Tragedy in the Balkans: Pushkin's Critique of Romantic Ideology in «The Gypsies»
Among the many colorful escapades that Pushkin is said to have taken part in during his famed Southern exile were the several weeks that he spent among a nomadic gypsy tribe in Moldavia. According to an oral account passed on to her nephew by Pushkin's Kishinev acquaintance Ekaterina Zakhar´evna Stamo (née Ralli), the twenty-two-year-old poet was accompanying Stamo's brother Konstantin on a visit to Dolna when he met and fell madly in love with a beautiful gypsy girl named Zemfira. The daughter of the respected tribe elder (buli-basha), Zemfira was a tall girl with large black eyes and long undulating braids who dressed like a man, wore colorful trousers (sharovary), and smoked a pipe. Pushkin was so enchanted by Zemfira's beauty that he asked Konstantin if he could stay with the tribe. And so he settled there for several weeks, during which time he and Zemfira could be seen strolling together in the woods, holding each other's hands, and, unable to speak the same tongue, communicating by pantomime. This idyll came to an abrupt end when Pushkin began to suspect Zemfira of infidelity. Waking up one morning to learn that Zemfira had run off with a young gypsy, Pushkin followed her to the next village, but, unable to find her, decided to return alone to Kishinev. It was several years later that he received a letter from Konstantin informing him of Zemfira's brutal murder at the hands of her new lover. The tragic episode inspired Pushkin to write his great narrative poem The Gypsies (1824).