The Demon / Демон. Книга для чтения на английском языке
Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov

Русская классическая литература на иностранных языках (Каро)
Предлагаем вниманию читателей сборник произведений великого русского писателя и поэта М. Ю. Лермонтова. В книгу вошли поэмы «Демон», «Мцыри», «Песня про купца Калашникова» и избранные стихотворения, написанные автором в период с 1831 по 1841 гг.

Mikhail Lermontov

The Demon

© КАРО, 2019

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M. Y. Lermontov


When we think of Lermontov, we see in our minds a huge mountain-peak somewhere in the heart of the Caucasus. Eternal silence reigns in its clefts and gorges. Its mass of ice and stone looks a picture of gloomy solitude. It seems to be indifferent to the turmoil of life. Still, there is boiling lava deep in its heart. Time and again it shakes from the fury of compressed inner forces. On its bare stony body little trees with lacy foliage climb higher and higher; and when the world is in bloom, winds laden with fragrance blow on its ragged brow, bringing the lure of distant lands.

Such is the poet Lermontov. This is, perhaps, why he loved the Caucasus all his life.

He is the most tragic of the Russian poets. From his very boyhood he was full of disdain for humanity, whose life he thought shallow, empty, and ugly; at the same time, he was irresistibly attracted by this very meaningless life. He cherished the ideal of a demon, a proud, lonely, and powerful superhuman creature challenging peaceful virtues and conventional happiness; at the same time he was fiercely craving for mortal love and sunlit human happiness, the absence of which filled his heart with pain. He had a cool and strong intellect, a power of analysis and criticism which revealed the futility of endeavor in this world and dictated an attitude of bored aloofness; at the same time he was torn by mad passions prompting him to the most unreasonable actions. He was inclined to protest, to repudiate, to curse, and almost without noticing he drifted into a prayer or saw the vision of an angel singing his quiet song over «a world of grief and tears». Altogether he is a profoundly unhappy nature, just the reverse of his older brother Pushkin.

If Pushkin is primarily the poet of the Russian soul and Russian nature, Lermontov is the first of the great Russian poets of the spirit. And if Pushkin is fundamentally national, acquiring international significance through his closeness to his native land, Lermontov is of universal value in himself as expressing those doubts and moods and gropings which are common to all cultured men. This did not prevent him from being a genuine Russian poet. One is even justified in looking for a connection between his dark rebellious moods and the dark conditions of the society in which he lived.

Lermontov is a self-centered poet. «The most characteristic feature of Lermontov's genius», Vladimir Solovyov says, «is a terrific intensity of thought concentrated on himself, on his ego, a terrific power of personal feeling». This, however, is no self-centeredness. Lermontov seeks refuge within himself because he finds no values in the ephemeral existence of the world. He sinks into brooding moods not because he finds in them satisfaction, but because life does not quell his thirst for harmony and truth. He is at war with society, with humanity, with the universe. He is at war even with God in the name of some great unearthly beauty which only at rare moments gives to his soul her luminous forebodings.

If Pushkin is the poet of all the people, Lermontov is the poet of the thinking elements in it. As such he played a colossal rôle in the spiritual history of his country. Generation after generation learned from him to hate the sluggishness of Russian life and the convention of every life, to repudiate compromises, to understand the longing of the soul for things non-existent, and to cherish freedom in the broad sense of the word.

Lermontov's form is in full accord with his moods, varying from the most exquisite tenderness to «verses coined of iron, dipped in poignancy and gall», from slow, thoughtful, and melancholy lines to volcanic outbursts of fury. In expressing delicate shades of emotions and in dignified refinement Lermontov is, perhaps, even superior to Pushkin. There is more of the elusive quality in his poems, that which cannot be expressed in definite words.

