Moscow University's boarding school student Lermontov was a socially aware young man. His "The Turk's Lament" (1829) expressed strong anti-establishment feelings ("This place, where a man suffers from slavery and chains; my friend, this is my fatherland"), the "July 15, 1830" poem greeted the July Revolution, while "The Last Son of Freedom" was a paean to (obviously, idealized) Novgorod Republic. But Lermontov, a fiery tribune, has never become a political poet. Full of inner turmoil and anger, his protagonists were riotous but never rational or promoting any particular ideology.[32]

The Cadet School seemed to have stymied in Lermontov all interests except one, for wanton debauchery. His pornographic (and occasionally sadistic) Cavalry Junkers' poems which circulated in manuscripts, marred his subsequent reputation so much so that admission of familiarity with Lermontov's poetry was not permissible for any young upper-class woman for a good part of the 19th century. "Lermontov churned out for his pals whole poems in improvisational manner, dealing with things which were apparently part of their barrack and camp lifestyle. Those poems, which I've never read, for they weren't intended for women, bear all the mark of the author's brilliant, fiery temperament, as people who've read them attest", Yevdokiya Rostopchina admitted.[33] These poems were published only once, in 1936, as part of a scholarly edition of Lermontov's complete works, edited by Irakly Andronikov.

This lean period bore a few fruits: "Khadji-Abrek" (1835), his first ever published poem, and 1836's Sashka (a "darling son of Don Juan," according to Mirsky), a sparkling concoction of Romanticism, realism and what might be termed a cadet-style verse. The latter remained unfinished, as did Princess Ligovskaya (1836), a society tale which was influenced at least to some extent by Gogol's Petersburg Stories and featured characters and dilemmas not far removed from those that would form the base of A Hero of Our Time.[16][20]

Georgian Military Road. Lermontov's painting, 1837

Arrested, jailed and sent to the Caucasus in 1837, Lermontov dropped "Princess Ligovskaya" and never got back to it. Much more important to him was The Masquerade; written in 1835, it got re-worked several times – the author tried desperately to publish it. Close to French melodrama and influenced by Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas (but also owing a lot to Shakespeare, Griboyedov and Pushkin), Masquerade featured another hero whose wont was to 'throw a gauntlet' to the unsympathetic society and then get tired of his own conflicting nature, but was interesting mostly for its realistic sketches of the high society life, which Lermontov was getting more and more critical of.[16]

Lermontov's fascination with Byron has never waned. "Having made the English pessimism a brand of his own, he's imparted it a strong national favour to produce the very special Russian spleen, which has been there always in the Russian soul... Devoid of cold skepticism or icy irony, Lermontov's poetry is full instead of typically Russian contempt for life and material values. This mix of deep melancholy on the one hand and wild urge for freedom on the other, could be found only in Russian folk songs," biographer Skabichevsky wrote.[32]

In 1836–1838 Lermontov's interest in history and folklore re-awakened. Eclectic Boyarin Orsha (1836), featuring a pair of conflicting heroes, driven one by blind passions, another by obligations and laws of honour, married the Byronic tradition with the elements of historical drama and folk epos. An ambitious folk epic, The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov (initially banned, then published in 1837 due to Vasily Zhukovsky's efforts), was unique for its unexpected authenticity. Lermontov, who haven't got a single academic source to rely upon, "entered the realm of folklore as a real master and totally merged with its spirit," according to Belinsky.[5] Lermontov's Cossack Lullaby "went the whole round: from the original folklore source to literature, and from literature to living folklore. ... For one and a half centuries people have performed these literary lullabies in real lulling situations [in Russia]," according to Valentin Golovin.[34]

"Death of the Poet" (1837), arguably the strongest political declaration of its time (its last two lines, "and all of your black blood won't be enough to expiate the poet's pure blood", construed by some as a direct call for violence), made Lermontov not just famous, but almost worshipped, as a "true heir to Pushkin." More introspective but no less subversive was his "The Thought" (1838), an answer to Kondraty Ryleyev's "The Citizen" (1824), damning the lost generation of "servile slaves".[5]

Otherwise, Lermontov's short poems range from indignantly patriotic pieces like "Fatherland" to the pantheistic glorification of living nature (e.g., "Alone I set out on the road ...") Some saw Lermontov's early verse as puerile, since, despite his dexterous command of the language, it usually appeals more to adolescents than to adults. Later poems, like "The Poet" (1838), "Don't Believe Yourself" (1839) and "So Dull, So Sad..." (1840) expressed skepticism as to the meaning of poetry and life itself. On the other hand, for Lermontov the late 1830s was a period of transition; drawn more to Russian forests and fields rather than Caucasian ranges, he achieved moments of transcendental solemnity and clear vision of heaven and Earth merged into one in poems like "The Branch of Palestine", "The Prayer" and "When yellowish fields get ruffled..."[5]

Mikhail Vrubel's illustration to Demon (1890).

Both his patriotic and pantheistic poems had an enormous influence on later Russian literature. Boris Pasternak, for instance, dedicated his 1917 poetic collection of signal importance to the memory of Lermontov's Demon. This long poem (started as early as 1829 and finished some ten years after) told the story of a fallen angel admitting defeat in the moment of his victory over Tamara, a Georgian "maid of mountains". Having read by censors as the celebration of carnal passions of the "eternal spirit of atheism," it remained banned for years (and was published for the first time in 1856 in Berlin), turning arguably the most popular unpublished Russian poem of the mid-19th century. Even Mirsky, who ridiculed Demon as "the least convincing Satan in the history of the world poetry," called him "an operatic character" and fitting perfectly into the concept of Anton Rubinstein's lush opera (also banned by censors who deemed it sacrilegious) had to admit the poem had magic enough to inspire Mikhail Vrubel for his series of unforgettable images.[5]

Another 1839 poem investigating the deeper reasons for the author's metaphysical discontent with society and himself was The Novice, or Mtsyri (in Georgian), the harrowing story of a dying young monk who'd preferred dangerous freedom to protected servitude. The Demon defiantly lives on, Mtsyri dies meekly, but both epitomize the riotous human spirit's stand against the world that imprisons it. Both poems are beautifully stylized and written in fine, mellifluous verse which Belinsky found "intoxicating".[16]

By the late 1830s Lermontov became so disgusted with his own early infatuation with Romanticism as to ridicule it in Tambov Treasurer's Wife (1838), a close relative to Pushkin's Count Nulin, performed in stomping Yevgeny Onegin rhyme. Even so, it is his 1812 War historical epic Borodino (1837), a 25th Anniversary hymn to the victorious Russian spirit, related in simple language a tired war veteran, and Valerik (defined by Mirsky as a missing link between the "Copper Rider" and the War and Peace battle scenes) that are seen by critics as the two peaks of Lermontov's realism. This newly found clarity of vision allowed him to handle a Romantic theme with Pushkin's laconic precision most impressively in "The Fugitive".[16] Tellingly, while Pushkin (whose poem "Tazit"'s plotline was here used) saw the European influence as a healthy alternative to the patriarchal ways of Caucasian natives, Lermontov tended to idealize the local communities' centuries-proven customs, their morality codex and the will to fight for freedom and independence to the bitter end.[35]

Pyatigorsk, Lermontov's duel location. (photo 1958).

Lermontov had a peculiar method of circulating ideas, images and even passages, trying them again and again through the years in different settings until each would find itself a proper place – as if he could "see" in his imagination his future works but was "receiving" them in small fragments. Even "In Memory of A.I.Odoyevsky" (1839) the central episode is, in effect, the slightly re-worked passage borrowed from Sashka.[4]

A Hero of Our Time (1840), a set of five loosely linked stories unfolding the drama of the two conflicting characters, Pechorin and Grushnitsky, who move side by side towards a tragic finale as if driven by destiny itself, proved to be Lermontov's magnum opus. Vissarion Belinsky praised it as a masterpiece, but Vladimir Nabokov (who translated the novel into English) was not so sure about the language: "The English reader should be aware that Lermontov's prose style in Russian is inelegant, it is dry and drab; it is the tool of an energetic, incredibly gifted, bitterly honest, but definitely inexperienced young man. His Russian is, at times, almost as crude as Stendhal's in French; his similes and metaphors are utterly commonplace, his hackneyed epithets are only redeemed by occasionally being incorrectly used. Repetition of words in descriptive sentences irritates the purist," he wrote.[20] D.S. Mirsky thought differently. "The perfection of Lermontov's style and narrative manner can be appreciated only by those who really know Russian, who feel fine imponderable shades of words and know what has been left out as well as what has been put in. Lermontov's prose is the best Russian prose ever written, if we judge by the standards of perfection and not by those of wealth. It is transparent, for it is absolutely adequate to the context and neither overlaps it nor is overlapped by it," he maintained.

In Russia A Hero of Our Time seems to have never lost its relevance: the title itself became a token phrase explaining dilemmas haunting this country's intelligentsia. And Lermontov's reputation as an 'heir to Pushkin' there is seldom doubted. His foreign biographers, though, tend to see a more complicated and controversial picture. According to Lewis Bagby, "He led such a wild, romantic life, fulfilled so many of the Byronic features (individualism, isolation from high society, social critic and misfit), and lived and died so furiously, that it is difficult not to confuse these manifestations of identity with his authentic self. …Who Lermontov had become, or who he was becoming, is unclear. Lermontov, like many a romantic hero, once closely examined, remains as open and unfinished as his persona seems closed and fixed."[20]


The site of the 1841 duel

The town of Lermontov, Russia (granted municipal status in 1956), the cruise liner MS Mikhail Lermontov (launched in 1970) and the minor planet 2222 Lermontov (discovered in 1977)[36] were named after him.

