Russian Language Blog

Ай да Пушкин! Posted by on Jun 6, 2011 in Culture, language


Today is a special day. «Вы знаете, что случилось в этот день в далёком 1799-ом году [Do you know what happened on this day in the distant year of 1799?]  If you Google this date in Russian – «6 июня 1799 года» – the top result is the birth of «Александр Сергеевич Пушкин» [Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin].

Pushkin is the Zeus of Russian poetic Olympus. He’s Russian Dante. No, Russian Shakespeare! He is admittedly «величайший русский поэт» [the greatest Russian poet], solely responsible for creating «современный литературный русский язык» [the contemporary Russian literary language]. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself in this Wiki page about Pushkin.

Russians start listening to Pushkin’s poetry «с младых ногтей» [from early childhood]. Remember the mythical «Лукоморье»? Pushkin not only defined it in the opening verses of «Руслан и Людмила» [Ruslan and Lyudmila], but wrote many of the now-classic fairy tales, including «Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке» [The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish] and «Сказка о царе Салтане» [The Tale of Tsar Saltan].

To say that Pushkin wrote a lot would be an understatement. In addition to poems he wrote no-less brilliant and famous «романы» [novels], «рассказы» [short stories], «афоризмы» [maxims], and «эпиграммы» [quips]. Russians quote his «бессмертные строки» [immortal lines] in everyday speech, sometimes without knowing the author.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Few Russians can «декламировать» [recite] any of Pushkin’s poems «от начала до конца» [from start to finish]. But if you were to ask to recite «чтонибудь из Пушкина» [some of Pushkin’s works], they will recall at least a line or two. Most popular in my unofficial survey seem to be:

«Я помню чудное мгновенье, передо мной явилась ты» [I remember the magic moment when you appeared to me]

«Мороз и солнце – день чудесный!» [Frost and sunshine: day of wonder!]

«У Лукоморья дуб зелёный» [A green oak grows in Lookomorie]

«Я к вам пишу, чего же боле? Что я могу ещё сказать?» [I write to you – no more confession is needed, nothing’s left to tell]

As for the «крылатые фразы» [popular quotations], the ones I hear or say most often include:

«А счастье было так возможно, так близко!» [And happiness was so possible, so near!]

«И сердце вновь горит и любит» [And the heart once again is ablaze and in love]

«К беде неопытность ведёт» [Inexperience leads to misfortune]

«Ещё одно последнее сказанье» [Just one last tale]

«Кто раз любил, тот не полюбит вновь» [Who loved once shall never love again]

«Любви все возрасты покорны» [To love all ages surrender]

«Я сам обманываться рад!» [I am glad to be made a fool!]

«Быть можно дельным человеком и думать о красе ногтей» [One can be both a sensible person and care about one’s nails]

«Жизнь, зачем ты мне дана» [Life, why were you given me?]

Pushkin has become ubiquitous in Russian life – streets, squares and theaters named after him, children committing his works to memory all through high school, references to Pushkin’s work throughout contemporary Russian literature, etc. So it’s no surprise that when one is expected to do something and doesn’t, he might be asked «а делать кто будет? Пушкин?» [Do you think Pushkin is going to do this?]:

«Коля, кто за тебя будет домашнюю работу делать, Пушкин чтоли?» [Kolya, do you think Pushkin is going to do your homework for you?]

«Сломать-то ты сломал, а чинить кто будет? Пушкин?» [Of course, you broke it, but who’s going to fix it? Pushkin?]

