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Bot [phrase omitted] ...": Poetic Form as a Window onto Pushkin's Playful Ethical "Doublespeak".

Pushkin's subversive narrative poem The Gabrieliad (Gavriiliada), written during his southern exile in April 1821, is linked with three verse fragments that are usually construed by scholars as "dedicatory" lyrics to the longer poema. All three fragments were likewise composed in April-May 1821, presumably in the context of Pushkin's correspondence with friends--although whether these poems were ever actually sent in letters we do not know. The three lyrics are "Take this new notebook ..." ("Primite novuiu tetrad' ... "), "O you who have loved ..." ("O vy, kotorye liubili ..."), and "Here's the muse, a frisky chatterbox ... " ("Vot muza, rezvaia boltun'ia ..."). The last of these is my focus here; to date, it has received little scholarly attention of any variety but the textological, perhaps because its reconstruction from Pushkin's manuscript proved to be so challenging. I propose to read "Here's the muse ... " closely in order to show that this brief poem is not only about playfulness and performative theatricality, but that, on the level of poetic language and structure (and even, albeit perhaps accidentally, artifactual form), it enacts the poet's ability to resist coercion and constraint, allowing him to inhabit a space of subversive creative freedom while miming obedience. Furthermore, I will argue that the poem is a miniature masterpiece of poetic "double-speak" which, for all its apparent lightness, conceals serious undertones. In this sense, it is a fitting accompaniment and something of an interpretive key to The Gabrieliad--another work that appears superficially to be simply a naughty joke but which flirts dangerously with the transgression of religious, social, sexual, and political norms and prohibitions. (1)

The manuscript of "Here's the muse ..." is found on page 39 of Pushkin's first Kishinev notebook (PD 831); (2) in addition to the disordered text of the poem, with many crossed out words and phrases, the manuscript page also includes sketches of a saber and a man's military trouser-clad leg. The poem's publication history is closely tied to the history of the text's gradual unscrambling by generations of Soviet scholars. Partial chronologies of this process can be found in the annotations to the Soviet-era large Academy edition (1937-49) as well as in Sergei Bondi's preface to his reconstruction of the poem's text, which has since been accepted as the authoritative version. (3) A brief recapitulation of the poem's textological and publication history is as follows.

The first partial publication of "Here's the muse ...," by P. I. Bartenev in his Manuscripts of A. S. Pushkin of 1881, included only the four lines now regarded as the poem's opening lines; this fragment was first included in Pushkin's collected works (in the commentary, not the main works section) by P. A. Efremov in his edition of the following year. V. E. Iakushkin next presented a version of the poem's text in his 1884 description of Pushkin's manuscripts, making no attempt to try to organize the disjointed lines and including crossed-out lines in addition to those not crossed out in the manuscript; he begins with the crossed-out line "Accept instead of a reminiscence ..." ("Primi v zalog vospominan'ia ..."), places the line "Here's the muse, a frisky chatterbox ..." at the end, and prefaces the entire (ten-line) excerpt with the dismissive remark "Again several crossed-out draft verses." In 1908, the edition of Pushkin's works published by Brokgauz-Efron and edited by S. A. Vengerov included two different versions of the poem: one consisting of the opening four lines as published by Bartenev plus two additional disjointed segments, along with a fuller version that was included in V. Ia. Briusov's commentary on The Gabrieliad. Four years later, in 1912, P. O. Morozov in the first Academy edition of Pushkin's works again included only the opening four lines but provided a full transcription of the poem's manuscript, including crossed-out variants, in the commentary (with some transcription errors). Briusov then returned to this elusive poem again, publishing it in five separate disordered fragments in the commentary to his 1918 edition of The Gabrieliad, (4)

The first conceptual breakthrough in the scholarly reconstruction of "Here's the muse ..." came in the commentary by B. V. Tomashevsky that accompanied his 1922 publication of The Gabrieliad. Although Tomashevsky, like his predecessors, did not yet discern a sensible way to reassemble the poem and concluded his discussion by stating that its disparate segments "unfortunately ... do not fit with one another," he nevertheless proposed the ingenious hypothesis that the poem appeared in the manuscript in reverse order and was meant to be read from the bottom up. (5) This insight turned out to be more or less correct and was, evidently, what led Bondi in his book of 1931 to glimpse the solution to this longstanding textological mystery. The secret to reassembling the poem, as Bondi convincingly argued, was the poem's rhyme; the seemingly disjointed bits of Pushkin's verse--much like the separate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle--could be arranged into a meaningful whole if the rhyme pattern were honored. It was the rhyme that indicated how exactly the pieces were meant to fit, and there was only one possible solution to the puzzle. (6)