The crew of Soyuz TMA-21 selected Tarkhany as their call sign, after the estate where Lermontov spent his childhood and where his remains are preserved.[37]

The 2011 contemporary classical album Troika includes a setting of Lermontov's French-language poem "Quand je te vois sourire…" by the composer Isabelle Aboulker.

On 3 October 2014, a monument to Lermontov was unveiled in Scottish village of Earlston, the place being selected due to a suggested association of Lermontov's descent with Thomas the Rhymer.[38] Until only a few years earlier, the connection had been little-known in Scotland.[39]

Selected bibliography


• Vadim (1832, unfinished; published in 1873)
• Princess Ligovskaya (Knyaginya Ligovskaya, 1836, unfinished novel first published in 1882)
• "Ashik-Kerib" (the Azerbaijani fairytale, 1837, first published in 1846)
• A Hero of Our Time (Герой нашего времени, 1840; 1842, 2nd edition; 1843, 3rd edition), novel


• Spanyards (Ispantsy, tragedy, 1830, published 1880)
• Menschen und Leidenschaften (1830, published 1880)
• A Strange Man (Stranny tchelovek, 1831, drama/play published 1860)
• Masquerade (1835, first published in 1842)
• Two Brothers (Dva brata, 1836, published in 1880)
• Arbenin (1836, the alternative version of Masquerade, published in 1875)


• The Circassians (Tcherkesy, 1828, published in 1860)
• The Corsair (1828, published in 1859)
• The Culprit (Prestupnik, 1828, published in 1859)
• Oleg (1829, published in 1859)
• Julio (1830, published in 1860)
• Kally ("The Bloody One", in Circassian, 1830, published in 1860)
• The Last Son of Freedom (Posledny syn volnosti, 1831–1832, published in 1910)
• Azrail (1831, published in 1876)
• Confession (Ispoved, 1831, published in 1889)
• Angel of Death (Angel smerti, 1831; published in 1857 – in Germany; in 1860 – in Russia)
• The Sailor (Moryak, 1832, published in 1913)
• Ismail-Bei (1832, published in 1842)
• A Lithuanian Woman (Litvinka, 1832, published in 1860)
• Aul Bastundji (1834, published in 1860)
• The Junkers Poems ("Ulansha", "The Hospital", "Celebration in Petergof", 1832–1834, first published in 1936)
• Khadji-Abrek (1835, Biblioteka Dlya Chtenya)
• Mongo (1836, published in 1861)
• Boyarin Orsha (1836, published in 1842)
• Sashka (1835–1836, unfinished, published in 1882)
• The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov (Pesnya kuptsa Kalashnikova, 1837)
• Borodino (1837)
• The Death of the Poet (1837)
• Tambov Treasurer's Wife (Tambovskaya Kaznatcheysha, 1838)
• The Cossack Lullaby (1838)
• The Fugitive (Beglets, circa 1838, published in 1846)
• Demon (1838, published in 1856 in Berlin)
• The Novice (Mtsyri, in Georgian, 1839, published in 1840)
• Valerik (1840)
• The Children's Fairytale (Detskaya skazka, 1839, unfinished, published in 1842)

Selected short poems

• The Turk's Laments (Zhaloby turka, 1829)
• Two Brothers (1829, Dva brata, published in 1859)
• Napoleon (1830)
• The Spring (Vesna, 1830)
• July 15, 1830 (1830)
• The Terrible Fate of Father and Son... (Uzhasnaya sudba otsa i syna... 1831)
• The Reed (Trostnik, 1831)
• Mermaid (Rusalka, 1831)
• The Wish (Zhelanye, 1831)
• The Angel (Angel, 1831)
• The Prophecy (Predskazaniye, 1831)
• The Sail (Parus, 1831)
• Forgive Me, Will We Meet Again?.. (Prosti, uvidimsya li snova..., 1832)
• The Hussar (Gusar, 1832)
• Death of the Poet (1837)
• The Branch of Palestine (Vetka Palestiny, 1837)
• The Prayer (Molitva, 1837)
• Farewell, Unwashed Russia (Proshchai, nemytaya Rossiya, 1837)
• When Yellowish Fields Get Ruffled... (Kogda volnuyetsa zhelteyushchaya niva..., 1837)
• The Thought (Duma, 1838)
• The Dagger (Kinzhal, 1838)
• The Poet (1838)
• Don't Believe Yourself... (Ne ver sebye..., 1839)
• Three Palms (Tri palhmy, 1839)
• In the Memory of A.I.Odoyevsky (1839)
• So Dull, So Sad... (I skuchno, i grustno..., 1840)
• How Often, Surrounded by a Motley Croud... (Kak tchasto, okruzhonny pyostroyu tolpoyu..., 1840)
• Little Clouds (Tuchki, 1840)
• The Journalist, the Reader and the Writer (1840)
• The Heavenly Ship (Vozdushny korabl, 1840)
• Fatherland (Rodina, 1841)
• The Princess of the Tide, 1841, ballad
• The Dispute (Spor, 1841)
• Alone I set out on the road... (Vykhozu odin ya na dorogu..., 1841)

See also

• Un cœur en hiver – film by Claude Sautet based on one of the episodes in "A Hero of Our Time"
• "The Princess of the Tide" – a poem by Lermontov
• Ashik Kerib – a 1988 film directed by Sergei Parajanov, based on a short story by Lermontov
• A Hero of Our Time – English translation by Irwin Paul Foote, Penguin Classics
• Varvara Bakhmeteva – Lermontov's beloved and tragic muse
• Lermontov (crater) – crater on the planet Mercury named after him
• Mikhail Lermontov (ship)
• No I'm Not Byron


1. "Lermontov". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
2. Powelstock 2011, p. 27.
3. Babulin, I.B. The New Lines Regiments in the Smolensk War, 1632—1634 //Reitar, No.22, 2005
4. Mirsky, D. (1926). "Lermontov, Mikhail Yurievich". Retrieved 2012-12-01.
5. "Lermontov, Mikhail Yurievich". Russian Authors. Biobibliographical Dictionary. Vol 1. Prosveshchenye Publishers, Moscow. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
6. Skabichevsky, Alexander. "M.Yu.Lermontov. His Life and Works". Retrieved 2012-12-01.
7. Manuylov, V.A. The Life of Lermontov. Timeline. Works by M.Y.Lermontov in 4 volumes. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura Publishers. Moscow, 1959. Vol. IV. P.557-588
8. Viskovatov, P.A. (1891). "The Life and Works of M.Y.Lermontov. Chapter 1". Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
9. "Mikhail Lermontov. Literature. Prominent Russians". Russapedia. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
10. Friedlender, G.M., Lyubovich, N.A. Commentaries to Menschen und Liedenschaften (1930). Works by M.Y.Lermontov in 4 volumes. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura Publishers. Moscow, 1959. Vol. Vol III. P.489
11. Viskovatov, P.A. Chapter 2. Archived December 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. (p. 5)
12. Viskovatov, P.A. Chapter 2 Archived December 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. p.6
13. Viskovatov, P.A. Chapter 1 Archived December 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine., p.4
14. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 3.
15. Skabichevsky, Alexander Chapter 2
16. Sirotkina, Yelena (2002). "Biography.The Works by M.Y.Lermontov in 10 volumes. Moscow, Voskresenye Publishers". // Voskresenye Publishers. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
17. Powelstock 2011, p. 28.
18. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter IV
19. Viskovatov, P.A. Viskovatov, Ch.V Archived December 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
20. Lewis Bagby (2002). A Hero of Our Time. Introduction. Northwestern University Press. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
21. Skabichevsky, Alexander Chapter V.
22. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 6.
23. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 7.
24. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 8.
25. The Preface by Irakly Andronikov in A Hero of Our Time (1985), Raduga Publishers, Moscow. ISBN 5-05-000016-5
26. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 9.
27. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 10.
28. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 11.
29. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 12.
30. Skabichevsky, Alexander. Chapter 13.
31. Works by M.Y.Lermontov in 4 volumes. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura Publishers. Moscow, 1959. Vol. IV, Pp. 390–391
32. Skabichevsky, Alexander. "M.Yu.Lermontov. His Life and Works. Chapter 14". Retrieved 2012-12-01.
33. "Goshpital (Гошпиталь)". Russian Poetry, XIX-XX. The Online Library. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
34. Golovin, Valentin. The Russian lullaby in folklore and literature. Summary.
35. The Works of M.Y.Lermontov in 4 Volumes. Commentaries by E.E. Naidich, A.N.Mikhaylova, L.N.Nazarova. Commentaries to Lermontov's poems. Vol. II, p. 491
36. Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 181. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.
37. Kudriavtsev Anatoli (April 4, 2011). "Gagarin spaceship ready for launch". The Voice of Russia. Retrieved May 1,2011.
38. Johnston, Willie (3 October 2014). "Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov celebrated in Scotland". BBC News. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
39. "Russian Poet Is Celebrated in Scotland, a Land He Never Saw A Russian Poet is Celebrated in Scotland, a Land He Never Saw". New York Times. 27 September 2015. Retrieved 14 December 2016.


• Powelstock, David (2011). Becoming Mikhail Lermontov: The Ironies of Romantic Individualism in Nicholas I's Russia. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0810127883.

Further reading

• Kelly, Laurence (2003). Lermontov: Tragedy in the Caucasus. Tauris Parke. ISBN 978-1-86064-887-8.

