Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Portrait of Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky was a major Russian poet and translator in the 1810’s. He was born on 9th February 1787 in Mishenskoe, Tula Province, Russia and died on 24th April 1852 in Baden Baden, Germany aged 69.

Major Works

Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” (Trans 1802)
“Marina Roshcha” (Mary’s Grove) (1809)
“A Bard in the Camp of the Russian Warriors” (1812)
“The Prayer of the Russians” National Anthem (1816)
Homer’s “Odyssey” (Trans 1849)

Biography Timeline

Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky was born on 9th February 1787 in Mishenskoe, Tula Province Russia. His father was Afanasi Bunin a landowner and his mother was Salkha, his father’s housekeeper and he was born out of wedlock. Although brought up by his parents he took the surname Zhukovsky from his father’s friend for social reasons.

1801: He is sent to be educated at Moscow University aged fourteen where he is introduced to the Sturm und Drang German literary movement and also English sentimentalism. He meets Nikolay Karamzin, the founding editor of the influential literary journal “The Herald of Europe”.

1802: His first publication in “The Herald of Europe” during December, is a translation of Thomas Gray’s “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” which is cited by academics as the beginning of the Russian Romantic Movement.

1808: Now well-known in literary circles Karamzin asks him to take over as editor of The Herald of Europe”.

1809: He writes the short story “Marina Roshcha” (Mary’s Grove) about ancient Moscow and love lyrics to his cousin Masha Protasova, such as “Moi Drug, Khranitel’-angel Moi” (My Friend, My Guardian Angel”).

1812: He serves in the army during the wars against Napoleon Bonaparte and is present at the Battle of Borodino on 7th September as part of Field Marshall Kutuzov’s general staff and also during the defence of Moscow. Asked to boost the morale of Russian troops he writes the patriotic ode “A Bard in the Camp of the Russian Warriors”.

1815: He joins the Tsar’s entourage and then lives in the village Dolbino, near Moscow, where his poetic creativity there has become known as the Dolbino Autumn. His work is noticed by the German born Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna who invites him to St Petersburg to become her personal tutor. Many of his translations of German writings such as by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller were created as practical language exercises for the Grand Duchess. He creates the Arzamas Literary Society to promote western literature against the Russian cLassicists and one of its members is the teenage Alexander Pushkin.

1820: Pushkin is now recognised as the superior writer but the two remain friends and Zhukovsky acts as his literary mentor and protector at the Tsar’s court.

1825: He remains loyal to the Tsar during the Decembrist Revolt.

1826: Shortly after Nicholas becomes Tsar he appoints Zhukovsky as tutor to his heir Alexander. He uses his position at court to further the careers of other writers including Mikhail Lermontov as well as many of the persecuted Decembrists.

1837: He becomes Pushkin’s literary executor at his untimely death and defends his reputation against the censors and organises his work for publication. He also helps further the career of another of his friends Nikolay Gogol. He travels widely, especially in Germany, at this period and meets or corresponds with people such as Goethe, Ludwig Tieck and the painter Caspar David Friedrich.

1841: He retires from the Court and moves to a to the outskirts of Dusseldorf in Germany where he marries the eighteen-year-old Elisabeth von Reutern, the daughter of his friend the artist Gerhard Wilhelm von Reutern. They go on two have two children Alexandra and Pavel.

1849: He is already well known for bringing German writers to Russia’s attention and also Englishmen such as Lord Byron and Robert Southey and the Scotsman Walter Scott but his most famous and lasting translation is that of Homer’s “Odyssey”.

Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky died on 24th April 1852 in Baden Baden, Germany. He was buried in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery cemetery in St Petersburg. His collected works were not published until 1959 and 1960.