Open the door of my prison,
let me see the daylight again,
give me a black-eyed maiden
and a horse with a jet-black mane.
Over the wide blue grassland
let that courser carry me,
and just once, just a little closer,
let me glance at that alien portion –
that life and that liberty
Give me a leaky sailboat
with a bench of half-rotten wood
and a well-worn sail all hoary
from the tempests it has withstood.
Then I shall launch on the voyage.
friendless and therefore free,
and shall have my fling in the open
and delight in the mighty struggle
with the savage whim of the sea.
Give me a lofty palace
with an arbor all around
where amber grapes would ripen
and the broad shade fleck the ground.
Let an ever-purling fountain
among marble pillars play
and lull me to sleep and wake me
in a halo of heavenly visions
and the cool dust of its spray.
By Mikhail Lermontov ca. 1831, translated by Vladimir Nabokov.
Alongside Alexander Pushkin and Fyodor Tyutchev, Mikhail Lermontov (born 1814, died 1841) is considered to be one of Russia’s greatest romantic poets. He first rose to fame with his poem Death of the Poet dedicated to Pushkin following his death in St. Petersburg in a duel. Passionate, angry and critical of Russian high society, the poem incensed the Tsar so much that he had Lermontov exiled to the Russian Caucasus. Often called the ‘Poet of the Caucus’ Lermontov then became best known for his poems and his novel A Hero of Our Time about the people and landscape of the volatile mountainous region - which despite the circumstances of his exile, the poet loved dearly. It is now widely believed that Lermontov and his family were descended from the Scottish adventurer George Learmonth who settled in Russia in the 17th Century and some read this poem as his desire to visit his ancestral home.