And now I have questions for you:

  1. What is one phrase that springs to mind when you hear the name Pushkin?
  2. Which American movie features General Pushkin (hint: General Gogol is also in it)?
Tags: , , , , , ,
Keep learning Russian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Arkadiy:

    of course the one that comes to mind, is the one you alluded to in the title
    – “ai da Pushkin, ai da sukin sin” 🙂

    but then there are of course
    – “Tatyana, milaya Tatyana”
    – “proch iz Mosckvi, suda ya bolshe ne ezdok”
    – “rodila zariza v noch, ne to sina ne to doch”

    I think this is enough for now 😉

    • yelena:

      @Arkadiy Yeah, that’s the one I keep thinking about – ай да Пушкин, ай да сукин сын! The funny thing is ’til just a couple of years ago I had no idea the phrase was first uttered by Pushkin himself! The stuff they don’t teach you in school… 🙂

  2. Emili Tandri:

    я памятник себе воздвиг нерукотворный
    I have erected a monument to myself not built by hands.

    James Bond 007 : The Living Daylights

    • yelena:

      @Emili Tandri Great job, Emili! Yes, Памятник is definitely one of the most well-known of Pushkin’s short poems. Personally I’m a big fan of James Bond movies and this one, The Living Daylights always makes me smile as they introduce the two Soviet generals.

  3. Ivan Lakeev:

    Happy birthsday Alexandr S. Pushkin!!

  4. Minority:

    I can recall also:
    “Я тебе что, Пушкин, такие вещи знать?” 🙂
    And some quots:
    “Буря мглою небо кроет”
    “Чем меньше женщину мы любим, тем больше нравимся мы ей.”
    “Мой дядя самых честных правил…”
    “И осталась бабка у разбитого корыта”

    Also, he was famous for his epigrams. I love this one so much:
    “Полу-милорд, полу-мудрец,
    Полу-купец, полу-невежда,
    Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
    Что будет полным наконец.”

    Sorry, I will not try to translate these lines, I don’t feel I can do it good at the moment. 🙂

  5. Светлана:

    Я там был, мед, пиво пил . . . :))

    • yelena:

      @Светлана По усам текло, да в рот не попало 🙂

  6. Richard:

    С днем рождения Пушкин!!!

    Я прочитал Евгений Онегин, когда я был в университете. Пушкин – превосходный автор, но я люблю Достоевского 🙂
    Может быть, я должен читать больше Пушкина, особенно его сказки.

    Question, how would you say “I should…” as in “I should read more Pushkin”?


  7. Minority:

    Richard, actually your version isn’t totally wrong.
    But it sounds better if you would use: “мне следует читать больше произведений Пушкина”.

  8. Emma:

    “я вас любил, любовь еще, быть может…”

  9. Rob McGee:

    My all-time favorite (because it also teaches a grammatical lesson!):

    Пуст’о’е «вы» серд’е’чным «ты»
    Он’а’, обм’о’лвясь, замен’и’ла
    И вс’е’ счастл’и’вые мечт’ы’
    В душ’е’ влюблённой возбуд’и’ла!

    Пред н’е’й зад’у’мчиво сто’ю’
    Свест’и’ оч’е’й с неё нет с’и’лы;
    И говор’ю’ ей: как «вы» м’и’лы!
    И м’ы’слю: как «теб’я’» любл’ю’!

    My (slightly loose) translation, to fit the rhyme:

    The empty “you” with heartfelt “thee”
    She (just by slip-of-tongue?) replaces.
    And filled anew with dreamy glee,
    A lovestruck fellow’s heartbeat races.

    My eyes transfixed, I catch my breath.
    I stand before her — helpless, mute.
    I say aloud, “
    You’re kinda cute.”
    But think, “I’ll love thee unto death!”

  10. Rob McGee:

    Richard — “I should do such-and-such” can have several different translations in Russian, such as “я должен делать…“, “мне надо делать…“, “мне следует делать…“, and “мне приходится делать…“.

    They differ in their nuances/connotations, however, and with the caveat that I’m not a native Russian speaker, I understand the differences as follows:

    я ДОЛЖЕН читать больше произведений Пушкина = “I feel some inner personal obligation to read more of Pushkin’s works [because I graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Russian, and I’d be embarrassed if people thought that UVa gives Russian degrees to students who don’t know Pushkin!].”

    мне СЛЕДУЕТ читать больше произведений Пушкина = “It would be a logical and beneficial practice for me to read more of Pushkin’s works [because he’s such an influential poet and familiarity with Pushkin will probably help me to understand Russian better].”

