Monday 11 December 2017

The Sunday Poem: Remembrance

Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

Anthony Cronin

I do not myself like the compound adjectives, 'well-loved' and 'best-loved, as applied to works of art, usually in competitions which are supposed to find the most popular poem or painting any particular country may have.

In only one case I know are they justified when applied to either. And that is the case of the 19th century Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. The attitude of Russians to Pushkin can not be paralleled except in that of the Scots towards Robert Burns. To Russians, at least until a decade or two ago, by some process of transmutation somewhat difficult to understand in terms of his actual work, Pushkin is more than a poet.

He is guide, philosopher and friend. Pushkin, or more often his statue in Pushkin Square in Moscow, was the recipient of petitions, requests, even, one might say, prayers, both in prose and verse, and he was undoubtedly loved.


When the loud day for men who sow and reap

Grows still, and on the silence of the town

The unsubstantial veils of night and sleep,

The need of the day's labour, settle down,

Then for me in the stillness of the night

The wasting, watchful hours drag on their course,

And in the idle darkness comes the bite

Of all the burning serpents of remorse;

Dreams seethe; and fretful infelicities

Are swarming in my over-burdened soul,

And Memory before my wakeful eyes

With noiseless hand unwinds her lengthy scroll.

Then, as with loathing I peruse the years,

I tremble, and I curse my natal day,

Wail bitterly, and bitterly shed tears,

But cannot wash the woeful script away.

Alexander Pushkin (trans. Maurice Baring)

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