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Selection of poems and biography of one of the most famous Russian poets

Welcome to our new edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. Over the next few weeks, our author Elena will tell you about her favorite poets – Alexander Pushkin and Michael Lermontov. Elena believes one can’t fully understand Russia and its rich culture and history, without experiencing our literature.

Who is Alexander Pushkin?

  • Born in Moscow, Alexander Pushkin was brought up mainly by tutors and governesses. One of his great grandfathers, Abram Gannibal (1696-1781), was an African slave who became a favorite and godson of Tsar Peter the Great.
  • Like many aristocratic children of his time, Pushkin learned Russian from household servants; until the Napoleonic Wars, the aristocracy still spoke French rather than Russian.
  • As an adolescent, Pushkin attended the new elite lycee at Tsarskoye Selo, outside St. Petersburg. In his early twenties, because of his political poems, he was exiled – first to the south of Russia, then to Mikhailovskoye, his mother’s family’s estate in the north.
  • Several of his friends took part in the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, but Pushkin did not – perhaps simply because his friends did not trust him to keep a secret.
  • In 1826 Pushkin returned to St. Petersburg, with Tsar Nicholas I promising to be his personal censor. During his last years, Pushkin suffered many humiliations, including serious debts and worries about the fidelity of his young wife Natalya Goncharova.
  • He was fatally wounded in a duel with Baron Georges d’ Anthes, the Dutch Ambassador’s adopted son, who was rumored to be having an affair with Natalya.

Pushkin’s position in Russian literature is similar to that of Goethe’s in Germany. Not only is he Russia’s greatest poet; he is also the author of the first major works in a variety of genres. As well as his masterpieces – the verse novel Eugene Onegin and the narrative poem The Bronze Horseman – Pushkin wrote one of the first important Russian dramas, Boris Godunov; the first great Russian historical novel, The Captain’s Daughter; and the greatest of all Russian short stories, The Queen of Spades.

Do you want to fully understand Russia and its rich culture and history, and learn more our literature? Come study with us – we will help you to understand the world of Russian literature!

Prologue to Ruslan and Lyudmila by A. Pushkin

On the curved strand a green oak grows,
and on it round and round there goes
the cat of knowledge, night and day –
goes to the right and sings a ditty,
goes to the left, begins a tale.

Strange beings are there: there roams the leshy,
a mermaid swings a fishy tail;
there on the paths untrod by humans
are footprints of unheard-of beasts;
a house on chicken’s legs from romance
stands without windows, doors or gates;
there hill and dale are full of visions;
there as dawn comes, the waves are breaking
upon an empty, sandy shore,
and thirty champions come striding
out of the waters, noble, handsome,
and after them the ocean’s lord;
there the prince charming as he passes
takes prisoner a fearsome tsar;
there in the clouds before the masses,
above the woods and seas, to war
a queen there sorrows in her chamber,

On the curved strand a green oak grows,
on the green oak a golden chain,
and on it round and round there goes
the cat of knowledge, night and day –
goes to the right and sings a ditty,
goes to the left, begins a tale.
Strange beings are there: there roams the leshy,
a mermaid swings a fishy tail;

There on the paths untrod by humans
are footprints of unheard-of beasts;
a house on chicken’s legs from romance
stands without windows, doors or gates;
there hill and dale are full of visions;
there as dawn comes, the waves are breaking
upon an empty, sandy shore,
and thirty champions come striding
out of the waters, noble, handsome,
and after them the ocean’s lord;

there the prince charming as he passes
takes prisoner a fearsome tsar;
there in the clouds before the masses,
above the woods and seas, to war
a wizard leads a knight-at-arms;
a queen there sorrows in her chamber,
a grey wolf faithfully attends her;
there Baba Yaga’s fearful mortar
comes rushing home with clash and clatter;
there golden Kashchey meets his fate …

All Rus’s magic lies in wait!
There too was I, and sipped the honey;
the green oak by the strand I saw;
beneath its shade the cat of knowledge
told me its tales. I can recall
just one of them, and over tea
I’ll tell it to society.