External links

• Short biography with links to other Lermontov material
• Short biography
• Short biography
• Works by Mikhail Lermontov at Project Gutenberg
• Works by or about Mikhail Lermontov at Internet Archive
• Works by Mikhail Lermontov at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
• Translations of various poems by Mikhail Lermontov
• Translation of "Borodino"
• Translation of "The Prophecy"
• Translation of "The Sail"
• Translation of "A Sail"
• Translation of "The Sail"
• Translation of "Farewell! – unwashed, indigent Russia"
• Translation of "The Prisoner"
• Translation of "The Dream"
• Translation of "Cossack Lullaby"
• Translation of "We parted..."
• Translation of "Because"
• State Lermontov Museum and Reserve at Tarkhany

Dual-language links

• Mikhail Lermontov poetry on YouTube. 1986 Mosfilm movie
• Various Lermontov poems in Russian with English translations, some audio files
• Various Lermontov poems, many in Russian, some English translations, at Friends & Partners
• Russian text of various poems with English translations
• Russian text of «Смерть поэта» ("Death of the Poet") with English translation
• Russian text of "Cossack Lullaby" with English translation

Russian-language links

• Online Lermontov shrine
• Short biography at Russian Biographical Dictionary
• Short biography at Megabook
• Texts of various Lermontov works
• Lermontov Museum, Moscow
• Photographs of State Lermontov Museum and Reserve at Tarkhany
• The ancestors of Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov
• "I Walk Out Alone Upon My Way" performed by Anna German
• Mikhail Lermontov poetry
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Part 1 of 2

The Promise of Mikhail Lermontov
The Making of Modern Russia
by Denise M. Henderson
November, 2002



Denise Marguerite Dempsey Henderson, a long-time associate of Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15, 2003. For over 20 years, Mrs. Henderson helped man the Russia/Eastern Europe desk of Executive Intelligence Review, as well as undertaking other editorial assignments, including Editorial Assistant of Fidelio magazine. This article, on the political and cultural significance of Russia’s Mikhail Lermontov, was drafted in November 2002. Preparation for publication has been aided by Denise’s colleague and friend Rachel Douglas, who provided assistance with the translations and editorial details, as well as supplying the boxed background material.


Suppose you found yourself in a society where the accepted way of doing things was no longer sufficient? Suppose that, with the loss of key individuals in your society, a crisis which could affect the survival of your nation was fast approaching, and you were one among the few, willing to say that there had to be a change, as soon as possible, in how things got done?

Suppose also that many of your co-thinkers or potential collaborators had been assassinated or rendered ineffective by enemy operations? Could you then, still, not merely say what you knew to be true, but act on the ideas which you knew could move the existing context into a completely new and much more fruitful direction?

This was the situation in which the 23-year-old poet Mikhail Lermontov found himself in 1837, when Alexander Pushkin was murdered in a duel. For by then, not only Pushkin, but also Alexander Griboyedov, the Russian emissary to Iran and author of the play Woe from Wit, had been murdered: Pushkin in a duel he shouldn’t have fought, and Griboyedov along with the rest of the embassy staff at the Russian embassy in Iran (then Persia) by an enraged mob.

Lermontov, despite this, and under these conditions, in his poetry and essays wrote about the dearth of consistent, clear leadership in Russia under Tsar Nicholas I, echoing many of Pushkin’s themes and continuing the development of the Russian language and Russian poetry. Lermontov also reflected the influence of the German Classical tradition on Russia, through his study of the writings of Schiller and Heine, as well as by translating their works into Russian.

Mikhail Lermontov was born in 1814, fifteen years after Pushkin. He found himself in a Russia where the political situation had largely deteriorated, thanks to the rigidities of Nicholas I and many of the Tsar’s closest advisers, including the cruel Minister of War, General Alexei Arakcheyev, and the anti-republican Foreign Minister Nesselrode, along with the salon of Madame Nesselrode. The Russian Army in the Caucasus, where Lermontov was to spend most of his military service, found itself engaged in a brutal, protracted guerrilla war. On the one hand, the local population had been encouraged by various leaders to fight to the death, while on the other, the Russian Commander, General Yermolov, in response, had begun to pursue a slash-and-burn policy that demoralized the Russian officer corps that had hoped for liberalization and change after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

Lermontov was steeped in the Classics from an early age, and this led him to develop his ability to assimilate several languages, including Latin, Greek, French, German, and English. Lermontov also read everything by Pushkin that he could get his hands on. Although Lermontov and Pushkin attended many of the same theaters, ballets, and so forth, they never met. However, Pushkin, having received some unedited poems by Lermontov, told his friend, the musician Glinka, “These are the sparkling proofs of a very great talent!”

A striking example of Lermontov’s youthful creativity is his assimilation of the poetry of Friedrich Schiller. The 15-year-old Lermontov both translated Schiller’s “The Glove” and then, having read and understood the concept behind Schiller’s “The Diver”— that doing what is demanded of you by the powers-that-be, can be deadly—, transformed it into his own idea.

The Glove: A Tale
by Friedrich Schiller

Before his lion-court,
Impatient for the sport,
King Francis sat one day;
The peers of his realm sat around,
And in balcony high from the ground
Sat the ladies in beauteous array.

And when with his finger he beckoned,
The gate opened wide in a second,--
And in, with deliberate tread,
Enters a lion dread,
And looks around
Yet utters no sound;
Then long he yawns
And shakes his mane,
And, stretching each limb,
Down lies he again.

Again signs the king,--
The next gate open flies,
And, lo! with a wild spring,
A tiger out hies.
When the lion he sees, loudly roars he about,
And a terrible circle his tail traces out.
Protruding his tongue, past the lion he walks,
And, snarling with rage, round him warily stalks:
Then, growling anew,
On one side lies down too.

Again signs the king,--
And two gates open fly,
And, lo! with one spring,
Two leopards out hie.
On the tiger they rush, for the fight nothing loth,
But he with his paws seizes hold of them both.
And the lion, with roaring, gets up,--then all's still;
The fierce beasts stalk around, madly thirsting to kill.

From the balcony raised high above
A fair hand lets fall down a glove
Into the lists, where 'tis seen
The lion and tiger between.

To the knight, Sir Delorges, in tone of jest,
Then speaks young Cunigund fair;
"Sir Knight, if the love that thou feel'st in thy breast
Is as warm as thou'rt wont at each moment to swear,
Pick up, I pray thee, the glove that lies there!"

And the knight, in a moment, with dauntless tread,
Jumps into the lists, nor seeks to linger,
And, from out the midst of those monsters dread,
Picks up the glove with a daring finger.

And the knights and ladies of high degree
With wonder and horror the action see,
While he quietly brings in his hand the glove,
The praise of his courage each mouth employs;
Meanwhile, with a tender look of love,
The promise to him of coming joys,
Fair Cunigund welcomes him back to his place.
But he threw the glove point-blank in her face:
"Lady, no thanks from thee I'll receive!"
And that selfsame hour he took his leave.

Schiller’s “The Glove,” is about a would-be enchantress at the court, who is not successful in ensnaring the knight, her prey. Lermontov’s translation of “The Glove” is a full translation from German into Russian of Schiller’s original poem, which mocks those who would cater to the fashions of the court. In it, a knight risks his life by entering the cage of a tiger at a tournament to retrieve a lady’s glove.

“And from the monstrous middle racing,” writes Schiller, “Grabs he the glove now with finger daring. . . .”

What happens next, however, takes the court completely by surprise.

Then from every mouth his praises shower,
But to one the loving glance most dear—
Which promises him his bliss is near—
Receives he from Cunigund’s tower.
And he throws in her face the glove he’s got:
“Your thanks, Lady, I want that not.”
And he leaves her that very hour!
(translation by Marianna Wertz)

View of Mt. Kreshora from the gorge near Kobi, the Caucasus. Drawing by M. Lermontov.

Will you, poet, who is mocked, reawake!
Or, will you never avenge against those who spurn—
From the golden scabbard unsheathe your blade,
Covered with the rust of scorn?

-- from ‘The Poet,’ 1838

In other words, the knight walks away from the established customs and the “way things are done,” without a second glance. He refuses to be a plaything of the oligarchy.

The Diver
by Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)
translated by J. C. Mangan

“BARON or vassal, is any so bold
As to plunge in yon gulf and follow
Through chamber and cave this beaker of gold,
Which already the waters whirlingly swallow?
Who retrieves the prize from the horrid abyss
Shall keep it: the gold and the glory be his!”

So spake the King, and incontinent flung
From the cliff that, gigantic and steep,
High over Charybdis’s whirlpool hung,
A glittering winecup down in the deep;
And again he asked, “Is there one so brave
As to plunge for the gold in the dangerous wave?”

And the knights and the knaves all answerless hear
The challenging words of the speaker;
And some glance downwards with looks of fear,
And none are ambitious of winning the beaker.
And a third time the King his question urges,—
“Dares none, then, breast the menacing surges?”

But the silence lasts unbroken and long;
When a Page, fair-featured and soft,
Steps forth from the shuddering vassal-throng,
And his mantle and girdle already are doffed,
And the groups of nobles and damosels nigh,
Envisage the youth with a wondering eye.

He dreadlessly moves to the gaunt crag’s brow,
And measures the drear depth under;
But the waters Charybdis had swallowed she now
Regurgitates bellowing back in thunder,
And the foam, with a stunning and horrible sound,
Breaks its hoar way through the waves around.

And it seethes and roars, it welters and boils,
As when water is showered upon fire;
And skyward the spray agonizingly toils,
And flood over flood sweeps higher and higher,
Upheaving, downrolling, tumultuously,
As though the abyss would bring forth a young sea.

