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Russia Celebrates the Day of Lycees
19.10.2012 12:40
Russia Celebrates the Day of Lycees
Ilya Repin - A Lycee Exam

The Imperial Lycee at Tsarskoe Selo (not far from St. Petersburg) was opened on October 19, 1811 by the decree of Alexander I. It was initially intended for education of nobility offspring destined for military service; the Emperor's sons, Nikolai and Alexander, were expected to study there, too. However, political perturbations changed the plans, and the Lycee began to educate the future "civil servants".

      The first year of the Lycee was its best: it produced the wonderful Pleiade of outstanding Russian statesmen and men-of-arts, but all were equally commemorated and overshadowed by their world-famous fellow student, Alexander Pushkin. To celebrate his teachers, friends and the time spent at the Lycee, Pushkin composed a long poem, entitled 19 October 1811. Later in 19th c. the Russian painter Ilya Repin depicted the reading of the poem in his painting.

      Russia now celebrates October 19th as the Day of Lycees. The tradition of lycees has been reignited in early 1990s and continues to this day.


      Alexander Pushkin, 19 October


The forest casts its scarlet garments off,

      The frost bedecks the withered fields in silver,

      The light of day peeps out as if unwilling

      And hides in the surrounding mountaintops.

      Blaze up, o hearth, in my bare room, my prison.

      And you, dear wine, friend of the fall’s cruel frost,

      Pour joyous tipsiness into my bosom,

      Oblivion brief, make bitter cares seem lost.


      For I am sad, and without any friend

      To drink away with woe of separation,

      Whose hand I’d clasp in heartfelt admiration

      And wish good cheer for many years on end.

      I drink alone. Imagination lonely

      In vain calls out for comrades who aren’t here.

      No steps familiar can I hear approaching.

      My soul gives up on waiting for friends dear.


      I drink alone, and on the Neva’s banks

      Today my gathered friends my name are naming.

      But –even there—aren’t many of you failing?

      Who isn’t feasting now in your glad ranks?

      Who’s not kept faith with our tradition charming?

      Whom has the cold beau monde stolen away?

      Whose voice is stilled midst brotherly catcalling?

      Who didn’t come? Who’s not there, couldn’t stay?


      Our frizzy-haired free singer hasn’t come.

      His eyes afire, with his guitar sweet-sounding.

      In some Italian myrtle grove abounding

      He sleeps in peace. No friendly local son

      Carved out with care upon a Russian gravestone

      A few brief words in his own native tongue

      To give a gloomy greeting and sad haven

      To northern sons lost, wandering far from home.


      Are you now sitting midst your group of friends

      You restless lover of strange skies and lees?

      Or crossing still Earth’s steamy tropic ends

      And endless ice on midnight Arctic seas?

      Godspeed to you! From our Lycée’s gates striding

      You, full of jokes, boarded a ship, set forth,

      And since that time the ocean is your highway

      Beloved child of seething waves and storms!


      Wherever Fate did cast you on the seas

      You kept the morals taught in first, fair years.

      Our Lycée’s fun pranks’ clamor, yearning, tears

      In stormy waves came back to you in dreams

      And o’er the seas your hand to us extending

      In your young soul our memories were kept

      And you’d repeat: “to parting never-ending

      By secret destiny we are, perhaps condemned.”


      My friends, how beautiful our union is!

      Eternal like the soul, it can’t be broken.

      It withstands all, free, careless and outspoken

      Our links were formed by friendship and the Muse.

      Where’er we’re cast by Fate, whate’er it’s storing

      Wherever happiness might let us roam

      We’re still the same: the whole world’s strange and foreign

      And Tsarskoye Selo is our true home.


      From place to place though chased by lightning dread,

      In nets of cruel fate caught, uncomprehending,

      I’d quaver in the bosom of new friendship

      And sink caressingly my weary head…

      My upstart angry prayers melancholy

      And trusting hopes of my first eagerness,

      My tender soul, which other friends sought really,

      Unbrotherly made greetings’ bitterness.


