Poems (Pushkin, Panin, 1888)/Notes


MY PEDIGREE. (Page 61.)

These lines owe their origin to a public attack on Pushkin by Bulgarin, a literary magnate of those days. Bulgarin disliked Pushkin and, therefore, saw no merit in his poetry. But unable to argue against his poetry, he argued against Pushkin's person, and abused the poet for his fondness to refer to his ancient ancestry. Stung to the quick by a childish paragraph in Bulgarin's organ, "The Northern Bee," Pushkin wrote these lines. But on their publication which, I think, took place some time after they were written, though they went into circulation immediately, they made much bad blood. The Menshchikofs did not like to be reminded of the cakes their ancestor sold, nor the Rasumofskys of the fact that their countship was earned by the good voice of the first of that name. And the Kutaissoffs did not like to be told that Count Kutaissoff was originally Paul's shoe-black. The very pride in his ancestors, which made Pushkin ridiculous in the eyes of his enemies, made him forget the fact that selling cakes and blacking shoes, even though they be an emperor's, is by no means a thing to be ashamed of; and that, even if it were a thing to be ashamed of, the descendants of evil-doers are by no means responsible for the deeds of their ancestors.… The poem, therefore, is an excellent document, not only for the history of the nobility of Russia, but also for that of poor Pushkin's soul.

Nobleman by cross. There are two kinds of noblemen in Russia: those who inherit their title, and those who acquire it. Whoever attains a certain cross as a reward for his service under the government (not, alas, the cross of true nobility, Christ's cross!) becomes thereby a "nobleman."

Our nobility but recent is: the more recent it, the nobler 't is. This was written fifty years ago, and thousands of miles away from here. But one would almost believe these lines written in our day, and at no great distance from Commonwealth Avenue,—so true is it that man remains, after all, the same in all climes, at all times.…

Of Nizhny Novgorod the citizen plain. The butcher Minin is here meant, who, with Prince Pozharsky, delivered Moscow from the Poles just before the Romanoffs were called to the throne.

We upon it laid our hands. Six Pushkins signed this call, and two had to lay their hand to the paper, because they could not write their own names.

Simply Pushkin, not Moussin. The Moussin-Pushkins of that day were a very rich and influential family.

MY MONUMENT. (Page 64.)

In its present form, this poem did not appear till 1881. After Pushkin's death it appeared only when altered by Zhukofsky in several places. The Alexander Column being the tallest monument in Russia, Pushkin, writing for Russians, used that as an illustration; but the government could not let the sacrilege pass,—of a poet's monument ever being taller, even figuratively, than a Russian emperor's. In 1837, therefore, the poet was made to say, "Napoleon's column." The line in the fourth stanza, which speaks of Freedom, was altered to "That I was useful by the living charm of verse," and in this mutilated form this stanza is engraved on the poet's monument in Moscow, unveiled in 1880.

MY MUSE. (Page 66.)

I originally passed over this poem as unworthy of translation, because I thought it not universal enough; because it seemed to me to express not the human heart, but the individual heart,—Pushkin's heart. But the great Byelinsky taught me better. He quotes these lines as a marvel of classic, of Greek art. "See," he exclaims, "the Hellenic, the artistic manner (and this is saying the same thing) in which Pushkin has told us of his call, heard by him even in the days of his youth. Yes, maugre the happy attempts of Batushkof in this direction before Pushkin's day, such verses had not been seen till Pushkin in the Russian land!" And Byelinsky is right. He saw. The great critic is thus an eye-opener, because he sees his author, and because seeing him he cannot help loving him. For if men truly knew one another (assuming them to be unselfish), they would love one another.… A hater is blind though he sees; a lover sees though he be blind. See, also, about this piece, Introduction, § 4.

MY DEMON. (Page 67.)

To this poem Pushkin added a note, which he intended to send to the periodical press, as if it were the comment of a third person. Referring to the report that the poet had a friend of his in mind when he wrote this poem, and used Rayefsky as a model, he says: "It seems to me those who believe this report are in error; at least, I see in 'The Demon' a higher aim, a moral aim. Perhaps the bard wished to typify Doubt. In life's best period, the heart, not as yet chilled by experience, is open to everything beautiful. It then is trustful and tender. But by-and-by the eternal contradictions of reality give birth to doubt in the heart; this feeling is indeed agonizing, but it lasts not long.… It disappears, but it carries away with it our best and poetic prejudices of the spirit." [Are they best, if they are prejudices? Is illusion truly poetic?—I. P.] Not, therefore, in vain has Goethe the Great given the name the Spirit of Denial to man's eternal enemy. And Pushkin wished to typify the Spirit of Denial.

