Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

My Talisman

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd February, 2020

My TalismanThe great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin has often been poorly served in English translation, which is probably why his star does not shine so bright in British eyes as that of the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. And yet for millions of Russians, past and present, Pushkin is the beating heart and soul of Mother Russia — brilliant, passionate, defiant and ultimately self-destructive. So it is with immense pleasure that I have read Julian Henry Lowenfeld’s book of translations of the poet’s selected verse, with a lengthy and engaging biographical introduction (Elegy Books, £22). As well as being a polyglot Mr Lowenfeld is a poet himself and the verses are thus often a poetic reworking of the original, rather than a literal translation. The rhythm and the spirit of the original is nonetheless impressively preserved and the translations can be read aloud with pleasure. There is much playfulness in the poet’s oeuvre, as well as the highs and lows of love and frustration about physical limitations placed upon him by the Tsar or the authorities. At times he is a bird in a cage that chafes in waiting to be set free, while at others he dreams of Italy and Spain — a romanticised southern Europe that he could never experience in reality. The biographical essay is especially useful for locating Pushkin’s work within a particular time and space, the poet’s emotions at the time frequently illuminated with short quotations from poems. The volume is illustrated throughout with Pushkin’s own charming doodles, which reflect his often impish sense of fun, his scorn of pomposity and his semi-detachment from the beau monde around him. Altogether this is a most attractive companion for anyone who cannot access Pushkin in the original Russian but who wants to sense his genius.

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