Two Russian Romantic Poets who shared a Common Fate

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge MD – rumj@sltnet.lk

Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov were Great Russian romantic poets who lived in the 19th century. They knew each other and adored each other’s work. Both were rebellious in nature. Alexander Pushkin was the pioneer of Russian literature. Among his major works Ruslan and Ludmila , Evgenii Onegin, and Boris Godunov can be considered as the greatest masterpiece of Russian literature. Although Pushkin was a genius in literature the Russian Czar did not tolerate his poems which carried the elements of protests. Pushkin was a daring activist who secretly involved with an underground revolutionary group and also publicly expressed his supported for the Decembrist uprising which demeaned feudal reforms. As result of his rebellious attitude Pushkin was banished from St Petersburg.

In 1827 he composed the ode titled The Poet

Until he hears Apollo’s call
To make a hallowed sacrifice,
A Poet lives in feeble thrall
To people’s empty vanities;
And silent is his sacred lyre,
His soul partakes of chilly sleep,
And of the world’s unworthy sons
He is, perhaps, the very least.

Pushkin knew the suffering of the peasants under the Czar’s regime. As a member of the upper Russian social class Pushkin was never fascinated by its glory. He had a mission in his life. Pushkin often used his writing to express the agony and suppression of the Russian people. Hence he was hated by the regime. But the general public recognized Pushkin as a great poet and respected him. Gradually he became the envy of the Royal Palace.

Many conspiracies launched against Pushkin and finally he was provoked to engage in a dual. In the ill-fated dual he was fatally wounded and later succumbed to the injuries. After Alexander Pushkin’s tragic death Lermontov published an elegy titled Smerta Poeta or The Death of a Poet which criticized the conspiracy involved in Pushkin’s untimely death.

Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov shared many things in common.
Both were inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Both demanded social reforms and emerged as spokesmen for literary radicals. Their work provided fertile ground for the Russian poets and novelists. Both had a great influence to the later Russian writers. From Gogal to Dostoyevsky and from Dostoyevsky to Boris Pasternak their unique influence remained unchanged.

Ironically Pushkin and Lermontov led reckless and generally cynical lives, but they expressed their inner feelings via prose and verse. Mikhail Lermontov had an influence of Lord Byron and as a matter of fact he adopted the Byronic cult of personality. Lermontov’s psychological novel A Hero of Our Time describes a reckless and a cynical character named Grigorii Pechorin.

The central character Pechorin is a complex in nature. Pechorin is an impulsive, emotionally numbed and manipulative, capable of extreme bravery but generally bored by his life. Pechorin was a hero as well as a renegade and according to some critics the central character in A Hero of Our Time could really have been applied to Lermontov himself. Lermontov’s best-known poem, The Demon a self-accusing poem exemplifies a fallen angel who loves a mortal woman reflecting the poet’s self-image as a demonic creature.

Lermontov loved Caucasus region and admired its natural beauty. The Caucasus had also inspired Puskin. Their characters were some what similar. Both were sensitive, cynical, nihilistic, and possessed of extreme arrogance. They stood against the social injustice. Like Pushkin Lermontov was killed in a duel in the Caucasus. Both died at young age crating a deep void in the field of literature. Alexander Pushkin’s and Lermontov’s lives can be viewed as one of the most epic and dramatic in the history of literature.

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