But the terrible turmoil at last is over;
And down through the whirlpool’s well
A yawning blackness ye may discover,
Profound as the passage to central Hell;
And the waves, under many a struggle and spasm,
Are sucked in afresh by the gorge of the chasm.

And now, ere the din re-thunders, the youth
Invokes the great name of God;
And blended shrieks of horror and ruth
Burst forth as he plunges headlong unawed:
And down he descends through the watery bed,
And the waves boom over his sinking head.

But though for a while they have ceased their swell,
They roar in the hollows beneath,
And from mouth to mouth goes round the farewell,—
“Brave-spirited youth, good night in death!”
And louder and louder the roarings grow,
While with trembling all eyes are directed below.

Now, wert thou even, O monarch! to fling
Thy crown in the angry abyss,
And exclaim, “Who recovers the crown shall be king!”
The guerdon were powerless to tempt me, I wis;
For what in Charybdis’s caverns dwells
No chronicle penned of mortal tells.

Full many a vessel beyond repeal
Lies low in that gulf to-day,
And the shattered masts and the drifting keel
Alone tell the tale of the swooper’s prey.
But hark!—with a noise like the howling of storms,
Again the wild water the surface deforms!

And it hisses and rages, it welters and boils,
As when water is spurted on fire,
And skyward the spray agonizingly toils,
And wave over wave beats higher and higher,
While the foam, with a stunning and horrible sound,
Breaks its white way through the waters around.

When lo! ere as yet the billowy war
Loud raging beneath is o’er,
An arm and a neck are distinguished afar,
And a swimmer is seen to make for the shore,
And hardily buffeting surge and breaker,
He springs upon land with the golden beaker.

And lengthened and deep is the breath he draws
As he hails the bright face of the sun;
And a murmur goes round of delight and applause,—
He lives!—he is safe!—he has conquered and won!
He has mastered Charybdis’s perilous wave!
He has rescued his life and his prize from the grave!

Now, bearing the booty triumphantly,
At the foot of the throne he falls,
And he proffers his trophy on bended knee;
And the King to his beautiful daughter calls,
Who fills with red wine the golden cup,
While the gallant stripling again stands up.

“All hail to the King! Rejoice, ye who breathe
Wheresoever Earth’s gales are driven!
For ghastly and drear is the region beneath;
And let man beware how he tempts high Heaven!
Let him never essay to uncurtain to light
What destiny shrouds in horror and night!

“The maelstrom dragged me down in its course;
When, forth from the cleft of a rock,
A torrent outrushed with tremendous force,
And met me anew with deadening shock;
And I felt my brain swim and my senses reel
As the double-flood whirled me round like a wheel.

“But the God I had cried to answered me
When my destiny darkliest frowned,
And he showed me a reef of rocks in the sea,
Whereunto I clung, and there I found
On a coral jag the goblet of gold,
Which else to the lowermost crypt had rolled.

“And the gloom through measureless toises under
Was all as a purple haze;
And though sound was none in these realms of wonder,
I shuddered when under my shrinking gaze
That wilderness lay developed where wander
The dragon and dog-fish and sea-salamander.

“And I saw the huge kraken and magnified snake
And the thornback and ravening shark
Their way through the dismal waters take,
While the hammer-fish wallowed below in the dark,
And the river-horse rose from his lair beneath,
And grinned through the grate of his spiky teeth.

“And there I hung, aghast and dismayed,
Among skeleton larvæ, the only
Soul conscious of life—despairing of aid
In that vastness untrodden and lonely.
Not a human voice,—not an earthly sound,—
But silence, and water, and monsters around.

“Soon one of these monsters approached me, and plied
His hundred feelers to drag
Me down through the darkness; when, springing aside,
I abandoned my hold of the coral crag,
And the maelstrom grasped me with arms of strength,
And upwhirled and upbore me to daylight at length.”

Then spake to the Page the marvelling King,
“The golden cup is thine own,
But—I promise thee further this jewelled ring
That beams with a priceless hyacinth-stone,
Shouldst thou dive once more and discover for me
The mysteries shrined in the cells of the sea.”

Now the King’s fair daughter was touched and grieved,
And she fell at her father’s feet,—
“O father, enough what the youth has achieved!
Expose not his life anew, I entreat!
If this your heart’s longing you cannot well tame,
There are surely knights here who will rival his fame.”

But the King hurled downwards the golden cup,
And he spake, as it sank in the wave,
“Now, shouldst thou a second time bring it me up,
As my knight, and the bravest of all my brave,
Thou shall sit at my nuptial banquet, and she
Who pleads for thee thus thy wedded shall be!”

Then the blood to the youth’s hot temples rushes,
And his eyes on the maiden are cast,
And he sees her at first overspread with blushes,
And then growing pale and sinking aghast.
So, vowing to win so glorious a crown,
For Life or for Death he again plunges down.

The far-sounding din returns amain,
And the foam is alive as before,
And all eyes are bent downward. In vain, in vain,—
The billows indeed re-dash and re-roar.
But while ages shall roll and those billows shall thunder,
That youth shall sleep under!

In “Ballad,” Lermontov used Schiller’s “The Diver” as his source, but cut out the king as instigator of the diver’s ill-fated journey. Instead, he focusses on the idea of the enchantress who views her “dear friend” as a plaything. The poem was probably written in 1829, the same year Lermontov translated “The Glove.” In “Ballad,” Lermontov took further in Russian the rhymed couplet form which Pushkin had sometimes used, but which Heine to a greater degree had been developing in the German language [SEE Box, page 56].


Sits a beauteous maiden above the sea,
And to her friend doth say, with a plea

“Deliver the necklet, it’s down in the drink,
Today into the whirlpool did it sink!

“And thus shalt thou show me thy love!”
Wildly boiled the young man’s blood,

And his mind, unwilling, the charge embracing,
At once into the foamy abyss he’s racing.

From the abyss doth fly the pearl spray,
And the waves course about, and swirl, and play,

And again they beat as the shore they near,
Here do they return the friend so dear.

O Fortune! He lives, to the cliff doth he cling,
In his hand is the necklet, but how sad doth he seem.

He is afraid to believe his tired legs,
The water streams from his locks down his neck.

“Say, whether I do not love thee or do,
For the beautiful pearls my life I spared not,

“As thou said, it had fallen into the black deep
It did lie down under the coral reef—

“Take it!” And he with a sad gaze turned
To the one for whom his own life he spurned.

Came the answer: “O my youth, O dear one!
If thou love, down to the coral go yet again.”

The daring youth, with hopeless soul,
To find coral, or his finish, down dove.

From the abyss doth fly the pearl spray,
And the waves course about, and swirl, and play,

And again do they beat o’er the shore,
But the dear one return not evermore.

(translation by the author)

Tragically, at the crucial moment, Lermontov himself failed to escape the trap which had been set for him. For, once he had written his poem, “Death of A Poet” about Pushkin’s murder, and its postscript, written with the knowledge of who was behind the calumnies that led to Pushkin’s duel and death, Lermontov allowed himself to be ensnared by those in the Russian court and establishment who did not want there to be any successor to the freedom-loving Pushkin, and as a result he was shot dead in a duel in the Caucasus in 1841—four years after Pushkin’s own death in a duel. [1]

Pushkin’s Russian Revolution

When Mikhail Lermontov came on the scene, Russian’s master poet, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837), was still alive to work his magic. As he composed the greatest works of Russian poetry and launched the development of literary prose, Pushkin transformed the Russian language, and Russia. His beautiful language is the core of literate Russian to this day.

A national hero and a universal genius, Pushkin embodied the Classical idea in Russia. He was the soul of the Classical movement in Russian culture, which he sparked and advanced and helped to organize. The subjects of Pushkin’s writing are the eternal ideas—truth, beauty, justice, mercy, love, freedom, commitment to a mission of doing good.
Employing Classical verse forms in combination with the spoken language of the people, Pushkin insisted that the “popular” (narodny) quality of a language will flower when it is elevated to express profound ideas.

Exploring the paradoxes of leadership in Russian history, Pushkin pioneered Classical tragedy in the Russian language, with his drama Boris Godunov and his studies of Tsar Peter the Great. He was a master of the acerbic epigram, aimed at political or cultural foes. He was one of the great story-tellers of all time.

Never far from politics, Pushkin had close friends among the young officers of the Decembrist movement, whose uprising was crushed in 1825. He was no mere rebel, however, but sought ways to influence Tsar Nicholas I (r. 1825-1854) in the direction of peaceful reform, centered on education. Pushkin’s murder by Georges d’Anthes in a duel was the project of a powerful clique of foreign-connected oligarchs, who ran much of Russian policy in the period after the 1815 Congress of Vienna.

Who Was Mikhail Lermontov?

Mikhail Lermontov, or “Mishka” as he was known as a child, was born in 1814, in Penza, a village to the southeast of Moscow. His grandmother, Elizabeth Alexeyevna Arsenyeva (née Stolypina), who was the major landholder in Pskov, had opposed the marriage of her daughter “beneath her station” to a Russian Army officer, Yuri Petrovich Lermontov, and did everything she could to break up the marriage by whispering in her daughter’s ear what a bad match Yuri was for her.

Mishka thus grew up in a household permeated by strife. At first, there was the growing conflict, incited by Elizabeth Alexeyevna, between his father, Yuri Petrovich, and Maria Mikhailovna, his mother, who suffered from tuberculosis. Mishka seems to have cared about both his parents, and actually wrote a poem to his deceased mother in 1834, which, according to an entry in his diary, is based on the remembrance he had of his mother singing to him when he was three years old.

