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January 26, 2010
В надежде славы и добра
Гляжу вперед я без боязни:
Начало славных дней Петра

Мрачили мятежи и казни.

Но правдой он привлек сердца,
Но нравы укротил наукой,
И был от буйного стрельца

Пред ним отличен Долгорукий.

Самодержавною рукой
Он смело сеял просвещенье,
Не презирал страны родной:

Он знал ее предназначенье.

То академик, то герой,
То мореплаватель, то плотник,
Он всеобъемлющей душой

На троне вечный был работник.

Семейным сходством будь же горд;
Во всем будь пращуру подобен:
Как он, неутомим и тверд,
И памятью, как он, незлобен.


This poem is no doubt familiar to anyone who would come here, but I think a week is about as long as this blog can survive without mentioning the name Pushkin.

Few poems are at first glance more straightforwardly for Enlightenment values (правда, наука, просвещенье), and still there is a (Romantic?) invocation of national destiny (ее предназначенье).

I used to think that a subject’s advice to an autocratic emperor would have a very different rhetorical shape than a citizen’s to a modern elected leader, but in this first year of a new U.S. presidency the central idea of this poem – finding similarities betweeen the beginning of the new reign and the reign of a great predecessor, whose example the speaker wishes the new ruler would follow – is found everywhere.  Obama and FDR’s hundred days, LBJ’s war undermining his domestic policy, Reagan’s first-term poll numbers and the unemployment rate, Clinton’s attempt to pass health care reform – all are positive and negative examples with the same structure as Nikolai I = Petr I, and the same probably impotent desire to guide future decisions.

The reference to Dolgorukii now reminds me of the ten million times I heard the phrase “speak truth to power” during the last presidency.

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