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The Russian language - "the material through which Pushkin minted his jewelry"

6 June 2021

June 6, 2021 marks the 222th birth anniversary of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin - the great poet, playwright, prose writer, publicist, who made a great contribution to the development of the Russian literary language. It is no coincidence that the Russian Language Day is celebrated on the poet's birthday.

Noteworthy electronic collection Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), which includes digital copies of books, articles, archival documents, abstracts of dissertations, video films, visual and other materials is dedicated to the poet’s life and oeuvre. Among them are such large-scale works as Alexander Pushkin (1899) by professor Dmitry Anuchin, Pushkin, his Lyceum Comrades and Mentors (1887) by academician Yakov Grot, Pushkin and his Life (1928) by the writer Vikenty Veresaev, Pushkin and the Decembrists (1929) by the literary critic Nikolai Fatov and others.

“The 'clear', 'harmonious' Pushkin, the genius 'idle reveler', who seems to be understandable in his simple harmony and complacent carelessness, is in fact one of the most mysterious phenomena of Russian literature. He is much more difficult to understand than even Tolstoy, Dostoevsky or Gogol", - asserted Vikenty Veresaev in the publication Pushkin and his Life

In order to write this way it is necessary to be absolutely immersed in the context of the poet's fate, to know, in particular, what traces in his soul were left by a seemingly prosperous childhood in the bosom of an old noble family, to imagine how difficult little Pushkin's relationship with his mother was. From her sometimes unmotivated anger, the child hid in his father's extensive library and spent hours reading books there, mostly in French.

The days spent at the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum were also not easy at first. According to the first biographer of the poet Pavel Annenkov, who is quoted by the literary critic Julius Eichenwald in his book Pushkin (1916), “Pushkin did not always remain the winner in clashes with his comrades, who were also generated by him, and then, with a torn heart, with offended pride, conscious of his own guilt and indignation at his neighbors, he returned to his room and, going over all the burning impressions of the day, suffered a second time all his sufferings to the last drop!"

The literary activity of the young poet, which began in the Lyceum years, the publication of handwritten journals, and then publications in the capital's almanacs, were highly appreciated by teachers and lyceum students. Yakov Grot in the publication Pushkin, his Lyceum Comrades and Mentors writes: "Some of Pushkin's comrades, who were also not devoid of poetic talent, lagged far behind him in this respect...The main culprit and engine of literary life in the school was still Pushkin, and without him, this direction would certainly not have achieved such an amazing development there".

Successful rhymes, agitated stanzas made the poet happy.

“The material through which Pushkin minted his jewels... the Russian language, for him, is an internal combination of a “common language” and a “bookish”: from the “Moscow scholars” pure and correct, expressive and sonorous speech penetrates into literature...the Russian language our genius author calls “so flexible and powerful in its turns and means, so sociable in its relations to foreign languages”. The poet is not indifferent to spelling either. Because “Spelling is the heraldry of the language”, - writes Yuly Eichenwald.

“Pushkin’s manuscripts, which remained after his death, serve as eloquent documents of his extraordinary diligence. From the countless edits in his works, one can judge how hard he was satisfied with what came out of his pen ... And this persistence in work is all the more amazing because we know what a fiery soul he was gifted with, how willingly he indulged in the entertainment of society”, - notes Yakov Grot.

Yuly Eichenwald, analyzing "Eugene Onegin", describes the result of this tireless work: “And so, on a moonlit night, to the singing of a nightingale, Tatiana confides her secret to the old nanny. This conversation with the nanny ... Here is precisely one of those moments when everyone who writes about Pushkin experiences the impotence of his pen, the uselessness and poverty of any praise, a kind of exhaustion of delight".

Pushkin would later write about how the influence of the French language on the Russian language was replaced by the influence of the English language; linguistic borrowings of those years will cause sharp polemics, literary duels, in which Alexander Sergeevich will also act with his choleric temperament and epigrams striking the enemy.

In the monograph The Language by Pushkin: Pushkin and the History of the Russian Literary Language (1935), linguist-Russianist, literary critic, academician Viktor Vinogradov notes that Pushkin "stands for freedom of national-linguistic development within the "spirit" of the Russian language, its grammatical laws, its customs". With such an attitude to language, Vinogradov quotes the landmark of Pushkin's poetics given by Academician Stepan Shevyryov, “his verse is always elevated above ordinary speech, always elegant in sound, always marked ... like a gold piece, with a bright and sonorous chasing, just as much his prose is simple, strong, true and is alien to any adornment it does not need”.