Vissarion BELINSKI, writer, critic, philosopher, journalist
From his article on the Lermontov novel The Hero of Our Time (1841)
The very first works of Lermontov carried an impress of some singularity, they were one of a kind amongst all that had seen the light before Pushkin and after. It is hard to tell what is singular about them to set them apart from phenomena even marked by the flashes of true and wonderful talent. Everything is in there: the original, living thought that brings soul to the captivatingly nice form in much the same way as the living, warm blood brings soul to a young organism to blossom in a bright, fresh color on the countenance of tender beauty; there is peculiar vim proudly in command of itself and subordinating freely its unruly outbursts to the guiding idea. There is originality, too, which in its simplicity and naturalness opens up new, heretofore unseen worlds and which is the boon of men of genius alone; there is a great deal of what is strikingly individual married to the creator's person---a great deal of what we cannot but call a 'Lermontovian element'... What a burst of strength, what a diversity of ideas and images, feelings and pictures! What a mighty fusion of energy and grace, depth and aerial elegance, sublimity and simpleness! Reading any line penned by the Lermontov quill, you kind of hear chords of music and at the same time keep an eye on the humming, resounding strings from which they have been plucked by an invisible hand. Your soul seems to attend the sacrament of a thought born of a sentiment the way a butterfly is born of a plain maggot... No extra word, no extra page: everything is in place, everything is essential because it was felt time and again before being said and pictured... No false sentiments, no faulty images, no strained ecstasy: everything is free and easy, effortless, now in a turbulent outflow, now in a lucid brook poured out on paper... The fleeting swiftness and diversity of sentiments is geared to the singleness of thought; emotions and the struggle of opposite elements are merged into a harmony like the diversity of musical instruments in an orchestra obeying the magic wand of a Kapellmeister... What is most important, all that sparkles with a riot of color not borrowed anywhere else, it breathes a distinctive, creative thought, it molds a novel, heretofore unseen world.
Ivan TURGENEV, classic novelist
From The Literary and Life Reminiscences (1852)
I have seen Lermontov but twice. First it was in the house of a highborn St. Petersburg lady, Princess Shak-hovskaya, and then, a few days later, at a fancy ball in
the Noble Assembly, on the eve of the New year of 1840. At Princess Shakhovskaya's me, a rather rare and uncommon guest to the gatherings of the Beau Monde, ensconced in a nook, could watch the poet who had become famous overnight... There was something ominous and tragic in his looks; some somber and unkindly force, some pensive contempt and passion came from his swarthy face, his big and dark eyes fixed in their immobility... His glum look was starkly at variance with the expression of his tender and prominent, well-nigh childish lips... We know he has pictured himself in a way in Pechorin [the protagonist of the novel The Hero of Our Time---Tr.]. The words, "His eyes did not smile when smile he did', etc., applied to him... There was no doubt that he, following the vogue of the day, put on Byronian airs about himself with a touch of other, even worse whims and mischievous didos. And he paid dearly for that! Deep within Lermontov must have been bored to death; he was suffocating in the tight shell where the fates had pushed him in. At the fancy ball in the Noble Assembly he was not left alone even for a minute, they would pester him, taking him by the hands; one mask followed another, but he stood motionless, listening to their squeakings, fixing his sad eyes on them by turns. I felt as if I captured a nice expression of poetic creativity on his countenance...
Alexander HERZEN, writer, philosopher, journalist
From his article "Russian Literature: Mikhail Lermontov"
Next to Pushkin stands another poet, his younger contemporary... Like most Russian noblemen, he was with the Guards from his tender years. His poem on Pushkin's death entailed his banishment to the Caucasus. Lermontov fell so deeply in love with that land that somehow he could be considered a singer of the Caucasus.
Lermontov's life, though he was fully independent materially (a rare gift of fortune), was none the less a continual chain of sufferings, as shown eloquently by his poems. Faithful and open-hearted in friendship, steadfast and fearless in hatred, he had to experience the bitterness of disappointment more than once. All too often he was torn away from true friends, and all too often betrayed by false friends. Reared in a society where it was impossible to speak one's heart out, he was doomed to bear the worst of human tortures--keep silent at the sight of injustice and oppression. His soul ardent with the love of what is fine and free, he was forced to live in a society that masked its servility and corruption with a sham splendor of put-on magnificence. His first attempt to give vent to his ire and indignation--the ode on Pushkin's death--brought on his
banishment. The way of active struggle was barred to him, and the only thing that hey were unable to seize from him was his poetic genius. His soul overflowing, he turned to poetry, calling to life be it the sounds full of racking pain, or pathetic melodies, caustic satire or love songs. His works are a truthful expression of what he has lived and felt through; it was an inner urge born of some peculiar situation or impulse and that, as Goethe has noted, has always been a hallmark of genuine poetry.
The Pushkin genius held mighty sway over Lermontov whose literary renown is linked to Pushkin's name. But Lermontov did not imitate Pushkin. Unlike Pushkin, Lermontov never sought peace with the society he had to live in: he was in deadly animosity towards it, down to the day of his death. The day of December 14, 1825, that ended the period of the relatively mild reign of Alexander who had permitted some shoots of liberalism--that day ushered in the bloody onset of the despotic regime of Nikolai and became a turning point in Russia's life, in Russian literature. At that time Pushkin was in the heyday of fame, while Lermontov was just coming into literature...
Lermontov belongs to poets one would call "subjective". His works mirror his own inner world above all, his joys and sorrows, his hopes and disappointments. Lermontov heroes are part of his ego; his poems--his biography most complete. But this is not to mean he had no makings of an objective poet. Nothing of the kind. Many of his works--like, for instance, The Lay of the Czar Ivan Vasilyevich, the Young Oprichnik and Bold Merchant Kalashnikov--prove he was fully capa-
ble of creating characters in no way common with his own self. Yet he belonged to natures in whose hearts all strings linking him to his time are resonant with such a violent force that their creative genius is never able to make away with personal experiences, impressions, cogitations.
Such natures surface during a downfall settled forms of public life, in a transitional time of rampant skepticism and moral decay. In a time like that the purest ideals of humanity find shelter in them alone and are uttered by their mouths alone. They brand social vices by laying bare their own wounds, blunders and inner strife, while expiating and healing this rotten world by uncovering the beauty and perfection of human nature with a genius alone capable of broaching its mysteries. Their creativity merges into epic and lyric poetry, action and thought, narration and satire. Barbier and even more so, Byron, impersonate this type of poets; both as well as Pushkin influenced Lermontov in no small measure... But these influences did not in any way put down his singularity but rather enhanced and refined it.
Yet what is most striking about Lermontov is his realism that constitutes perhaps the most characteristic feature of Russian literature at large... Lermontov, no matter where he turned his thought, always stood on the firm ground of reality, and owing to that comes the extraordinary exactness, freshness and truthfulness of his epic poems in much the same way as does the relentless candor of his lyric poems that have always been an honest mirror of his soul.
Fyodor DOSTOYEVSKY, Russian classic
From his book Notes About Russian Literature (1861)
He wrote so many superb poems... He cursed and was in torment--in torment really and truly. He avenged and forgave, he wrote and laughed loud--was magnanimous and funny. He was fond of whispering odd fairy-tales to a young sleeping girl to upset her vestal blood; he pictured strange dreams she was not supposed to dream, what with her upright moral upbringing. He told his life to us, his amorous pranks: as though he were mystifying us; we wondered whether he was speaking in good earnest, or making fun of us. Our clerks knew him by rote, and all of a sudden they would start playing Mephisto as soon they walked out of their department. Sometimes we disagreed with him, we felt low and vexed and sad, we were sorry, and malice gripped us. In the end he became bored with us staying around: he was unable to get along anywhere and with anybody; he had cursed us and sneered with "a bitter sneer of a duped son at his father who had ruined himself, and he flew away... We kept watching him until he lost his life--aimlessly, whimsically and even laughably. But we laughed not...
Vladimir SOLLOGUB, prose writer
From his book of Recollections (1887)
Pushkin's death heralded the birth of a new poet, Lermontov, to Russia. I came to know him at the Karamzins, and wrote together with him for the Otechestvennye zapiski ("Homeland Notes", a literary almanac---Tr.)... I have never held myself to be a man of letters ex pro-
fesso---an amateur, I was delegated to Russian literature through friendly connexions. Lermontov, too, despite his great talent, regarded himself but as an amateur, and he, so to speak, was dabbling in literature. Lermontov's death, in my conviction, was no lesser loss for the Russian letters than the death of Pushkin and Gogol. New handsels of his out-of-the-way future were coming up with every passing day: his sentiments becoming deeper, his style more lucid and more elastic, and his language more singular. Growing by the hour, he began to learn and compare. In him we should be weep not so much one whom we knew as one we might have known. Our last rendezvous is quite memorable to me. It was in 1841: Leaving for the Caucasus, he came to bid farewell. "Why, I feel I have talent indeed", he said. "I am thinking seriously to devote myself to literature. Once back from the Caucasus, I shall send in my papers and--you know what! We launch a journal together." He left with the nightfall. He was killed soon after...
A real artist has no elbowroom large enough in Russia. Pushkin and Gogol and Lermontov and Briullov were victims to this bitter truth.
Lermontov, with whom I had been on the best of terms.., like all people living by imagination--at that time especially, craved for banishment, oppression and suffering, but this did not keep him from merrymaking and dancing at all balls till he dropped...
