Russian Poetry

For students of literature, Russian poetry begins with the nineteenth century. The seeds of it were sown centuries earlier, but are obscure.

The course of Russian literature was interrupted by a series of startling events which again and again put back the clock of its normal progress.

The first centre of Russian culture was the city of Kiev on the Dnieper. Kiev was the mother of Russian letters; Moscow and St. Peterburg were the heirs of Kiev. In the eleventh century Kiev was one of the most enlightened cities of Europe. The Russian manuscripts of the eleventh century are as good as the finest manuscripts of Western European countries of the same period. Kiev was the centre of wealth, learning, and art. Byzantine artists went thither, and Kiev sent her own painters to the West. There was no barrier during this epoch between the East and the West. Nothing could have been more promising than such a beginning. It was followed by a series of disasters which retarded the growth of civilization and culture. First of all came the schism of the Eastern and Western Churches, which started in the ninth century and was never truly remediable after the excommunication of Cerularius in 1054, although attempts were made to heal it. It was caused by the rivalry between the Greeks and the Latins — a rivalry which ever since then has continued to exist between Rome and the East. The Slavs were the accidental victims of this racial quarrel. The schism erected a barrier between Russia and Western Europe. Later, in the thirteenth century, another and a still more crushing and retarding blow was dealt to Russian civilization and Russian culture — the Tartar invasion, which was followed by the Tartar yoke. The Russians remained under the yoke of the Tartars from 1240 to 1480. Because of the Tartar yoke, from the fourteenth until the beginning of the nineteenth century Russian literature has nothing to give to the outside world. Kiev was destroyed by the Tartars in 1240. After this the south was abandoned; Poland was separated from the east; the eastern principalities were gradually drawn towards Moscow, and by the fourteenth century Moscow had taken the place of Kiev and had become the kernel of Russian culture. From the fourteenth until the beginning of the nineteenth century, Russian literature, instead of developing in a series of splendid and various phases of production, had nothing to present to western Europe. There were no literary Middle Ages in Russia, no Renaissance. Russia was debarred on one side from the living culture of the West and was cut off from the antique traditions of Rome and Greece on the other. There was, it is true, a popular poetry, but it was a flower which grew by the wayside and nobody took any notice of it until the nineteenth century.

In the twelfth century the beginnings of a new literature and of a national poetry are visible in the story of the “Raid of Prince Igor”, a prose epic which is not only of the most remarkable memorials to the ancient written language of Russia but, by virtue of its originality, its historical subject—matter, and its picturesque vividness, color, and detail, has a place in the literary history of Europe. After the Tartar invasion, the history of Russian literature is the story of the destruction of the barrier and the wall which had shut off Russia from western Europe. This destruction came about gradually. It began when a link was forged between Moscow and the Byzantine Emperor and foreigners poured into Moscow. This was followed by the establishment of the first printing press in Moscow during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Kiev rose again from its ruins and became the centre of learning. Peter the Great made still wider breaches in the wall between Russia and western Europe, but the “Peter the Great” of Russian literature and of the Russian language was Michael Lomonosov (1711-1765), who was a mathematician, chemist, astronomer, political economist, historian, electrician, geologist, grammarian, as well as a poet. He scraped the crust of foreign barbarism from his native language, and by his example still more than by his precept he displayed the Russian language in its native purity, and left it as an instrument ready attuned for a great player. Thanks to Lomonosov and to Prince Kantemir (1708-1714), who wrote the first literary verse, the literary wall between Russian and French and other culture was finally broken down. Prince Katemir wrote in the French manner. His style was modeled on that of Boileau. During Catherine the Second’s reign, French influence was felt in Russia. Poets began to spring up, especially writers of odes, and the best of these was Derzhavin (1743-1816), a master of the French classical manner, in whose work the elements of real poetical beauty entitle him to be called the first Russian poet.


Gavrila Romanovitch Derzhavin, born 1743 in the province of Kazan; his family were landed gentry; he served in the army and took part in the suppression of Pugachev’s revolt (1773). In 1782 he attracted Catherine II’s attention by his ode Felitsa, in which he praised the Empress and satirized her courtiers. This poem laid the foundation of his popularity and of a career in the Civil Service; he was in turn governor of Olonetz, of Lambov; private secretary to the Empress; Senator; Minister of Justice, and a Member of the Council of Empire. He died in 1816. During his lifetime he was generally considered the first of the poets, and it needed the advent of Pushkin to eclipse his fame. His verse is unequal, but at its best it has a sweep of splendid rhetoric, and he combines realism and humor with sublimity, he has, tho, an astonishing power of rendering impressions of color and light.