«Horrified by the triviality of life, by its corruption and helplessness, Lermontov sounded the motive of indignation. This indignation, so rare in Russia, utterly alien to Pushkin, timidly sounding in the work of Tchatzky[1 - Tchatzky (Chatsky) is the main character of the comedy «Woe from Wit» by A. Griboedov. – Ed.], unknown to Gogol, was something new and unheard of. Through Lermontov's indignation, the Russian citizen for the first time became aware of himself as a real human being. The feeling of human dignity was stronger in Lermontov than all other feelings. It sometimes assumed unhealthy proportions, it led him to satanical pride, to contempt for all his surroundings. And in the name of this human dignity, unrecognized and downtrodden, he raised the voice of indignation».

«It appeared to him that not only society, those hangmen of freedom and genius, but also the Deity that gave him life, are making attempts on his inalienable rights as a man and are preventing him from living a full, eternal life which alone was of value to him. He saw no prospect of eternal life, no fullness of existence, no love without betrayal, no passion without satiety, and he did not wish to agree to less, as a deposed ruler does not wish to receive donations from the hand of the victor…»

«Lermontov is a religious nature, but his religion is primarily a groping, an indefinite, hazy admittance of life's tragic mystery».

    Evg. Solovyov (Andreyevitch)

«Lermontov introduced into literature the struggle against philistinism. Not, perhaps, till the end of the nineteenth century did philistinism meet a more ruthless, merciless foe. His aversion to philistinism is the key to his entire conception of life. His hatred for everything ordinary led him to his outspoken individualism and brought him near to that real romanticism which was unknown in Russia before him. It also imbued him with that contempt for the surrounding world which it is customary to view as Lermontov's characteristic pessimism. Lermontov, however, is not only a pessimist. Lermontov believed that life in itself could be beautiful, even at present. It could be beautiful, and it was all soiled under philistine rule, – this was for him the tragic contradiction. Hence his pessimism, his misanthropy, his hatred for life. He sees ethical philistinism in all social groups, in all society, in humanity at large. From this standpoint he is perhaps the most outspoken individualist in all Russian literature».


«The leading motives of Lermontov's charming and sparkling poetry were a protest against the restrictions of individual freedom, a detached attitude towards an oppressing world, and the lure of another world which though not shaped clearly, not based on a definite foundation, is possessed of an irresistible power. This luring world is ordinarily somewhere in the past; it is a reminiscence, not a hope; at times it is heaven, at times, nature, at times, an idea, unclear yet so wonderful that the very sounds which give an inkling of its dark meaning cannot be listened to 'without emotion.' It is this better world which gives real meaning to a soul reminiscent of it, and the idea of this world lives in many of Lermontov's heroes.

The idea of something which does not allow us to accept our world as the best of all worlds, an idea appearing to men in the best moments of their life and stirring them to action and changes, was very strong in Lermontov's mind. The circumstances of his personal life and the conditions of his time might have strengthened his longing for another world; fundamentally, however, this longing is an inherent quality of mankind, and through it, Lermontov is close not only to his own contemporaries, but also to readers of the present and the future».

    I. Ignatov

«What an abundance of power, what a variety of ideas and images, emotions and pictures! What a strong fusion of energy and grace, depth and ease, elevation and simplicity!»

«Not a superfluous word; everything in its place; everything as required, because everything had been felt before it was said, everything had been seen before it was put on the canvas. His song is free, without strain. It flows forth, here as a roaring waterfall, there as a lucid stream».

«The quickness and variety of emotions are controlled by the unity of thought; agitation and struggle of opposing elements readily flow into one harmony, as the musical instruments in an orchestra join in one harmonious entity under the conductor's baton. And all sparkles with original colors, all is imbued with genuine creative thought and forms a new world similar to none».

