The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

As Vladimir and his warrior retinue feast in celebration of Lyudmila’s marriage, the amorous bridegroom Ruslan plucks at his mustache and waits impatiently for the ceremonies to end. Just as uneasy are his rivals Rogday, Farlaf, and Ratmir, who sit brooding over their love for Lyudmila and their hatred of Ruslan. Finally the newlyweds retire to the bridal chamber, and soon only the rustle of discarded clothing and lovers’ murmurs are to be heard—until suddenly, in a flash of lightning, a roll of thunder, and a puff of smoke, Lyudmila vanishes. A frustrated and puzzled Ruslan is left to explain the mysterious disappearance of his bride. Vladimir, prince of Kiev, blames Ruslan for failing to protect her and offers Lyudmila’s still-virginal hand to whichever knight succeeds in bringing her back. Ruslan, Rogday, Farlaf, and Ratmir at once mount their horses and gallop off; they soon part ways.

A dejected Ruslan finds himself at the cave of the Finn, a serene old hermit who greets him by name. The Finn explains that it is the sorcerer Chernomor who has spirited Lyudmila away for his own lustful ends, but Ruslan need not fear—his bride will remain unharmed and he will get her back in the end. The Finn also tells Ruslan his own story of love and misplaced enchantment and warns that his old love Naina, now a witch, will turn her malice on him too. Ruslan, emboldened by hope, continues his quest.

Meanwhile, Rogday has decided to first do away with Ruslan and then pursue Lyudmila. After chasing down the cowardly Farlaf by mistake, then leaving in amused disgust, Rogday encounters an old woman who directs him further; this same old woman, promising that the girl will not escape, advises Farlaf to go home and bide his time.

Lyudmila awakens to find herself in Chernomor’s castle, in a splendid chamber hung with precious brocades and redolent of incense. Wandering through the enchanted gardens outside the castle, utterly alone, she contemplates throwing herself from a bridge but thinks better of it; she also considers starving herself rather than eating the sumptuous dinner that is miraculously set before her, but in the end she eats. At nightfall, as she waits in...

(The entire section is 899 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Kiev (kyehv). Russian city (now part of Ukraine) that is the home of the knight Ruslan and the princess Lyudmila; located in a steppe (similar to the American prairie). The characters of the poem are loosely based upon historical figures of the period, but there is little sense of that history in Pushkin’s treatment of it. Instead, Kiev is here a fairy-tale city, home of a fairy-tale king and his many sons.


*Dnieper (DNYEH-pehr). Major river of the steppe, upon the western bank of which Kiev is built, where Ruslan fights his rival Rogdai, whom he defeats and throws into the water to drown and be taken by the river-maiden, a Russian folk spirit.

Midnight Mountains

Midnight Mountains. Fictional stronghold of the evil wizard Chornomor. Perhaps inspired by travelers’ stories of the Caucasus Mountains and their proud tribes, these fairy-tale mountains are full of perils, including a deadly dragon and a magical dwarf with superhuman strength. The tower of the sorcerer Chernomor is filled with magical delights, but the people within are slaves, whom he has captured through guile.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayley, John. Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971. Devotes a number of pages to Ruslan and Lyudmila and its impact. Discusses the poem also in the context of Pushkin’s later fairy tales in verse.

Briggs, A. D. P. Alexander Pushkin: A Critical Study. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. An excellent introduction to Pushkin’s work. Especially good at explaining formal aspects of Pushkin’s poetry to readers who do not speak Russian.

O’Bell, Leslie. “Young Pushkin: Ruslan and Liudmila in Its Lyric Context.” The Russian Review 44, no. 2 (April, 1985): 139-155. Discusses the poem in light of Pushkin’s earlier lyrics and takes issue with the common critical evaluation of the poem as sparkling entertainment but less-than-profound poetry.

Pushkin, Alexander. “Ruslan and Lyudmila.” In Collected Narrative and Lyrical Poetry. Translated by Walter Arndt. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984. Includes a look at Pushkin’s sources, with special attention to the vogue for Gothic tales and translated ballads. Discusses con-temporary reaction to the poem.

Vickery, Walter. Alexander Pushkin Revisited. Rev. ed. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992. The chapter “Early Verse and Ruslan and Lyudmila” also gives a good overview of the state of Russian literature when Pushkin entered the scene.