There was just one small complication to Bondi's hypothesis. In order for the rhyme scheme to work, Bondi had to override an editorial change that the poet himself had made: a word that Pushkin had crossed out had to be substituted for the word with which he had replaced it. We can reconstruct the process of these changes as follows. Originally, Pushkin had written the phrase "milyi moi" (my dear), addressing the friend to whom the poem was written (presumably either Nikolai Alekseev, Pushkin's buddy from Kishinev, or the poet Petr Viazemsky, both of whom are believed to have received copies of The Gabrieliad from the poet shortly after its composition). Next, anticipating the rhyme dosug/drug (leisure-time activities/ friend),' (7) Pushkin had crossed out "moi" and substituted "drug" (rendering "milyi drug" [my friend] in place of "milyi moi" [my dear]--a change in wording only, involving no substantial change in meaning). However, the line containing "dosug" was then itself revised: "Opredelila svoi dosug" ("She determined her leisure-time activities") became the much more powerful "Opasnoi zhertvuet igroi" ("She sacrifices her dangerous play"). Ostensibly, once this line was changed, Pushkin simply forgot (or did not bother) to change "drug" back again to "moi" (to fulfill the new rhyme igroi/ moi), just as he did not bother to indicate in the manuscript exactly how the disparate sections of the poem were to be organized. These uncorrected "mistakes" preserve traces of the poet's creative thought process: he was seemingly motivated, precisely by his preference for a particular rhyme (NB--even in the presence of another acceptable, alternative rhyme), to revise an entire line of verse. The indisputably superior formulation that resulted, centering as it does on the oxymoronic characterization of poetry as "dangerous play," then became key to the entire poem's meaning. In other words, rhyme (the very essence of poetic play) not only was the secret that enabled Bondi to unlock this poem's structure, but it also determined the poem's content in the most fundamental and exhilarating way.

Bondi himself comments in the opening of his analysis on the puzzle-like form in which the poem has survived:
   Reading a Pushkin draft is sometimes reminiscent of guessing a
   charade or solving a rebus, as if Pushkin himself purposely wrote
   in such a way as to lead the reader of his manuscripts to a
   dead-end. All the separate words may be fully understandable--yet
   it is impossible to integrate them into a meaningful whole. In
   order to find that whole and reach a complete understanding, one
   has to apply the most diverse approaches and attempt a variety of
   conjectures, whose accuracy is either confirmed or denied by the
   results they yield. (8)

It is remarkable that Bondi intuits not only the riddling nature of Pushkin's mysterious text (as his comparison to a rebus makes clear), but its performative nature as well: reading the manuscript correctly is like trying to guess a charade. Yet the poem's mysterious quality goes well beyond the form in which it has come down to posterity on the manuscript page. In the analysis that follows, I shall demonstrate that "Here's the muse ..." is an embodiment of the dangerous poetic play of which it speaks. This strategy is enacted through every aspect of the poem's form and content: its idea structure, rhyme scheme, and stanzaic architecture, use of word plays and semantic shifts, and the larger implications of its thematics of play and performance. Because of the risks the poem takes, its message must be camouflaged for safety and cloaked in secrecy. In fact, one is tempted to wonder whether Pushkin perhaps left the manuscript in such a jumble as a protection against possible prying eyes; was the inscrutable way in which he wrote out the poem on paper itself intentional, yet another aspect of its many-layered play with danger? In any case, as we shall see, "Here's the muse ..." is a charade that undoes its own meanings even as it constructs them, thereby undermining the poem's ostensible meaning with a secret, alternative message that is highly risky in a real, political sense.

We begin our analysis with a consideration of the poem's seeming, surface meaning. It is divided into three sections by its rhyme scheme and syntax. In the first section (lines 1-4), the poet reminds his friend (the poem's addressee) about their shared love for the poet's formerly naughty muse (shalun'ia [mischievous girl]), who has now, seemingly, repented (raskaialas'), reformed, and gone over to the opposing "camp"--the realm of piety, officialdom, and service to the Imperial Court (it is important to recall that Pushkin was writing this poem as a political exile, i.e., from an opposing position). In the next section (lines 5-8), we learn more about the muse's putative political conversion and its religious underpinnings; she has found God's grace (blagodat') sworn off her former risky game (opasnaia igra), and rededicated herself to spiritual occupation (dukhovnoe zaniat'e). Finally, in the poem's third and last section (lines 9-13), the message of the poem's first section is reasserted: the poet's addressee is asked to forgive the muse's earlier sins, not to be alarmed at her newly altered appearance, and to accept her dangerous verses (presumably, those written prior to her reformation, for safekeeping) under a strict seal of secrecy (we are reminded that Pushkin strove to keep the manuscript of The Gabrieliad secret, even as he shared it with his most trusted confidants). To sum up, the superficial idea structure of "Here's the muse ..." is roughly the following: thesis (reminiscence of the poet's naughty past), antithesis (rejection of that past, moral reformation, obedience), and confirmation (of the poet's commitment to this new reality, indicated by his plea for forgiveness of past sins and for secrecy).

