Saturday, July 05, 2014


The Healthiest, the Mightiest Fell

Stephanie Sandler, Commemorating Pushkin: Russia's Myth of a National Poet (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), pp. 50-51 (footnotes omitted):
One account of Mikhailovskoe [Pushkin's estate in the Pskov region of northwest Russia] from the years of the First World War is worth examining at some length. The memoirist was Varvara Timofeeva, who usually published under the pen name O. Pochinkovskaia and also wrote an account of her years as a secretary to Dostoevsky. She lived in Mikhailovskoe between 1911 and 1917, when it was a residential colony for elderly writers. She recorded in some detail the struggle to preserve the estate as a place associated with Pushkin:
As to the estate, with its wealthy forests, there remained only the widely held conviction that one could rob it under various pretexts, openly and in secret, without any fear of reprisal. The builders of "state" buildings and bridges successfully filled their pockets here, while the local people, embittered and made wild, were arrested and even imprisoned for every last log taken from the "gentlefolks' parks." And these self-same people were already threatening "to come with their axes, chop it all down and set it aflame."
Timofeeva astutely observed two threats to Mikhailovskoe: economic development (the "builders") and political unrest (the people threatening destruction). She saw destruction begin just before the First World War: People started to talk about war, about building railroads for strategic purposes ... Every day, from all around one heard axes resounding through the forest. Chopped–down trees stumps ached pitifully, and age-old tree trunks fell with a moan, just as people were falling then on the fields of battle. The healthiest, the mightiest fell. They were carted away to build bridges at the front, floated by river for sale; they were stolen and plundered by anyone so inclined. History will one day tell this tale. Timofeeva wants to save these trees, not only because it seems cruel to fell the "healthiest" and the "mightiest" and not only because of her pacifist analogy to people dying in the First World War. These trees are living symbols of Pushkin’s life and age; they are vessels of not completely defined meaning – of ancientness, of eternal youth, of the essence of poetry:
From the age-old, wide-branching fir trees, from the fragrant, heat-saturated pines, wafted something from the ancient past, primordial, as if seen in a dream or in early childhood. The sweet reveries of youth, the curative poetry of eternal life were there ... as if precisely in these groves there remained some living trace of Pushkin. And one's heart believed that this sorcerer, this enchanter had thought up and breathed life into his captivating dreams, his magical tales, there, for all time. His dreams, his hopes, were narrated by all these old, precious trees. Miraculous symphonies, chorales, hymns, and serenades were heard there spring and fall, winter and summer. And suddenly, oh horror! They begin to cut them down! These miraculous trees, these treasured firs of Pushkin!
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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