The ode God was in its time the most famous of all Derzhavin’s lyrics. God is the God of a Diest rather than of a Christian.


Гавріилъ Романовичъ Державинъ (1743-1816)

Я безь мировъ повсюду сущихъ,
Я крайне степень естества,
Я средоточіе живущихъ,
Черта начальна Божества.
Я тѣломъ въ прахѣ истлѣваю,
Умомъ громамъ повелѣваю,
Я царь — я рабъ, я червь — я Богъ!
Но, будучи я столь чудесенъ,
Отколѣ происшелъ? — Безвѣстень,
А самъ собой я быть не могъ.
Твое созданье я, Создатель,
Твоей премудрости я тварь,
Источникъ жизни, благъ податель,
Душа души моей и царь!
Твоей по правдѣ нужно было,
Чтобъ смертну бездну переходило
Мое безсмертно бытіе,
Чтобъ духъ мой въ смертность облачился,
И чтобъ чрезъ смерть я возвратился,
Отецъ, въ безсмертіе Твое!


Ivan Andreyevich Krylov, born 1768 in Orenburg. His father was an officer in the army, promoted from the ranks. He was not well educated and was still young when he turned to journalism and the drama for a living. He wrote his first fable in 1805, and the first book of his fables appeared in 1809. They achieved a speedy and immense popularity, and Krylov was recognized to be the most national of Russian writers. Soon after the publication of his first book of Fables, Krylov was given an appointment in the Imperial Public Library — a sinecure — which, lasted all his life. Many anecdotes are told about his laziness, his untidiness, his voracious appetite, and his shrewd and malicious humor. He died in 1844.

Dva Golubia: an adaption of the Fontaine fable Les Deux Pigeons. It is interesting to compare these two poems. Lines 5 and 6 in the Russian version are inimitable, untranslatable, and peculiarly Russian.


Иванъ Андреевичъ Крыловъ (1768-1844)