This portrait of the reformed muse (and, by extension, the reformed poet) that Pushkin pretends to construct in this poem is in line with his mock anguish in an epistolary poem to his friend Anton Del'vig, drafted just a few weeks earlier (in a letter of 23 March 1821), in which he likewise disavows his earlier transgressions: "Teper' edva, edva dyshu! / Ot vozderzhan'ia muza chakhnet, / I redko, redko s nei greshu" (Now I can hardly, hardly breathe! / My muse is wasting away from abstinence, / And I rarely, rarely sin with her (9)). The surface meaning of this poem to Del'vig is undone by the very way in which this semblance of moral reform is articulated: Pushkin's metaphor of abstinence suggestively binds the poetic to the sexual, and the poem ends by comparing the jaded poet to a brothel's aging madam who vicariously observes the activities of her alluring young charges: "Tak tochno, pozabyv segodnia / Prokazy mladosti svoei, / Gliadit s ulybkoi vasha svodnia / Na shashni molodykh b<liadei>" (Just so, having forgotten by now / The escapades of her youth, / Does your madam gaze with a smile / On the amorous intrigues of her young w<hores>)--hardly a chaste image. So too, the ingenious structures of "Here's the muse ..." serve to contradict the dutiful, well-behaved stance the poet mimes in that poem.

One of the primary vehicles for this insurgent layer of meaning is the poem's rhymes, which set up unexpected semantic clashes that undermine its surface meaning. The first rhyme is illustrative of this potency: the pairing of boltun'ia and shalun'ia (chatterbox/mischievous girl) immediately associates the muse's free, creative chatter with subversive playfulness, establishing this idea as an anchor for the entire poem. The next rhyme--a triple one: liubil/plenil/osenil--encompasses a whole array of double meanings, making it difficult to provide an unequivocal English translation for each of its constituent members. The first rhyming word, "liubil," of course means "loved"--but there is a bawdy joke implied here, as Pushkin's addressee may have loved his muse not merely in the spiritual sense of the word, as befits an ethereal creature, but also in a carnal sense. The second rhyming word, "plenil," can mean both "took captive/ imprisoned" and "captivated/fascinated/charmed." Whereas the immediate sense of the line containing this word is that the genteel "tone" of courtly life (here, the French phrase le bon ton is apropos) has captivated and, thus, reformed the poet's formerly misbehaving muse, beneath this meaning lurks the suggestion that the muse is, in fact, being held captive by the court against her will. Similarly, the third rhyming word in this group, "osenil," appears on the surface to be a positive statement of divine care and protection: Almighty (God) has sheltered the once deviant muse, thereby returning her from sin to grace (the same verb can also be used to express a blessing given by making the sign of the cross, "osenit' krestom"). At the same time, though, "osenit"' has alternate meanings which call into question this primary, positive meaning and intimate that the muse has been struck, as by a sudden, destabilizing realization, or even blinded and misled ("osenit"' can also mean "to overshadow, to block the light") by sham religious piousness. Thus, the superficially positive semantics of this rhyming triad--linking spiritual elevation, courtly life, and Christian faith--are subliminally contaminated by the ambiguities of all three words, leading instead to a suggestion that the muse is a sexual rather than spiritual being, that life in court is akin to captivity, and that religious piety is a hypocritical falsehood. It is perhaps not accidental that the epithet for the divine, "Almighty" ("vsevyshnii," which means, literally, "highest of all"), is morphologically related to such titles as "vysochestvo" (Highness, used to address members of the royal family) and "Vserossiiskii" ("of all Russia," a variant of the earlier "Vseia Rusi"--an epithet that was appended to the emperor's title in Pushkin's time). These associations gesture at Pushkin's critique of the false piety of Tsar Alexander and his court (which are likewise the tacit target of The Gabrieliad). (10)

