Title: The Bronze Horseman: Selected Poems of Alexander Pushkin
Author: Alexander Pushkin, D.M. Thomas (Translator)
Length: 261 pages
Published: September 27th, 1982 (original poems from the 1830s)
After reading The Romanov Sisters last year and The Brothers Karamazov at the beginning of this year, I wanted to delve more into Russian literature and history and decided to pick up this collection of Pushkin’s poems after a friend suggested them. Poetry isn’t my usual choice for reading (even though I’ve grown to love writing it) and I had only heard of Alexander Pushkin via references to his name in other Russian stories, so The Bronze Horseman seemed a perfect way to introduce myself to a famous literary figure and gain more experience with poetry as a whole.
The Bronze Horseman is a collection of various Pushkin poems from the 1830s, organized into two groups: short poems and narrative/verse poems. While the narrative poems take up a significantly bigger portion of the collection, the two sections are balanced in terms of number, and beginning the collection with shorter poems, working up to the longer ones, allows the reader to become acclimated with Pushkin’s style before coming upon pieces that require more time and concentration.
Regarding specific style and voice, however, is difficult, because while Pushkin has a definite style, his poetry is far more varied in structure, technique, and rhyming scheme than what’s expected from a work of prose. His poems are also translated from Russian to English, which alters the linguistic techniques and nuances that may be present in the originals. That being said, I did enjoy a number of the poems in this collection; here’s an example from the poem “I Have Visited Again”:
“I have visited again
That corner of the earth where I spent two
Unnoticed, exiled years. Ten years have passed
Since then, and many things have changed for me,
And I have changed too, obedient to life’s law—
But now that I am here again, the past
Has flown out eagerly to embrace me, claim me,
And it seems that only yesterday I wandered
Within these groves.”
A commonality among many of the poems in this collection is a sense of quiet, nostalgic melancholy, but not to the point of overwhelming one with unpleasant feelings. Rather, it’s reminiscent of the emotion conveyed in “I Have Visited Again”—the sensation of returning to a place known in childhood, or considering past joys and friendships that are of great meaning, yet finding them (or you) changed by time or loss. Most of my favorite poems of the collection captured that feeling well.
The general structure of the excerpt above is also followed for many of the shorter poems, as well as some of the narrative ones, but there are also a handful of longer poems that utilize the style of drama scripts—“The Gypsies,” “ Mozart and Salieri,” “The Stone Guest,” and “Rusalka” are examples of that technique. I found them enjoyable, stylistically, but they did not resonate with me as much as the poems that, well, read more like poetry.
Most of the poems in this collection included no objectionable content, but there were a handful of them that were sexual in nature (most of it came across as flirty or littered with innuendos, and a few included comments about extramarital affairs). The poem “Rusalka” includes the suicide of a pregnant woman. However, I must make note of the poem “Gavriliad,” which I did not finish because of both the sexual content and the sacrilegious nature of the poem’s concept; Christians would be wise to skip that one.
How does one review a collection of poems, much less one that’s been translated from its original language? I feel unqualified to truly analyze The Bronze Horseman, since I do not read much poetry and only recently have begun writing it. But, that lack of technical knowledge was pleasant on my part, because I was able to experience the poems purely as a reader and lover of words, and I found a handful of poems that I truly enjoyed in the process. The inclusion of poems like “Gavriliad” and others that were mostly sexual lowered my enjoyment, which is why I give this collection 3/5 stars, but, nevertheless it was an easy-to-read introduction to Pushkin’s work, and I’m left with the desire to continue to read poetry and expand my knowledge of the art form.
In conclusion, I want to include the titles of the poems I enjoyed most from the collection, in case the idea of reading the entire book is too daunting or unappealing.
- To The Sea
- 19 October
- Fountain at Tsarskoye Selo
- It’s Time, My Friend…
- I Thought You Had Forgotten…
- I Have Visited Again
- Exegi Monumentum
- The Bridegroom
- The Tale of Tsar Saltan
- The Bronze Horseman
Have you read any of Pushkin’s poems? Do you have any suggestions for which poets I should read next? I’d love suggestions, so leave a comment below if you have any!