Bloody Verses: Rereading Pushkin's «Prisoner of the Caucasus»
Pushkin’s 1822 narrative poem, Prisoner of the Caucasus (Kavkazskii plennik), is frequently pointed to as Russia’s first literary introduction to the Caucasus and its peoples. Belinsky praised it both for its accurate representation of the region and for the beauty of its verses. One section of the poem, the so-called ethnographic section in which the Circassian customs and way of life are described in some detail, was reprinted six times in Pushkin’s life alone. Yet, for all of its popularity, critics and readers alike have continued to struggle with the poem’s epilogue and its relation to the first two parts of the story. This epilogue, written approximately three months after Pushkin finished the first two parts of the poem, differs both stylistically and thematically from the remainder of the work. Resembling first the elegy, then the epic narrative, and finally the ceremonial ode, as Harsha Ram points out, the form of the epilogue is as discordant as its apparent new message: the celebration of imperial might and the outright conquest of the Caucasus.