September 01, 2014

In Pushkin's Shadow

Mikhail Lermontov, born 200 years ago this fall, is perhaps Russia’s most mysterious poet. After Pushkin’s irony had seemingly destroyed the romantic worldview, this youth wrote, in his not yet independent childhood verses, of a disappointment with this earthly world, as though he remembered his previous life – a life before Earth.

For any poet we can identify a key poem, a kind of calling card. For Lermontov, that poem is “Angel,” written in 1831 (at 17), and the only early poem he published himself (in 1840):

At midnight an angel was crossing the sky,
And quietly he sang;
The moon and the stars and the concourse of clouds
Paid heed to his heavenly song.
He sang of the bliss of the innocent souls
In heavenly gardens above;
Of almighty God he sang out, and his praise
Was pure and sincere.
He bore in his arms a young soul
To our valley of sorrow and tears;
The young soul remembered the heavenly song
So vivid and yet without words.
And long did it struggle on earth,
With wondrous desire imbued;
But none of the tedious songs of our earth
Could rival celestial song.

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