Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 5)

I remember the wonderful moment: you appeared before me like a transient vision of the spirit of pure beauty.

To me, languishing in hopeless sadness, among the cares of the noisy, restive world, a tender voice sounded and beloved features formed my dreams.

The years passed. The storms’ wild gust scattered my earlier dreams, and I forgot your tender voice, your heavenly features. I dragged out my days slowly, in distant, dark confinement, cut off from God, uninspired, without tears, without life, without love.

My soul’s awakening began: and behold! you appeared again, like a transient vision of the spirit of pure beauty.

And my heart is beating, enraptured, and in my heart all that is godlike, inspiration, life, tears and love, has risen once again.31

‘I remember’ and the even shorter, more poignant, poem ‘I loved you’, written in 1829, are perhaps the best known among Pushkin’s many love lyrics. Of the two, it is the second which tells us – more frankly, even if still ambiguously – how les grands sentiments seemed to Pushkin, in reflective mood, at the age of thirty:

Я вас любил: любовь ещё, 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 бытв другим.

I loved you; perhaps my love is not yet quite extinguished in my soul. But let it not trouble you any more; I do not want to sadden you in any way. I loved you without words, without hope, torn now by timidity and now by jealousy; I loved you as truly and as tenderly as may God grant you to be loved by another.32

The identity of the woman to whom the second of these poems was addressed has not been established, although more than one candidate has been advanced: Olenina and Vorontsova are both possibilities. For the biographer, what is striking both about ‘I loved you’ and about ‘I remember’ is the contrast that they form with the way in which Pushkin casually mentioned his conquest of Anna in 1828, in the course of a letter written to a friend primarily about gambling debts.33 His casualness and the four-letter word that he used (replaced by asterisks in the Russian Academy edition), set side by side with these two poems, illustrate two aspects of his character in relation to women, of which he was himself well aware.

(Robin Edmonds)