Pushkin in Moldavia.
The name of Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), the great Russian poet and founder of the new Russian literature, is closely linked with Moldavia. The significance of Pushkin’s works and his towering genius place him among the outstanding figures of world culture. In his quarter-century of writing, Pushkin, assimilating the achievements of Russian and world culture, the experience of his literary predecessors, rapidly transcended several literary epochs. His works have been translated into almost all world languages.
The political life of Russia of the 1820s was marked by a movement against serfdom, which sparked the struggle for social emancipation. Progressively-minded Russians who had imbibed the ideas of the French Revolution, of Western enlighteners and advanced Russian writers, could not reconcile themselves with the existing regime. They actively opposed serfdom, the oppression of the autocracy. Alexander Pushkin embodied the strivings of an entire generation of early Russian revolutionaries. The boldness of the poet’s freedom-loving works won the admiration of his friends and aroused the fury and irritation of the court. Pushkin was denounced by informers and kept under strict surveillance. The Russian autocracy could not countenance the free-thinking poet. In 1820 he was sent to the south of Russia on the pretext of a job transfer. Pushkin arrived in Kishinev in September 1821.
Here he met many of his friends from St. Petersburg and Moscow. He was particularly glad to meet with like-minded people, the future Decembrists (revolutionaries, who rose against the autocracy in 1825) —Vladimir Rayevsky and Mikhail Orlov. These were remarkable, selfless people, genuine patriots who had time and again taken up arms in defence of their country. On orders of the Russian High Command, Mikhail Orlov, for instance, accepted the capitulation of Paris in 1814. Subsequently he sent a petition to the tsar, urging the abolition of serfdom. His socio-philosophical view of the world was bold and democratic.
In Orlov’s house at Kishinev where Pushkin was a regular visitor there were endless arguments on political, philosophical and literary subjects. Close friends called the house the Jacobins’ Club. Here Pushkin made the acquaintance of many people who abhorred and criticized the state system of the tsarist Russian empire. The fine intellect of Pavel Pestel, a Decembrist leader, made a deep impression on Pushkin. The poet highly appraised his original mind.
But it was not only political affairs that absorbed the exiled poet in Kishinev. He showed a keen interest in Moldavian life, living conditions, and listened to and wrote down Moldavian folk songs, fairy tales, and legends. Some of them he later used in his poetry.
Pushkin exerted an enormous influence on the Moldavian poets of his time. Meetings with him, talks on creative work, art, public life became a turning point for Konstantin Stamati, Kostake Negruzzi, Alexander Donich, and others.
The Moldavian writers, for their part, helped the poet to become better acquainted with their literature, folklore, language, and customs. Konstantin Stamati often played host to Pushkin at his house.
Outwardly, No. 1, Ulitsa Pavlova (Pavlov Street) has changed greatly, of course. But we cherish it because it is linked with the names of two outstanding poets—a Russian and a Moldavian, whose friendship symbolized the friendship between the two peoples.
Pushkin also made friends in Kishinev with the still youthful Kostake Negruzzi, whose name is associated with a whole epoch in the development of Moldavian literature. In 1837, after Pushkin’s death, Negruzzi translated his poems “Black Shawl” and later his story “Kirdzhali” into the Moldavian language.
Vasile Alexandri, one of the classics of Moldavian literature, wrote of the impact Pushkin’s works had had on Negruzzi:
“His long stay in Bessarabia and in Southern Russia where he (Negruzzi) made the acquaintance of the eminent poet Pushkin, increased his interest in the new literature, and as though by magic he was suddenly inspired by a profusion of new ideas, harmonious poetry and pure style.”
Kishinevians treasure the memory of the great Russian poet’s stay in their city. House No. 19 on Antonovskaya Ulitsa (Antonovskaya Street) where Pushkin lived has been turned into a museum. A monument to the poet was unveiled there in 1973 (sculptor Mikhail Anikushin).
Another monument to Pushkin was unveiled in Kishinev almost a century ago, on the 26th of May (6 June) 1885—his 86th birthday. It was installed in the park that now bears his name. The monument is austere and elegant: a column of polished granite crowned by a bust of the poet. The square base bears the inscription: “To Pushkin. May 26, 1885. Here wandered I, my Northern lyre resounding o’er the deserts’ quiet … 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823.” The author of the bust is the well-known Russian sculptor Alexander Opekushin. The monument was built on funds collected by the local populace.
Symbolically, in Pushkin Park, next to the monument, an alley of the classics of Moldavian literature was laid out in 1958. On 12 red-granite pedestals the bronze busts of Moldavian writers and poets have been installed: Mikhail Eminescu (1850-1889), Ion Kryange (1837-1889), Vasile Alexandri (1821-1890), Bogdan Hash-deu (1838-1907), Alexander Hyzhdeu (1811-1874), Alecu Russo (1819-1859), George Asaki (1788-1869), Kostake Negruzzi (1808-1868), Alexander Donich (1806-1866), Konstantin Stamati (1786-1869), Dmitry Kantemir (1673-1723), and Nikolai Milescu-Spafaria (1636-1708). The best sculptors and architects of Moldavia took part in creating these sculptural portraits and in placing them here, where to this day there stand several green veterans—three acacias and three mulberry trees—which had also bloomed in young Pushkin’s lifetime.
During his southern exile Pushkin travelled a lot in Bessarabia. One of the most romantic of his trips was a visit to Ralli, an estate of his Kishinev friends in the village of Dolna (now Pushkino). The village, according to present-day standards, is not far from Kishinev—only about an hour’s drive away. We suggest you make a trip to Dolna where the poet first became acquainted with the life of a Gypsy camp, the impressions of which he later recorded in the undying lines of the poem “The Gypsies”:
The Gypsies Bessarabia roam
In noisy crowds… Above a river
In tattered tents they made their home,
From night’s cool breezes seeking cover.
The former Ralli house in Dolna has been turned into a museum. Inscribed on the memorial plaque at the entrance are the words: “Pushkin lived here in July-August 1821.” The water-colours, gravures and books all remind one of the poet.
Among the exhibits is a letter written by Pushkin to Alexeyev, his Kishinev friend, dated 1830: “Write to me, my dear friend, about the places that bore you but which I hold dear—about the banks of the Byk, about Kishinev, about the beauties, perhaps somewhat aged now … in short about everything ! cherish in my memory, women and men, living and dead. So far my stay in Bessarabia has left no impression, either poetic or prosaic. Have patience, though. I hope to prove yet that nothing has been forgotten by me.”
And the poet kept his promise. He wrote fine prose and poetry about Bessarabia, crowned with the poem “The Gypsies”.
The individual and society, the borderline between freedom of the individual and arbitrary rule—that is the central subject of the poem, which lays bare the hopelessness of the hero’s individualism, its tyrannical substance. Being the culmination and the concluding phenomenon of the poet’s romantic period, this poem sharply posed the question of happiness as a tragic philosophical problem and paved the way to a more detailed study of the main subject of Pushkin’s works—humanity and the world.