Zhukovsky, Vasily


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(1783–1852) Russian poet, translator, and critic, born at Mishenskoe, near Tula, and educated at home and in Moscow. His first publication (1802), a translation of Thomas Gray's ‘Elegy’, was seen as ushering in a new age of lyricism and feeling. He popularized the ballad form and gained fame for his adaptations of Bürger's ‘Lenore’, ‘Liudmila’ (1808), and ‘Svetlana’ (1813), perhaps his most famous work and, together with other of his poems, translated into English by John Bowring (1792–1872) in 1821–3. Zhukovsky, who believed that ‘a translator in prose is a slave; a translator in verse is a rival’, played a major role in introducing to Russia the works of European Romantic poets, particularly English and German. Among the poets he adapted and ‘rivalled’ were Schiller and Uhland, and, among the English, James Thomson, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Campbell, Robert Southey, Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, and Lord Byron. His version of ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’, written after a visit to the Swiss castle in 1821, was particularly admired. In 1839, Zhukovsky, visiting England in the suite of the future Alexander II, went to Stoke Poges, where he sketched the church and was inspired to compose his second, fundamentally different, version of Gray's poem.

From The Oxford Companion to English Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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