Sunday Poetry – Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

I’m listening to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s new book The Romanovs (read by Simon Russell Beale) & two books I ordered by sea mail from Canada arrived last week so I’m in the mood for Russian poetry this week. I took the chance of a sale at Royal Russia to pick up copies of two memoirs I’ve always wanted to read, The Real Romanovs by Gleb Botkin, son of the last Tsar’s doctor who was murdered with the family at Ekaterinburg & The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna by Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, the Tsarina’s lady-in-waiting. Interestingly Botkin believed the claims of Anna Anderson that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia so I’ll be fascinated to read what he has to say.

Pushkin’s (photo from here) grandfather was Hannibal, an African at the Court of Peter the Great, so having read about the grandfather in The Romanovs, I’ve chosen one of the grandson’s poems. I have this lovely Folio Society edition of Pushkin’s stories & I must get around to reading it soon.

This lovely poem is To Natasha.

The crimson summer now grows pale;
Clear, bright days now soar away;
Hazy mist spreads through the vale,
As the sleeping night turns gray;
The barren cornfields lose their gold;
The lively stream has now turned cold;
The curly woods are gray and stark,
And the heavens have grown dark.

Where are you, my light, Natasha?
No one’s seen you, – I lament.
Don’t you want to share the passion
Of this moment with a friend?
You have not yet met with me
By the pond, or by our tree,
Though the season has turned late,
We have not yet had a date.

Winter’s cold will soon arrive
Fields will freeze with frost, so bitter.
In the smoky shack, a light,
Soon enough, will shine and glitter.
I won’t see my love, – I’ll rage
Like a finch, inside a cage,
And at home, depressed and dazed,
I’ll recall Natasha’s grace.

Sunday Poetry – Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

I’m not quite ready to leave Pushkin yet. Here’s an elegy he wrote in 1834.

Extinguished are my years of carefree laughter;
They weigh me down, a heavy morning after.
But, just like wine, the grief I must assuage
Within my soul grown stronger now with age.
My road is grim. My future sea is stormy
And promises but grief and toil before me.

But, O my friends, I have no wish to sink;
I burn to live, to suffer and to think;
I know there will be joy and delectation
Among the griefs, the cares and agitation,
The ecstasy of harmony be mine,
My fancy draw sweet tears from me like wine,
And it may be – upon my sad declining
True love will smile, a valediction shining.

Sunday Poetry – Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

Another poem by Pushkin this week. Many of Pushkin’s friends were Army officers involved in the Decembrist revolt against the accession of Tsar Nicholas I in 1825. I have a special interest in the Decembrists because the revolt featured in the book that started my passion for Russian history, a novel called The Youngest Lady-in-Waiting by Mara Kay. I read it over & over again when I was a teenager. It’s impossible to get hold of now & maybe I wouldn’t want to read it again after all these years. It’s the story of Masha, who is educated at the Smolny Institute & becomes lady-in-waiting to Grand Duchess Alexandra, wife of the Nicholas who will become Tsar. Masha becomes involved with two brothers, Michael, quiet & studious, & Sergei, bold & flashy. Masha falls in love with Sergei but he joins the Decembrists.
This poem, Message to Siberia, was written to Pushkin’s friends in exile in 1827, some of them were exiled for life & never returned to St Petersburg.

In deep Siberian mines retain
A proud and patient resignation;
Your grievous toil is not in vain
Nor yet your thought’s high aspiration.

Grief’s constant sister, hope is nigh,
Shines out in dungeons black and dreary
To cheer the weak, revive the weary;
The hour will come for which you sigh,

When love and friendship reaching through
Will penetrate the bars of anguish,
The convict warrens where you languish,
As my free voice now reaches you.

Each hateful manacle and chain
Will fall; your dungeons break asunder;
Outside waits freedom’s joyous wonder
As comrades give you swords again.

Sunday Poetry – Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

Pushkin is the most famous Russian poet of the 19th century. Probably best known these days for his verse novel, Eugene Onegin, he also wrote short stories as well as some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read. Pushkin’s family had been members of the Russian nobility for centuries but his maternal grandfather was an Ethopian chieftain who entered Peter the Great’s service. He began writing & publishing poetry when he was 15 & he led the precarious life of a writer, often in debt & subject to the whims of popular taste. He was killed in a duel at the age of 37.

This poem, K***, is such a beautiful portrait of tender love, discovered, lost & found again.

That wondrous instant of our meeting – 
my mind’s eye sees you standing there,
a vision transient and fleeting,
true beauty’s spirit, pure and rare.

In toils of hopeless grief confounded,
amid life’s noise and stress it seems
for long that tender voice resounded
and those sweet features came in dreams.

Years passed; the storms that life engenders
dispersed my former hopes of grace
and I forgot those accents tender,
the heavenly beauty of your face.

And in my dark incarceration
my days passed like the clouds above,
bereft alike of inspiration,
of tears, of life itself, of love.

My soul awoke to new existence,
again you stood before me there,
a vision lasting but an instant,
true beauty’s spirit, pure and rare.

My heart relives the old sensation
and once m,ore steal down from above,
God’s benediction, inspiration,
and tears, and life itself, and love.