The subversive ambiguities suggested in the first two rhyming groups of "Here's the muse ..." are affirmed in the poem's subsequent rhymes. The next rhymed pair, blagodat'iulzaniat'iu (grace/occupation) furthers the contamination of divine grace by the hypocrisy of political life at court, by suggesting that "grace" is an "occupation"--not a true blessing from God, but a semblance of blessedness that emerges from feigned obedience to courtly behavioral norms. The following rhyme, as already noted, may be seen as the interpretive key to the poem as a whole: igroi/moi (play/my). When considered as a rhymed pair, on a different (vertical) axis from the poem's horizontal (syntactical and semantic) flow, this pair functions as an acrostic, and the possessive "moi," is dissociated from its nominal referent (the poet's addressee, his friend) and attaches instead to its partner rhyme. The implication is that the poet associates himself with the free subversive play of his incorrigibly mischievous, chatterbox muse; this rhyme is an assertion, smuggled in between the lines, of the poet's independent subjectivity and his irrepressible will to free poetic self-expression, unconstrained by political strictures.

The poem's final two rhymed pairs are something of a masterful coup d'etat. First, the pair plat'iu/pechat'iu (garb/seal), like the earlier tripartite rhyme, conveys a multitude of possible alternative meanings. The muse's Hebraic garb is at once a straightforward reference to Mary, the Hebrew "muse" at the center of The Gabrieliad; a loaded personal reference to Pushkin's own apparent infatuation at this time with a young lady (he teases her at the start of The Gabrieliad, telling her that she has mistaken his meaning and her blush is misplaced, as he sings not her praises but Mary's (11)); and a gesture at the metapoetic importance of costuming (and, thus, of performativity) in this poem as a whole (as in The Gabrieliad also). The second word of the rhymed pair means not only "seal" or "stamp" but also "press" or "publication": the phrase "zavetnaia pechat"' suggests both a secret seal, conveying the taboo nature of this text, and a cherished stamp of authenticity that asserts the text's legitimacy and even primacy over the authoritarian restrictions that deny it the official stamp of publication. At the same time, it should be noted that this rhymed pair actually rhymes with the earlier pair blagodat'iu/zaniat'iu;, if these four rhyming words are viewed as part of a single, meaning-bearing network, then we can see that the sanctimonious piousness in conformity with court behavioral norms that is critiqued in the earlier pair is counteracted by the subversive costuming and secretive imprinting of the poet's disobedient verse celebrated in the latter pair. Finally, the poem's last rhymed pair, grekhi/ stikhi, embodies a rebellious equation of poetry with sin; this daring association betokens the poet's (and his freedom-loving muse's) resistance to coercion (of both the political and spiritual varieties) and affirms a higher-order ethics that stands in opposition to official prohibitions. (12)

The rhymes in "Here's the muse ..." thus create a subterranean dimension--a sort of sunken, vertical warp on which the visible, horizontal flow of the poem's ostensible narrative is woven--that renders dubious its surface meanings. Yet it is not just the rhymes in and of themselves, but also the pattern of rhymes and the poem's stanzaic structure that are instrumental to the creation of a secret, secondary layer of meaning, undercutting the poem's declaration of reform. How this occurs will become clearer if we examine the poem's rhyme scheme: AbAbb || CCdd || CeCe. As is evident, this scheme arguably corresponds roughly to a tripartite structure, the superficial idea content of which (thesis-antithesis-confirmation) was already summarized above. However, the divergences of the poem's actual structure from the strictly regular, "ideal," underlying pattern it suggests (namely, three quatrains with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes) are key to the poem's subversive messaging. These divergences are as follows. First, the poem contains an "extra" line (line 5) between its first and second sections. Second, the poem's middle section (lines 6-9) is not actually a quatrain, but two rhymed couplets. Third, the feminine rhymes in both the poem's second and third sections (lines 6, 7, 10, and 12) are identical (as already noted above). Moreover, beyond these several peculiarities, there is yet another that should be noted: due to the presence of the extra line 5, which rhymes with line 4, even the poem's basic stanzaic structure is rendered ambiguous. We can just as well interpret it as consisting of either an extended opening quatrain (4 lines + 1) plus two more quatrains (this is the tripartite structure posited above) or as an opening three-line stanza, followed by a sequence of three rhymed couplets, before ending with a quatrain (AbA || bb | CC | dd || CeCe--still a tripartite structure, but shifted by one line, and parsed differently).

