Julian Henry Lowenfeld, translator and playright, has a lifelong love for Alexander Pushkin, Russia's all-time favorite poet. His landmark translation of poems by Pushkin, entitled, My Talisman, drew the attention of Pushkin admirers in both Russia and America. At the unveiling of a new monument to Alexander Pushkin in Howell, New Jersey, Julian was asked to give a speech.
Фонтан любви, фонтан живой! Fountain of love, Fountain alive!
Принеся в дар тебе две розы As gift to you I’ve brought two roses.
Nadyezhda Semyonovna was unable to come today, but requested that I pass along to you not just that “Pushkin is our all”, and the shining lodestar of Russian literature, but he was and still remains the Russian people’s poet, though he was an aristocrat of very ancient lineage. He combined within himself the honor, brilliance, and dignity of the Russian nobility with that unfathomable “universal sympathy of the Russian soul”. His harmony is ever full of our faith’s core values: warmth and compassion, for which we must ever strive with dedicated astonishment.
These days, unfortunately, we not all of us strive towards that warmth. When “producers” have supplanted artists, and “ratings” have replaced aesthetics, when on the boob tube the wine of poetry is ever transmuted into the intellectual Coca-Cola of cheap thrills, as thoughts of money and money only cheapen the very meaning of art, naturally more and more you hear the doubts: “Does Pushkin really matter anymore?”
Нас мало избранных, счастливцев праздных, So we’re but few, we chosen, happy idlers,
of mere “use” neglectful and
Единого прекрасного жрецов, Are high priests of the One, the Beautiful.
I will not stoop to justifying the relevance and “usefulness” of beauty. Pythagorean high priests of the One, the Beautiful used to heal the sick not just with herbs, but with verse, believing in the curative power of holy poetry. Pushkin was the very greatest of such healers. Pushkin remains the Gospel in verse. He is our enduring spiritual antidote against the poisons of vulgarity and cynicism and depression that surround us everywhere. Here is how Pushkin defined himself:
Of heaven’s realm on Earth a witness
Воспламененною душой, With all within my soul on fire
Я пел на троне добродетель I sang before the throne of goodness
С ее приветною красой. That warmth and beauty did inspire.
Любовь и тайная свобода And love and secret inner freedom
Внушали сердцу гимн простой Taught my heart hymns and honest tales.
И неподкупный голос мой My voice, which never was for sale,
Был эхо русского народа. Expressed the Russian people’s yearning.
Pushkin is the sunshine of Russian poetry and the poet of the Russian soul, because his voice was a vessel of love:
Печаль моя светла;
My melancholy’s light;
Печаль моя полна тобою, My melancholy’s full entirely
Тобой, одной тобой... Унынья моего Of you and just of you... This gloominess of mine
Ничто не мучит, не тревожит, Nothing’s tormenting, nothing’s moving.
И сердце вновь горит и любит - оттого, My heart again burns up with loving, because - why?
Что не любить оно не может. It simply cannot not be loving.
“There is no Truth, where there’s no love,” Pushkin said. Thus, there is no love, where there is no Freedom. This is why:
Мы ждем с томленьем
We wait each minute, longing, longing,
Минуты вольности святой, For Freedom's sacred fleeting bliss
Как ждет любовник молодой The way young lovers fret while counting
Минуты верного свиданья. The minutes to a secret tryst.
These lines sound as though they were written yesterday. But today we have gathered by a monument, at whose pedestal, God grant, both in searing heat and in bitter cold there will always be fresh flowers. This monument, like the more famous monument on Tverskaya Street in Moscow, symbolizes the unbreakable dedication of the Russian people to their great national bard. Yet the main monument to the poet must not be out on the street, but must remain here within our hearts.
Pushkin’s poem “The Monument” is in its way his improvisation on a theme by Horace in his great XXXth ode, “Exegi Monumentum.” Horace wrote:
Non omnis moriar; multaque pars
all of me will die; much of me shall
Vitabit Libitinam ; usque ego postera Escape the Temple of the Dead, through and through
Crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium Growing in fresh praise, as long as the Pontiff shall
Scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex. Ascend the Capitol with silent Vestal in tow.
Нет, весь я не умру - душа в заветной
No, I won’t fully die. My soul in sacred lyre
Мой прах переживет и тленья убежит - Will yet survive my dust, and, despite with’ring, thrive.
И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире I’ll glorious be, as long’s in moonlit world entire,
Жив будет хоть один пиит. A single poet’s still alive.
Pushkin’s glory does not depend on the tinsel of temporal political power, but Poetry itself, like a consoling angel, guards it. And “while our hearts there still lives honor” within that most important monument to the poet which we keep within our soul, may there ever be two roses: Love, and secret inner Freedom.