Два голубя какъ два родные брата жили;
Другъ безъ друга они не ѣли и не пили;
Гдѣ видишь одного, другой ужъ, вѣрно, тамъ;
И радость и печаль—все было пополамъ;
Не видѣли они, какъ время пролетало;
Бывало грустно имъ, а скучно не бывало.
Ну, кажется, куда бъ хотѣтъ
Или отъ милой, иль отъ друга?
Нѣтъ, вздумалъ странствовать одннъ изъ нихъ летѣть,
Увидѣть, осмотрѣть
Диковинки земного круга,
Ложь съ истиной сличись, повѣрить былъ съ молвой.
“Куда ты?” говоритъ сквозь слезъ ему другой:
“Что пользы по свѣту таскаться?
Иль съ другомъ хочешь ты разстаться?
Безсовѣстный! когда меня тебѣ не жаль,
Такъ вспомни хищныхъ птицъ силки,, грозы ужасны
И все, чѣмъ странствія опасны!
Хоть подожди весны летѣть въ такую даль;
Ужъ я тебя удерживать не буду.
Теперь еще и кормъ и скуденъ такъ и мапъ;
Да, чу! и воронъ прокричалъ:
Вѣдь, это, вѣрно, въ худу.
Останься дома, милый мой!
Ну, намъ вѣдь весело съ тобой!
Куда жъ еще тебѣ летѣть, не разумѣю;
А я такъ безъ Тебя совсѣмъ осиротію.
Силки, да коршуны, да громы только мнѣ
Казаться будутъ и во снѣ;
Все стану надъ тобой бояться я несчастья;
Чуть тучка лишь надъ головой,
Я буду говорить: Ахъ! гдѣ-то братець мой?
Здоровъ ли, сыть ли онъ, укрыть ли отъ несчастья!
Расторгала рѣчь эта голубка;
Жаль братца, да летѣть охота велика:
Она и разеуждать, и чувствовать мѣшаетъ.
“Неплачъ, мой милый”, такъ она друга утѣшаетъ.
“Я на три дня с тобой, не больше, разлучусь,
Все наскоро въ пути замѣчу на полетѣ
И, осмотрѣвь, что есть диковиннѣй на свѣтѣ,
Подъ крылышко къ дружку назадъ я ворочусь.
Тогда-то будетъ намъ о чемъ повесть словечко!
Я вспомню каждый часъ и каждое мѣстечко;
Все разскажу: дѣла-ль, обычай ли какой,
Иль гдѣ какое видѣлъ диво.
Ты, слушая меня, предсавишь все такъ живо,
Какъ будто бъ самъ леталъ по свѣту со мной”.
Тутъ—дѣлать нечего—друзья поцѣловались,
Простились и разстались.
Вотъ странникъ нашъ летитъ; вдругъ встрѣчу дождь и громъ;
Подъ нимъ, какъ океанъ, синѣетъ степь кругом.
Гдѣ дѣться? Къ счастью, дубъ сухой въ глаза попался;
Кой-какъ угнѣздился, прижался
Къ нему нашъ голубокъ;
Но ни отъ вѣтру онъ укрыться тутъ не могъ,
Ни отъ дождя спастись: весь вымокъ и продрог.
Утихъ помалу громъ. Чуть солнце просіяло,
Желанье позывать бѣднятку далѣ стало.
Вспряхнулся и летить, — летитъ и видитъ онъ:
Въ заглушьи под лѣскомъ разсыпана пшеничка.
Спустился—въ сѣти тутъ попалась наша птичка!
Бѣды со всѣхъ сторонъ!
Трепещется онъ, рвется, бьется.
По счастью, сѣть стара: кой-какъ ее прорвалъ,
Лише ножку вывихнулъ, да крылышко помялъ;
Но не донихъ: онъ прочь безъ памяти несется.
Вотъ, пуще той бѣды, бѣда надъ головой.
Отколь ни взялся ястрябъ злой.
Не взвидѣлъ свѣта голубь мой!
Отъ ястряба изъ силъ послѣднихъ машетъ.
Ахъ, силы вкороткѣ, совсѣмъ истощены!
Ужъ когти хищные надъ нимъ распушены:
Ужъ холодомъ въ него съ Широкйхъ крыльевъ пашетъ.
Тогда орелъ, съ небесъ направя свой полетъ,
Ударилъ въ ястреба всей силой —
И хищникъ хищнику достался на обѣдъ.
Межъ тѣмъ нашъ голубь милой.
Внизъ камнемъ ринувшись, прижался подъ плетнемъ
Но тѣмъ еще не кончилось на немъ:
Одна бѣда другую накликаетъ.
Ребенокъ, черепкомъ намѣтя въ голубка,
— Сей возрастъ жалости не знаетѣ, —
Швырнулъ, и раскроилъ високъ у бѣдняка.
Тогда-то странникъ нашъ, съ разбитой головою,
Съ попорченнымъ крыломъ, съ ловихнутой ногою.
Кляня охоту видѣть свѣтъ,
Поплелся кое-какъ домой безъ новыхъ бѣдъ.
Счастливъ еще: его тамъ дружба ожидаетъ!
Къ отрадѣ онъ своей;
Услуги, лѣкаря и помощь видитъ въ ней;
Съ ней скоро всѣ бѣды и горе забываетъ.

*     *     *
О вы, которые объѣхать свѣтъ вокругъ
Желаніемъ горите!
Вы эту басенку прочтите,
И въ дальній путь пускайтеся не вдругъ;
Что бъ ни сулило вамъ воображенье ваше,
Но, вѣрьте, той земли не сыщете вы краше,
Гдѣ ваша милая, иль гдѣ живетъ вашъ другъ.


“Evgenie Oniegin” is Pushkin's best-known and perhaps his most characteristic work, for, with the publication. of “Oniegin,” Pushkin conquered a new kingdom; so far he had written the best Russian verse and the best Russian prose; in writing “Oniegin” he created the Russian novel. “Oniegin” is a story of contemporary life told in verse, a novel in verse, the first Russian novel and the best. It has the ease of Byron’s “Don Juan,” the reality of Fielding and Miss Austen, and nevertheless, when the situation demands it, it uses and takes a radiance and expresses poetry and It contains one of the great confessions of love in poetry, a performance without parallel because only a Russian could have written it, and of Russians only Pushkin. It has the perspicuity of a crystal sphere, a liquid spontaneity, as of a blackbird’s song. Pushkin in his “Oneigin” succeeded in doing what Shelley urges Byron to do, in creating, that is to say, something new, and in accordance with the spirit of the age.

— From the Oxford Book of Russian Verse by The Hon. Maurice Baring


Гонима вешними лучами,
Съ окрестныхъ горъ уже снѣга
Сбѣжали мутными ручьями
На потопленные луга.
Улыбкой ясною природа
Сквозь сонъ встрѣчаетъ утро года;
Синея блещутъ небеса.
Еще прозрачные, лѣса
Какъ будто пухомъ зеленѣютъ.
Пчела за данью полевой
Лежитъ изъ кельи восковой.
Долины сохнутъ и пестрѣютъ;
Стада шумятъ, и соловей
Ужъ пѣлъ въ безмолвіи ночей.

