MY PREDECESSOR, PAVEL SHCHEGOLYOV,1 concludes his work on Pushkin's duel and death with a series of speculations about why society and its spokesmen hated the poet and expelled him as an alien being from its midst. It is now time to turn this question around and speak aloud not about what they did to him, but what he did to them.
After an ocean of filth, deceit, lies, the complacency of friends and the plain foolishness of the Poletikas and non-Poletikas,2 the Stroganov clan,3 the idiot horseguardsmen, who made the d'Anths affair une affaire de regiment (a question of the regiment's honor), the sanctimonious salons of the Nesselrodes, et al.,4 the Imperial Court, which peeked through every keyhole, the majestic secret advisors-members of the State Council- who had felt no shame at placing the great poet under secret surveillance-after all of this, how exhilarating and wonderful it is to see the prim, heartless ("swinish" as Alexander Sergeyevich himself put it) and, to be sure, illiterate Petersburg watch as thousands of people, upon hearing the fateful news, rushed to the poet's house and remained there forever with all of Russia.
"Il faut que j'arrange ma maison (I must put my house in order)," said the dying Pushkin.
In two days' time his house became a sacred place for his Homeland, and the world has never seen a more complete or more resplendent victory.
Little by little, the entire era (not without reluctance, of course) came to be called the Pushkin era. All the beauties, ladies-in-waiting, mistresses of the salons, Dames of the Order of St.Catherine, members of the Imperial Court, ministers, aides-de-camp and non-aides-de-camp, gradually came to be called
Pushkin's contemporaries, and were later simply laid to rest in card catalogues and name indices (with garbled birth and death dates) to Pushkin's works.
He conquered both time and space. People say: the Pushkin era, Pushkin's Petersburg. And there is no longer any direct bearing on literature; it is something else entirely. on the palace halls where they danced and gossiped about the poet, his portraits now hang and his books are on view, while their pale shadows have been banished from there forever. And their magnificent palaces and residences are described by whether Pushkin was ever there or not. Nobody is interested in anything else. The Emperor Nikolai Pavlovich in his white breeches looks very majestic on the wall in the Pushkin Museum; manuscripts, diaries, and letters are valuable if the magic word "Pushkin" is there. And, the most terrifying thing for them is what they could have heard from the poet:
You will not be answerable for me,
You can sleep peacefully.
Strength is power, but your children
Will curse you for me.
And in vain do people believe that scores of handcrafted monuments can replace that one aere perennius (stronger than bronze) not made by hand.5
From "Anna Akhmatova, My Half Century" Selected prose edited by Ronald Meyer, © Ardis Publishers