    мне ПРИХОДИТСЯ читать больше произведений Пушкина = “I have no other choice but to read Pushkin’s works [even though I don’t like poetry and I especially hate Pushkin, but otherwise I’ll f*&%ing fail my classes!].”

    мне НАДО читать больше произведений Пушкина = “I oughta read more of Pushkin’s works [for reasons that are less specific than the preceding three constructions].”

  11. Rob McGee:

    “Which American movie features General Pushkin (hint: General Gogol is also in it)?”

    Okay, without looking on Google or IMDb, I thought and thought about this, and suddenly I had a good guess!

    Does this movie also have the line (in English, of course): Все мужчины — смертны; Сократ был смертен; Поэтому, все мужчины являются Сократом. И поэтому, все мужчины — гомосексуальными… ???

    That’s the only American movie I can think of that would’ve been likely to turn Pushkin and Gogol into military generals!

  12. Richard:


    Thanks for your correction! I was able to trace down the verb “следовать” in my dictionary and found the impersonal construction using the dative case 🙂 It will be a useful addition to my Russian toolkit!


  13. Richard:


    I’m having problems translating your Pushkin quote. My version of “я вас любил, любовь еще, быть может…” would be “I loved you, probably love, perhaps…”

    I don’t know if that’s close, any suggestions?

    Thanks! 🙂

  14. Richard:


    Thanks for the explanation of the different nuances. The one I meant would be “мне следует читать больше произведений Пушкина”, for the reasons that you gave.

    Could I ask if your BA was in Russian language or was it in general Russian studies (i.e., history, politics, literature)? Just curious.

    I started off as a self-taught student of Russian. I grew up in a small town in Ontario and my high school didn’t offer Russian so I just started teaching myself. Then I took two years of Russian language instruction at the University Of Toronto as part of a PoliSci degree. That was way back in the 1980s and ever since I’ve been trying to maintain some level of proficiency in this beautiful language.

    Foreign languages: use ’em or lose ’em! LOL

  15. Minority:

    > I’m having problems translating your Pushkin quote. My version of “я вас любил, любовь еще, быть может…” would be “I loved you, probably love, perhaps…”
    I don’t know if that’s close, any suggestions?

    Richard, this russian phrase lacks sense for foreigners without it’s end.

    “Я вас любил: любовь еще, быть может,
    В душе моей угасла не совсем;”
    [I loved you and it seems my feeling in my soul isn’t fade away.]

    I guess you may like thу whole poem:

    Я вас любил: любовь еще, быть может,
    В душе моей угасла не совсем;
    Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;
    Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.
    Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,
    То робостью, то ревностью томим;
    Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно,
    Как дай вам бог любимой быть другим.

  16. Rob McGee:

    Here’s a wikipedia article about one of Pushkin’s great-grandfathers — Ibrahim (or Abram) Petrovich Gannibal, an African who was kidnapped by Arab slavers as a boy, given his freedom and adopted by Peter the Great, and who eventually became a celebrated multilingual prodigy, a decorated military officer and engineer, and a Russian nobleman!

    P.S. Pushkin’s great-granddad was born in some place called “Lagon,” and different historians have identified this either as a town near the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea, or the Lagone river that forms the border between Cameroon and Chad.

    So, in either case, he probably had no sort of ethnic or family connection with Carthage (modern Tunisia), where the historic “Hannibal the Great” came from. But one can guess that the young man chose Ганнибал as his new surname because “Hannibal” was one of the very few historic Africans for whom Europeans of that era had any respect (he had almost conquered ancient Rome, after all!).

  17. Richard:


    Thanks for the help with the Pushkin poem! Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно, I find this a very moving line!

    I will definitely have to read more Pushkin.

  18. Emma:

    Ah that’s true, thanks Minority. I had to learn that poem off by heart three years ago so now just Я вас любил will have me reeling off the whole poem but I should have thought to quote the whole thing to make more sense for others.