“The Angel,” describes the individual who cannot forget the music of the heavenly spheres.

The Angel

An angel flew in the midnight sky,
And sang a lullaby;
And all around, the stars and the moon,
Heeded that holy song.

He sang of the blessedness of the innocent,
’Neath Eden’s tents,
About the great God he sang,
And his praise was unfeigned.

A young soul he held in his hands,
For the world of tears and sadness,
And the sound of his song in the young soul
Remained—without words, but whole.

And for a long time on earth that soul stayed,
But never could he trade
Heaven’s music, soaring,
For the songs of earth so boring.

With his parents estranged by the time he was three, Mikhail began suffering bouts of nerves. Maria Lermontova soon discovered that music, the playing of the old songs, the “ingenious cavalcade of notes,” as biographer Henri Troyat calls it, calmed her son’s nerves.

At his mother’s death, Lermontov’s grandmother took charge of Mishka’s person and education. The domineering Elizabeth Alexeyevna, taking advantage of Yuri’s grief and the fact that he was in debt, drove him out of his own son’s life. At the same time, Lermontov’s grandmother wound up getting him the best tutors and the best education she could afford, including music lessons, lessons in French, the language of the Russian aristocracy, as well as in Greek, and in painting.

Elizabeth Alexeyevna ensured that her grandson’s health, which was poor when he was a child, was looked after. He visited the Caucasus twice during his childhood, once when he was six and again at the age of 10. He and his grandmother, along with their retinue, went to his aunt’s estate in Georgia, where it was hoped the fresh air and the spas would improve Mishka’s condition.

Lermontov would later remember the excitement of the long trip from Pskov to the Georgian Caucasus, which has often been compared as a frontier to the Wild West of the United States.

At the age of 10, on the second visit, he also perused his aunt’s library, which contained the works of the French (Rousseau, Voltaire), as well as the German poets Schiller and Goethe.

In 1825, Lermontov’s family, like many Russian aristocratic families, was personally affected by the Decembrist uprising of officers in St. Petersburg [SEE Box, page 48]. The uprising, sparked by the accession of Nicholas I to the throne, was suppressed, and the officers who led it were arrested. Lermontov’s great uncle, General Dmitri Stolypin—the grandfather of the famous Russian reformer Pyotr A. Stolypin—was sympathetic to the Decembrists and a friend of Decembrist leader Pavel Pestel, who was hanged for his role in the plot.

Lermontov had been given a broad education, both in the Classics and in French Romantic ideas, by private tutors in his grandmother’s home. At the age of 15, he attended the Moscow University Boarding School for Young Men, also known as the Moscow Noble Pension, a private pension in Moscow that focussed on the Classics (a pension being the equivalent of a private preparatory school in the United States). Tsar Nicholas I, having personally visited the school with the head of the Third Department (the secret police), Count Alexander Benkendorf, pronounced the school too liberal. Its professors were ordered to curtail the curriculum.

Because the German Classical movement was radiating outward into Russia, even Moscow, the home of the more traditional Russian elites who were wedded to the landed aristocracy and serfdom, began to see a renaissance in its educational institutions and its cultural outlook. Lermontov benefited both from the Moscow Noble Pension, in which he was enrolled in 1829, and from public performances of Schiller and Shakespeare, even bad or truncated ones. In letters to his aunt, Lermontov roundly criticized a performance of Hamlet, explaining to her that key passages from the original had been consciously omitted.

Throughout his teens, Lermontov continued to compose original poetry and to translate. In 1831, he was enrolled at Moscow University. But, as the first semester proceeded, the cholera epidemic, which had spread from Asia into Russia and would sweep through Poland as well, hit Moscow. Students from the University were enlisted in the fight to stop the spread of the disease, in concert with students from the University’s Department of Medicine. Classes would not resume until the beginning of 1832.

Once classes resumed, Lermontov and his friends, who had participated in beating back the cholera, found it difficult to readjust to the stultified university life, in which anything that smacked of non-autocratic ideas was suppressed. Lermontov and his friends became known as the “Joyous Band.” The group was drawn to ideas of a constitutional state, in which serfdom would be abolished, and where there would be universal education.

Most of the faculty of Moscow University was steeped in a commitment to serfdom and all that this implied for economics, as well as in Tsar Nicholas’s doctrine—actually the doctrine of Nesselrode and the worst oligarchical elements of Imperial Russia in this period—of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.” For Nicholas, nationality referred to the Russian as a Great Russian. This was the period when Russia played the role of gendarme of Europe, assigned to it by the masters of power politics— Capodistra, Metternich, Castlereagh—at the 1815 Congress of Vienna, as well as pursuing imperial designs of its own.

In 1831, Lermontov and his friends had already had one encounter with Malov, their professor of Roman law, described as extremely obtuse. On March 16, 1831, they shut down his lecture with hissing, refusing to allow him to continue.

While this incident almost got them sent into the army as common soldiers, Malov was dissuaded from pursuing charges. In a Professor Pobedenostsev’s class, Lermontov responded that his teachers knew nothing, and that rather, he was educating himself from his personal library, which contained much more recent materials in foreign languages. In class after class, Lermontov continued to challenge the authority of professors, who were teaching from outdated materials, and who were attempting to enforce Nicholas’s doctrine of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality. While Lermontov and his Joyous Band may not have had a fully thought-out solution, they had before them the example of the Decembrists, the “first revolutionaries.” And they knew that their education was narrow and ideological.

The Turbulent Russian Army

The Russian Army, in which Lermontov served, and about which he wrote, policed the borders of an Empire in the period of the Holy Alliance. The troops were conscripted into virtually life-long service (terms of 25 years, and longer), but the officer corps was the locus of considerable free-thinking. From the ranks of Russian Army leaders came patriotic reforms, as well as a fair share of hotheads with Jacobin leanings. Both elements were present in the famous Decembrist uprising of 1825.

Tsar Alexander I died on Nov. 19 (Old Style), 1825 in Taganrog. It was not generally known that his next oldest brother, Governor-General of Warsaw Constantine, had renounced the throne, and a third brother, Nicholas, was the heir. Military units swore allegiance to Constantine, who, however, refused to come to St. Petersburg. On Dec. 14, the Northern Society of young noblemen and officers, veterans of the Great Patriotic War against Napoleon, took advantage of the interregnum to stage a revolt against the incoming Tsar Nicholas I. On the Senate Square in St. Petersburg, a day-long standoff, punctuated by the assassination of two government officials, ended in an hour of cannon fire. Scores of the soldiers summoned by the insurgents died, and the Decembrist leaders were arrested. Five ring-leaders were hanged in 1826, including the poet Kondrati Ryleyev. Others were exiled to Siberia for life.

The mission and the fate of the Decembrists preoccupied Russia’s intellectuals and writers, beginning with the friend of many of them, Alexander Pushkin. It loomed large for the generation of Lermontov, who was 10 years old in 1825. The youthful Lermontov took his army commission in 1834.
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Lermontov’s continued confrontations with his professors finally led to his expulsion from the University. He planned to transfer to the University in St. Petersburg, but because the credits he had earned at Moscow were not transferrable, he decided instead to enroll in the Junkers Military School. Upon graduation in two years, as the scion of a noble family, he would be able to enroll in one of the regiments of the Guard. This he hoped would be easy duty, relatively speaking, in the vicinity of St. Petersburg.

The Decembrist uprising, Senate Square, St. Petersburg, Dec. 14, 1825, was staged by young officers against the incoming Tsar Nicholas I.

Decembrist A.I. Odoeyevsky, watercolor by M. Lermontov, 1837.

Lermontov’s enrollment began in November of 1832, in the Hussars of the Guard. At the school, where attempts at liberalism had been shut down by the Tsar, Lermontov was immersed in military studies, including strategy, ballistics, and fortifications. He graduated in 1834.

From 1835 to 1836, Lermontov spent time in St. Petersburg among the social circles of the aristocracy. He wrote much verse, and some of it was noted by the critic Vissarion Belinsky for its conflicting themes of fulfillment and despair.

In 1837, Lermontov, like all Russians, was stunned by the murder of Alexander Pushkin in a duel with the adopted son of the Dutch ambassador to Russia. His poem, “Death of A Poet,” on Pushkin’s murder, would get him imprisoned in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, then exiled to the Caucasus. Having gotten seriously ill with pneumonia and rheumatism on maneuvers, Lermontov, with the agreement of his commander, spent several months at the spa in Pyatigorsk, a rest and social resort for the military and aristocracy.

Finally rejoining his regiment in Tbilisi in October 1837, Lermontov was told that the Tsar had issued an order allowing him to return from exile, and to join a regiment at Pskov. Mikhail, who was writing verse based on tales about the Caucasus, took his time in returning north. He finally arrived in St. Petersburg on January 3, 1838. In April, spurred by his requests to his grandmother and her requests to Grand Duke Michael and Benkendorf, Lermontov was allowed to return to St. Petersburg. It was in this period that Lermontov wrote A Hero of Our Time. It was completed and published in 1839. Lermontov also wrote his long poem, or “Eastern tale,” as he called it, “The Demon.”

In 1840, Lermontov was again exiled to the Caucasus, this time over a duel that was planned between himself and the son of the French ambassador, Ernest de Barante. The duel took place in February. No one was hurt, but when the duel was discovered, Lermontov was arrested and exiled. This time, no appeal from Elizabeth Alexeyevna could prevent his exile.

