Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin was a Russian nobleman, poet and author whose life was full of intrigue, political machinations, courtly love, and even murder worthy of its own epic Russian novel. Every Russian can recognize the immortal words of Pushkin from Eugene Onegin to Boris Gudonov to iconic poems such as “The Bronze Horseman.” His works capture the Russian spirit like no other as they embody the nation’s culture and history, present and future.
Pushkin wrote many historical plays, poems and prose of great historical significance. Some of these works recounted significant Russian historical events while others have since become literary relics that are still read and loved by Russians today.
Pushkin was known for his radically liberal political and philosophical opinions, which were reflected in his poems such as “Ode to Liberty,” a call to arms that sent a message to the people and a warning to the monarchy. This poem, among others, led to conflict with the tsarist government and ultimately Pushkin was exiled in 1823.
“Tyrants of the world! Tremble!/ And ye, take heart and pay attention,/ Rise up, trampled slaves!”
“Henceforth, oh, kings learn, and know this true:/ That neither flattery nor halters/ Make sturdy barricades for you,/ Neither prison walls, nor holy altars."
“The people joyous, their freedom vernal/ Will forever save the nation’s crown.”
One of the conditions for Pushkin’s release from exile was that he write favorably about the monarchy, particularly Peter the Great, with whom he had a familial connection. Pushkin’s great-grandfather was the famed African-born general Abram Petrovich Gannibal who had served under Peter the Great and even been raised as his godson. Pushkin celebrated Peter the Great in his narrative poem “The Bronze Horseman.”
“A wave-swept shore, remote, forlorn:/ Here stood he, rapt in thought and drawn/ To distant prospects.”
"From here the Swede is ill-protected:/ A city on this site, to thwart/ His purposes, shall be erected./ For here we may, by Nature blessed,/ Cut through a window to the West/ And guard our seaboard with conviction.”
“O how I love you, Peter’s daughter!/ Your aspect, graceful yet austere;/ Nevá’s augustly flowing water/ And granite banks: these I hold dear.”
The play Boris Godunov depicts the historical figure of the same name who was the tsar of Russia from 1598 to 1605. It was not performed until decades after Pushkin’s death due to the strict censorship but is now regarded as one of the great Russian theatrical works.
“And unjust, with indifference he notes Evil and good, and knows not wrath nor pity.“
“One more story, just one more,/ And then my history's completed,/ All my chronicles written down/ And my sinner's debt repaid to God.”
“In my old age, I live my life anew.”
“Like some magistrate grown gray in office,/ Calmly he contemplates alike the just/ And unjust, with indifference he notes/Evil and good, and knows not wrath nor pity.”
Much of Pushkin’s early work was a tribute to Russia’s rich folklore as seen in his interpretation of the fairytale “Ruslan and Ludmila.” Due to censorship, he focused his efforts on prose fiction like The Captain’s Daughter, which recounts the events of Pugachev’s Revolution that took place after Catherine the Great rose to power.
“I wrote with my sure hand;/ So, receive this playful labor!” - “Ruslan and Ludmila”
“To lose for ever… Oh, my friend,/ I’d have been better with the dead.” - “Ruslan and Ludmila”
“God save us from seeing a Russian revolt, senseless and merciless. Those who plot impossible upheavals among us, are either young and do not know our people, or are hard-hearted men who do not care a straw either about their own lives or those of others.“ - The Captain’s Daughter
“Young man! If my notes should fall into your hands, remember that the best and most enduring changes are those which stem from an improvement in moral behaviour, without any violent upheaval.” - The Captain’s Daughter
“Two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical world.” - "The Queen of Spades"
“Tell him that riches will not procure for you a single moment of happiness. Luxury consoles poverty alone, and at that only for a short time, until one becomes accustomed to it.” - Dubrovsky
One of Pushkin’s best-loved works is Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse that tells the tragic tale of Eugene Onegin, a worldly nobleman who pushes away his chance at love and happiness at every turn. This unforgettable story is one of the most pivotal novels in the Russian language and one of the reasons why Pushkin is considered the father of Russian literature.
“My dreams, my dreams! What has become of their sweetness? What indeed has become of my youth?”
“My whole life has been pledged to this meeting with you...”
“Always contented with his life, and with his dinner, and his wife.”
“Love passed, the Muse appeared, the weather of mind got clarity new-found; now free, I once more weave together emotion, thought, and magic sound.”
“He filled a shelf with a small army of books and read and read; but none of it made sense. .. They were all subject to various cramping limitations: those of the past were outdated, and those of the present were obsessed with the past.”
“Thus people--so it seems to me– Become good friends from sheer ennui.”
“But whom to love? To trust and treasure? Who won’t betray us in the end? And who’ll be kind enough to measure our words and deeds as we intend?”
“But flaming youth in all its madness keeps nothing of its heart concealed: Its loves and hates, its joys and sadness, are babbled out and soon revealed.”
“It's a lucky man who leaves early from life's banquet before he's drained to the dregs his goblet - full of wine; yes, it's a lucky man who has not read life's novel to the end, but has been wise enough to part with it abruptly - like me with my Onegin.”
“I love a friendly chat and a friendly glass of wine during the evening.”
“Thus heaven's gift to us is this: That habit takes the place of bliss.”
Throughout his life, Pushkin translated his passion for life and love into poetry. Ironically, his love would ultimately cost him his life. Pushkin fell in love with and married a young beauty named Natalia Goncharova. Before long, it was rumored that she was having an affair, which prompted Pushkin to challenge her alleged lover Georges d'Anthès to a duel. After weeks of delay, Pushkin was fatally wounded in the duel and died two days later. Many of his poems chronicle the transition of his feelings from ecstasy to agony.
“Let us drink! Away with sadness!/ Wine will fill our hearts with cheer!” - "A Winter Evening"
“The world hasn't happiness, but there is freedom and peace.” - "It’s Time My Friend"
“When the sentiments elevated/ Of Freedom, glory and of love,/ And of art the inspiration/ Stirred deeply so my blood.” - "My Demon"
“I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew,/ The jealousy, the shyness - though in vain -/ Made up a love so tender and so true/ As may God grant you to be loved again.” - "I Loved You"
“But by Love tho' long forgot,/ Forget Love's tears I cannot.” - "Elegy"
“Thus my failings vanish too/ From my wearied soul, And again within it visions rise,/ Of my early purer days.” - "Resurrection"
"I've lived to bury my desires and see my dreams corrode with rust now all that's left are fruitless fires that burn my empty heart to dust.” - “I’ve Lived to Bury My Desires” in The Poems, Prose and Plays of Aleksandr Pushkin
“Somewhere between obsession and compulsion is impulse.”
"Better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths."
"Ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth."
"Don't be sad, don't be angry, if life deceives you! Submit to your grief - your time for joy will come, believe me."
"Then came a moment of renaissance, I looked up - you again are there, A fleeting vision, the quintessence Of all that`s beautiful and rare."
"If you but knew the flames that burn in me which I attempt to beat down with my reason."
Like many poets, Aleksandr Pushkin led a life full of twists and turns and enriching words that are just as relevant today as they were centuries ago. Other poets whose words were as fascinating as their lives include: