by Alexander Pushkin
With scorning laughter at a fellow writer,
In a chorus the Russian scribes
With name of aristocrat me chide:
Just look, if please you . . . nonsense what!
Court Coachman not I, nor assessor,
Nor am I nobleman by cross;
No academician, nor professor,
I'm simply of Russia a citizen.
Well I know the times' corruption,
And, surely, not gainsay it shall I:
Our nobility but recent is:
The more recent it, the more noble 't is.
But of humbled races a chip,
And, God be thanked, not alone
Of ancient Lords am scion I;
Citizen I am, a citizen!
Not in cakes my grandsire traded,
Not a prince was newly-baked he;
Nor at church sang he in choir,
Nor polished he the boots of Tsar;
Was not escaped a soldier he
From the German powdered ranks;
How then aristocrat am I to be?
God be thanked, I am but a citizen.
My grandsire Radsha in warlike service
To Alexander Nefsky was attached.
The Crowned Wrathful, Fourth Ivan,
His descendants in his ire had spared.
About the Tsars the Pushkins moved;
And more than one acquired renown,
When against the Poles battling was
Of Nizhny Novgorod the citizen plain.
When treason conquered was and falsehood,
And the rage of storm of war,
When the Romanoffs upon the throne
The nation called by its Chart --
We upon it laid our hands;
The martyr's son then favored us;
Time was, our race was prized,
But I ... am but a citizen obscure.
Our stubborn spirit us tricks has played;
Most irrepressible of his race,
With Peter my sire could not get on;
And for this was hung by him.
Let his example a lesson be:
Not contradiction loves a ruler,
Not all can be Prince Dolgorukys,
Happy only is the simple citizen.
My grandfather, when the rebels rose
In the palace of Peterhof,
Like Munich, faithful he remained
To the fallen Peter Third;
To honor came then the Orloffs,
But my sire into fortress, prison --
Quiet now was our stern race,
And I was born merely -- citizen.
Beneath my crested seal
The roll of family charts I've kept;
Not running after magnates new,
My pride of blood I have subdued;
I'm but an unknown singer
Simply Pushkin, not Moussin,
My strength is mine, not from court:
I am a writer, a citizen.
These lines owe their origin to a public attack on Pushkin by Bulgarin, a literary magnate of those days. Bulgarin disliked Pushkin and, therefore, saw no merit in his poetry. But unable to argue against his poetry, he argued against Pushkin's person, and abused the poet for his fondness to refer to his ancient ancestry. Stung to the quick by a childish paragraph in Bulgarin's organ,
The Northern Bee, Pushkin wrote these lines. But on their publication which, I think, took place some time after they were written, though they went into circulation immediately, they made much bad blood. The Menshchikofs did not like to be reminded of the cakes their ancestor sold, nor the Rasumofskys of the fact that their countship was earned by the good voice of the first of that name. And the Kutaissoffs did not like to be told that Count Kutaissoff was originally Paul's shoe-black. The very pride in his ancestors, which made Pushkin ridiculous in the eyes of his enemies, made him forget the fact that selling cakes and blacking shoes, even though they be an emperor's, is by no means a thing to be ashamed of; and that, even if it were a thing to be ashamed of, the descendants of evil-doers are by no means responsible for the deeds of their ancestors. . . . The poem, therefore, is an excellent document, not only for the history of the nobility of Russia, but also for that of poor Pushkin's soul.
Nobleman by cross. There are two kinds of noblemen in Russia: those who inherit their title, and those who acquire it. Whoever attains a certain cross as a reward for his service under the government (not, alas, the cross of true nobility, Christ's cross!) becomes thereby a " nobleman."
Our nobility but recent is: the more recent it, the nobler 't is. This was written fifty years ago, and thousands of miles away from here. But one would almost believe these lines written in our day, and at no great distance from Commonwealth Avenue, -- so true is it that man remains, after all, the same in all climes, at all times. . . .
Of Nizhny Novgorod the citizen plain. The butcher Minin is here meant, who, with Prince Pozharsky, delivered Moscow from the Poles just before the Romanoffs were called to the throne.
We upon it laid our hands. Six Pushkins signed this call, and two had to lay their hand to the paper, because they could not write their own names.
Simply Pushkin, not Moussin. The Moussin-Pushkins of that day were a very rich and influential family.
Translator: Translated from the Russian, By Ivan Panin
Cupples And Hurd, 94 Boylston Street, Boston