Alexander Pushkin and the Irony of Temperality
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. 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.” 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.