Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov - born on October 3 (New Time Oct. 15), 1814 - died July 15 (New Time July 27), 1841
The freedom loving Russian Romantic poet and author of the novel GEROY NASHEGO VREMENI (1840, Hero of Our Time), which had a deep influence on later Russian writers. Lermontov was exiled two times to the Caucasus because of his libertarian verses. He died in a duel like his great contemporary poet Alexander Pushkin.
Mikhail Lermontov was born in Moscow. His mother, Maria Mikhailovna Lermontova, an heiress of rich estates, died when he was two. His father, Yuri Petrovich Lermontov, a poor army officer, left the upbringing in the hands of his wealthy grandmother, Yelizaveta Alexeyevna Arsenyeva. In his new home Mikhail became a subject of family disputes between his grandmother and father, who was no allowed to participate in the upbringing of his son. Lermontov received extensive education at home, but it included doubtful aspects: in his childhood he was dressed in a girl's frock to act as a model for a painter. At the age of fourteen Lermontov moved to Moscow, where he entered a boarding school. At the Moscow University he started to write poetry under the influence of Lord Byron, adapting the Byronic cult of personality. He studied ethics and politics, later literature, but was expelled in 1832 for disciplinary reasons. He then went to St. Petersburg and graduated from the cadet school in 1834 with the lowest officer's rank of cornet. He was stationed in the same town to a Husser regiment of the Imperial Guards.
From his position in the Hussars and early devotion to writing, Lermontov observed the social life of the wealthy. By 1832 he had already written two hundred lyric poems, ten long poems and three plays. In 1837 Lermontov gained a wider recognition as a writer. After Alexandr Pushkin was killed in a duel, he published an elegy, SMERT POETA. In it he finds behind the blind tool of destiny arrogant descendants "of fathers famed for their base infamies / Who, with a slaveish heel, have spurned the remnants / Of nobler but less favoured families!" And Lermontov continues prophetically: "Before this seat your slanders will not sway / That Judge both just and good... / Nor all your black blood serve to wash away / The poet's righteous blood." The poem was enthusiastically received by liberal circles, but annoyed the autocratic Tsar Nicholas I. Lermontov was arrested and exiled to the Caucasus. Due to the influence of his grandmother, Lermontov was permitted to return to Petersburg.
In 1837 also appeared the poem About Czar Ivan Vasiliyevich, His Young Bodyguard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnokov. The scenery of Caucaus and the company of ordinary soldiers inspired Lermontov's best poetry. He produced a series of tales, later collected under the title A Hero of Our Times, in which he painted his revealing and Byronic self-portrait. The mountains, forests and cataracts of Caucasus had also inspired Puskin and later Tolstoy depicted this wild and colorful frontier and its people in Hadzi-Murat. Politically the Russian Empire gained control of the Caucasus in the 1860s, but it has been ever since a constant source of conflicts, lately in Checheno-Ingush region.
During this creative period he wrote such masterpieces as The Novice, The Cliff, Argument, Meeting, A Leaf, and Prophet. In Clouds (1840) the poet contrasted the clouds "free both to come and go, free and indifferent" to his fate in exile. The Dream (1841) anticipated the poet's death in the remote country: "In Daghestan, no cloud its hot sun cloaking, / A bullet in my side, I lay without / Movement or sound, my wound still fresh and smoking / And drop by drop my lifeblood trickling out." Lermontov's best-known poem, The Demon (1842), about an angel who falls in love with a mortal woman, reflected the poet's self-image as a demonic creature. The melancholic Demon, exiled from Paradise, wanders on Earth, past hope of making peace again. He visits at night Tamara who says: "Come, swear to me to leave behind / All evil wishes from this hour". The Demon promises: "You are my holy one. This day / My power at your feet I lay. / An for your love one moment long / I'll give you all eternity." His kiss like deadly poison kills Tamara, who is saved by her martyr's pain: "She suffered, loved, laid down her life - / And Haven opened to her love!" The Demon curses his dreams of better things - "Alone in all the universe, Abandoned, without love or hope!..." Lermontov drafted the sorrowful and self-accusing poem first at the age of 14.
Because of a duel with French ambassador's son, Lermontov was again exiled, this time to Tenginskii Infantry Regiment on the Black Sea. The regiment was almost permanently engaged on active service and Lermontov gained for his courage admiration of his fellow officers. However, serving in the front prevented him from writing. Pretending to be ill, Lermontov returned to the health resort of Pyatigorsk, near Moscow and joined the social life of the town. He quarreled with Major N.S. Martynov, an old acquaintance of the family, and was killed in 1841, at the age of 27, in a duel.