by Maria Kozyreva
It was the sixth of June when the greatest Russian poet, Alexander Sergeevitch Pushkin, was born. It is on this very day that ordinary citizens rejoice in the birth of the founder of Russian poetry. In honor of him, I decided to celebrate the day at the township Linen Factory in the Kaluga region of Russia, where the poet and his wife settled down following their wedding.
I rose early to be there in time, ready in fifteen minutes but my relatives were not. Once again I thought: it’s better to travel on my own! Nervously, I called my boyfriend who was waiting for me. By the way, he was supposed to be our guide as his grandfather lives there and he visits the old man quite often.
“Dont worry!” he said as I called him. “It will last the whole day. It’s impossible to be late!”
Finally we arrived on a warm sunny day in the Kaluga region.
We made our way to the museum, the center of the celebration. I stared at the river, easily imagining how Natasha Goncharova, the poet’s wife and muse, went boating here with their children. She was so beautiful, so marvelous that Pushkin fell in love with her at first sight. However, there are a plethora of controversial opinions concerning the relations between the greatest Russian poet and his wife. Some researchers think that Natalia Goncharova was a very intelligent and educated woman who really loved her husband. They describe how Pushkin had arrived at the Linen Factory Estate for the first time, how Natalia cared about him and how Alexander admired his future wife. Other researchers are convinced that Natalia never loved Pushkin and he understood that she was only flattered by the fact that he was a respected and well-known poet.
Although Russian scholars can’t determine the relations of the Pushkins, we definitely know that when he arrived at the Linen Factory on his first visit to get to know Natasha’s relatives, he fell in love with the estate, the picturesque river, the forests full of mushrooms and berries – the atmosphere that inspired him. Before marrying Natasha, Pushkin meandered through the groves and copse, rambling on and composing new verses. Later, the house where the poet’s future wife spent her childhood was transformed into the museum devoted to Pushkin and Natalia Goncharova.
When we arrived in the usually quiet and remote township, the Linen Factory was overcrowded and noisy. People bustled about excitedly. Children were particularly amused by clowns and whimsical creatures that greeted them at the entrance. You may ask me: what is all this fuss about? It is theannual celebration devoted to Alexander Sergeevitch Pushkin.
Citizens fond of his poetry arrive from all over Russia. The modest township transforms out of recognition. In front of the museum there are boisterous tents full of handmade toys, amulets, pictures and books. There are even all-prize lotteries.
As we came up to one of the tents to scrutinize comical handmade toys, vendors surrounded us at once:
“I am sorry, but we want just to have a look.”
“It’s ok, my dear! You can touch them if you want.”
“They are so amusing! Did you make them on your own?”
“Sure, I did! Oh, you have a camera! Would you like to have a photo with them?”
It goes without saying that the photo she took for us was free. She was so happy to see that we were delighted by her handiwork that I bought one of her toys. I didn’t regret it! It was a small penny whistle painted with bright colours. I couldn’t help but blow it, since it reminded me of the whistles that we used to make in my kindergarten class when I was a little girl.
We continued deeper into the park. I did not know where to look first. Children gobbled cotton candy and screamed on the rides. Yet the epicenter of this joyful atmosphere was the Meadow of Fairytales, a stage play for children based on one of Pushkin’s stories.
I can assure you that almost everyone in Russia can cite at least one line of any one of his poems or fairytales. From early childhood, parents read Pushkin to their children. Me too. I remember turning over the pages of a big book with pictures of Pushkin, the collected edition, when I could hardly read and the book was too heavy to sit on my lap.
As I grew up, I was surprised when I learned that Pushkin didn’t address a single line to children. Moreover, he hated when somebody told him that he wrote stories for little ones. In fact, his fairytales which gushed with moral values were written only for adults! Nevertheless, they are still a major part of education programs at primary schools.
I was so absorbed by these thoughts that I didn’t even notice how we came upon another stage on the shore of the river Sukhodrev (Drywood). Amateurs of Pushkin poetry recited his oeuvres by heart.
Once, when the poet was in the Linen Factory Estate, two booksellers announced his arrival:
We were so happy to hear about your arrival, dear Alexander Sergeevitch. We couldn’t help visiting you. We are admirers of your greatest talent. We adore your poems and prose.
Pushkin and the booksellers talked the whole evening. When he found out that they came to him on foot from Kaluga, he insisted they stay overnight, and in the morning he organized everything for their comfortable departure. Pushkin was very grateful to his admirers.
As I stood near the stage, I looked at the poet’s monument surrounded by people eager to take photos with it as if this monument was the man himself. For a second it seemed to me that it really was. The poet was sitting on the pedestal and looking at the river while listening to his own poems…
My friend interrupted my thoughts. “Let’s go to the museum.”
I nodded. As we were about to leave, I heard a young man reading a piece from “Eugene Onegin.” I couldn’t resist it and we stayed for a little bit more. At once I remembered the picture of a young lady with a sad face from my old book. This lady was Tatyana, one of the main characters of the Pushkin poem “Eugene Onegin.” She was not stunning or gorgeous:
So she was called Tatyana. Truly
she lacked her sister’s beauty, lacked
the rosy bloom that glowed so newly
to catch the eye and to attract.
There was something that distinguished her from others. It seemed that she lived in her own world:
Reflection was her friend and pleasure
right from the cradle of her days;
it touched with reverie her leisure,
adorning all its country ways.
(Translated by Ch. Johnston)
Tatyana has a mysterious, and at the same time simple Russian soul. Each time as I read “Eugene Onegin,” it seems to me like I read it for the first time.
I wish you could read it in Russian so that you could understand why Russians love Pushkin so much. Pushkin was translated by many talented poets and translators but I am convinced that it is impossible to interpret the genius of the oeuvres written in verse. It should be read in his mother tongue. His poems are so easy to read and understand but at the same time they reflect the reality of those days. The characters he described in his oeuvres long ago can still be found among the Russian people.
It was time we left the park as my boyfriend’s grandfather was waiting for us at home with hot fragrant tea. We hurried up not because he would be angry if we were late but because I adored his hospitality and kind smile. He remained sitting for hours at his dacha by his old brick stove. He didn’t celebrate with us but I knew that he wanted to hear our impressions of the day. I had much to tell him. We left the park and made our way to grandfather’s house as a verse from Pushkin came to my mind:
Reader, I wish that, as we parted –
whoever you may be, a friend,
a foe – our mood should be warm-hearted.
Goodbye, for now we make an end.