Какъ грустно мнѣ твое явленіе,
Весна, весна! пора любви!
Какое томное волненье
Въ моей души, въ моей крови!
Съ какимъ тяжелымъ умиленьемъ
Я наслаждаюсь дуновеньемъ
Въ лицо сельской тишины!
Или же чуждо наслажденье,
И все, что радуетъ, живитъ,
Все, что ликуетъ и блеститъ,
Наводитъ скуку и томленье
На душу мертвую давно,
И все ей ражется темно?

Или, не радуясь возражу
Погибшихъ осенью листовъ,
Мы помнимъ горькую утрату,
Внимая новый шумъ лѣсовь;
Или съ природой оживленной
Сближаемъ думою сущенной
Мы увяданье нашихъ лѣтъ,
Которымъ возрожденье нѣтъ?
Быть можетъ, въ мысли намъ приходитъ
Средь поэтического сна
Иная, старая весна
И въ трепетъ сердце намъ приводитъ
Мечтой о дальней сторонѣ,
О чудной ночи, о лунѣ...



Люблю военная столица
Твоей твердыни дымъ и громъ,
Когда полночная царица
Даруетъ сына въ царскій домъ.
Красуйся, гдадъ Петровъ, и стой
Неколебимо, какъ Россія!
Да умирится же съ тобой
И побѣжденная стихія.

По небу полуночи ангелъ летѣлъ
И тихую пѣсню онъ пѣлъ;
И мѣсяцъ, и звѣзды, и тучи полной
Внимали той пѣснѣ святой;
Онъ пѣлъ о блаженствѣ безгрѣшныхъ духовъ
Подъ кущею райскнхъ садовъ,
О Богѣ великомъ онъ пѣлъ — и хвала
Его не притворна была.
Онъ душу младую въ объятіяхъ несъ
Для міра печали и слезъ;
И звукъ его пѣсни въ душѣ молодой
Остался безъ словъ, но живой.
И долго на свѣтѣ томилась она,
Желаніемъ чуднымъ полна,
Но звуковъ небесъ замѣнить не могли
Ей грустныя пѣсни земли.

Умомъ Россіи не понять,
Аршиномъ общимъ не измѣрить:
У ней особенная стать —
Въ Россію можно только вѣрить.

Науки юношей питаютъ,
Отраду старцамъ подаютъ,
Въ счастливой жизни украшаютъ,
Въ несчастный случай берегутъ;
Въ домашнихъ трудностяхъ успѣха
И въ дальнихъ странствахъ не помѣха,
Науки пользуютъ вездѣ:
Среди народовъ и въ пустынѣ,
Въ градскомъ шуму и наединѣ,
Въ покоѣ сладкомъ и трудѣ...

Ломоносовская геніальность была разносторонней. Будучи естественникомъ, онъ въ то же время занимался и поэзѣсй, и исторіей. Ломоносовъ, по опредѣленію Пушкина, одинъ вмѣшалъ въ себѣ весь университетъ. Но шутитъ съ Ломоносовымъ было накладно, замѣчаетъ Пушкинъ: онъ вездѣ былъ тотъ же: дома, гдѣ всѣ его трепетали, во дворцѣ, гдѣ онъ диралъ за уши пажей въ Академіи, гдѣ не смѣли при немъ пикнуть.

Русскій тотъ, кто никогда не забываетъ, что онъ Русскій.

Кто знаетъ родной языкъ, и великій русскій языкъ, данный великому народу.

Кто знаетъ свою Исторію, русскую Исторію — великія ея страницы.

Кто чтитъ родныхъ героевъ.

Кто знаетъ родную литературу, русскую великую литературу, прославленную въ мірѣ.

Кто неустанно помнитъ: “ты — для Россіи, только для Россіи”.

Кто вѣритъ въ Бога, кто вѣрень Русской Православной Церкви: Она соединяетъ насъ съ Россіей, съ нашимъ славнымъ прошлымъ; Она велетъ насъ въ будущее, въ наше; Она — Водитель нашъ, навѣчний, вѣрный.

Ив. Шмелевъ


Скажи мнѣ, батюшка, какъ счастья добиться?
Сынъ спрашивалъ отца. А тотъ ему въ отвѣтъ:
“Дороги лучше нѣтъ,
Какъ тѣломъ и умомъ трудиться”.