On April 16, 1840, while Lermontov was in prison awaiting court-martial, the critic Belinsky (with whom he had had disagreements) visited him. Belinsky wrote after this meeting, “Oh, this will be a Russian poet on the scale of an Ivan the Great! Marvellous personality! . . . He reveres Pushkin and likes Onegin best of all. . . .”

Lermontov was found guilty of dueling, and exiled.

He arrived in Stavropol, military headquarters for the Caucasus, in mid-June of 1840, and presented himself to the commander-in-chief of the region, General Grabbe. In this second tour, Lermontov was involved in several military actions. In fact, Lermontov requested active duty, in the hope of receiving a pardon through his exploits, which would allow him to return to St. Petersburg, where he could socialize with the political and social circles that were trying to implement reform.

On July 6, 1840, he fought and acquitted himself well in the battle of Valerik. Then, on October 10, Lermontov took command of what was essentially a Russian Army guerrilla unit, attempting to fight the irregular war in the Caucasus through more flexible tactics.

In November of 1840, Lermontov was recommended for the Order of Saint Stanislas after the Valerik campaign. But in early 1841, Nicholas I denied him the Order because of his writings. Lermontov was given a two-month pass to St. Petersburg, which he hoped to make permanent.

But by March of 1841, Lermontov realized that he would not be permitted to remain in the capital, and went to rejoin his regiment. Once he arrived in Stavropol, he had himself placed on sick leave, and went to Pyatigorsk.

During this time, Lermontov was under surveillance by the secret police of the Third Department. On July 13, 1841, at a party arranged by Lermontov, Lermontov and “Monkey” Martynov, a former classmate and friend, had a minor argument. A duel was set for July 15.

Lermontov spent the next two days attempting to resolve the matter, and avoid the duel. But Martynov refused to come to any accommodation.

On July 15, the duel took place. Lermontov either refused to fire or fired into the air. Martynov, hesitating only a moment, shot the poet dead.

Lermontov began writing poetry at age 16. A talented artist, he adorned his manuscripts with sketches. Dedication to the poet’s “Aul Bastundzhi” (“Bastundzhi Village”).

Lermontov’s cousin and best friend, Alexei Stolypin, of the influential Stolypin family. Lermontov earned his Army commission in 1834, after graduating form the Junkers Military School shown below.

Junkers Military School

Lermontov’s Poetry

Being able to be creative, and being able to be creative constantly, was an issue Lermontov addressed as early as 1830, at the age of 16, when he wrote “The Poet,” in which he expressed what the experience of creation was to him:

And when Raphael, so inspired,
The pure Virgin’s image, blessed,
Completed with his brush afire,
By his art enraptured
He before his painting fell!
But soon was this wonderment
In his youthful breast tamed
And, wearied and mute,
He forgot the celestial flame.

Thus the poet: a thought flashing,
As he, heart and soul, his pen dashing,
With the sound of his famed lyre
Charms the world; in quiet deep
It sings, forgetting in heavenly sleep
Thou, thou! The idol of his soul!
Suddenly, his fiery cheeks grow cold,
All his tend’rest passions
Are quiet, and flees the apparition!
But how long, how long the mind holds
The very first impression.

—M. Lermontov (approx. age 16)

In 1838, with Pushkin dead for about a year, the 24-year-old Lermontov wrote another poem titled “The Poet,” which was his reflection on what it meant to be a poet during the reign of Nicholas I.

This poem begins in the first person. A Cossack who has retired from fighting, has hung up his battle-worn kindjal (a type of knife/sword used in the Nineteenth century in the Caucasus), which now hangs as an ornament on his wall.

Lermontov uses this as a metaphor for how poetry, instead of being an instrument with which to rally the troops, and of truth/beauty, has become a party game, or an ornament for the court; therefore rusted, and of no use in the heat of battle. Here are the last five of its 11 stanzas.

from The Poet

In our age effeminate, is it not so, poet,
Lost is your intent,
Having exchanged gold for that portent,
Which the world heeded in reverence silent?

Once it was, the measured sound of your words bold and loud,
Inflamed for battle the warrior,
Like a cup for the feasts, ’twas needed for the crowd—
Like incense in the hour of prayer.

Your verse, like a holy spirit, floated above them,
Blessed thoughts recalling
That rang like the bell for meeting
In the Days of Troubles—and of national feasting.

But we are bored by your proud and simple words,
We are diverted by tinsel and clouds;
Like a worn-out beauty, is our worn-out world
Used to wrinkles hidden under rouge . . .

Will you, poet, who is mocked, reawake!
Or will you never avenge against those who spurn,
From the golden scabbard unsheathe your blade,
Covered with the rust of scorn?

—1838 (Pushkin dead for less than a year)

(translation by the author)

Thus, under Nicholas’s reign, Lermontov was faced with a paradox. How could he, as one individual, make a difference in an autocratic regime? Like all Russians, he was faced with the murder of Pushkin; with the irregular war in the Caucasus, which would turn into a full-blown war that, at the least, the British imperial faction was able to manipulate a decade or so later; and with the pettiness and contradictions of life under Tsar Nicholas I. It therefore appeared that to be a thinking, creative person, was to be put in the position of becoming an outcast—someone who, in the eyes of society, would be considered a beggar standing naked in the town square, attempting to tell the truth to an audience which was either too frightened, or too consumed with its own private games, to listen.

The Prophet

E’er since the judge eterne
The prophet’s omniscience gave me,
In people’s eyes do I discern
The pages of malice and enmity.

To proclaim love I came
And the pure truths of learning:
All my neighbors, enraged,
At me stones were hurling

With embers I strewed my head,
From the cities did I flee
And thus I live in the desert;
Like the birds, on food divine and free.

Earth’s obedient creature
Of the eternal preserver calls to me
And the stars do hear,
Their rays play joyfully.

And so in the noisy town, while
I hastily make my way,
With a self-satisfied smile,
Then the old men to the children say:

Look: Here’s an example for you!
He was proud, and did not dwell among us:
He wanted us to believe—the fool—
That God speaks with his lip!

And, children, upon him look:
How ill he is, and ashen,
Look how naked he is, and poor,


The turmoil Lermontov faced as a young man, both in his personal life and in the military, was reflected in the three-stanza poem “The Sail,” which uses the metaphor of a sailing ship steering into a storm, “as if in storms there is peace.” That is, as many a sailor knows, if you cannot outrun a storm, you must navigate through it, if you are to return home safely.

The Sail

Gleams white a solitary sail
In the haze of the light blue sea.—
What seeks it in countries far away?
What in its native land did leave?

The mast creaks and presses,
The wind whistles, the waves are playing;
Alas! It does not seek happiness,
Nor from happiness is fleeing!

Beneath, the azure current flows,
Above, the golden sunlight streaks:—
But restless, into the storm it goes,
As if in storms there is peace!

—1832 (18 years old)

(translation by the author)

Lermontov became quite visible—and a target of both international and Russian political forces which were behind Pushkin’s murder—with “Death of A Poet,” a passionate eulogy on Pushkin’s death. Lermontov had read many handwritten copies of Pushkin’s poems, passed from person to person, during these years. As his writings attest, Lermontov certainly understood what Pushkin’s groundbreaking work in the Russian language meant for Russia. Lermontov also attended balls and gatherings among the officer corps stationed in St. Petersburg, at which Pushkin was present. But he wanted any meeting with Pushkin to be peer to peer, poet to poet, and so stayed in the background whenever Pushkin was present.

Death of A Poet

The poet’s murd’red!—slave of honor,
He fell, by rumor defamed,
With lead in the breast, and his proud head bowed
By a thirst for vengeance!
The poet’s soul had not withstood
The disgrace of petty-minded insults.
He rose against the opinion of the world
Alone, as formerly . . . and he’s murdered!
Murdered! . . . Now to what purpose is sobbing,
A useless chorus of empty praises,
And the pitiful prattle of excuses?
Fate’s sentence has been imposed!
Was it not you who first thus persecuted
So cruelly his free, bold gift,
And for amusement fanned
The fire that had somewhat abated?
So? Be happy. . . . He could not
Bear the final torments.
Extinguished, like a lamp, is the
Marvellous genius,
Withered the ceremonial crown.

His murderer, coldblooded,
Took aim . . . There was no salvation:
That empty heart beat steadily,
In the hand the pistol did not tremble
And how is that strange? From afar,
Like a thousand fugitives,
He, hunting for fortune and rank,
Thrown among us by the will of fate
Laughing, impudently despised
The language and customs of this alien land;
He could not spare our glory,
He could not understand in that bloody instant,
Against what he raised his hand!
And he is slain—and taken to the grave,
Like that bard, unknown but dear,
The prey of dull envy,
Whom he praised with such wonderful force,
Struck down, like him, by a pitiless hand.*
Why from peaceful delights and open-hearted friendship
Did he enter into this envious world—stifling
For a free heart and fiery passions?
Why did he extend a hand to petty slanderers,
Why did he believe the false words and caresses,
He, who from his youthful years understood people?

They removed the former garland, and a crown of thorns
Entwined with laurel put they on him:
But the secret spines harshly
Wounded the famous brow;
His last moments were poisoned
By the insidious whispers of derisive fools,
And he died—thirsting in vain for vengeance,
Secretly besieged by false hopes.
The sounds of his wonderful songs fell silent,
They will not ring out again:
The bard’s refuge is cramped and sullen,
And his lips are sealed.

(translation by the author)

Lermontov might have been considered a minor irritation and been reprimanded had he left his poem there. But he decided to go all the way in a postscript written several weeks later, and attack the court itself for its organized role in Pushkin’s death. The postscript was then surreptitiously circulated to trusted friends. At the time, Benkendorf took it as “seditious” and a “call to revolution.”