In short, none of the poem's three sections is fully what it seems to be at first glance. The first section is a quatrain that is extended forward (or, alternatively, truncated) by the extra-stanzaic line 5, which does not, however, belong with it conceptually; the second section is fractured into two couplets (or expanded to three couplets); and the third section is extended backward by the rhyme that it shares with the first couplet. Some of this instability can be attributed to the fact that the poem consists of an odd number of lines--and not just any odd number, but the number 13, which the superstitious Pushkin associated with death, the demonic, and sedition; (13) the poem's thirteen lines distinguish its structure both from the balanced dozen of a three-quatrain poem, and from the elegant but alien fourteen-line sonnet (also the length of the Onegin stanza, which Pushkin would devise two years later). The poem's three sections contaminate one another; the divisions that they profess to mark between past and present, sin and repentance, naughtiness and obedience are blurred and even erased. Furthermore, the poem's rhyme scheme is in tension with its syntax. Syntactically, its lines are grouped into units of two lines each (with the exception of the final syntactic unit, which is three lines long); yet, due to the interference of the anomalous line 5, the rhyme scheme is offset from these pairings. Thus, for instance, lines 5 and 6 belong together syntactically, but lines 6 and 7 are bound together by rhyme; the same tension is found throughout the remainder of the poem.

As is well known, symmetry is essential to Pushkin's poetics; when symmetries are broken, there is always pointed significance to the breakage. (14) The upshot of all of the shifts, tensions, and ambiguities we have traced throughout the rhyme scheme, stanzaic structure, and syntax of "Here's the muse ..." is that this poem does not ultimately mean what it appears to mean. The positive, chaste surface meaning of the fifth line (which implies the muse's conversion) is subverted and called into question by this line's attachment, through rhyme and stanzaic structure, to the naughtiness of the opening quatrain. To state this idea another way, the fifth line--the line in which God ("vsevyshnii" [the Almighty]) is explicitly mentioned--is the line that does not belong, the one that interferes, the interloper. Even as the divine is ostensibly asserted as the key to the muse's (and thus the poet's) moral reform, the poem's very structure disgorges and rejects it, banishing it from the sphere of the poetic. (15)

Nor is line 5 the only feature of the poem's asymmetries that affects its meaning. The two couplets immediately following divide the poem's middle section into an opposition between the muse's supposed spiritual preoccupations and her dangerous poetic play, the latter of which powerfully reemerges--insofar as the performative nature of poetic speech brings it into being--thus superseding the poet's earlier claim that she has reformed. Moreover, the coincidence of the rhymes in the poem's second and third sections in effect subjects the couplet rhyme of "grace" with "spiritual occupation" to extreme skepticism, overwriting this pair with secret artistic dissent and the suggestion that the muse's repentance is but a costumed act, via the matching feminine rhyme (garb/seal) of the final quatrain. Likewise, the religious concepts in the poem are subject to a semantic shift in the poem's second half that relocates them from the spiritual to the political sphere; this change is occasioned by the shift in the poem's stanzaic and syntactic boundaries. The meanings of terms such as such as repentance, grace, and sin are thus reversed as they become codes for artistic rebellion, thereby reaffirming the muse's essentially transgressive nature.

As these particulars illustrate, if we pay close attention to the poem's subterranean architectonics, we can see that its superficial tripartite idea structure is also transformed by these structural shifts and imbalances. In fact, the poem's final quatrain confirms not the message of moral reform (expressed in lines 3-8) but, on the contrary, the naughtiness of the poem's opening sentence (lines 1-2). Thus, the underlying movement of ideas is not from naughtiness, to reform, to a confirmation of reform, as it at first appears to be, but on the contrary, from naughtiness, to merely feigned obedience, to renewed (though camouflaged) affirmation of the muse's (and thus, the poet's) essential naughtiness. According to this reading of the poem, then, the muse's Hebrew garb is not a sign of devout meekness, but an exotic costume that titillates the reader. The presence of the two sketches on the manuscript page--of a saber and a man's military pant leg--reinforces the idea that highly gendered costuming and role-playing lie at the heart of this poem, which in turn supports the idea that the poem is playing, dangerously, with the performativity of identity itself--and thus of poetic voice. The poet's plea for forgiveness of his sins is ironically double-voiced; ultimately, we understand that his call for secrecy arises not out of shame at his past misdeeds but, rather, out of the danger occasioned by his current and future daring. Reading the poem this way, we see that its tone is not after all characterized by repentance, piousness, and sincerity, but rather by sarcasm and cheekiness. The fact that the word dangerous is used twice, in line 8 and again in the closing line 13 (opasnoi igroi ... opasnye stikhi), is telling. Although Bondi saw this repetition as a flaw and as evidence of the poem's unpolished state, (16) the repetition serves the poem's surreptitious message of rebellion well, as it underlines the real, political dangers the poet faces, while also encapsulating the poem's final section (lines 8-13, in which the muse's disobedience is affirmed) in a kind of semantic circle. The implication is that danger inescapably goes hand in hand with creative freedom.

