Anna Petrovna Kern
Anna Petrovna Kern, née Poltoratskaya (11 February 1800 – 27 May 1879), was a Russian socialite and memoirist, best known as the addressee of what is probably the best known love poem in the Russian language, written by Pushkin in 1825.
Anna was born in Oryol at the mansion of her grandfather, the local governor. She was brought up in Livny, Russia. On 8 January 1817 she was married by her parents to the 56-year-old General Kern, whom she professed to detest thoroughly.
After they settled in Saint Petersburg, Anna flirted with a number of Romantic poets, but her chief claim to fame was a love affair with Alexander Pushkin in the summer of 1825, during her stay with relatives in Trigorskoe, a manor adjacent to Mikhailovskoe, where the great poet was living in exile.
"Lately, our land has been visited by a beauty, who sings the Venetian Night in a heavenly way, in the manner of the gondolier's cantillation", Pushkin wrote to his friend Pyotr Pletnev. Kern was one of many liaisons in Pushkin's life and she would not have become the most famous of his mistresses were it not for the poem that Pushkin put between the pages of the second canto of Eugene Onegin which he presented to her on the day of their parting.
The poem starts with the lines Ya pomnyu chudnoe mgnovenie, and Nabokov famously ridiculed attempts to translate these magic lines into English. Aleksandr Blok marvellously metamorphosed Pushkin's poem into his own "O podvigakh, o doblestyakh, o slave...", while Mikhail Glinka set the poem to music and dedicated the result to Kern's daughter Catherine.
"Every night I stroll through a garden and repeat in my mind: she was there - a boulder she stumbled upon rests on my desk, beside a withered branch of heliotrope; I write a lot of poems - and this, you may be sure, have all the symptoms of love..." — Pushkin wrote to Kern's sister several days after her departure. He kept up a correspondence with Kern for a year and a half, but this was largely facetious. Although Pushkin's biographers tend to idealise their relationship, it is known that he referred to her later as the "whore of Babylon" and wrote to one of his friends that "with God's help I screwed her the other day".
In 1826, Kern divorced her aged husband. Ten years later, she married her 16-year-old cousin, Alexander Markov-Vinogradsky. Her last years were spent in such abject penury that she was constrained to sell off Pushkin's letters to her. She died in Moscow and, according to an urban legend, her funeral procession passed Pushkin Square just as the famous statue of the poet was being erected there. This was their last meeting, so to speak.