Some thoughts on Tamara by M. Yu. Lermontov
This is one of my favourite poems altogether, perhaps second only to Shelley's ode To a Skylark. I was re-reading it again a few days ago, and the thought struck me how it is really an eminently typical example of a romantic ballad. It's really got it all: mountainous scenery, a raging river (if it were written in English, surely at least one mention of “crags” and “cataracts” would be inevitable; maybe it's a result of their travelling too much through Switzerland and north Italy, but sometimes I can't help feeling that Byron and Shelley couldn't manage without crags and cataracts for more than a few pages at a time), a touch of exoticism (it is set in the Caucasus, and a eunuch is mentioned at some point), hot wild sex, a femme fatale, a murder, and emotional confusion with a curious feeling of yearning at the end. And it's got that sombre amphibrachic metre that makes many ballads (to me at least) so much more enjoyable than most other poetry.
Some links: the Russian original; a somewhat dull English translation, showing that complete contempt of the original metre that is so typical of translations of poetry into English (why is it that the English have such good poets, but such miserable translators?); a nice German translation. I myself read it in the beautiful Slovenian translation by Mile Klopčič (Izbrano delo Mihaila Jurjeviča Lermontova, Ljubljana, DZS 1961).
Lermontov also wrote much other romantic poetry, which is also highly recommended. With his short novel, A Hero of Our Time, I had mixed experiences. When I first had to read it in the second year of secondary school, it took me about two weeks to plod through it and although I didn't exactly hate it, reading it was nonetheless an effort. Returning to re-read it some four or five years later, I read it in two delightful evenings and enjoyed it immensely. Everything in its time, I guess.