The educated public was outraged by the execution of the Decembrists—death penalty was abolished in Russia for the previous 40 years. The fact that the rebels belonged to the highest classes of society only amplified the matter. No doubt, Tsar Nikolas I viewed Pushkin release from the exile as a nod to the intellectuals. Although Pushkin was granted nominal freedom, he remained under survailance for years to come.
Tu et Vous
In 1828 Pushkin frequented the estate of Aleksey Olenin, the president of the Saint Petersburg Academy for the Arts. There he became infatuated with Anna, the young daughter of the family. There are numerous poems from that period that are dedicated to her. The following poem is based on a real event—Anna accidently addressed Pushkin with the informal pronoun “ты” (similar to French "tu") instead of a much more appropriate “вы” ("vous"). A week later Pushkin returned with the following poem:
Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она, обмолвясь, заменила
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюбленной возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с нее нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!
An empty "You" by a heart-felt "you"
She by a slip of the tongue substituted,
And all the happy dreams
In my soul, infatuated, she awoke.
Before her, full of thought I stand.
To turn away my eyes I have no power.
To her I’m saying: how sweet “You” are,
But I am thinking: how much I love “you!”
Anna Olenina by Orest Kiprensky
Do not Sing to Me, Oh Beauty
Anna Olenina was a good singer and took voice lessons from Mikhail Glinka. A writer and a diplomat Alexander Griboyedov, was a friend of the Olenin household. Returning from a diplomatic mission to Tbilisi, he presented Anna with a Georgian melody that she performed at one of the soirees frequented by Pushkin.
The characters in this poem are very specific: the beauty in the beginning of the poem is Anna Olenina, whose singing reminded the author of his own travels through the Caucasus. We can make a guess at the identity of the other “misfortunate maiden”: she is Maria Rayevsky (1805-1863), the sister of the above-mentioned Ekaterina (see The floating chain of clouds and The Bakhchisarai Fountain). Maria’s husband was Count Sergey Volkonsky, one of the leaders of the Decembrist movement. For his role in the rebellion he was sentenced to deportation to Siberia and Maria followed him without reservation.
This poem was originally set by Mikhail Glinka who used as the melody the melancholy tune brought by Griboyedov from Georgia. The poem’s most famous setting was done by Sergey Rachmaninoff.
Do not sing to me, oh beauty,
The songs of melancholy Georgia:
They remind me
Of another life and a distant shore.
Alas! Your cruel melodies
Remind me of the steppe,
and the night and in the moonlight
The features of the distant, unfortunate maiden.
That sweet and fateful apparition
Seeing you, I forget;
But you sing, and in my mind
I see that image anew.
Не пой, красавица, при мне
Ты песен Грузии печальной:
Напоминают мне оне
Другую жизнь и берег дальный.
Увы! напоминают мне
Твои жестокие напевы
И степь, и ночь — и при луне
Черты далёкой, бедной девы.
Я призрак милый, роковой,
Тебя увидев, забываю;
Но ты поёшь — и предо мной
Его я вновь воображаю.
I Was in Love with You
Pushkin made a marriage proposal to Anna but was flatly rejected by her family. Though already famous, he was almost penniless and under constant police supervision. Though not for the lack of suitors, Olenina did not marry well after the death of the poet. The following text is one of the most famous love poems in the Russian language and was set to music by numerous composers, including Dargomyzhsky, Cui, Sheremetyev, and others.
Я вас любил: любовь еще, быть может,
В душе моей угасла не совсем;
Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;
Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.
Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,
То робостью, то ревностью томим;
Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно,
Как дай вам бог любимой быть другим.
I was in love with you: that feeling, yet perhaps,
Have not dwindled in my soul completely.
But may it trouble you no longer,
I do not want to sadden you in any way.
I was in love with you silently and hopelessly,
Sometimes tormented by fear and sometimes by jealousy,
I was in love with you so honestly, so tenderly,
As I wish by God for you to be loved by another.
The Marriage and the Duel
Eventually, Pushkin married Natalia Goncharova—a glamorous young lady from a respected Moscow family. Together they had 4 children. Reluctantly, he became the de facto court poet and was expected to attend various balls and other official functions. His young wife was soon acknowledged as the belle of the high society.
Her astounding beauty attracted the attention of George D d'Anthès—a dashing French officer attached to the Danish diplomatic service in Saint Petersburg. His relentless advances forced Pushkin to challenge him to a duel during which both men were injured. Pushkin suffered a wound in the left abdomen and died three days later. In his obituary writer Vladimir Odoyevsky remarked: “The sun of Russian poetry has set.”
Natalia Pushkina (née Goncharova)
portrait by Alexander Brullov