Alexander Pushkin and the Irony of Temperality

Aaron Beaver


Pushkin’s 1825 lyric poem “K***” (“Ia pomniu chudnoe mgnoven´e…”) has been understood almost universally as a poem of recuperation, where cre­ativity and vitality triumph over a temporal existence that threatens both.[1] On such a reading, the poem’s positive surface brings critical exami­nation to a halt, admits no irony, and accords easily with certain prevalent notions of Romantic temporality. It is the contention of this essay that such an interpretive halt is premature, that the poem’s surface conceals an irony at its center. Theorists of irony perennially warn against over­looking its presence: “When irony is a form of witticism, as with the Augustans, ineptitude in grasping it leads to a local and limited misunder­standing. On the other hand, when irony is centrally encoded in an entire work, failure to recognise it produces a radical misinterpretation.”[2] Recognizing the irony of “Ia pomniu…” first of all revaluates the poem itself, so that the recuperation of the vital and creative self expressed in the poem is understood in a larger temporal context which strongly im­plies that loss and oblivion will recur. More generally, recognition of the irony of temporality, in this and related poems, helps situate Pushkin’s lyric poetry with greater precision in the spectrum of Romanticism. And finally, a look at four later poems (by Tiutchev, Blok, and Brodsky) which depend intertextually on Pushkin’s will suggest that the unexamined irony of temporality transfers readily through the history of Russian lyric poetry.

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The Influence of Barry Cornwall and the Phenomenon of Polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin's "Little House in Kolomna"

Zaur Agayev


Most writers steal a good thing when they can,
And ‘tis safely got ’tis worth the winning.
The worst of ‘tis we now and then detect ’em,
Before they ever dream that we suspect ’em.[1]


Pushkin and Cornwall: The Nature of Scholarly Work on the Subject

In considering the question of the influence of the nineteenth-century English poet Barry Cornwall on the creative works of Alexander Pushkin, scholars to date have concentrated primarily on the comparative frame­work of Cornwall’s “Dramatic Scenes” and Pushkin’s “Little Tragedies.” While this topic is indeed important, it is nevertheless indisputable that the effects of Cornwall’s poetry on Pushkin are not limited to these works alone. However, few scholarly works consider other aspects of Cornwall’s influence.[2] This essay will analyze the phenomenon of polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna” in connection with Barry Cornwall’s poems “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla: A Spanish Tale,” two works that are not part of the “Dramatic Scenes.”

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Pushkin's Shifting Poetics: Deceptive Subtexts in "Domik v Kolomne"

Brian Horowitz


“Domik v Kolomne” (known hereafter as “Domik”), Pushkin’s narrative poem of 1833, is connected with the shift in the poet’s poetics from his early period to the post-1830s. In his article “Put´ Pushkina k proze,” Boris Eikhenbaum describes some features of this shift, especially Push­kin’s own and other contemporary writers’ changed attitudes toward lyric poetry and their awakening interest in developing a Russian literary lan­guage that could be used in fictional prose genres.[1] Similar features of a shift in poetics can be seen in characterization and plot. For example, dur­ing the 1830s, Pushkin depicted a new kind of literary hero not identified with the Romantic poet, set his stories and poems in urban locations, and substituted what one would refer to as the familiar and quotidian for the former exotic themes and heroic actions. A description of these changes can be found in studies by Vladislav Khodasevich, Boris Tomashevskii, V. Vatsuro, and Brian Horowitz.[2] These scholars note that Pushkin’s new aesthetics of the 1830s features attacks against the past, including mock­ery of earlier Romantic attitudes and poetic conventions, such as the “inti­mate” relationship between author and reader.

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"Barbarus hic ego sum": Pushkin and Ovid on the Pontic Shore

Katya Hokanson


The dilemma of the literary exile is the writer’s awareness of the need both to point out his distance from home and yet also continue a literary presence there. How does Pushkin’s attempt to make readers aware of his absence and yet create a powerful literary presence compare to Ovid’s, and what does it tell us about exile and readership? The poet must always reckon with a virtual self, as Ovid writes to his Roman audience in Tristia:

And treasure the name of your Naso, thus far his sole unexiled portion,
And love it; the Scythian Pontus holds all the rest of him.[1]

Ovid, exiled to Tomis on the shores of the Black Sea, was both inspiration and cautionary tale to Pushkin. Exiled personally by his autocrat, Augus­tus, just as Pushkin was, but at the peak of his career, famous in Rome and the Roman Empire, Ovid was sent to the edge of the known world. Fated never to leave Tomis, although he begged continuously all through his exile for some softening of his punishment, Ovid felt himself to be amongst complete barbarians in frigid, uncivilized, and militarily con­tested territory, and he labored to keep his name and situation fresh to his many friends and allies in the capital. Pushkin, exiled almost two millen­nia later to approximately the same place, but as a young man, finds Bessarabia—not exactly Tomis but in close proximity to it—to be quite a different place than Ovid complained of: warm compared to Russia, south rather than north, near the center of the Greek uprising rather than on the edge of the known world. Nonetheless he felt a keen kinship to Ovid, employing Ovidian imagery to describe his sojourn, complaining of such things as the lack of booksellers in Kishinev and using the terminology of desert and wasteland.[2] Boris Gasparov draws attention to these same tropes as a Dantean motif rather than Ovidian: the motif of a contempo­rary poet/exile in the “gloomy desert” (mrachnaia pustynia) who meets the “shade of the antique poet.” This occurs in Pushkin’s poems on Ovid, as well as The Gypsies (Tsygany), Eugene Onegin, and others.[3]

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