To conclude, I have shown that "Here's the muse ..." is a gem of clever Pushkinian double-speak and a small masterpiece of elusive, performative cunning. In this brief lyric, under cover of semantic and structural ambiguities, the muse's purported "conversion" is repurposed as a play-acted charade that mocks the hypocritical pieties of Alexander I's court and the constraints his regime places on the poet, while also affording Pushkin the camouflage within which to work through his own anxieties regarding the dangers with which he flirts. The poem is thus permeated with secrecy--an essential element of Pushkin's poetics that is closely linked to the idea of free creative "play." (17)' This twinning of playfulness and secrecy that operates in "Here's the muse ..." is a useful key to reading and interpreting the various camouflages at work in The Gabrieliad, the larger poema to which this brief poem refers.

We are left with a haunting question, however, and one that has relevance to the interpretation of Pushkin's works beyond just this one short poem. Namely: is an analysis such as this, which appears so revealing but which is founded upon a text that Pushkin himself consigned to secrecy, both in its substance and in its inscribed form--a text that is of uncertain contextual provenance (the accepted scholarly wisdom, that it was addressed to Viazemsky or Alekseev and refers obliquely to The Gabrieliad, is convincing but ultimately unprovable), and one that had to be painstakingly reconstructed by scholars over the course of half a century on the sole basis of a fragmentary, disordered, and incomplete rough draft--is an analysis such as this, of a text such as this, valid? More broadly, is it valid to assume that behind every messy Pushkin draft there lurks an "ideal" text that we can extract and reconstruct--if only we can glimpse the key to unlocking the puzzle, if only we can grasp the secret of the charade? Is it our job to read Pushkin as he comes down to us, or to discover Pushkin as we imagine him to be?

Bowdoin College


The accepted, canonical form of "Here's the muse ...," ascertained by S. M. Bondi in his 1931 analysis and published as such ever since, is as follows:

1 Bot My3a, [phrase omitted],

2 [phrase omitted].

3 [phrase omitted],

4 [phrase omitted];

5 Ee [phrase omitted]

6 [phrase omitted]--

7 OHa [phrase omitted]

8 O[phrase omitted].

9 He [phrase omitted],

10 Ee [phrase omitted]--

11 [phrase omitted]

12 [phrase omitted]

13 [phrase omitted]. (18)

1 Here's the muse, a frisky chatterbox,

2 Whom you loved so much.

3 My mischievous girl has repented,

4 The courtly tone has captivated her;

5 The Almighty has sheltered her

6 With his heavenly grace--

7 To a spiritual occupation she

8 Sacrifices her dangerous play.

9 Do not be surprised, my dear,

10 At her Hebraic garb--

11 Forgive her past sins

12 And beneath a secret seal

13 Accept her dangerous verses.


Pushkin's draft manuscript of "Here's the muse, a frisky chatterbox ...," with the poem's different sections marked in order of their incorporation into the finished poem according to Bondi's reconstruction, is on the facing page; Tomashevsky's transcription of the draft is on page 50. Tomashevsky's transcription does contain some gaps and errors, but it is useful insofar as it reproduces the physical arrangement of words and lines as they appear on Pushkin's manuscript page. Words enclosed in parentheses are crossed out in the manuscript.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]


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Tsiavlovskii, M. A., comp. Letopis' zhizni i tvorchestua Aleksandra Pushkina. 4 vols. Moscow: Slovo, 1999.

(1) Annenkov was first reader of The Gabrieliad to recognize its political subtext; see S. M. Bondi, Novye stranitsy Pushkina: Stikhi, proza, pis'ma (Moscow: Mir, 1931), 103 (explanatory footnote). For an analysis of this poema's manifold transgressions, see Andrew Kahn, "The Blasphemies of The Gabrieliad," in Taboo Pushkin: Topics, Texts, Interpretations, ed. Alyssa Dinega Gillespie (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 261-82.

(2) The manuscript is reproduced in A. S. Pushkin, Rabochie tetradi (St. Petersburg: RAN IRLI Pushkin House, 1995), vol. 3, PD 831, p. 39.

