|Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeyevich (1799-1837), Russian poet and author, who founded the literature of his language with epic and lyric poems, plays, novels, and short stories.
Pushkin was born June 6, 1799, in Moscow, into a noble family. He took particular pride in his great-grandfather Hannibal, a black general who served Peter the Great. Educated at the Imperial Lyceum at Tsarkoye Selo, Pushkin demonstrated an early poetic gift. In 1817 Pushkin was taken into the ministry of foreign affairs in Saint Petersburg; there he mingled in the social life of the capital and belonged to an underground revolutionary group. In 1820 his “Ode to Liberty” came to the attention of the authorities, and the young poet was exiled to the Caucasus; nonetheless, Pushkin continued to hold official posts.
That same year Pushkin published his Ruslan and Ludmila, a long romantic poem based on folklore, which earned him a reputation as one of Russia's most promising poetic talents. The influence of Lord Byron shows itself, along with Pushkin's own love of liberty, in his next major poems, The Prisoner of the Caucasus (1822), The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1822), and The Gypsies (1823-24). He began his most famous work, Eugene Onegin, in 1823; a Byronic love story with a realistic contemporary setting that has been described as the first of the great Russian novels (although in verse), it was not completed until 1831. Transferred to Odesa (Odessa) in 1823, he incurred the stern disapproval of a superior. He was dismissed from government service in 1824 and banished to his mother's estate near Pskov. There he wrote (1824-25) Boris Godunov, a Russian historical tragedy in the Shakespearean tradition, published six years later. In 1826 Tsar Nicholas I, recognizing his enormous popularity, pardoned him. Pushkin continued to draw upon Russian history in two long poems, Poltava (1828) and The Bronze Horseman (1833), and in his novel of the Pugachev rebellion, The Captain's Daughter (1836). He also wrote short stories, the best known of which is “The Queen of Spades.” Pushkin died February 10, 1837, from wounds that he suffered in a duel which he had fought in St. Petersburg.
Pushkin provided a literary heritage for Russians, whose native language had hitherto been considered unfit for literature. He was also a versatile writer of great vigor and optimism who understood the many facets of the Russian character. His lyric poetry—said to be delightful to the Russian ear but untranslatable—and his simple, vivid prose were invaluable models for the writers who followed him.1