Postscript to ‘Death of A Poet’

And you, stubborn heirs
Of fathers renowned for meanness,
Who with servile heel trod underfoot the shards Of families by Fortune frowned upon!
You, greedy crowd standing near the throne,
Of Freedom, Genius and Glory the hangman!
You hide behind the protection of law,
Before you, the court and truth—all is silent!
But there is also divine judgment, you cronies of corruption!
There is a terrible judge: he waits;
He is not swayed by tinkling gold,
And knows your thoughts and affairs beforehand.
Then in vain will you resort to slander:
It will not help you again,
And with all your black blood you shall not wash away
The righteous blood of the poet!

One of Lermontov’s cousins, Nicholas Stolypin, described by one Lermontov biographer as “a smart young diplomat serving in the Foreign Ministry of von Nesselrode”—i.e., the same Nesselrode whose wife’s salon had been at the center of the operation against Pushkin—visited Lermontov to harangue him and tell him he had gone too far, and that he should cease and desist attacking the Tsar and the court immediately. Lermontov angrily replied: “You, sir, are the antithesis of Pushkin, and if you do not leave this second, I will not answer for my actions.”

Even with the limited circulation of the postscript, Lermontov had sealed his fate. He and his friend Svyatoslav Rayevsky, who had circulated the postscript to various people, were immediately arrested. Rayevsky attempted to send a letter to Lermontov warning him to make sure that their stories were the same. But the letter was intercepted. Each was interrogated individually, and made to admit the role of the other in the circulation of the postscript.

Lermontov and Rayevsky wound up being imprisoned at the Fortress of Peter and Paul for six months. Lermontov was made to write a statement of contrition, addressed to Nicholas I, in which he praised Nicholas’s generosity to Pushkin’s widow and children. At the end of the statement, however, Lermontov proved himself to be committed to what he had previously written.

“As far as concerns me personally,” he wrote, “I have not sent this poem out to anyone, but in acknowledging my inconsequence, I do not want to disavow it. The truth has always been sacred to me and now in offering my guilty head for judgment, I have recourse to the truth with firmness as the only protector of an honest man before the Tsar and before God.”

Because of pleas on his behalf by his grandmother, given her position in society, and by the court poet Zhukovsky, Lermontov did not wind up in Siberia. Instead, he was exiled to the Caucasus as a member of the Nizhny Novgorod Dragoons. Thus, at the age of 23, Lermontov was to return to the region where he had spent several summers of his youth on his aunt’s estate. There, Lermontov was to meet and become re-acquainted with members of the Caucasian Officer Corps, made up almost entirely of those officers exiled by Nicholas I for their role in the Decembrist uprising of 1825, and many of whom he knew or had been friends of Pushkin.

The Caucasus

In 1840, Lermontov, while in St. Petersburg, was challenged to a duel. While some in the court tried to claim that the duel was personal, those closer to Lermontov asserted that Lermontov was challenged over his blunt, public stance on the de facto murder of Pushkin. When it was “discovered” that Lermontov had been duelling, he was thrown in prison, and exiled again to the Caucasus.

One of Lermontov’s most poignant poems, written upon his second exile, reflects the conditions to which Russians knew themselves to be subject, i.e., that there were police spies everywhere. Lermontov called Russia, the land of “all-hearing ears.”

Farewell, unwashed Russia,
Land of slaves, land of lords,
And you,* blue uniforms,
And thou, a people devoted to them.

Perhaps, beyond the wall of the Caucasus,
I will be concealed from your pashas,
From their eyes all-seeing,
And ears all-hearing.


(translation by the author)

Thus, Lermontov spent most of the years 1837 to 1841—the remainder of his short life—as an officer in the Caucasus, with a short return to the capital, St. Petersburg, engineered by his grandmother in 1839. And upon his return to St. Petersburg, Lermontov wrote A Hero of Our Time.

Attempts by reformers like Pushkin and Lermontov to influence the policies of Tsar Nicholas I, challenged the worst oligarchical elements of Imperial Russia, represented by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Count Karl Robert Nesselrode (below).

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Count Karl Robert Nesselrode

Nesselrode’s views were shaped by the 1815 Congress of Vienna, and its Habsburg and British Empire spokesmen Prince Klemens Metternich and Viscount Castlereagh (below).

Viscount Castlereagh

A Hero of Our Time

The final straw for those among Russia’s ruling elite who were committed to an anti-republican outlook, and thus determined to be rid of Lermontov, was Lermontov’s novella, A Hero of Our Time, often classified simply as “the first modern Russian psychological novel.”

But, although Lermontov does describe the psychological ills of his fellow Russian officers stationed in the Caucasus, that is not the only purpose of Hero. A Hero of Our Time is an example of why it is not enough to read the text of an author literally. The analysis situs—that is, the historical time and place—in which Lermontov wrote Hero, is crucial to an understanding of why Lermontov addressed the question of the state of mind of the Russian officer corps so harshly.

Lermontov saw military action in the Caucasus. Additionally, he had had not only access, but opportunity to talk to some of the battle-tested generals in the Caucasus about the guerrilla war there. Thus, Hero’s larger purpose, based on Lermontov’s own experience in and knowledge of the Caucasus, as well as these discussions with experienced military leaders, was to attempt to convey to Nicholas I the conditions festering among the officer corps on Russia’s crucial “southern flank,” who were forced to fight a brutal irregular war on difficult terrain, in a tropical climate where disease killed as many men as the fighting did. Additionally, this guerrilla war was being supported with money and materiel from outside Russia and the Caucasus.

Lermontov’s introduction to the second edition of Hero is rather direct and blunt. He writes: “It is a pity, especially in our country, where the reading public is still so naive and immature that it cannot understand a fable unless the moral is given at the end, fails to see jokes, has no sense of irony, and is simply badly educated,” that the reading public ignores the preface to books.

Lermontov’s Caucasus: Battlefield of the ‘Great Game’

At a crossroads of Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian, lies the Caucasus mountain range. Topped by the highest peak in Europe, 18,841-foot Mt. Elbrus, the terrain is rugged. Mt. Kazbek in the Caucasus is where Prometheus, in legend, was chained to a rock for eternity. To the south, in Transcaucasia, lie the ancient Christian nations of Armenia and Georgia. The gorges between the mountains have been inhabited by scores of peoples, with diverse religions and loyalties, over the centuries: Chechens, Circassians, and many others.

Aerial view of the Caucasus Mountains
Satellite image of the Caucasus Mountains
Aishkho Pass, Caucasus Nature Reserve
Mount Elbrus viewed from the south in Russia
General map of Russia, showing Southern Russia in color (the Southern Federal District in blue and the North Caucasian Federal District in red).

The Caucasus and Transcaucasia came under Russian rule over a period of several centuries, and eventually were part of the Soviet Union from 1922 until 1991. King Irakli II of Georgia began the process of Georgia’s annexation to Russia in 1784, seeking protection from the Caucasus mountain fighters, often directed by the Turkish Sultan—or his European controllers in a given era—in their raids against Georgia. In the late Eighteenth century and throughout the Nineteenth, the Russian Empire faced insurgencies in the Caucasus. The Russian military class known as the Cossacks, who had traditional home bases in the plains just to the north of the mountains, were primary combatants in Russian clashes with Caucasus bands, but regular Army troops were also stationed along a string of mountain forts. In 1829, under General Yermolov, Russia secured relative control of the Caucasus.

The Caucasus was Russia’s southern frontier, a zone of contest not only with the Ottoman Empire and the Shahs of Persia, but also with the upper reaches of Britain’s Imperial power, radiating up from India: the battle for power in Eurasia, known as “The Great Game.” Accordingly, the area was—and still is—a battleground for the intrigues of intelligence services, where things are rarely what they seem to be at first glance. The notorious case in point in the late Eighteenth century was Sheikh Mansur, leader of Chechen Muslim fighters against Russia under Catherine the Great: he was a former Dominican monk named Giovanni Battista Boetti, who hailed from Italy via the Levant. In the 1990’s, foreign involvement in Chechnya’s secession from Russia provided many echoes of such Caucasus traditions.

Written with a red-hot sense of irony, on the heels of Pushkin’s murder and his own exile, Lermontov continues:

Our country “still doesn’t realize that open abuse is impossible in respectable society or in respectable books, and that modern culture has found a far keener weapon than abuse. Though practically invisible it is nonetheless deadly, and under the cloak of flattery strikes surely and irresistibly.” And what is the reaction of the “reading public”? Writes Lermontov, again ironically, it “is like some country bumpkin who hears a conversation between two diplomats from opposing courts and goes away convinced that each is betraying his government for the sake of an intimate mutual friendship.”

Nicholas I, as he did with Pushkin’s writings, personally read and censored Lermontov’s Hero. The Tsar complained that the main character, Pechorin, was a poor representative of what a Russian officer should be.

Thus, writes Lermontov, “The present book, recently had the misfortune to be taken literally by some readers and even by some journals. Some were terribly offended that anyone as immoral as the Hero of Our Time should be held up as an example, while others very subtly remarked that the author had portrayed himself and his acquaintances. Again that feeble old joke! Russia seems to be made in such a way that everything can change, except absurdities like this, and even the most fantastic fairy-tale can hardly escape being criticized for attempted libel.

Episode from the Caucasian War, watercolor by M. Lermontov and G.G. Gagarin.

