четверг, 15 октября 2009 г.


In February 1837 Russia mourned the death of its most beloved poet Alexander Pushkin. In those days, so full of sorrow, the attention of the public was attracted by a verse of a young poet, Mikhail Lermontov. In this poem, dedicated entirely to Pushkin’s death and called “On the Death of the Poet,” the young Lermontov expressed his bitterness and anger over the attitude to Pushkin in high society, where they justified the poet’s murderer. The authorities responded by deporting Lermontov in exile to the Caucasus, where a war with the Chechens was on. Strange as it may seem, that very exile made the poet famous.

Mikhail Lermontov was born in Moscow, in 1814, into a noble family. His ancestors on his father’s side came from an old Scottish dynasty, the Lermonts. Members of the dynasty were scattered throughout the globe and one of the branches settled in Russia and came to be known as Lermontovs.

His mother died when he was three and the boy was raised by his granny, who was so doting on him that took him away from his loving father. Later on his father would write in his will: “You have wits, my boy, so don’t you ever neglect them but beware of wasting them on useless things: this is an innate gift and you’ll report to God on how you used it one day! You have a good heart, my dear. Thank you, my dear, for your gentle love and attention.”

Undoubtedly, the family drama had an impact on the future poet. He grew up an impressionable introvert, nervous but sensitive to other people’s pain. That’s why his younger days’ lyrics are so painfully tragic and full of profound emotion.

At 16, Lermontov read a book about Byron and was greatly impressed. He envied this British fellow, who died in Greece, during the Greeks’ liberation struggle. Byron’s works had a lasting effect on Lermontov and in many literary reviews the two go together as close spirits. When identified with Byron, Lermontov said: “Not Byron – of different kind chosen of fate, yet still unknown, outcast as he and driven from home. Yet Russian I – in heart and mind!”

Lermontov was dreaming of a literary career but became an officer graduating from the Guards Officers and Cavalry Cadets School. Exiled to the Caucasus for his verse on Pushkin’s death, Lermontov found himself at the core of the Russian army’s military operations against the Chechens. For courage in action he was repeatedly nominated for government awards in the form of orders and golden weapons. But Emperor Nicholas I had his own view of Lermontov and crossed his name out of the lists of candidates. The poet was upset, since a higher rank would enable him to retire and take up literary work. Nevertheless, while in exile Lermontov produced the best of his works, such as the romantic poems “Mtsyri” and “The Demon,” the psychological novel “A Hero of Our Time,” stories and verses that brought him fame.

According to contemporaries, Lermontov was not an easy-going person. Clever and sarcastic, he was difficult to make friends with but was, nevertheless, sensitive to love and endlessly devoted to those who had managed to make it into his heart. That very devotion made him demanding. A false note in a relationship caused him to withdraw into himself and struck him off balance to a point where a start-over became unthinkable. In that case he turned sarcastic sparing neither himself nor the people around him. He grew sick of the high-flown and immoral atmosphere he had to live in. His always-present snigger drove a wedge into his relations with a fellow officer, Nikolai Martynov, which resulted in the poet’s tragic death in a duel on July 15th, 1841.

Lermontov was killed at the age of 27, in the prime of his maturing personality. Being at odds with the society around him, he would have overcome it in time to indulge in what he was destined for – literary work. But he was unprepared for that and cracked under the pressure of everyday life.

Pushkin and Lermontov always go together in Russian literature as two poetic geniuses. They may change places, of course, depending on the reader’s preferences…

“On the Death of the Poet,”

The poet is no more! He's fallen
A slave to honour -
Lead in his chest, for vengeance calling,
The proud head bowed at last - he died!...
He would not brook the rankling shame
The petty calumnies, the stain
They sought to put upon his name....
Alone he stood, and now is slain!
Is slain... What use in lamentation,
Or empty choruses of praise,
Belated words of exculpation?
Say rather - Fate cut short his days!
Yet - are you blameless, you who banned
His free, brave talent out of spite,
And smouldering flames to white heat fanned
That should have been extinguished quite?
Come, be content, then - such refinement
Of pain was more than he could bear.
The lamp of genius is no longer shining,
The laurel wreath is fading now and sear.

