Pushkin, even more than Goethe or Scott, was remarkable for the ease with which he moved from one literary form to the next and effortlessly transformed them all. He is the closest thing that literature has to Mozart. A tender lyricist, a flippant satirist, a great dramatist, a master of the short-story form ,he also, in his long poem Yevgeny Onegin, effectively invented the Russian novel.
Pushkin holds a place in Russian literature perhaps even larger than that of Shakespeare in English. He is the starting point for Russian literature and the Russian literary language as we know it today. Beloved of all Russians, Pushkin wrote lyric poetry, prose, and drama, founding the Russian literary tradition in practically every genre.
He was exiled to southern Russia just before his 21st birthday for verse written against despotism. Those poems were found among the papers of many of the Decembrists. The failure of their rebellion against Tsar Nicholas I in 1825 led to executions that haunted Pushkin all his life. When Nicholas summoned him to inquire into his loyalties, Pushkin declared that, had he been in St Petersburg, he would have been on Senate Square with his friends. Nicholas appeared impressed by his frankness and allowed him back to the capital
Shot in a duel at the age of 37 on 10 February 1837, the great Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature ended his life like one of his characters: Lenski is being shot by his friend Eugene Onegin, the (anti-) hero of the verse novel of the same name, a conflict born out of jealousy on the side of Lenski and ennui on the side of Onegin who flirted with Lenski’s beloved just to overcome his boredom. In real life, Pushkin challenged his brother in-law Georges d'Anthès to a duel after rumours that Pushkin’s wife had started a scandalous affair with him. The duel left both men injured, Pushkin mortally who died two days later. Life imitating art…
While still a student at the Lyceum, Pushkin wrote poetry that drew the acclaim of his teachers and peers. Around 1819-20, he fell under the spell of Byron's work, and he wrote a series of narrative poems that reflect this influence;exotic Southern settings, tragic romantic encounters, etc. [...] His years in Mikhailovskoe saw the maturation of Pushkin's talent, and he moved away from the sensuous, mellifluous poetry of his Southern poems toward a more austere and incisive form. Among the well-known poems he wrote in the mid to late 1820s were "The Prophet" and "The Poet." Also during these years he worked on a "novel in verse" that he had begun in 1823 &endash; Eugene Onegin.
Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals; in the early 1820s he clashed with the government, which sent him into exile in southern Russia. While under the strict surveillance of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will, he wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, but could not publish it until years later.
Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling—mixing drama, romance, and satire—associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers.
Although his literary output slackened, he produced his major prose works The Queen of Spades and The Captain’s Daughter, his masterpiece in verse, The Bronze Horseman, important lyrics and fairy tales, including The Tale of the Golden Cockerel.
Pushkin was above all a poet of love. No writer in Russia before him or after him ever expressed so much love in so many ways. Love for him was not so much a choice as an unstoppable universal force, of which he was but a blessed conductor. Love, protean and unpredictable, is in almost everything he wrote, and all he wrote, in the end, is really about love in one way or other: Love at first sight, and at long last, by chance or arrangement, erotic and platonic, sexual and spiritual, jealous and calm, ironic and accepting, ruefully bitter, and reconciled, uncomplaining, mysteriously warm, accepting…love is his theme, love in which every happiness seems to lead to grief, yet every grief seems to lead to happiness.
[Pushkin] seems both the original Russian writer and the representative of T.S. Eliot's concept of a cultural tradition. For his genius enabled him to marry Russia and the Russian language to the whole tradition of European and classical culture. And in this he sets a precedent: no great Russian writer who follows him is definitively national.
"Pushkin is our all," declared the critic and poet Apollon Grigorev in 1854. His famous remark is perhaps the best expression of Pushkin's significance, not merely for Russian literature, or even for Russian culture, but for the Russian ethos generally and for Russia as a whole.
Pushkin was opposed to autocracy, was opposed to serfdom, but he was also opposed to the middle-class philistines of his day. He did not live to see the emergence of the revolutionary intelligentsia, still less to see the rise of the revolutionary working class.
Pushkin was so confident of his hold in his readers' attention that he shifted gears constantly: subversive political lyrics, Romantic elegies, classical fragments, Byronic imitations or parodies, the chapters of a novel-in-verse, a piece of Voltairean blasphemy, a national-historical tragedy, a Romantic epic followed on quick succession, published in fragments in a variety of journals and almanacs, published in expense and cheap editions, sometimes not published at all but handed around in manuscript, endlessly quoted and misquoted.
Whatever else he was writing, Pushkin's energy for lyric poetry rarely seemed to dim. […] The corpus encompasses a wide range of genres, displaying Pushkin's mastery of the song, the poetic epistle, the elegy, epigram, the political ode, the landscape poem, the soliloquy, the poetic cycle, the fragment.