Pushkin spends next three years in Kishinev, now the capital of Moldova.  The area, then known as Bessarabia, was claimed from the Ottomans by the Russian Empire only a decade prior and still preserved much of its oriental flavor.  The population of this frontier city included Moldovans, Greeks, Gypsies and Jews.  Pushkin was fascinated by the diversity of local culture and incorporated his impressions in his writing, most notably, in the poem The Gypsies, the basis of Rachmaninoff’s opera Aleko. 


In Kishinev Pushkin leads a lifestyle of careless debauchery and youthful frivolity.  He has many amorous adventures that inevitably lead to quarrels with jealous husbands and even several duels.  Pushkin largely ignores his duties as a civil servant and continues to write prolifically.  Here he finalizes The Fountain of Bakhchisaray and The Prisoner of the Caucasus.  He completes The Gypsies and brilliant, yet blasphemous Gavriliada.  When years later this outrageous poem reached the dutiful eyes of the authorities, Pushkin vehemently denied his authorship and the case was dismissed.  Most significantly, in Kishinev Pushkin began his greatest work, the novel in verse Eugene Onegin.


Sergey Rachmaninoff: Aleko's Cavatina - Anton Belov and Svetlana Velichko
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Sergey Rachmaninoff: Aleko's Cavatina from Aleko (live). Anton Belov and Svetlana Velichko

Pushkin's sketch of Calypso Polichroni, reputed lover of Byron and one of Pushkin's paramours.

Весь табор спит. Луна над ним
Полночной красотою блещет.
Что ж сердце бедное трепещет?
Какою грустью я томим?

Я без забот, без сожаленья
Веду кочующие дни.
Презрев оковы просвещенья,
Я волен так же, как они.


Я жил, не признавая власти
Судьбы коварной и слепой
Но, боже, как играют страсти
Моей послушною душой!..


Земфира! Как она любила!
Как, нежно прислонясь ко мне,
В пустынной тишине
Часы ночные проводила!


Как часто милым лепетаньем,
Упоительным лобзаньем
Задумчивость мою
В минуту разогнать умела!


Я помню: с негой полной страсти,
Шептала мне она тогда:
"Люблю тебя! В твоей я власти!
"Твоя, Алеко, навсегда!"


И всё тогда я забывал,
Когда речам ее внимал
И как безумный целовал
Её чарующие очи,

Кос чудных прядь, темнее ночи.
Уста Земфиры... А она,
Вся негой, страстью полна,
Прильнув ко мне, в глаза глядела...


И что ж? Земфира неверна!
Моя Земфира охладела!

The whole camp is asleep.

Above it the moon shines in splendor,

Why then is my poor heart trembling?

What sadness torments me?


Without cares, without regrets,

I pass my days in wandering.

Having rejected the constraints of civilization

I am free—just as they are!


I have lived without honoring

the power of cruel and blind fate.

But God! How passion

plays upon my defenseless soul!


Zemfira! How she loved me!

As she leaned towards me tenderly,

in the silence of the wilderness

How she spent the night hours with me!


How often, with a gentle whisper,

With an intoxicating kiss

She could alleviate

My sadness in one moment!


I remember with tenderness, how in the throes of passion

she would whisper to me:

“I love you!  I am in your power!

I belong to you, Aleko, forever!”


And then I would forget everything,

when I would listen to her words,

and I madly kissed

her intoxicating eyes,

the threads of her wondrous hair, darker than night,

Zemfira’s lips…And she,

filled with tenderness, all passion,

leaning towards me looked in my eyes…

And what then! Zemfira is unfaithful?

My Zemfira has coldly rejected me!

In the summer of 1823 through the intersession of well-positioned friends, Pushkin is transferred to Odessa, a bustling cosmopolitan city and a major commercial center on the shores of the Black Sea.  At the time, the city was less than 30 years old and possessed an Italian-style opera house, casinos and theaters.     