Yet the assassin knew no hesitation
In cooly taking aim... not one
Beat missed that heart; no saving revelation
Made tremble that fell hand which held the gun....
Hard is it though indeed to credit
How came it that this common emigre,
This fortune hunter, this upstart careerist,
This poor blind tool of destiny,
Should, in his insolence, so spurn our land,
Her language and her customs fair
And spare no thought her chiefest pride to spare
Nor pause to wonder what it was - he dare,
To think 'gainst what he raised his hand!...

So he is slain - our singer - dead and gone
Like that less-known but well-beloved one
Of whom he told in wondrous poetry,
Who, like him by a ruthless hand undone,
A victim fell to senseless jealousy.

Why did he leave his peaceable pursuits and friendships
For this false world of harsh constraint and envy
To free and ardent heart so straight a pen?
Why did he give his hand to futile tattlers?
Why did he credence lend to liers, flatterers,
Who from his youth had been a judge of men?...

They've robbed him of his crown and set a crown of thorns
All wound about with laurel on him now
The hidden spikes have deeply torn
The poet's glorious brow;
And even his last moments were envenomed
By gossips ill-disposed and vulgar whispering
And so he died - filled with vain thirst for vengeance
And plagued by broken hopes fast festering....
The splendid songs will sound no more,
To silence must the great voice yield
In that small room without a door....
And - ah! - those lips are sealed.


But as for you, you arrogant descendants
Of fathers famed for their base infamies
Who, with a slavish heel, have spurned the remnants
Of nobler but less favoured families!
Who throng the throne, alert for gain - and gory
As executioners who cloak their vile intent
In robes of justice - so to slaughter Glory,
Freedom and Genius, seeming innocent!
But there's God's judgement, which fears not to wait;
A dreadful Judgement that's not bought nor sold.
It knows your inmost thoughts, ye panders reprobate,
It does not even hear the clink of gold.
Before this seat your slanders will not sway
That Judge both just and good...
Nor all your black blood serve to wash away
The poet's righteous blood.

A cossack lullaby

Sleep, my darling, sleep, my baby,
Close your eyes and sleep.
Darkness comes; into your cradle
Moonbeams shyly peep.
Many pretty songs I'll sing you
And a lullaby.
Pleasant dreams the night will bring you....
Sleep, dear, rock-a-bye.

Muddy waters churn in anger,
Loud the Terek roars,
And a Chechen with a dagger
Leaps onto the shore.
Steeled your father is in gory
Battle.... You and I,
Little one, we need not worry... .
Sleep, dear, rock-a-bye.

There will come a day when boldly,
Like your dad, my son,
You will mount your horse and shoulder,
Proud, a Cossack gun.
With bright silks your saddle for you
I will sew.... There lie
Roads as yet untrod before you....
Sleep, dear, rock-a-bye.

You'll grow up to be a fearless
Cossack, and a true.
Off you'll ride, and I'll stand tearless,
Looking after you.
But when you are gone from sight, son,
Bitterly I'll cry....

May the dreams you dream be light, son;
Sleep, dear, rock-a-bye.
Thoughts of you when we are parted
All my days will fill.
In the nighttime, anxious-hearted,
Pray for you I will.
I'll be thinking that you're lonely,
That for home you sigh....
Sleep, my son, my one and only,
Sleep, dear, rock-a-bye.

I will see you to the turning,
And you'll ride away.
With my icon you will journey
And before it pray.
Let your thoughts in time of danger
To your mother fly.
Close your eyes and sleep, my angel,
Sleep, dear, rock-a-bye.


Sources:The Voice of Russia,www.friends-partners.org

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