Mikhail Lermontov, born 200 years ago, is one of Russian’s most charismatic and tragic Romantic poets, and one of the best-loved. Yet he died in 1841 at the age of 26, and from childhood was surrounded by controversy that has lasted long after his untimely death.
The Pushkin effect
Lermontov became famous overnight. As Russia was mourning its greatest poet Alexander Pushkin, like Lermontov killed in a duel, the 22-year-old cavalry officer wrote a bold and emotional poem, Death of a Poet. The work became an instant hit in St Petersburg, where it was copied by hand and passed on.
In the poem, Lermontov went on to assail society, in effect blaming Pushkin’s death on the authorities and the fashionable customs of the times. The official response was furious and swift: the freethinking poet was arrested and exiled to the Caucasus, where a seemingly never-ending war was in progress.
Lermontov was dispatched to Georgia and fell in love with the place. He returned from exile full of ideas and storylines, which fed most of his best-known works over the next couple of years.
I want to live…
By Mikhail Lermontov
I want to live; I crave for sadness –
Against my bliss and love, in truth;
They sank my mind in idle gladness
And made my brow very smooth.
It’s time for high life’s derogation
To blow away the hazy peace;
What is bard’s life, void of desolation?
And what are void of tempests seas?
He wants a life that burns and wounds,
The life in which it’s hard to be.
He buys the Holly Heaven’s sounds,
He doesn’t take his fame for free.