Parus (Парус)

  • Country in which the text is set
  • Featured locations
    Saint Petersburg
    The shore of the Gulf of Finland
  • Impact

    Mikhail Lermontov wrote “The Sail” in 1832, the year he was forced to leave Moscow and his university studies. Upon arrival to Saint Petersburg he went directly to the sea shore and produced the outline for the poem while walking along the shore of the Gulf of Finland ― as recorded in a letter by Maria Lopukhina, to whom Lermontov sent the first version of the poem. It is worth mentioning that Lermontov was only 17 years old at the time of the composition of the poem. It is also significant that he borrowed the first line of the poem from another lyrical poet Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky (1797-1837).

    “The Sail” is a good example of the use of symbolic landscape poetry to represent a moment of deep philosophical contemplation. Readers should beware of trying to detect the “pulse” of the natural elements in the poem because it is not the sea but the memories of a water-colour painting that Lermontov had painted himself two years earlier that he tries to evoke. The poem not only reflects the poet’s personal turmoil but also the general state of mind of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1830s. It evokes a feeling of abandonment and seems informed by the sense of disillusionment that followed the Decembrists’ revolt in 1825 and discontent with the prevailing atmosphere of political reaction.

    The composition of the poem is based on the development of an internally split symbolic image. It consists of three strophes, each of which alternates between two perspectives. The first and second lines create an image of an object, such as the changing view of the sea and the sail, while lines three and four describe the thoughts of the poem’s lyrical hero. In spite of the fact that this poem is a miniature its imagery is a developing structure: the tranquil view of the sail gliding in the blue of the sea is replaced by the picture of an approaching storm. We find a parallel development in the mood of the observing poetic hero, who can be interpreted as a persecuted wanderer striving for peace of mind and moral renewal.

    Lermontov’s “The Sail” is a poem most Russians can recite from memory. Lermontov is considered the most outstanding Romanticist and Post-romanticist in the Russian literature of the nineteenth century and “The Sail” is probably his most famous poem. One work directly influenced by “The Sail” is a famous novel by Soviet writer Valentin Katayev, “Beleyet parus odinokiy…,” which was published in1936. Its title repeats the first line of the poem “The Sail”, though the novel actually describes a sequence of pre-revolutionary events in the city of Odessa by the Black Sea.

  • Balticness

    Though it is common belief among Russians that this poem was inspired by the view of the Black Sea it was indeed composed under the impression of the sight of the Gulf of Finland.

    Polina Lisovskaya

  • Bibliographic information

    First published in journal “Otechestvenniye zapiski” (1841, V. 18, № 10, part III, page 161)

    One of the Soviet editions of collected works (so called “academy editions”, i.e. with high quality comments) is Лермонтов М.Ю. Парус («Белеет парус одинокий…»)// Лермонтов М.Ю. Полное собрание сочинений: в 5 т. – М.; Л.: Academia, 1935 - 1937

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    English 1927 Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky
    English 1976 IrinaZheleznova
    English 1990 Yevgeny Bonver
    Finnish 1946 Lauri Kemiläinen
    German 1832 Heinrich Greif
    German 1866 Friedrich von Bodenstedt
    German   A. Ascharin
    German   F. Fiedler
    German 1948 Maximilian Schick
    German 1985 Christoph Ferber
    Swedish 1950 Nils Åke Nilsson
    Swedish 1989 Hans Björkegren
    Swedish 1996 Jakob Rohde
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication
    Saint Petersburg

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