For the large part of his thirteen-month stay in Odessa his muse becomes Amelia Riznich, a tall beauty with extraordinarily long black hair and deep dark eyes.  Riznich was a daughter of a Viennese banker and an Italian mother.  She came to Odessa in the spring of 1823 with her husband, a businessman from Trieste, and soon became universally acknowledged as the belle of the local society.  Pushkin dedicated several poems to her, and mentions her in Eugene Onegin.  The Night dates from that period.

Anton Rubinstein: Night - Anton Belov and Susan McDaniel
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Pushkin's sketch of Amelia Riznich

Мой голос для тебя и ласковый и томный
Тревожит позднее молчанье ночи темной.
Близ ложа моего печальная свеча
Горит; мои стихи, сливаясь и журча,
Текут, ручьи любви, текут, полны тобою.
Во тьме твои глаза блистают предо мною,
Мне улыбаются, и звуки слышу я:
Мой друг, мой нежный друг... люблю... твоя... твоя..

My voice for you is tender and languid,

Disturbs late silence of a dark night.

Close to my bed a melancholy candle

Burns.  My verses flow merging and murmuring,

They flow. . . the brooks of love, that are full of you!

In the darkness your eyes shine before me,

They smile to me and I hear your words!

“My friend, my tender friend, I love you... I’m yours...  I’m yours!”



Amelia’s jealous husband sent her back to her native Italy where she soon succumbed to tuberculosis.   Pushkin learned of Amelia’s untimely demise only years later.  Yet her image could frequently be found on the pages of his notebooks.  To her memory belong several later poems, such as Parting, set to music by Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov.  The thought of Amelia’s tragic death tormented Pushkin for many years to come.  The Envocation, devoted to her memory, was written in 1830.   

Yuri Shaporin: Invocation - Anton Belov and Susan McDaniel
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Yuri Shaporin: Invocation

О, если правда, что в ночи,
Когда покоятся живые
И с неба лунные лучи
Скользят на камни гробовые,
О, если правда, что тогда
Пустеют тихие могилы,—
Я тень зову, я жду Леилы:
Ко мне, мой друг, сюда, сюда!


Явись, возлюбленная тень,
Как ты была перед разлукой,
Бледна, хладна, как зимний день,
Искажена последней мукой.
Приди, как дальная звезда,
Как легкий звук иль дуновенье,
Иль как ужасное виденье,
Мне всё равно: сюда, сюда!..


Зову тебя не для того,
Чтоб укорять людей, чья злоба
Убила друга моего,
Иль чтоб изведать тайны гроба,
Не для того, что иногда
Сомненьем мучусь... но, тоскуя,
Хочу сказать, что всё люблю я,
Что всё я твой: сюда, сюда!

Oh, if it is true that in the night,

When the living are asleep

And from the sky the moonlight

Falls upon the gravestones,

Oh, if it is true that then,

The graves become empty,--

I call a shadow, I await my Leila:

To me, my friend, come here!


Appear, oh, beloved shade,

The same as you were before our separation,

Pale and cold, like a winter day,

Distorted by your final agony.

Come here, like a distant star,

Like a soft sound or a gentle wind,

Or like a terrifying phantom,

It’s all the same to me, come, come!


I am not evoking you

In order to reproach those men, whose anger

Destroyed my dear friend,

Or in order to discover the mystery of the grave,

Not even because sometimes,

I am tormented by doubt… No, but in longing,

I want to exclaim that I still love you,

That I am still yours: come, come!

In 1824 Pushkin is forced to say goodbye to his southern idyl.  An intercepted letter brought upon him once again the ire of the authorities.  The letter mentioned atheism, and although Pushkin was not specifically endorsing godlessness, it was enough to dismiss him from service.  He was ordered to his ancestral estate of Mikhailovskoye in the Pskov region of Russia. 

Pushkin's Farewell to the Sea by Ivan Aivazovsky