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I recently took a short trip to the great city of Voronezh, the city, which, if you didn’t know, supported the False Dmitry against Boris Godunov during the Time of Troubles in the early 17th century. That has nothing to do with today’s post, I just thought it was so interesting that I had to get that in right away.
This plaque honoring the memory of poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841) was only one of a huge number of plaques, buildings and monuments that I photographed in Voronezh. But I think it’s my favorite. Aside from those plaques you occasionally run across proclaiming that “George Washington Slept Here” or “Vladimir Lenin Herein Took Tea,” this may be one of the most inconsequential reasons for a memorial plaque I have ever run across. I’ll quote what’s written here as closely to the original as possible: “In the years 1837-1841 the great Russian poet Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov would stop at the Voronezh post office.” The verb could also be translated as “stayed,” in which case there would be a little more to it – that is, something along the lines of “George Washington Slept Here.” But if my first instinct as a translator is correct (supported by information that follows below), then we are dealing with a case of a plaque being erected to honor the fact that somebody stopped in here from time to time to send home a post card or two.
Although that could also be wrong. Post offices, post stations, or way stations, in those years were places where you could stop and exchange your tired horse for a rested one. So maybe Lermontov was coming by here in order to speed on further down the line.
A nice page on a website called the Literary Map of Voronezh Oblast has some good info about Lermontov in Voronezh. I’m not going to beat what they have to say on my own, so here is a chunk right from the website:
“Lermontov was frequently in the Voronezh region, because one of the main railroads linking the center of Russia and the Caucasus passed through Voronezh. On his way to the Caucasus in the early summer of 1840, the poet stayed at the estate of A.L. Potapov, his comrade in the Imperial Guard of the Hussars. This was in the village of Semidubravnoe of Zemlyansky county in the Voronezh province (now the village of Novaya Pokrovka in the Semiluksky area). According to legend, it was here that Lermontov set his ‘Cossack lullaby’ poem to music, although the music has not survived.
At the end of January 1841 Lermontov stayed in Voronezh as he traveled from the Caucasus to St. Petersburg. This fact can be verified by the February 1, 1841, issue of the Voronezh Provincial Gazette, which published information ‘about guests arriving and leaving Voronezh between January 24 and 30,’ including ‘one Lieutenant Lermontov arriving from Cherkassk.’ The poet stayed at Kolybikhin’s hotel located in the city center on Konnaya (Horse) Square, approximately where the Opera and Ballet Theater is now situated.
When returning to his regiment in the Caucasus in late April – early May of that year, Lermontov once again stayed in Voronezh (at the home of his relative and friend A.A. Stolypin (Mongo). This is verified in an entry in the Voronezh Provincial News on May 3, 1841, in the section entitled ‘On guests arriving in, and leaving, Voronezh from April 25 to May 2.’ Here we read that captain Stolypin and Lieutenant Lermontov are listed as guests in the Hotel Yevlakhov,’ located on Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya (now Revolution Prospect).”
The memorial plaque on the impressive facade of the Voronezh post office was erected November 30, 2004. It apparently cheats a bit. According to an account on the Kultura VRN site, there is only speculation – no proof – that Lermontov was in Voronezh before 1840. If he did pass through, or spend time in, the city in 1837, it would have been when he was on his way to the Caucasus, having been sent there in the first of several instances of exile for participating in a duel. In fact, the last trip through Voronezh, the one documented above in April-May 1841, came just prior to the duel that killed the hot-blooded poet on July 27 of that year at the age of 26.
Interest in Lermontov in Voronezh remains relatively high. A little over a year ago there was a movement begun to put up a bust honoring the poet’s occasional forays into and out of the city. As was reported in the Voronezh office of RIA Novosti on March 15, 2014, a letter was sent to the governor asking him to support the project:
“The time spent by Lermontov in our region was reflected in his works, which is extremely useful for the patriotic education of our generation. In October this year the multinational peoples of Russia and all progressive mankind (on the level of UNESCO) will widely celebrate the 200th anniversary of M.Yu. Lermontov. The Mayor’s office of Voronezh supports the idea of erecting a monument, but a problem arises in the absence of funds for such a goal in the budget…”
Oops. We’re ready to be patriotic if you’ll just give us the money.
The article ends with a lovely little caveat: “Among opinions, of course, the notion is popular that Voronezh does not need a monument to Lermontov. There exists a list of those to whom it ‘would be better’ to honor with a monument.”
Who am I to jump into this argument? I am a firm believer in the opinion that the more monuments the merrier. In fact, I’d be very happy to see half, maybe three-quarters, of the world’s politicians replaced by monuments – not to them, of course, but to those who oppose them. But I digress. And let me finish by saying that this plaque honoring Lermontov will always occupy a special place in my heart.