      And now, stuck here, in this abandoned hole,

      This shrine of barren blizzards and frosts bitter,

      A sweet reward was given me: a visit

      With three of you, three dear friends of my soul

      I have embraced. My outcast place of pining

      Pushchin , my dear, you were the first to grace

      You sweetened one more day in exile writhing,

      Transformed it to a day of the Lycée.


      You, Gorchakov – born lucky to the end,

      Praise be to you! For Fortune's chilly gleaming

      Have not traduced within your soul your freedom

      You’re still the same for honor and your friend!

      Completely different paths strict Fate assigned us;

      We parted soon, once we set forth in life.

      And yet by chance upon a country crossroads,

      We met, and like two brothers clasped arms tight.


      When I was chased by wrathful Fate so cruel

      Estranged to all, an orphan with no home,

      I’d sink my dreamy head down all alone

      Awaiting you, the Muses’ herald true,

      And then you came, inspired dawdling’s offspring

      Delvig , my dear, your voice did then awake

      My heart’s own warmth, for so long stilled and slumbering

      And cheerfully I then did bless my Fate.


      Since youth, in us Song’s spirit ever burned,

      With a divine disquiet us inspiring

      Since youth towards us two Muses fleet came flying

      Sweet was our lot caressing them in turn.

      But already loved applause, shouts feverish.

      You proudly sang just for your Muse, your heart.

      My gift, like life, I frittered away heedless,

      While you in silence honed your perfect art.


      The Muses’ service brooks no vanity.

      The beautiful must always be majestic.

      Deceitful guidance gain we from youth frantic.

      In noisy daydreams we rejoice, are free.

      Then we come to—too late though! And now grievous

      We gaze back whence we came, yet cannot see.

      Say, Wilhelm , isn’t that how life did treat us,

      My brother in the Muse, in Fate’s decree?


      It’s time, it’s time! Our heartaches unallayed

      Aren’t worth this world; let’s leave behind allusions!

      Let’s hide our life away in shade’s seclusion!

      I wait for you, my friend so long delayed..

      Approach, and with the fire of magic Story

      Revive the heart’s true teaching deep in us.

      We’ll speak of snowy Caucasus peaks stormy,

      Of Schiller, and of glory, and of love!


      For me too, now it’s time. My friends, feast on!

      Within I feel a joyful premonition:

      Remember my poetical prediction!

      When one year’s passed, we’ll meet again anon!

      Then will come true my dearest aspirations.

      When one year’s passed and I come back to you:

      How many tears, how many declamations!

      How many cups raised high towards Heaven’s blue?


      Refill your cups, friends, fill them up, I say!

      Drink each last drop in honor of our union!

      Now bless us with your jubilation, Muses!

      Now bless us all, and long live our Lycée!

      To all our tutors, our youth's noble keepers,

      All honors, to the living and the dead!

      As we with gratitude lift up our beakers,

      All ills forgot, give thanks for blessings yet.


      Refill, refill with passion, all your heart,

      Again now, bottoms up, drink each drop blessèd!

      And yet for whom? O friends, I’ll let you guess it!

      Hurrah! Our Tsar! Yes, let’s drink to the Tsar!

      He’s but a man, and slave to time’s illusion,

      Of rumors, doubts, and passions but a slave,

      So let’s forgive his unfair persecutions:

      He captured Paris, founded our Lycée!


      Feast on, feast on, while we are all still here!

      Alas, our circle hour by hour is thinning.

      Who sleeps in coffin now, who’s orphaned, distant?

      Fate sees us fade as our days disappear.

      We bend invisibly, chill and grow lazy,

      Drawn back to our beginnings, to our home…

      Which one of us in old age on Lycée Day

      Will be obliged to celebrate alone?


      Unhappy friend! Amidst new generations,

      Unwanted stranger, guest who just won’t leave,

      He’ll think of us united in libations,

      With shaky hand he’ll close his eyes, and grieve…

      Yet may he still be joyous in his sadness

      And pass that day but with his goblet old,

      As I today, disgraced, locked in my fastness,

      Have passed it without worry, without woe. 

Author: Julia Shuvalova

Tags: Russian education Russian culture Alexander Pushkin St. Petersburg  

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