    V. G. Byelinsiky

Lyrical poems


«Invincible spiritual power; subdued complaints; the fragrant incense of prayer; flaming, stormy inspiration; silent sadness; gentle pensiveness; cries of proud suffering, moans of despair; mysterious tenderness of feeling; indomitable outbursts of daring desires; chaste purity; infirmities of modern society; pictures from the life of the universe; intoxicating lures of existence; pangs of conscience; sweet remorse; sobs of passion; quiet tears flowing in the fullness of a heart that has been tamed in the storms of life; joy of love; trembling of separation; gladness of meeting; emotions of a mother; contempt for the prose of life; mad thirst for ecstasies; completeness of spirit that rejoices over the luxuries of existence; burning faith; pains of soul's emptiness; outcry of a life that shuns itself; poison of negation; chill of doubt; struggle between fullness of experience and destructive reflection; angel fallen from heaven; proud demon and innocent child; impetuous bacchante and pure maiden, – all, all is contained in Lermontov's poetry: heaven and earth, paradise and hell».

    V. G. Byelinsky

The Demon. A fantastic poem


The Demon, the Spirit of Evil, craves to free himself from his cold loneliness and to rise to heights of harmony through love for a mortal, the nun Tamar. The scene is set in the Caucasus, and the story is full of the mystic glow of the Orient.

The figure of the Demon was the creation Lermontov loved most. He worked on it practically all his life.

«Lermontov's Demon is not a symbol of the eternal Evil; he is not the Satan, he is a proud spirit, embittered and therefore sowing evil. He lived a lonely, monotonous life. He spread evil without satisfaction to himself. The Demon is an idealist suffering from disappointment. His hatred for mortals is too human. His love for Tamar suddenly transforms him. Her appearance makes him comprehend the sanctity of 'love, the good, and the beautiful' which had never been foreign to his soul, but lay hidden in its remotest corners. A Demon, however, is not destined for joy. Victory does not satisfy his heart, and torn by despair, he goes to tear the one he loves».

    K. I. Arabazhin

Mtzyri[2 - «Mtzyri» («Mtsyri») means in Georgian «a non-ordained monk», «a novice». – Ed.]


The poem of freedom. A Circassian boy brought up in a monastery and ready to become a monk, is lured by the wild freedom of nature. On a stormy night he runs away from his half-voluntary prison. For three days he is absent. On the fourth, he is found in the fields near the monastery. He is exhausted and dying. The poem consists mainly of the boy's story. He tells what he experienced in his dash for freedom.

In Mtzyri, Lermontov expressed one of his strongest emotions: his desire to be free like the wind, like the eagle on top of a mountain, like a powerful horse running through the boundless steppe. It is the fullness of life that lured both Lermontov and his Caucasian hero.


Much has been spoken about the influence of Byron on Lermontov's poetry. Lermontov himself was aware of a certain kinship of souls between himself and Byron. Careful investigators agree, however, that there was only a certain affinity of moods between both poets, but that Lermontov never imitated Byron.

Song of Tzar Ivan Vassilyevitch.[3 - «Song of Tzar Ivan Vassilyevitch» and «The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov» are alternative names for «The Lay of Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich, His Young Oprichnik and the Stouthearted Merchant Kalashnikov». – Ed.] Epic poem


Lermontov was a singer of heroism. Heroic moods and heroic deeds were at the very heart of his poetry. He found the heroic in his demon, in the wild inhabitants of the Caucasus, but he also looked for heroes in the past of Russia. The Song of Tzar Ivan Vassilyevitch presents a hero coming from the rank of the people and challenging the authority of the Tzar even under the threat of death. The poem is written in the tone and in the spirit of the heroic folk-tales and as such was considered a remarkable contribution to Russian literature.

    Moissaye J. Olgin

The Demon

An Eastern Legend

Part I


His way above the sinful earth
The melancholy Demon winged
And memories of happier days
About his exiled spirit thronged;
Of days when in the halls of light
He shone among the angels bright;
When comets in their headlong flight
Would joy to pay respect to him
As, chaste among the cherubim,
Among th' eternal nebulae
With eager mind and quick surmise
He'd trace their caravanserai


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