(3) A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 16 vols., ed. M. Gor'kii, D. D. Blagoi et al., vol. 2, book 2 (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1949), 1099 (this edition is hereafter abbreviated as PSS); Bondi, Novye stranitsy, 94-97. Bondi's chronology and bibliographic references contain a few errors. Bondi's book can be found in the electronic publications of the Institute for Russian Literature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Sciences at (go to [phrase omitted] > KapTOTeka).

(4) The sources for these various publications and commentary are as follows: P. I. Bartenev, "Rukopisi A. S. Pushkina," Russkii Arkhiv 1 (1881): 218; Sochineniia A. S. Pushkina, 8th ed., ed. P. A. Efremov (St. Petersburg, 1882), 1: 524, under the rubric "Iz kishinevskikh tetradei"; V. E. Iakushkin, "Rukopisi Aleksandra Sergeevicha Pushkina, khraniashchiiasia v Rumiantsovskom Muzee v Moskve," Russkaia Starina, no. 2365 (April 1884): 97; Polnoe sobranie sochinenii Pushkina, 6 vols., ed. S. A. Vengerov (St. Petersburg: Brokgauz-Efron, 1908), 2: 82 (poem fragments) and 603 (Briusov's commentary to The Gabrieliad); Sochineniia Pushkina, vol. 3, ed. V. E. Iakushkin and P. O. Morozov (St. Petersburg: Izdanie Imperatorskoi Akademii Nauk, 1912), 45 (four lines) and 251 (commentary and full transcription, with errors); A. S. Pushkin, Gavriliada, with commentary by V. Ia. Briusov (Moscow: Al'tsiona, 1918), 96-97. The 1882 (Efremov), 1912 (Morozov), and 1918 (Briusov) editions are included on the Pushkin House website ( > [phrase omitted]; the 1884 (Iakushkin) description of Pushkin's manuscripts can be found there also ( > [phrase omitted] > KapTOTeka). Of the sources listed above, only the Bartenev (1881) and Vengerov (1908) texts are unavailable on the Pushkin House website.

(5) The original quote from Tomashevskii's commentary is "K sozhaleniiu v chernovike eti razroznennye chasti ne soglasovany mezhdu soboi." His attempt to reconstruct the text of the poem can be found in A. S. Pushkin, Gavriiliada: Poema, ed.

B. V. Tomashevskii (St. Petersburg, 1922), 41-43; this commentary is also published electronically on the Pushkin House website ( > [phrase omitted]. Tomashevskii's transcription of the manuscript of "Here's the muse ..." (which contains some gaps and errors) is given in Appendix B.

(6) For the poem's complete, reconstructed text as per Bondi's conjecture, together with a prose translation into English, see Appendix A to this article.

(7) Tomashevsky misread this crossed-out line, writing "trud" (labor) in place of "dosug." See his transcription in Appendix B.

(8) Bondi, Novye stranitsy, 92.

(9) Pushkin, PSS, vol. 2, book 1, 168; translations are mine throughout. The letter to Del'vig that included this poem contains a parody of St. Efraim's prayer, also parodied in the final segment of The Gabrieliad. Thus, the letter to Del'vig and the poem accompanying it are closely related to The Gabrieliad and, by extension, also to "Here's the muse ...," although presumably Pushkin had not yet begun writing the poema by the date of this letter.

(10) Bondi explicitly links this dangerous political subtext of The Gabrieliad to the line "Pridvornyi ton ee plenil" (the courtly tone has captivated her) in "Here's the muse ..." and notes that Pushkin's poetic "response to the self-indulgent sanctimoniousness of the clerical party (Annenkov's words) is an indictment of "Alexander himself and of his close associates ... a conscious political, anti-government statement." Bondi also links this stance to Pushkin's tongue-in-cheek statement in his letter to Viazemsky that accompanied the manuscript of The Gabrieliad, where he likewise alludes ironically to the court: "I am sending you a poem in the mystical vein; I have become a courtier (ia stal pridvornym)" (Bondi, Novye stranitsy Pushkina, 103). This statement models the ironic double-speak that is the key to understanding the daring implications of both "Here's the muse ... " and The Gabrieliad as a whole.

