Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) lived for only 37 years at the beginning of the 19th century. he was a rake, a free spirit, an admirer of beautiful women and considered by many to be the most intelligent Russian man of his time. he managed not only to create the language in which the rest of the great Russian literature was later written, but also to write a number of truly brilliant works. foreigners often struggle to fully appreciate its scale and depth, partly because Pushkin’s verse is virtually impossible to translate (the result is a faded or even vulgar copy of the original or a dull scholarly work) and partly because the wisdom of Pushkin and the problems that worried him are so deeply embedded in the Russian mentality that they require its full understanding. But try his work!
Russia’s greatest poet wrote about 360 poems. he began composing as a child (his older contemporaries recalled the transformation that happened to the boy at the age of 11).
one of the best love poems written in Russian is pushkin’s to*** (“I remember a wonderful moment”, 1825), by the way, it has been translated into 210 languages. The Prophet (1826) is a powerful Biblical interpretation of the purpose of poetry.
autumn (1833) describes pushkin’s favorite season in russia, which invariably brought him inspiration and injected creative energy. memory (1828) is a poem of incredible depth about a night of remorse for all one has done in life. In the poem The Poet (1827), Pushkin lets the reader into his creative “laboratory” and shows how one can be a genius and an ordinary person at the same time. while in the poem by pindemonte (1836), pushkin shares his precious secret of freedom and happiness, which is still valid today. finally, in no hands have they carved my monument (1836) reflects and summarizes his work.
2. Ruslan and Ludmila (1817-1820)
every child in russia knows the beginning of this verse fairy tale by heart: the part about the green oak near lukomorye, with the scholar cat walking around it and the mermaid sitting on its branches. Pushkin wrote the first long poem of hers inspired by folklore, immersing the reader in a magical world, where the insidious sorcerer Chernomor kidnaps the beautiful Lyudmila, and the hero Ruslan comes out to rescue her from her. In 1841, Mikhail Glinka composed his famous opera Ruslan and Lyudmila based on Pushkin’s poem.
3. Eugene Onegin (1823-1832)
This novel in verse is considered not only the pinnacle of Pushkin’s work, but also an “encyclopedia of Russian life.” A well-bred young aristocrat, Onegin, is traveling from the capital to his estate, where he is bored and looking for a diversion, when he suddenly finds himself in a character of tragedy and melodrama. His neighbors’ daughter Tatyana falls in love with him (Tatiana’s love letter is possibly the best declaration of love in Russian literature), but for some reason he decides to flirt with his sister Olga, as a result of what which his best friend challenges him. onegin to a duel…
This work is extremely difficult to translate, as it is written in a special verse form invented by Pushkin, known as a ‘onegin stanza’, with a clear structure and rhyming order. But he found another life that made it known throughout the world: as an opera by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, which he composed in 1877-1878.
4. Boris Godunov (1825)
This verse tragedy focuses on one of the most mysterious pages in Russian history: the assassination of Tsarevich Dmitry, the last heir to the Rurik dynasty. there was a rumor that the assassination of him was ordered by Boris Godunov, in order to allow the latter to take the throne himself …
There were clear parallels between this historical work and the time in which Pushkin lived. he wrote boris godunov in exile for his freethinking poetry, during the decembrist revolt, which he felt strongly and which involved many of his friends. At the same time, the reflections of him make this 19th century very relevant for modern Russia as well.
in 1869, the modest mussorgsky composed an opera based on pushkin’s tragedy. the play was performed many times in different theaters and was also adapted for the screen.
5. Little Tragedies (1830)
Continuing his experiments with writing for the stage, while locked in cholera quarantine at his boldino estate, Pushkin wrote a cycle of four short plays in verse, The Greedy Knight, Mozart and Salieri, The Guest of stone and the feast in the time of the plague. in them, the poet explored human passions and presented the characters (and the reader) with difficult moral decisions.
all the works together and separately were often staged and adapted for the screen.
6. tales of the late ivan petrovich belkin (1830)
Belkin’s Tales is a collection of five gripping novels. includes a sentimental story about a young noblewoman, who disguises herself as a peasant to meet a handsome neighbor, while there is a dispute between her parents. and a romantic story about a duel in which one of the participants decides to postpone his shooting and invites his opponent to return to the duel after a few years. and an incredible story about an officer who gets married by accident…
7. The Bronze Horseman (1833)
this novel in verse is a true celebration of st. Petersburg “I love you, Peter’s creation”, is one of the most famous quotes from the work. The title of the story gave the nickname to the equestrian monument to Pedro I, which became the symbol of the city.
The plot, however, revolves around a sad story: Pushkin describes a devastating flood that hit the city in 1824.
8. The Queen of Spades (1834)
This is a story about how gambling can drive a person crazy. To discover a secret winning combination of cards, the young Hermann enters the room of an old countess: she dies of fear and her ghost begins to appear to the protagonist, repeating the combination of cards: “three, seven, ace…”
The play was a great success in Europe and Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote an opera of the same name based on it.
9. The Captain’s Daughter (1836)
This is a novel about Yemelyan Pugachev’s peasant rebellion, which swept through almost all of Russia in the 18th century. but above all, this is a story about honor, noble duty, and love, as Russians understand it to this day.
This novel is worth reading if only for the quote that has become an aphorism: “God save us from seeing a senseless and merciless Russian revolt.” Pushkin was very interested in the personality of Yemelyan Pugachev and, in addition to the novel, he also wrote a historical monograph The History of the Pugachev Rebellion.
10. fairy tales
It would be hard to find a Russian child who is not familiar with Pushkin’s amazing fairy tales in verse. In his light and picturesque style, the poet retold folk tales that he had heard from his beloved nanny Arina Rodionovna. The best known are: the tale of the fisherman and the fish, in which Pushkin reflects on the measure of our desires, the tale of Tsar Saltan and the tale of the dead princess and the seven knights.
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