for russians, Alexander I is one of history’s best-known tsars. His reign provided the setting for Pushkin’s early years. It was a time of war against Napoleon, daring hussars, strapping cavalry officers, and lavish balls where high society danced the mazurka. Even the ardent efforts of the Decembrists to overthrow him lent Alexander’s era a certain romance. However hard Soviet schoolteachers and our dry textbooks strove to define the times in terms of the “crisis of serfdom” and “the struggle against autocracy,” they still seemed beautiful, thrilling, and poetic.
“Dusk. Nature. The nervous voice of a flute. Out for a late ride. On the lead horse sits the emperor in a sky-blue caftan.” Such was the beginning of Батальное полотно (Battle Canvas), a song by the popular bard Bulat Okudzhava. The captivating picture the song conjured of a pensive, melancholy emperor truly pulled at our heartstrings.
Вслед за императором едут генералы, генералы свиты,
Славою увиты, шрамами покрыты, только не убиты.
Следом – дуэлянты, флигель-адъютанты. Блещут эполеты.
Все они красавцы, все они таланты, все они поэты.
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