Who is Happy in Russia: Nikolai Nekrasov’s 200th Birthdate

Who is Happy in Russia: Nikolai Nekrasov’s 200th Birthdate

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December 10 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Nikolai Nekrasov, a famous Russian poet, writer and publicist. His masterpieces which provide an insight into the soul of the Russian people have been on school curricula for decades.

Nikolai Nekrasov was born in the town of Nemyriv, Bratslavsky Uyezd, Podolian Governorate, Russian Empire (now Vinnytsa region of Ukraine) into a family of small gentry on December 10, 1821. He studied in the Yaroslavl gymnasium from 1832 to 1837. It was during these years that Nekrasov began to write poetry. In 1838, he moved to St. Petersburg. His father Alexei, a lieutenant and wealthy landowner wanted his son to pursue a military career but Nikolai disobeyed. He tried to enter the university but failed the exams and became a free listener at the philological faculty of St. Petersburg University for two years.

Nekrasov had to earn his living because his father refused to help him. He gave private lessons, published short articles in the Literaturnaya Gazeta and other periodicals, and wrote vaudevilles under a pen name for the Alexandrinsky Theater.

In 1840, Nekrasov's first collection of poems, “Dreams and Sounds” was published with the financial support of friends, in which most of the works were signed with a pen name on recommendation of V. Zhukovsky. The first book of the future famous poet was no success and sold poorly. V. Belinsky criticized the collection, although he wrote in his review that the novice author's poems “were born out of his soul.” It was Belinsky who noticed that the main thing in Nekrasov's poems was sincerity and soulfulness that only grew and developed later.

Nekrasov bought up part of the print run and destroyed it. In the early 1840s, he began to cooperate with the Otechestvennye zapiski magazine. Then he got acquainted with V. Belinsky. Nekrasov turned out to be a successful publisher of almanacs and collections. In early 1848, together with his co-editor I. Panayev, he bought on lease the Sovremennik magazine, founded by A. Pushkin. Nekrasov devoted nearly 20 years of his life to this magazine.

The works of Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov, Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Ogarev, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Nikolai Dobrolyubov, Nikolai Chernyshevsky were published there. During the “gloomy seven years” in 1848-1855, Nekrasov had to exert great efforts as an editor, fighting the censorship, to save the magazine, preserve its reputation, although, its content had admittedly changed losing some of its luster. The class contradictions in the society were also affecting the editorial staff. On the one hand, the liberal nobility, and on the other, the Russian “natural school.” In the early 1860s, disagreements heated up to the limit dividing the editors. Nekrasov was on the side of the “revolutionary raznochintsy” [an official term introduced in the Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire in the 17th century to define a social estate that included the lower court and governmental ranks, children of personal dvoryans, and discharged military] who promoted “peasant democracy.” At this time, Dobrolyubov passed away, Chernyshevsky was exiled to Siberia, while Nekrasov was seriously ill. All these events had a great impact on him. In the late 1860s, he became increasingly cautious in order to keep the magazine afloat.

However, even his laudatory ode to General Muravyov-Vilensky did not help the periodical but became a spiritual wound for the poet for the rest of his life.

Nekrasov is often called a “peasant poet,” but he was also concerned with military themes, and themes of the poet's and citizen's mission, the homeland, the role of women, as well as the Russian nature. He wrote a lot about children and for children. A broad audience knows Nekrasov as a “peasant poet.” His poetry is imbued with the spirit of the people, the language of Nekrasov's poems is understandable to everyone. This comes as no surprise that many of his poems can be compared to folk songs. They are melodious although there is a lot of sadness, grief, and hopelessness. Nekrasov sincerely sympathized with the common people but did not see and could not offer them a way out of the impasse. At the same time, he believed in ordinary Russian people and the power of the word. At the end of his life, the poet's lyrics were particularly brightly imbued with revolutionary sentiments.

By telling the story of the fate of an individual, the poet helps us to see the tragedy of the whole Russian people. It is no exaggeration to say that Nekrasov enriched the literary language with many new words that were previously inherent in folklore vocabulary, folk songs, and tales. Nekrasov's literary language is poetic and not quite usual for that time, when the French language dominated in high society, including in literary circles. He used the language of peasants and folk vocabulary and addressed the problems of the simple serf peasant.

For example, a peasant girl from the poem “The Troika,” in which her fate is already preordained: a harsh “fastidious husband,” her mother-in-law who will make her slave all day, and a wet grave. From our school days, we remember Nekrasov's poem “The Unmowed Line,” which leads to a sad thought about the exorbitant plight of the peasant.

In the poem “Who is happy in Russia” Nekrasov expressed his negative attitude to the Manifesto of Tsar Alexander II, who abolished serfdom because he believed that “many others shackles were invented instead of serfdom.”

It was Nekrasov who gave us Frost the Warrior, Grandfather Mazai, as well as the twelve robbers and, of course, the lord, who will judge his serfs. “Russian Women,” “Peasant Children,” “The Railway”... Nekrasov's masterpieces have fairy-tales closely interwoven with the terrible truth of life leading to reflections on today’s life. As a true connoisseur of the Russian soul, he appeals to his descendants like a visionary, paving the way from the past to the present. Just look at his poem “It is stuffy! Without happiness and will...,” which has these amazing lines “A storm would come, wouldn't it? The cup is full to the brim!”

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