Pushkin: Daemon (From Russian)

In this poem of Pushkin's, the Christian notion of the demon as an evil tempter that leads souls away from God is fused with a daimōn of the classical Socratic sort, a skeptical familiar spirit who impels the erstwhile idealist poet toward cynical doubt in the existence of a higher order. The key theme is doubt, and the terror of it.
Contrary to the hallucinations of the Russian diaspora and post-Soviet Russian nationalists (and the fabrications of contemporaries who either wanted to deflect charges against his character or dragoon him into serving their own ends), Pushkin for the most part never really took Russian Orthodoxy, or its God, very seriously. This was not unusual for someone of his social class with liberal leanings. It would have been strange had he done otherwise, given how completely fused the institution of Russian Orthodoxy was with that of imperial autocracy. Pushkin, a man who prized individualism at times to the point of infantility, had every reason to be skeptical of an institution which legitimized the Tsar - eventually his own personal censor - as quite literally God’s anointed regent on earth, charged to use his autocratic powers to defend Orthodoxy and preserve the morals of the Russian people.
Whether Pushkin ever went through periods of his life during which he doubted the existence of God altogether, we will never know, as atheism in the strict sense was taboo in Pushkin's social circles. However, Pushkin did very strongly believe that things happen for a reason. In recovering alcoholic terms, he believed in a Higher Power which guided a person, had particular designs for individuals, and which it was dangerous and self-destructive to resist or defy. "Luck" and "Chance" were merely the labels attached to the instruments of Fate and Providence. Neither something so mundane as winning a hand at cards, nor something so exalted as inspiration to poetry, nor yet the fate of a nation, were accidental to Pushkin. 
The daemon-induced doubt depicted in this poem is a temporary loss of faith, not in God per se, but in Providence, beauty and ideals, doubt of any higher order that gives meaning to life or to nature and so stifles the creative instinct itself. In the chill of an icy rationalism all things are seen to lose their purpose; beauty is mere fancy in the eye of the beholder, the notion of inspiration becomes an absurd joke. The individualism and freedom to pursue his own destiny have become meaningless in the absence of a coherent destiny at all.

Daemon
By A.S. Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Russian

In days gone by, when all of life's
Impressions offered me new thrills:
A murmurous grove, a maiden's eyes,
The nightingale in twilit hills....
When my sublimest aspirations
For freedom, glory, love and art
Instilled of holy inspiration,
So stirred the blood and spurred the heart,
Then were the days of bliss and promise
With wakeful anguish overcast,
As secretly a wicked Genius
Began to visit me unasked.
Grim were the meetings that we had:
His witching glance, the grins he stole,
The sting of every word he spat
Infused cold poison through my soul.
With indefatigable slander
He tempted Providence, and smiled. 
Beauty he called a simple fancy,
And inspiration he reviled. 
He doubted freedom, love, salvation
And turned on life a sneering gaze,
As there was naught in all Creation
He cared to bless with any praise.


The Original:

Демон
А.С. Пушкин

В те дни, когда мне были новы
Все впечатленья бытия —
И взоры дев, и шум дубровы,
И ночью пенье соловья —
Когда возвышенные чувства,
Свобода, слава и любовь
И вдохновенные искусства
Так сильно волновали кровь, —
Часы надежд и наслаждений
Тоской внезапной осеня,
Тогда какой-то злобный гений
Стал тайно навещать меня.
Печальны были наши встречи:
Его улыбка, чудный взгляд,
Его язвительные речи
Вливали в душу хладный яд.
Неистощимой клеветою
Он провиденье искушал;
Он звал прекрасное мечтою;
Он вдохновенье презирал;
Не верил он любви, свободе;
На жизнь насмешливо глядел —
И ничего во всей природе
Благословить он не хотел.

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