Pushkin: an interpretation and analysis of ‘Friendship’
By Chloe Smyth
Что дружба? Легкий пыл похмелья,
What is friendship? An easy hangover,
Обиды вольный разговор,
Обмен тщеславия, безделья
The exchange of vanity, idleness
Иль покровительства позор.
Or the shame of patronage.
Following my last blog post, I decided to analyse another Pushkin poem that I had translated. This poem particularly stuck out as my immediate favourite of Pushkin’s poems; to me, it accurately shows the importance of cases in Russian and how they can completely change the meaning of a sentence, or in this case, the answer to what friendship truly is. Pushkin’s overall message in this poem is what he truly believes friendship to be: a glorious gallimaufry of many positive and negative aspects. Pushkin depicts his many answers to this question through describing the qualities that friendship brings.
Firstly, Pushkin begins the poem with a rhetorical question and one that has been asked for many years : <<Что дружба?>>. The use of rhetoric here allows the reader to pause and ponder over this question too. The caesura used here also reinforces this much needed pause which is deliberately used to provoke contemplation. We as the reader therefore understand in this pause that there is no single answer, but that there is a multitude. His first attempt to answer this question is through a rather strange metaphor, describing it as <<легкий пыл похмелья>>. The first thing we must notice here is Pushkin’s use of the imperfective verb <<пыл>>. To a native speaker, this would indicate that Pushkin does not mean ‘drink’ in the excessive sense, but rather to drink comfortably. By comparing friendship to an ‘easy hangover’, he is conveying his idea that whilst it is draining, it is not difficult to enjoy and appreciate the time you spend with your friend.
Pushkin continues to show how within a friendship there is a limited amount of judgement. He depicts that in friendship, one can have <<обиды вольный разговор>>, showing friendship to be rather easy-going. As Pushkin believes that you can speak without ‘resentment’, this shows that Pushkin believes that in a friendship you can speak freely and without any fear of judgement, a very positive and beneficial aspect which friendship brings. Pushkin continues this idea through stating that within a friendship there is the <<обмен тщеславия>>. Through stating that friends can be vain with one another shows that judgement is reserved n a friendship; one can feel comfortable to both freely compliment both others and themselves within a secure friendship without any regret.
Finally, Pushkin presents some negative aspects that friendship can bring and depicts it as being quite pointless. He shows this through stating that friends can experience <<безделья>> with each other. Whilst ‘idleness’ is important sometimes, Pushkin could possibly be using this in a negative way; he could mean that friendship itself is futile and inactive in its nature. This viewpoint would depict friendship as pointless in a sense and it shows that friendship offers nothing. However, simultaneously, Pushkin could be suggesting that friendship offers you a companion to be lazy or indolent with. Furthermore, Pushkin states that there is a <<покровительства позор>> within a friendship. We must notice that ‘patronage’ is in the genitive case, therefore why the word order might be ‘shame’ followed by ‘patronage’, this completely changes the meaning of Pushkin’s final belief of friendship. Through this case, the sentence changes to the ‘shame of patronage’, depicting Pushkin’s thoughts that there is both a shame or dishonour in supporting someone to the extent you do in a friendship, reinforcing this idea that friendship itself is futile.
To summarise, Pushkin clearly has a mixed opinion on what friendship is or what it consists of. He never really comes to any conclusion; Pushkin seems to weigh up both the positive and negative things that friendship brings to someone’s life. However, by Pushkin ending on all the negatives that friendship can bring, we can possibly assume that Pushkin has a negative outlook. In the end, we see that the question cannot be answered as there are simply too many different answers to the question of <<Что дружба?>>.