TEA WITH THE PUSHKINS.

A nice roundup by Michael Johnson of the history and current state of Pushkinophilia starts with the titular tea in Brussels with the great-grandson of the poet and proceeds to a “supple and insightful new biography and translation” by Julian Lowenfeld (I find the translations quoted in the post awful, but to each his own), a “documentary film for U.S. consumption… directed by Michael Beckelheimer of Los Angeles” to be titled Pushkin Is Our Everything, David Bethea’s Pushkin Project (actually, as far as I can tell, called the Pushkin Summer Institute), Johnson’s own Pushkin obsession (“dating from the 1960s when I was an Associated Press correspondent in Moscow”), the Nabokov/Wilson feud, and much more. It’s an enjoyable read, with some good quotes; I particularly like this one from Marc Slonim: “A poem by Pushkin creates the impression that what he says could never be said otherwise, that each word fits perfectly, and that no other words could ever assume a similar function.” I recently reread “Бахчисарайский фонтан” (The Fountain of Bakhchisarai), and I was constantly having that feeling; a line as simple as “Отец в могиле, дочь в плену” [otéts v mogile, doch v plenú] ‘The father in the grave, the daughter in captivity’ has a feeling of inevitability and perfection that sends it straight into the deeper folds of the brain, never to be dislodged. Thanks, Paul!

Comments

  1. There’s a very beautiful setting by Alexander Vlasov of Pushkin’s smaller poem
    Фонтану Бахчисарайского дворца which any YouTube search will bring up. You can really hear the burbling fountain!

  2. Jeffry House says:

    I had never heard the Pushkin line you quoted, which does have a limpid finality to it. Do you think Akhmatova is referencing it here?
    Тихо льется тихий Дон,
    Желтый месяц входит в дом,
    Входит в шапке набекрень.
    Видит желтый месяц тень.
    Эта женщина больна,
    Эта женщина одна.
    Муж в могиле, сын в тюрьме,
    Помолитесь обо мне.

  3. Obviously she was familiar with the Pushkin poem, so I’m sure there was at least a subconscious recollection of the line; you’d have to ask her shade about a conscious borrowing, and she might not tell you. (Hello Central, give me heaven…)

  4. Can anyone recommend a “good” translation of Pushkin? I liked Lowenfeld but I might not know what I’m missing, as I’m not a poet or a Russian speaker…

  5. Victor Sonkin says:

    Excellent translations of Pushkin’s prose (of “The Captain’s Daughter” and “The Queen of Spades”) were done by Robert Chandler.

  6. Victor Sonkin says:

    @Jeffry House: “Тихий Дон” is also originally Pushkin’s phrase, so your reasoning is well-founded. Akhmatova fancied herself a Pushkin scholar.

  7. David Marjanović says:
    Эта женщина больна,
    Эта женщина одна.
    Муж в могиле, сын в тюрьме,
    Помолитесь обо мне.

    Maikäfer, flieg!
    Der Vater ist im Krieg!
    Die Mutter ist in Pommerland,
    Pommerland ist abgebrannt,
    Maikäfer, flieg!

  8. Interesting how the theme of “your home is on fire” persists in both languages.

  9. Except that in English it is the ladybug (Marienkäfer) whose home is on fire, a different beetle. The Maikäfer appears to be more like what we call a June bug.

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