REGRET. (Page 69.)

See Introduction, §§ 16, 25.

THE BIRDLET. (Page 97.)

This piece is not found among Pushkin's Lyrical Poems. It is a song taken from a longer Narrative Poem, called "The Gypsies."

LOVE. (Page 113.)

This poem is Pushkin all over. In four lines he has given a whole drama with a world of pathos and tenderness in it. These four lines give more instruction in the art of story-telling than volumes on the "Art of Fiction." A magazine writer, who of the same incidents would have woven out some twenty pages (of which no fewer than nineteen and three-quarters would have been writ for the approval of check-book critic, rather than of the art critic), would have really told less than Pushkin has here told,—so true is the preacher's criticism on his own sermon: "Madame, if it had been shorter by half, it would have been twice as long!"

JEALOUSY. (Page 114.)

Of this piece I have already spoken in the Preface, § 7.

IN AN ALBUM. (Page 116.)

This is an excellent example of Pushkin's sentiment, of which I spoke in the Introduction, Chapter III. It is all the more entitled to the consideration of Anglo-Saxon a priori sentiment-haters (it is so easy to keep to a priori judgments, they are so convenient; they save discussion!) because Pushkin wrote this piece when fully matured, at the age of thirty, when his severe classic taste was already formed.

FIRST LOVE. (Page 120.)

These lines are taken from the Narrative Poem, "The Prisoner of the Caucasus."

SIGNS. (Page 124.)

Of the more-than-Egyptian number of plagues with which poor Pushkin's soul was afflicted, superstition was one. He believed in signs, and sometimes gave up a journey when a hare ran across his road. Owing to this superstition he once gave up a trip to St. Petersburg, which probably would have cost him his life, had he made it. For on hearing of the December rebellion, in which many of his friends took part, he started for the capital, but the hare.…

ELEGY. (Page 132.)

The fourth volume of Pushkin's Works, in which this poem was first published, struck Byelinsky with the poverty of its contents. "But in the fourth volume of Pushkin's Poems," says he, "there is one precious pearl which reminds us of the song of yore, of the bard of yore. It is the elegy, 'The extinguished joy of crazy years.' Yes! such an elegy can redeem not only a few tales, but even the entire volume of poetry!" … (Byelinsky's Works, ii. 194.)


In the original this poem is called, "To Countess N. V. Kotshubey."


In the original this piece is headed, "To A. P. Kern."

THE GRACES. (Page 141.)

Addressed to Princess S. A. Urussov.

TO THE POET. (Page 153.)

This is the only poem Turgenef quotes in his speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument in 1880. "Of course," he said, "you all know it, but I cannot withstand the temptation to adorn my slim, meagre prosy speech with this poetic gold."

THE TASK. (Page 155.)

Byelinsky, who has taught me to appreciate much in Pushkin which I otherwise would not have appreciated, speaks of this little piece as "especially excellent" among Pushkin's anthological poems, written in hexameter, and says, that a breath antique blows from them. Well, I cannot agree with Byelinsky. There is, doubtless, a sentimentlet in the piece,—a germ; but it is only a germ, incomplete, immature. I would not have translated it (since its beauty, whatever that be, it owes entirely to its form, which is untranslatable), but for the sake of the reader, in justice to whom, a poem so highly thought of by Byelinsky ought to be given, whatever my opinion of it.


In the original this piece is headed, "26 May, 1828."

FAME. (Page 160.)

The first cantos of Eugene Onyegin were issued with the "Dialogue between the Bookseller and the Poet" as a preface. This poem is one of the arguments of the poet in the dialogue; and, as it is an independent song in itself, I have not hesitated to treat it as such.

HOME-SICKNESS. (Page 162.)

In the original these lines are entitled, "To P. A. Ossipova."


In the original this poem is headed, "Stanzas."

RIGHTS. (Page 167.)

In the original this is called, "From VI. Pindemonte." But this is an original piece by Pushkin; at first he called it, "From Alfred Musset." Evidently the censorship was likely to pass it as a work of a foreign author where it would not as one of Pushkin; to his political convictions Pushkin never, indeed, did dare to give free expression. He never deliberately misled the government, but he did at times lead it to believe more in his loyalty than was strictly in accordance with the facts.