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The magic of Pushkin’s verse comes alive in a new translation
11.03.2021 Robert Chandler
Poetry
Alexander Pushkin

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Alexander Pushkin thrived on confinement. At the start of his career, a friend’s elderly and obstinate valet once locked him into a room, saying he would release him only when he completed a narrative poem for which he had already been paid but had long been procrastinating over; once past his initial indignation, Pushkin duly got carried away and wrote all through the night. Something similar — but on a grander scale — happened around 10 years later. In autumn 1830, Pushkin was confined by a cholera outbreak to the village of Boldino, his father’s remote country estate in southeastern Russia. Desperate to return to Moscow to marry, he wrote to his fiancée: “There are five quarantine zones between here and Moscow, and I would have to spend fourteen days in each. Do the maths and imagine what a foul mood I am in.” 

Pushkin went on complaining bitterly but, with nothing else to do, he produced an astonishing number of masterpieces — short stories, short plays, lyric and narrative poems, and the last two chapters of his verse novel Eugene Onegin — in a mere three months.

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