AleksandrPushkinStatue01

Statue of Aleksandr Pushkin

While on a bike ride on the campus of George Washington University I came across a statue of the Russian poet and author, Aleksandr Pushkin. This made me wonder whether or not there are any statues of American literary figures in Russia. Later, when I was trying to find out information about the statue from my ride, I got the answer to my question. The statue of Aleksandr Pushkin was a gift from the government of Moscow to the city of D.C. as part of a cultural exchange between the two cities. In return, a statue of American poet Walt Whitman was erected in Moscow.

Located at the corner of 22nd Street and H Street (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ground was broken for the statue on June 6, 1999, the 200th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth. The statue was completed over the forthcoming year, and dedicated on September 20, 2000. It depicts the author in front of a column on which stands the winged horse Pegasus, symbolically representing poetry and creative inspiration. The Pushkin statue is thought to be the first monument in the United States which commemorates a Russian literary figure.

Aleksander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born into Russian nobility on June 6, 1799, in Moscow. He published his first poem at the age of fifteen. And by the time he finished school as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum near Saint Petersburg, his talent was already widely recognized within Russian literary circles. After completing school, Pushkin became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. This angered the government, and led to his transfer from the capital.

After five years in exile, he was granted permission to personally petition Tsar Nicholas I for his release, which was granted. However, some of his writings were subsequently found in the possession of radicals after the Decembrist Uprising in Saint Petersburg, and Pushkin quickly found himself under the strict control of government censors, and was again unable to travel or publish at will.  But it was during this time that Pushkin wrote some of his now most famous works.

Pushkin eventually was able to regain favor with the Tsarist government. However, many including Pushkin speculated that it was because of his marriage to the young Nataliya Nikolaevna Goncharova, who he had met when he was almost 30 and she was only 16 years old.  Natalya had many admirers, among them the Tsar himself.  Natalya accepted Pushkin’s marriage proposal only after she received assurances that the government had no intentions to persecute the poet.  And later, when the Tsar gave Pushkin a court title, the poet became enraged, feeling that the Tsar intended to humiliate him by giving him the lowest court title solely so that his wife could properly attend court balls and events.

By 1837, Pushkin was faced with scandalous rumors that his wife had embarked on a love affair.  In response, the poet challenged Natalya’s alleged lover, her brother in-law Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès, to a duel. Notoriously touchy about his honor, Pushkin fought as many as twenty-nine duels during his lifetime. The one with d’Anthès would be his last.  Although the other man was injured, Pushkin was shot through the spleen and died two days later, on February 10, 1837.

Although he was only 37 years old at the time of his death, Pushkin was somewhat prolific in his writing, particularly in comparison to more recent writers. He wrote narrative poems, verse novels, dramas, prose, and fairy tales in verse. And his writing is so complex that works which originally comprised only about a hundred pages would require two full volumes of material to translate and fully render its meaning in English.  Because of this difficulty in translation, Pushkin’s verse remains largely unknown to English readers. However, in his native Russia he is considered by many to be their greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

I doubt I will ever ride to Moscow State University in Russia to see the statue of Walt Whitman, which was unveiled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October of 1999. Perhaps I will be able to read more about it someday from a Russian blogger.  But there are places here in D.C. associated with Walt Whitman, who was a resident of the city for ten years.  I plan to ride to some of those places in the future.

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Comments
  1. You probably already know this, but there is an excerpt from one of Whitman’s poems inscribed on the wall alongside the escalator of the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro.

    Liked by 1 person

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