Denis Davydov (1784-1839) and His Çekmen

Denis Davydov by Dow.jpg

Portrait of Denis Vasilyevich Davydov (1784-1839) by George Dow (1781-1829)

Few Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) wrote verse as lively as that of Denis Davydov (1784-1839). A legendary soldier, Davydov was the bard of the hussar’s life, which, if you took his word for it, consisted of nothing but battle, women, and wine — not necessarily in that order. In his History of Russian Literature, D. S. Mirsky writes: “The diction in some [of Davydov’s poems] is rather unconventional, and occasionally his words have to be replaced by dots, but it is always full of spirit and great rhythmical go.” And so it’s not terribly surprising that Pushkin, as Mirsky goes on to report, “had a high opinion of his poetry and used to say that Davydov showed him the way to be original.”

In the poem below, from 1810, Davydov thanks Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov (1772-1817), an important military commander, for the gift of a çekmen, a traditional long coat worn by Turkic peoples. This is the perfect attire, as Davydov sees it, for a descendant of Genghis Khan and Batu Khan, which Davydov believed himself to be.


(By way of contrast, Davydov refers to Lindor, the disguised lover in Pierre Beaumarchais’s [1732-1799] The Barber of Seville [1773]; but one commentator has speculated that the Lindor in question is actually Catherine II’s favorite lapdog, about whom she herself wrote poems in French.)

To Count P. A. Stroganov

In gratitude for the çekmen he gave me during the war of 1810 in Turkey

My forebear Genghis Khan, of blessed memory,
raider and scalawag with yard-long whiskers,
tornado on a dashing steed, descended briskly,
in dazzling armor, on the enemy,
his Tatar hand upraised, ready to slay
all that would stand in his heroic way.
Another venerable forebear — just as rude
as Genghis Khan, his grandfather — once stood
in open fields, among the clashing swords,
wearing his çekmen, lording over hordes.
I burn with the same flame as Genghis Khan;
like old Batu, I yearn to show my brawn.
So tell me, my dear Count, should I turn up
among the troops dressed like some French-bred fop,
tie a jabot around my neck and coif my hair,
look like a Lindor among whiskered bears?
Take pity on a poor descendant of Batu —
accept his silly verse in gratitude!


Графу П. А. Строганову

За чекмень, подаренный им мне во время войны 1810 года в Турции

Блаженной памяти мой предок Чингисхан,
Грабитель, озорник, с аршинными усами,
На ухарском коне, как вихрь перед громами,
В блестящем панцире влетал во вражий стан
И мощно рассекал татарскою рукою
Всё, что противилось могущему герою.
Почтенный пращур мой, такой же грубиян,
Как дедушка его, нахальный Чингисхан,
В чекмене лёгоньком, среди мечей разящих,
Ордами управлял в полях, войной гремящих.
Я тем же пламенем, как Чингисхан, горю;
Как пращур мой Батый, готов на бранну прю.
Но мне ль, любезный граф, в французском одеянье
Явиться в авангард, как франту на гулянье,
Завязывать жабо, причёску поправлять
И усачам себя Линдором показать!
Потомка бедного ты пожалей Батыя
И за чекмень прими его стихи дурные!


4 thoughts on “Denis Davydov (1784-1839) and His Çekmen

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