Lermontov's "The Dying Gladiator" (1836): Turning to Translation as a Way of Achieving Objectivism

Daria Solodkaia, Princeton University

While the question of Lermontov’s poetic dialogue with Byron has been treated in the critical literature (by, for instance, Eikhenbaum, Ginzburg, and Shaw), the particular role of his 1836 translations from Byron has yet to be discussed. In my paper I will argue that these translations indicate a turning point from the poet’s earlier lyrical period to his later, mature one. Among the most salient features of this later period is the poet’s gradual liberation from the authorial I. This process constitutes a key part of a broader “objectivism,” or increase in the objective, in Lermontov’s lyrics, which demonstrates the poet’s attempt to dissociate himself from his English predecessor.

The paper will examine the changes that occurred in Lermontov’s poetry around 1836, including the disappearance of personal pronouns, the appearance of several types of consciousness rooted in the dramatic genre, and the tendency towards specific time determination. These general characteristics will be demonstrated specifically through an analysis of Lermontov’s 1836 poem “The Dying Gladiator,” which originated as a free translation of Byron’s Childe Harold (4: CXXXIX–CCXLII). Along with demonstrating how Lermontov comes to objectivism, the analysis will highlight the importance of the translations of 1836 for the poet’s later original works.