    Hope it’s clear now, Richard – it’s a great poem! 🙂

  19. Richard:

    Спасибо Эмма! Теперь я понимаю это, и это – очень трогательная поэма!

  20. Minority:

    Richard, a little correction. “Poem” in russian doesn’t mean “поэма” all the time. “Поэма” is a quite large poem (wiki told me it’s a “narrative poetry” in english). This one is “стихотворение” or you may say a little shorter – “стих”.

    Besides, we’ve got some other words for poems:
    * Сонет
    * ода
    * басня
    * былина
    * сага
    * вирщи
    I’m not very good at telling difference between them, may be somebody will manage to do it.

  21. Richard:

    Thanks Minority! I did a bit of research and here’s what I found:

    сонет is the same in English, i.e. a sonnet

    ода translates as “ode”, the same as in English

    басня translates as “fable”, an example being “The Hare and the Tortoise” ( )

    былина seems to be unique to Russia as my dictionary translates it as “a Russian epic” usually transmitted orally. An example might be Слово о полку Игореве.

    сага is the same in English, i.e. “saga”. Sagas are really prose, not poetry, a good example is “The Vinland Sagas” from 10th century Norse culture.

    вирщи translates as syllabic verse, a type of poetry with a fixed number of syllables per line. This type of poetry is not often found in English.

  22. Minority:

    Richard, when Russian hears word “басня” the first name comes to mind is Ivan Andreevich Krylov. He is most known author of fables in our country. I bet you’d like them too.

  23. Richard:

    Большое спасибо, Меньшинство! 🙂

  24. Alex:

    In the popular intellectual game show on Russian TV Что? Где? Когда? there’s an inside joke: Если не знаешь, что ответить, отвечай “Пушкин” (If you don’t know the answer, answer ‘Pushkin’) That’s because so many of the questions are about Pushkin in one way or another.

    • yelena:

      @Alex Awesome, Alex! It is true though. I’d say that Pushkin and Lenin were the two most-often referenced figures back in the days 🙂

  25. Alex:

    They were! The difference is that Pushkin still is, while Lenin has lost his former authority.

    • yelena:

      @Alex Lol, so who is живее всех живых after all? Something tells me it’s no longer Vladimir Il’ich.

  26. sokale:

    The New French Edition of the Journal Secret 1836-1837, Alexander Pouchkine published by ISBN 978-2-7144-4858-3 just came out.
    The Preface is written by Jean-Jacques Pauvert – the legendary publisher of Complete de Sade, Story of O, George Bataille, Andre Breton, Boris Vian and many others.

  27. Delia:

    Guys, I don’t think it is вирЩи, it is вирШи

  28. А. Сафй:

    This is my first time to search about Pushkin
    But I really surprised by the huge value of him
    I really lost years before I recognize him.

  29. JACOB:

    Kindly publish a poem in Russian language”Wait for me, I am going”

  30. Val:

    It would be nice if people knew the topic they try to impress others with. Whoever started this piece knows little about Russian or about Pushkin. One example: Pushkin, as admitted by the author, is the father of Russian literature and invented many words to fit his poetry. The preamble to “Russlan y Ludmila” starts with U lookomoria kot utchenyi… No there is no such place as lookomore as stated by the author. Pushkin knew this but he wished to creatively and artistically put 2 words together to beautifully describe a location with one new word. Look is a Russian word for a crescent moon, while morie is a word meaning sea. Therefore putting the 2 together describes a bay of the sea, since a bay often has the crescent shape. Now paint the picture in your mind. A beautiful oak tree shading the clear water of the bay around which a cat walks tethered by a golden chain. This thinking clearly compares with the beauty of “to be or not to be.” And clearly puts Pushkin in the class of the top world masters. Please give Pushkin all the credit for an unparalleled genius in poetry, word production and literary thinking. In this article there are many other errors easily forgiven since many of the people just studied some Russian in college and none try to insult Pushkin’s cleverness.