A Valentine’s Day Ode to Alexander Pushkin

Last year around Christmas I was in a bookshop looking for presents. It was there that I found, not completely coincidentally, Pushkin’s collected love poems. I could of course have given this little book to my love in a romantic gesture, but he appreciates Russian airplanes more than poetry. And so for him I managed to find the autobiography of aircraft designer Yakovlev. It turned out to be a fine example of communist propaganda, that sent him to sleep after reading just a few lines. Off to dream about tumbling through the skies like a young pioneer in the newest Yak.

Love Poems

The poetry book I kept for myself. It was even more enjoyable than expected. The translator and editor Roger Clarke has made very informative and amusing notes for each of the poems. He has researched when and, more importantly, for whom each poem was written. Pushkin started writing poetry at a young age and continued to do so up to his untimely death.

Pushkin definitely loved women and had many infatuations and affairs before he got married. This collection gives us an amusing overview of his love life. Some of the poems are funny, some are risqué and others are truly beautiful, no doubt in sync with the nature of the addressee.

Pushkin deadly wounded in duel

In 1837 Pushkin died at the age of 37 as a result of a duel with a French officer who threatened his wife Natalya’s honour. Even though he himself had had several affairs with married women, he found it apparently unbearable when he became the deceived husband. He was after all extremely passionate…

Pushkin was one of those brilliant minds to whom writing came naturally. His poetry (and other genres too) just seems to have flowed from his pen effortlessly. There is nothing artificial about it and that makes it a pleasure to read, even in translation. His best known poem is I loved you. The addressee of this particular poem is unknown. Probably the love remained unanswered. Most Russians know it by heart:

I loved you, and a trace of that love’s passion

unquenched within my soul may yet remain;

but my desire is not in any fashion

to sadden you or bring you further pain.

I loved in silence, hopelessly, but dearly,

now shyly, now with jealousy aflame;

I loved you, yes, so fondly, so sincerely –

God grant to you another’s love the same.

1829

Translated by R.H. Morrison

A book to treasure for ever:

Love Poems, Alexander Pushkin, edited by Roger Clarke

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