The Caucasus and Crimea

The Captive

Pushkin leaves Saint Petersburg in May 1820.  His journey leads him to the Caucasus, Crimea, and Moldova. 

 

While observing the majestic beauty of the Caucasus Mountains he writes numerous poems inspired by that part of the world.  Notable among them is a narrative Byronic poem Prisoner of the Caucasus.  The short poem, The Captive, is found in the same notebook.  No doubt, it expressed Pushkin's own feelings of exile in his own country.

 

This text has been set by several composers, including Anton Rubinstein, Nikolai Medtner, and Alexander Aliabyev. Grechaninov’s setting is somewhat indebted to the earlier Rubinstein’s version. Nevertheless, this version is very well known and has become a standard piece in the concert repertoire, particularly of Russian basses.

Alexander Grechaninov: The Captive - Anton Belov and Susan McDaniel
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Yuri Lermontov Reminiscence of Caucasus

Сижу за решеткой в темнице сырой.
Вскормленный в неволе орел молодой,
Мой грустный товарищ, махая крылом,
Кровавую пищу клюет под окном,

Клюет, и бросает, и смотрит в окно,
Как будто со мною задумал одно;
Зовет меня взглядом и криком своим
И вымолвить хочет: "Давай улетим!

Мы вольные птицы; пора, брат, пора!
Туда, где за тучей белеет гора,
Туда, где синеют морские края,
Туда, где гуляем лишь ветер... да я!.."

I sit behind bars in a damp dungeon:

A young eagle raised in captivity,

My melancholy comrade, flapping his wing,

Under my window picks at his bloody meal.

 

He picks it and throws it, and peeks in my window,

As if with me he conspires the same,

He calls me with his glance and his cry

And wants to utter: “Let’s fly away!

 

We are free birds: it’s time, my brother, it’s time!

There, where a white mountain sparkles behind a cloud,

There, where the edges of the sea shine blue,

There, where the wind and I dwell free!”

(Translation by Anton Belov)

 

The Floating Chain of Clouds is Turning Thin

Along his journey, Pushkin meets Count Nikolai Rayevsky, a famed hero of the Napoleonic Wars.  He travels the southern route with his two daughters Maria and Ekaterina.  It is thought that Pushkin promptly fell in love with both of them…

Count Nikolay Rayevsky

1771-1829

Maria Rayevsky

(1805–1863)

Ekaterina Rayevsky

(1796–1884)

The elegy The Floating Chain of Clouds is Turning Thin describes Pushkin’s impressions of the Crimean peninsula.  The last verse mentions a young maiden.  The reference to star-gazing betrays her identity as Ekaterina Rayevsky whose interest in astronomy was well-known.  In fact, when this poem was first printed in 1824, Pushkin omitted its last three lines in order to preserve Ekaterina's privacy.    

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Floating Chain of Clouds is Turning Thin - Anton Belov and Susan McDaniel
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Pushkin heard the Crimean legend surrounding the Polish Princes Maria Potocka from the above-mentioned Ekaterina Rayevsky.  The legend tells of the infatuation of the aging Tatar ruler Khan Kyrym Gerey (1758-1764) with his captive wife Maria Potocka.  According to the legend Maria was poisoned by one of Gerey’s jealous wives.  Upon her death, the Khan constructed a marble fountain that became known as Selsebil—the Fountain of Tears. 

 

In 1820 during his travels through the Black Sea region Pushkin visited Bakhchisaray, the former capital of the once-powerful Crimean kingdom.  In a letter to a friend he described his initial impression: “I walked into the palace, saw the broken fountain; the water dripped from a rusty faucet.  I toured the palace with deep disappointment for its sorry state…”

 

Pushkin adapted the legend in one of his first successful poems, The Fountain of Bakhchisaray.  This unabashedly romantic poem is strongly influenced by Lord Byron, a poet under whose influence Pushkin fell as a young man, yet thoroughly rejected later in life.  The section that was set to music numerous times is a separate composition that serves as a type of an epilogue to the larger narrative poem.  Later in life Pushkin reportedly was much more fond of this epilogue than the poem as a whole. 

Selsebil today.

 

Редеет облаков летучая гряда;
Звезда печальная, вечерняя звезда,
Твой луч осеребрил увядшие равнины,
И дремлющий залив, и черных скал вершины;
Люблю твой слабый свет в небесной вышине:
Он думы разбудил, уснувшие во мне.
Я помню твой восход, знакомое светило,
Над мирною страной, где все для сердца мило,
Где стройны тополы в долинах вознеслись,
Где дремлет нежный мирт и темный кипарис,
И сладостно шумят полуденные волны.
Там некогда в горах, сердечной думы полный,
Над морем я влачил задумчивую лень,
Когда на хижины сходила ночи тень —
И дева юная во мгле тебя искала
И именем своим подругам называла.

 

 

 

 

The floating chain of clouds is turning thin.

Oh, melancholy star, oh, evening star!

Your ray turned silver the fading valleys,

The slumbering bay and the tops of black cliffs.

I love your weak light in the celestial height;

It has awakened the thoughts, long dormant in me:

I recall your rising, familiar luminary,

Over a peaceful country, where everything is dear to my heart.

Where stately poplars rise in the valleys,

Where slumber tender myrtle and the dark cypress,

And the midday waves make sweet noise.

There long ago in the mountains, full of heart-felt thought,

I spent my pensive idleness on the shores of the sea,

When the night’s shadow descended upon the huts

And a young maiden searched for you in the dark

And to her friends she claimed you as her own.

To the Fountain of the Bakhchisaray Palace

Alexander Gurilev: To the Fountain of the Bakhchisarai Palace - Anton Belov and Susan McDaniel
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Alexander Gurilev: To the Fountain of the Bakhchisaray Palace

Фонтан любви, фонтан живой!
Принес я в дар тебе две розы.
Люблю немолчный говор твой
И поэтические слезы.

 

Твоя серебряная пыль
Меня кропит росою хладной:
Ах, лейся, лейся, ключ отрадный!
Журчи, журчи свою мне быль...

 

Фонтан любви, фонтан печальный!
И я твой мрамор вопрошал:
Хвалу стране прочел я дальной;
Но о Марии ты молчал...

 

Светило бледное гарема!
И здесь ужель забвенно ты?
Или Мария и Зарема
Одни счастливые мечты?

Oh fountain of love, oh living fountain!

As a gift to you I brought two roses.

I love your never-ceasing whisper

And your poetic tears.

 

Your silver dust

Sprays me with the cool dew:

Ah, flow, flow the comforting spring!

Whisper, whisper your truth to me...

 

Oh, fountain of love, the fountain of sadness,

As I examined your marble,

I read the praise to a distant land,

But about Maria it was silent. . .

 

Oh, pale luminary of the harem!

Have you been forgotten even here?

Were both Maria and Zarema

Only pleasant dreams?

(Translation by Anton Belov)

Bakhchisaray by Jakob Christoph Miville (1786-1836)