Death of a Poet
Region: Russia and Central Asia
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Artist: Mikhail Lermontov (1814 - 1841)
Confronting Bodies: Tsar Nicholas I and Russian bureaucrats.
Date of Action: 1837
Description of Artwork: Death of a Poet was written in response to the death of Aleksandr Pushkin in a duel. Most of it was developed while Pushkin was merely wounded and this portion praises him and insults his opponent. However when Pushkin died three days after the duel from wounds he sustained, Lermontov added a new section in a fit of rage. This passage denounces the aristocrats around the throne (who apparently supported Pushkin's opponent) as the executioners of freedom and genius.
The Incident: An aristocrat who saw the poem as an attack on the best families in Russia showed it to the head of the secret police and emperor Nicholas I. The copy sent to the emperor was labeled "A Call to Revolution." He immediately considered it political subversion and that it implied his own connection to the death of Pushkin.
Results of Incident: Although the head of the secret police found nothing objectionable in the piece, circumstances forced him to denounce it as seditious. Nicholas had Lermontov examined for insanity and then exiled him to the Caucasus as an officer with the Dragoons, where he died, ironically, in a duel.
Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.