“The Hero of Our Time is certainly a portrait,” explains Lermontov, “but not of a single person. It is a portrait of the vices of our whole generation in their ultimate development. You will say that no man can be so bad, and I will ask you why, after accepting all the villains of tragedy and romance, you refuse to believe in Pechorin,” at whose portrayal as a cynical, self-absorbed, disgruntled Russian officer Nicholas I took extreme umbrage. It may be that Lermontov is asking Nicholas to look in the mirror: “You have admired far more terrible and monstrous characters than he is, so why are you so merciless towards him, even as a fictitious character? Perhaps he comes too close to the bone?”

Finally, writes Lermontov in this introduction, “you may say that morality will not benefit from this book. I’m sorry, but people have been fed on sweets too long and it has ruined their digestion. Bitter medicines and harsh truths are needed now, though please don’t imagine that the present author was ever vain enough to dream of correcting human vices. Heaven preserve him from being so naive! It simply amused him to draw a picture of contemporary man as he understands him and as he has, to his own and your misfortune, too often found him. Let it suffice that the malady has been diagnosed—heaven alone knows how to cure it!” (In fact, it would take Russia’s near-defeat in the Crimean War under Nicholas I, the ascension of Alexander II to the throne, and the resulting upswing in Russian scientific and economic development—as well as the freeing of the serfs—to begin to cure the malady.)

Hero portrays a young officer just arrived in the Caucasus, who is regaled by an older officer with tales of the cynical, self-absorbed Pechorin, who has “gone native,” taken a local princess as his mistress, and then left her. Additionally, the new arrival describes the Caucasus for us, and his journey along the Georgian Military Road to his new post. One of the stories that comprise the novella, “Taman,” about Pechorin’s travels, describes how Pechorin is forced to take shelter in a hut where nothing is as it seems. Seduced by the young woman of the household, Pechorin comes to realize that he has entered a den of smugglers, consisting of the woman, a blind boy, and an old man. Pechorin barely escapes with his life.

The final story in Hero, “The Fatalist,” is as telling as its introduction. Seemingly just a tale of officers playing cards and “Russian Roulette” (possibly the first mention ever made) in a small, isolated village in the Caucasus, who are discussing whether there is such a thing as predestination, the irony of the tale could not have been missed by any Russian soldier or officer who had served any time at all in the Caucasus.

In the story, the officer who draws the round with the bullet in it fires, but the gun misfires, harming no one. He then leaves the card game and gets into a brawl with two drunken Cossacks, who kill him. The protagonist of this story proceeds to capture one of the Cossacks and hold him until the authorities can arrive.

Any Russian who had served in that area would understand immediately what Lermontov was writing about. While you could never be sure if your Russian-made weapon would fire properly, you could be sure that an encounter with a Cossack could be deadly, whether on the town streets or in combat. Many of the guerrillas were armed with Cossack or similar sabers. It was also the preferred weapon of Russians stationed in the Caucasus for more than a few months, since they knew it was swift, sure, and reliable.

During his brief return to St. Petersburg, Lermontov discussed and wrote about how he would like to write a novel based on the history of Russia from the time of the Pugachov rebellion of 1771 to the Napoleonic Wars (1805 and 1812-1815), and Russia’s victory (with significant military-strategic help from certain key Prussian officers) over Napoleon’s army. This project, which would have taken up where Pushkin left off with his History of Pugachov, was never completed, owing to Lermontov’s death in 1841. Lermontov also wanted to write a biography of Griboyedov, the exiled playwright who, along with the rest of the mission, was tragically murdered in Teheran.

During Lermontov’s stay in St. Petersburg, forces behind the scenes had determined to remove him from the environs of the court. Lermontov was headstrong, and still angered by Pushkin’s murder. Because of his knowledge of the role of the Nesselrode salon in Pushkin’s murder, he had never succumbed to the official story, that the duel was over a “private matter.” He was often seen at the balls and parties of Pushkin’s friends.

In 1841, four years after the death of Pushkin and two years after Lermontov’s exile to the Caucasus, Lermontov, taking a cure at the spa in Pyatigorsk, found himself facing off in a duel against Major Martynov, whom he had in fact tried to placate after a minor quarrel. But Martynov demanded satisfaction (there is some evidence he was being directed by agents of Russia’s secret service, the Third Department).

A housemate of Martynov’s, a prince named Vasilchikov, whom Lermontov had known since 1837, told Lermontov that he had arranged a compromise. The parties would meet for the duel as scheduled, and each party would fire into the air. They would then shake hands and part.

A Note on Lermontov’s ‘Ballada’

Russian original, Cyrillic alphabet:


Roman alphabet transliteration:


Nad morem krasavitsa-deva sidit;
I k drugu, laskayasya, tak govorit:

“Dostan ozherelye, spustisya na dno;
Sevodnya v puchinu upalo ono!

Ty etim dokazhesh svoyu mne lyubov!”
Vskipela likhaya u yunoshi krov,

I um yevo obnyal nevolny nedug,
On v pennuyu bezdnu kidayetsya vdrug.

English translation:


Sits a beauteous maiden above the sea,
And to her friend doth say, with a plea,

“Deliver the necklet, it’s down in the drink,
Today into the whirlpool did it sink!

“And thus shalt thou show me your love!”
Wildly boiled the young man’s blood,

And his mind, unwilling, the charge embracing,
At once into the foamy abyss he’s racing.

THE POEM IS in amphibrachic tetrameter, which has a very strong “sing-song” quality in English:

- ′ - / - ′ - / - ′ - / - ′ .

It is used in Russian ballads; Alexander Pushkin used it in some poems. The meter of the first two couplets is shown in transliteration, divided into syllables, as:

Nad mó - rem / kra - sá - vi - / tsa-dé - va / si - dít;
I k drú - gu, / la - ská - ya - / sya, ták go - / vo - rít:

“Do - stán o - / zhe - ré - lye, / spu - stí - sya / na dnó;
Se - vó - dnya / v pu - chí - nu / u - pá - lo / o - nó!

Which can be translated in the same meter into English as:

A maiden / most beauti- / ful sits by / the shore; And tender- / ly speaks to / her friend in / these words: “Go fetch me / my necklace, / it’s down in / the drink, Today ’neath / the turbu- / lent waves did / it sink!

But, whether Vasilchikov was a witting or unwitting accomplice, that is not what happened. Lermontov fired first, firing his shot into the air, as had been worked out, he believed, with Vasilchikov. Martynov hesitated, then, claiming that Lermontov had insulted him yet again, shot Lermontov dead.

Thus Mikhail Lermontov, who, at 26 years of age was seen by most of Russia’s intelligentsia as Pushkin’s immediate heir, went to his death on July 15, 1841.

Upon hearing the news, Nicholas I was reported to have said, “Gentlemen, the man who could have replaced Pushkin for us is dead.” Given that the streets outside Pushkin’s home had been lined with ordinary Russians who loved his poetry and were hoping he would recover after his duel, Nicholas must have known the effect his remark would have.

But Lermontov’s poetry, like Pushkin’s, lived on, both by itself, and also through music. It is reported that Lermontov set his own poems to music, most of which settings have unfortunately not survived. However, the Russian composer Glinka set to music many of Pushkin’s poems, and several of Lermontov’s, in the first half of the Nineteenth century, in the tradition of the German Classical lieder. Glinka set a poem by Lermontov called “Prayer,” as well as setting many of Zhukovsky’s Russian translations of Schiller poems. Thus, there is a direct transmission belt from German Classical poetry, to German Lieder, to the transmission of that by Glinka into the equivalent of Russian Lieder. (It should also be noted that Glinka also set the poetry of Pushkin’s good friend Baron Delvig. Delvig was second-in-command on the first railroad building project in Russia.)

What we have available to us today of Lermontov’s body of work, indicates a great potential cut short by his early death. Pushkin himself recognized Lermontov’s “sparkling” talent. It is clear that Lermontov was beginning to mature, and that he would have been able to continue to develop the tradition of Pushkin. As with Pushkin, Lermontov wanted to write for Russia a portion of its universal history, with an eye toward transforming the way Russians saw themselves.

After Lermontov, there would be others. There was Gogol, whose Dead Souls was explicitly conceived to be a Russian Divine Comedy, although never completed. There was also to be Goncharov, author of Oblomov, a novel which satirized the do-nothing, lying-in-bed-all-day, would-be reformers among the Russian oligarchy. There was the biting satire of Saltykov-Shchedrin, as well as What Is To Be Done? by Chernyshevsky, from which Vladimir Lenin would take the title for one of his key political tracts. Similarly, in Ukraine, there were to be a number of significant Ukrainian poets and translators of Heine and Schiller.

Thus, the cultural and literary movement created by Pushkin and his friends, of which Lermontov was a part, lived on through several generations. And through the spirit of a new renaissance today, it can continue to live on in the work of a new generation of poets and musicians.



* Reference to Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s novel in verse, the duel between Onegin and the poet Lensky, whom Onegin murders.–DMH

* Lermontov uses the polite form of “you” in Russian in the first instance, and the familiar form of “thou” in the second instance. The blue uniforms are those of the Third Department secret police.–DMH

1. The political circumstances surrounding Pushkin’s death are reviewed by Vadim V. Kozhinov in “The Mystery of Pushkin’s Death,” in “Symposium: Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s Poet of Universal Genius,” Fidelio, Fall 1999 (Vol. VII, No. 3). The Symposium presents further discussion of Pushkin’s life and work in “The Living Memory of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin” (Rachel B. Douglas), “Pushkin and Schiller” (Helga Zepp LaRouche), and “Pushkin Was a Live Volcano . . .’ ” (E.S. Lebedeva).
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