(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lermontov found the subject matter for this narrative poem while visiting a monastery in the former Georgian capital Mtskheti on his way to exile in the Caucasus. A monk told Lermontov how as a boy he was captured by Russians in his native mountains. They wanted to take him to their own country, but he fell ill and was left with the monks of the monastery. The monks nursed him back to health and let him stay there. He became a novice, but the memory of his free life in a mountain village haunted him day and night. He found his prisonlike existence so intolerable that he escaped. Trying to reach his village, he wandered in the forest until he lost his way. He was found, starved and exhausted, by the monks, who brought him back to his cell. The futility of his flight made him decide to stay in the monastery, where he remained ever since.

Lermontov made significant changes to this story. He concentrated all his poetic power on the novice’s flight, as well as on the magnificent scenery in which it took place, leaving out the resignation with which the recaptured fugitive stayed on in the monastery. The poem thus embodied a spirited bid for freedom at a time when the very word “freedom” was banned in Russia. The novice’s adventures in the virgin forest also distracted the censor from the symbolic significance of the poem.

One night, the novice meets a hungry panther, which he kills with his stick after a desperate struggle. This fight is...

(The entire section is 459 words.)