Thursday, 6 June 2013

"The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths" - Alexander Pushkin, the father of modern Russian literature

6 June 1799, the father of modern Russian literature, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, was born in Moscow.

“Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time!
For rest the heart is aching;
Days follow days in flight, and every day is taking
Fragments of being, while together you and I
Make plans to live. Look, all is dust, and we shall die.“ (Alexander Pushkin)

Tropinin's portrait of Pushkin, 1827
The great-grandson of a black African page who rose to prominence at the court of Peter the Great was indeed one of the first authors who started to write in Russian after nobility and intellectuals wondered why they spoke French, the enemy’s language, when Napoleon invaded Russia.

Less known abroad than the great Russian novelists of the late 19th and 20th century, Pushkin rose to become the Russian national poet already during his romantically short live time, even though he was under strong supervision of the Tsar himself who regarded him to be something of a bête noire.

Admiring and being influenced by Shakespeare, Voltaire and, á la mode for the first half of the 19th century, by Schiller, Goethe and especially Lord Byron – he had masses read for Byron when he learned of his death in 1824 – Pushkin succeeded in creating a very specific and individual oeuvre and not being merely an epigone of Byron. He is, by all means, the foremost Russian Romantic, but works like “Boris Godunov” and “Eugene Onegin” surpass the usual forms of genre and epoch into something universal - no wonder that the timelessness of his work was an inspiration for composers Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

As befitting for a poet filed under “Romantic”, his life was short, largely unhappy and his works came into existence in times of the author’s great psychological pressure. Touchy about his honour, political adversaries managed to get him into an affaire d'honneur over his wife, the celebrated beauty Nataliya Nikolaevna, with the professional duellist Georges d'Anthès and got himself shot at dawn on February morning in 1837 at the age of 37.

We will never know what masterpieces of literature Pushkin might have bequeathed to the world if he had lived and his early death is allegedly still regarded as something of a catastrophe in the Russian literary world, but his work, as it is, stands out as one of the richest, deepest and most profound bodies of universal literature.

And more about Alexander Pushkin on:


Ilya Repin's imagination of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin duelling with Vladimir Lensky (1899)