No Comment, Quotation — September 21, 2008, 8:43 am

Pushkin’s Remembrance

fedotov

????? ??? ????????? ???????? ?????? ????
? ?? ????? ?????? ?????
?????????????? ??????? ???? ????,
? ???, ??????? ?????? ???????,
? ?? ????? ??? ???? ???????? ? ??????
???? ???????????? ??????:
? ??????????? ?????? ????? ????? ?? ???
???? ????????? ?????????;
????? ?????; ? ???, ??????????? ??????,
???????? ?????? ??? ???????;
???????????? ????????? ????? ????
???? ??????? ????????? ??????:
?, ? ??????????? ????? ????? ???,
? ???????, ? ?????????,
? ?????? ???????, ? ?????? ????? ???,-
?? ????? ????????? ?? ??????.

When the noisy day of mortal men grows still
With illusory nocturnal shadows.
And sleep, the harvest of a day’s exertion,
Sinks down upon the silent city streets
This is my hour of the night, when silent hours
Drag by in painful attentiveness:
During the indolent night the wound of my heart’s serpent
Rises up in me more powerfully;
Imagination surges: my mind, numbed by yearning,
Entertains a parade of tortured thoughts;
Before my eyes, quiet remembrance
Unfurls its lengthy parchment;
Thus set back, I rehearse the course of my life,
I quake and I curse,
I shed bitter tears and complain painfully,
But alas the dismal lines cannot be purged.

Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, Remembrance (????????????) (1827)(S.H. transl.)


So much of the Russian literary tradition has a bittersweet note to it, a sense of loss. And much of this tradition is also marked by a true and very profound patriotism, a pride of the achievements of Russia, but also a melancholy sense. Writers are concerned about the cloud which overshadows their land, preventing its people from finding their way. In a sense this poem of Pushkin’s sends that message, it dwells on the sense of loss, and it reminds us that past shapes present, that the sense of loss is a part of our present reality.

But what Westerner can really appreciate what it meant to be a Russian in the turmoil and cultivated climate of fear that hung over the country for much of the last century? For a cultured Russian, a person who understood the great and profound depths of a Pushkin or Lermontov, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, Bunin or Bulgakov, what did it mean to see an overweening state, ruling by terror, crushing every spark of independent thought and creativity? The best and the brightest of several generations were destroyed by the totalitarian onslaught. Some survived, timidly testing the boundaries of their cage. There were great artists who portrayed this bleak horizon, Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Solzhenitsyn, for instance—but there is also Dmitri Shostakovich, who does so brilliantly in his chamber works.

Shostakovich is a master of the bittersweet remembrance of which Pushkin writes. The string quartet no. 8, for instance, or still more movingly the piano trio no. 2 from 1944: they paint in somber tones, filled with pain, but still they are marked by the unremitting press forward, into the future, with the aspiration for a new and better life. This is particularly the case with the “Jewish theme” that forms the bond between these two very great works, an element incorporated perhaps as a remembrance of the holocaust in particular, perhaps as a tribute to the millions of victims of the brutal totalitarianism that rocked and defined the twentieth century. Shostakovich gives us a dance of death, an evocation of the horrors of the totalitarian age, but he closes with a commitment to life and a determination to transcend. Listen to the powerful, sardonic fourth movement of the piano trio, opus 67, in this performance by a group of young soloists from the Music Academy of Ukraine. Do you hear the amazing evocation of klezmer tunes and sonority by the strings? A culture, a way of life, are fading from the scene, and Shostakovich grabs out to remember it. His reach is nurturing, protective. He seeks to preserve. Recollection becomes an act of faith.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Evidence of a chill was plain. People in Hailey spoke to me about Bergdahl in low voices, as if about a death.”
Fox & Friends, July 6, 2014
Article
The Seductive Catastrophe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The world’s leaders were moved by a populace fused into a forward phalanx, were shaken by a tidal wave of militancy jubilantly united.”
Photograph courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library
Post
The Glitch in the Video-Game Graveyard·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“From the nerd squabbles of Internet discussion threads rose an urban legend that culminated in a film that hinges on digging through my town’s trash.”
Illustration (detail) by Timothy Taranto
Article
What the Camera Saw·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“They shot him behind the left ear, and he fell.”
Article
Bounty·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If I’d been one of the unprepared, I’d be desperate, too.”
Illustration (detail) by Simon Pemberton

Chances that an organ transplanted in New York City last year came from a murder victim:

1 in 4

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

In Gainesville, Florida, a drunk man who jumped out of his pickup truck to yell at the driver in front of him was run over by his own vehicle.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today