Critical responses to “Podrazhaniia Koranu” (1824) have tended to treat the relationship between Pushkin and the Koran as a straightforward case of appropriation, of simple imitation, as the title of the poetic cycle implies. The appropriation usually pointed out by scholars is not just of a style and lexicon (some phrases echo the Koran almost verbatim), and of a set of themes (wandering in the desert, prophecy), but of a whole spirit and metaphysical worldview as well. On this appropriatory model, Pushkin’s poem conveys a distilled quintessence of the Muslim sacred scripture—stylistically, thematically, and metaphysically—in an unquestioning reframing of the original according to the poet’s interests at the time.
The best that Mickiewicz and Pushkin had to say about each other was high praise indeed. In 1827 Mickiewicz wrote to Edward Odyniec that Pushkin had “noble and elevated ideas about poetry”; in 1837 in his obituary for the Russian poet (reprinted in this issue) he wrote that Pushkin had a character “generous, noble, and given to effusion. His faults came from the circumstances in which he was raised, while what was good in him came from the depths of his heart.” In 1834 Pushkin wrote of Mickiewicz, laconically, that he “was inspired from above, and looked on life from the heights.” The frequent quotation of these passages by scholars of the poets would have us focus chiefly on the poetic context for interaction between them. At times during the history of Russian and Polish comparative studies, the emphasis on such passages has suggested that Mickiewicz and Pushkin had an untroubled relationship. Yet Anna Akhmatova, a perceptive reader of Pushkin, noted in her sketch “Two New Stories by Pushkin” (“Dve novye povesti Pushkina”) that things were probably not so simple. She wrote, “The history of the relationship between Mickiewicz and Pushkin has not yet been written. Mickiewicz’s biographers (Pogodin, and also Brailovskii) are inclined to the opinion that their relationship was complicated, and that it is difficult to speak of a friendship between the two poets.” Akhmatova’s assertion is still true: the story of the two poets has still not been written, partly because of the political value in the stories of their friendship. If we “tell the story” again, the contours of their poetic and personal relationship might become clearer.
Общеизвестно, что событием, во многом определившим восприятие личности Пушкина современниками, стала высылка поэта из Петербурга в мае 1820 г.,—так называемая «южная» ссылка. Значительно реже отмечалось, что в пушкинском творчестве этому, бесспорно, ключевому событию соответствуют две различные интерпретации: первая оценивает расставание с Петербургом как добровольный отъезд, вторая—как изгнание. Первая представлена в стихотворениях «Погасло дневное светило ... » («Искатель новых впечатлений / Я вас бежал, отечески края; / Я вас бежал, питомцы наслаждений...»—II, 147) и «Я видел Азии бескрайние пределы...», в начальной главе «Кавказского пленника», в «Эпилоге» «Руслана и Людмилы», очень определенно в письме Дельвигу от 23 марта 1821 г. Вторая—в стихотворениях: «<Из письма Н. И. Гнедичу>», «Овидию», «Чаадаеву», «Ф. Н. Глинке» и письмах. Первая точка зрения синтезируется установкой Пушкина, как в поведении, так и в творчестве, на образ Байрона; второй соответствует образ Овидия.
Il n'y a point de voyageur instruit
qui, en passant par Leyde, n'ait
vu la partie du reticulum mucosum
d'un Nègre disséqué par le célèbre
Ruysch. Tout le reste de cette membrane
fut transporté par Pierre-le-Grand
dans le cabinet des raretés, à Pétersbourg.
Cette membrane est noire; et c'est
elle qui communique aux Nègres cette
noirceur inhérente qu'ils ne perdent
que dans les maladies qui peuvent
déchirer ce tissu, et permettre à
la graisse, échapper de ses cellules,
de faire des taches blanches sous
—Voltaire, Essai sur les moeurs et
l'esprit des nations
Родословная матери моей еще любопытнее.
Дед ее был негр [...].
—А. С. Пушкин, «Начало автобиографии»
Curiosity is indeed a curious concept. It is that which prompts us to look beyond established limits. It leads to the opening up of new horizons in knowledge and therefore may represent a challenge to established authority and received opinion. Curiosity may, then, be either good or bad depending on the point of view from which it is apprehended, a function of what Neil Kenny has termed its "extraordinary moral reversibility." In this context, as far as the historical fortunes of the concept are concerned, the seventeenth century witnessed a distinct shift in Western Europe, a shift particularly noticeable in associations of curiosity and travel. Thus, Christian K. Zacher, in his Curiosity and Pilgrimage, points to the distinction drawn by medieval Christian thinkers between two understandings of knowledge: sapientia, “knowledge of things divine, the attainment of God, the goal Christians must strive for,” and scientia, “human knowledge, speculative and faulty, inferior to sapientia.” “Christian thinkers regarded sinful man’s pursuit of scientia as a flirtation with curiositas” and most definitely not a proper motive for pilgrimage: “curiositas is a morally useless, dangerous diversion for wayfaring Christians.” The age of exploration, though, spurred at least in part by curiosity, placed Europeans in contact with radically different peoples and cultures and thereby gave impetus to the Renaissance rehabilitation of the ancient distinction between bona and mala curiositas. By the seventeenth century, curiosity had undergone a pronounced change in valence from negative to positive (or at least neutral). One commentator has identified curiosity as “a defining element of the modern age.”