Lermontov, endowed with great natural talents for painting and poetry alike, was fond of sketching with his quill and even brush, say, the fierce sea against a backdrop of Alexander's Column with an angel on top [a tall monument commemorating Emperor Alexander I in the heart of St. Petersburg; dedicated in 1834.---Tr.). This pictorial image cloaked his dreary, grief-hungry fancy.
Valery BRIUSSOV, poet, prose writer, playwright, translator and literary critic
From his article "The Calumniated Verses" (1914)
Lermontov was a poet for his own self. This is the essential difference of Lermontovian poetry from that of Pushkin's... What Lermontov needed was to become awake to this feeling of his. Pushkin wrought his verses. At first he made a rough sketch in prose of what he
wanted, then turned this pose into verse--often out of rhyme and measure, and thereupon he polished and licked it into shape. Each remaking like that stemmed from his sense of perfection. But verses came out of Lermontov's head complete, ready-made. His variants, the earliest and the latest alike, are equally splendid. Work he did not, he expressed only. He was not a versifier in the positive sense, he was a poet...
Wladislaw CHODASEWICZ, poet, memorialist, literary critic
From his article "Pieces About Lermontov" (1914)
Lacerated by passions, seeking storms and given to repentance only as a new passion, Lermontovian heroes were doggedly loath to be just human beings. They "wanted to surpass them in Good and in Evil", and surpass them in suffering, too. To suffer like the Demon does, one has to be a Demon...
The Lermontov poetry is a poetry of suffering conscience. His dispute with Heaven is but an attempt to delegate the responsibility of his own self tempted by the world on Him who has created this tempting world, who has "invented" its torments.
The matters of conscience rose into prominence in the post-Lermontov literature, in prose particularly: because it might give more scope for close psychological inquisitions. In this sense we may say that the first Russian prose was in The Hero of Our Time, while [Pushkin's] The Belkin Tales, for all their greatness, are but French prose to some extent.
Lermontov was the first to attach the question of Good and Evil not only as an artist but also as man, he was the first to urge a solution to this question as an imperative, vital need for each and everyone--he made the cause of poetry a cause of conscience. He must have anticipated an ardent response to his voice when saying that he, Lermontov, was the first to give a fillip to the movement that, thanks to Gogol, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, made Russian literature a literature of confession, raised it to supernal heights, and made it into a truly religious art.
Russian literature is deeply indebted to him in yet another regard: by his very life he created a great model of an artist to us. Walking away from human judgement and baring human beings from the Last Judgement of God--he [Lermontov] might have been right as manor wrong! This question has been settled by the same judgement that we know not. But he was absolutely right as an artist. Since mystery is an inevitable concomitant of artistic creativity.
Alexei TOLSTOY, writer and public figure
From his speech at a grand meeting in memory of Lermontov (October 15, 1939)
... Lermontov the prosaist is a wonder, this is what we should strive for now, and in hundred years hence; we
should peruse the Lermontov prose, we should perceive it as a fountainhead of great Russian prosaic literature...
The Hero of Our Time as well as the five stories---Bella, Maksim Maksimych, Taman, Princess Mary and A Fatalist---are interconnected by one sujet, and this is Pechorin, a hero of his time and a product of a hideous epoch; a spiritually bankrupt hero, without moral backbone; a cruel man and an extra, homme superflu, inutile, bored amidst august Nature and simple, nice and open-hearted men and women... In these five stories of his Lermontov discloses the perfection of an authentic, wise and lofty art, delicious in its savory sweetness.
You read and you feel: everything is in there--not more and not less one had to say, and could say. This is deep and humane. Only the Russian language brought high by a man of genius to sublime creativity was able to create such prose. Turgenev and Goncharov and Leo Tolstoy and Chekhov are of this prose. The great river of the Russian romance flows out of this perlucid headsource conceived on the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus.
Anna AKHMATOVA, poet, literary critic, translator
From her essay Everything Was in His Power (1964)
Imitating in his verses Pushkin and Byron, he suddenly started writing something where he did not imitate anyone, and for a century you have been on the point of imitating him. Yet this is outright impossible: for he had a command of what stage actors call a "hundredth intonation". The word obeys him like a snake obeys a snake-charmer: from a well-nigh obscene, foul epigram down to a prayer. The words he uttered about amorousness have no peer in any poetry of the world.
This is so unexpected, so simple and so bottomless.
I will not speak about his prose. Here he was a hundred years ahead, and in each piece of his he kills the myth that prose is proper to a mature age alone. Even the theater considered out of bounds to great lyrical poets was in his power...
Both his grave and the place of his death call up memories of him. It seems as though his ghost were haunting the Caucasus and conversing with another great, Pushkin. "Pushkin was exiled here, and here in exile Lermontov ended his days..."
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