(11) Although the identity of the female addressee of The Gabrieliad is not certain, P. K. Guber offers two conjectures as to her possible identity in his Don- Zhuanskii spisok A. S. Pushkina (Petrograd: Izdatel'stvo Petrograd, 1923), 97: Mariia Eikhfel'dt (who purportedly bore a resemblance to Walter Scott's Rebecca in Ivanhoe) and the daughter of the owner of a local Jewish pub. In yet another scabrous but lighthearted short lyric written in April 1821, "Christ has risen, my Rebecca!..." ("Khristos voskres, moia Revekka!"), Pushkin likewise addresses a Jewish beloved, pledging to convert to "Moses's faith" in return for a kiss and even, indecently, to place in her hand "... that which distinguishes the faithful Jew / from Orthodox Christians" (to ... / Chem mozhno vernogo evreia / Ot pravoslavnykh otlichit'; Pushkin, PSS, vol. 2, book 1, 186). The chronicle of Pushkin's life identifies the addressee of this poem as the same pub owner's daughter mentioned by Guber (Letopis' zhizni i tvorchestva Aleksandra Pushkina, 4 vols., comp. M. A. Tsiavlovskii [Moscow: Slovo, 1999], 1: 242).

(12) Boris Gasparov notes that this final rhyme, grekhilstikhi, is one of Pushkin's favorites. In Gasparov's interpretation, this rhyme conveys the paradox of the poet as, simultaneously, a sinner tormented in hell and a poet-demiurge who can save the world. Cf. Boris Gasparov, Poeticheskii iazyk Pushkina kak fakt istorii russkogo literaturnogo iazyka (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1999), 181.

(13) Judas made thirteen when considered as a member of the community of Jesus with his twelve disciples; hence the link to sedition. Pushkin's superstitiousness is well known; in his memoir, Pushkin's nephew Lev Pavlishchev notes that Pushkin refused to sit at a table if the total number of people seated were thirteen (Moi diadia Pushkin--iz semeinoi khroniki: Vospominaniia ob A. S. Pushkine [Moscow, 1890], 119).

(14) The Soviet Pushkinist Dmitry Blagoi addresses Pushkin's compositional symmetries eloquently and at length; see his Masterstvo Pushkina: Vdokhnovennyi trud (Pushkin--master kompozitsii) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel', 1955), especially 101-15. The venerable American Pushkinist J. Thomas Shaw, on the other hand, investigates the significance of Pushkin's divergences from the strict compositional symmetries he sets up (Shaw's focus is on rhyming structures in particular): according to Shaw, Pushkin's "departures from his own 'rules' indeed pursue 'goals of expressiveness'" (Pushkin's Poetics of the Unexpected: The Nonrhymed Lines in the Rhymed Poetry and the Rhymed Lines in the Nonrhymed Poetry [Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1993], 17). As Shaw's title makes clear, he does not include in his study the "extra rhyme" type of divergence from an established pattern that we find in "Here's the muse ..."

(15) Several years later, Pushkin would write in the margin of an article by Viazemskii, "Lord Jesu! what business does the poet have with good deeds and vice? only their poetic side" (Gospodi Susi! kakoe delo poetu do dobrodeteli i poroka? razve ikh odna poeticheskaia storona) (Pushkin, PSS, 12: 229). The formal superfluousness of line 5 in "Here's the muse ... " tacitly conveys a similar idea.

(16) Bondi concludes his analysis of "Here's the muse ..." by stating as follows: "Regardless of a certain lack of polish [nedorabotannost] (the syntax, the repetition of the modifier "dangerous")--this is nevertheless a complete poem, and not just scattered fragments" (Novye stranitsy Pushkina, 103).

(17) Elsewhere I argue that secrecy is perhaps the central theme of The Gabrieliad: in the poema, "Pushkin discovers ... that intellectual, sexual, spiritual, and poetic striving after secrets are all synonymous for him; these are simply different aspects of the poet's transgressive, anti-authoritarian curiosity--his gutsy pursuit of transcendence through communion with what is taboo. The genius, humor, and delinquency of The Gabrieliad can all be traced to Pushkin's irreverent treatment of the very idea of secrecy in the poem.... [P]erhaps the poet's biggest secret of all is the elemental power of playfulness that knows no boundaries and transgresses all taboos" (Alyssa Dinega Gillespie, "Taboo and Transcendence: The Role of Secrecy in Pushkin's Mythopoetics," in Poetry and Poetics: A Centennial Tribute to Kiril Taranovsky, ed. Barry P. Scherr, James Bailey, and Vida T. Johnson [Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 2014], 55).

(18) Pushkin, PSS, vol. 2, book 1, 203. The rhyming words are given in boldface in the English translation.

Caption: Figure 1. Pushkin's draft manuscript of "Here's the muse, a frisky Chatterbox ...," with the poem's different sections marked in order of their incorporation into the finished poem according to Bondi's reconstruction.

Caption: Figure 2. Tomashevsky's transcription of the draft.
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Author:Gillespie, Alyssa Dinega
Publication:Pushkin Review
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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