Review: V.V. Musatov, «Pushkinskaia traditsiia v russkoi poezii pervoi poloviny XX veka: Ot Annenskogo do Pasternaka»

V.V. Musatov. Pushkinskaia traditsiia v russkoi poezii pervoi poloviny XX veka: Ot Annenskogo do Pasternaka.  Moscow: Prometei, 1992. 220 pp.

 

Musatov's book is a sequel to his earlier study, Pushkinskaia traditsiia v russkoi poezii pervoi poloviny XX veka: Aleksandr Blok, Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Maiakovsky (Moscow: Prometei, 1991), in which the author examined the Symbolist conception of myth- and life-creating potential of poetry. In his new book, Musatov investigates another trend in Russian twentieth-century lyric poetry, first manifested in Annesnky's verse at teh time of the Symbolist crisis and further developed by Mandel´shtam, Akhmatova, and Pasternak. These poets also shared a particular approach to Pushkin's legacy, and it is this common ground which forms the core of Musatov's book.

The first chapter is dedicated to Annensky's creative transformation of Pushkinian motifs and poetics, conditioned by the distinct Weltanschauung of each of the two poets. Pushkin's view of teh world as a repository of beauty and harmony, his belief in the possibility of self-realization and in the epic unity of individual and nation confronted Annensky's inveterate skepticism. Annensky's verse offers a tragic view of reality which is essentially absurd and hostile to the lyric persona, who remains eternally isolated from society and nature. Despite these fundamental differences, Annensky reinstated Pushkin's ideals of artistic freedom and aesthetic criteria in art. This was especially significant in the wake of the Symbolist practice of embuing poetry with a theurgic function.

Although Annensky wrote on Pushkin only once ("Pushkin and Tarkoe Selo," 1899, on the occasion of the centennial of the poet's birth), Pushkin reverberates throughout most of Annensky's lyrics. Musatov's analysis of "The Bronze Poet" uncovers an important parallel with Pushkin's poems about statues which come to life. Scholars conventionally regarded the animation of the Pushkin statue as affirmation of the longevity of the poet's art. This opinion is expressed, in particular, in the works by Janet Tucker, Nancy Pollack, and Tomas Venclova. Musatov, however, perceives in "The Bronze Poet" a reiteration of Pushkin's warning against transgressing the boundary between dead and living matter, between dream and reality. This is why the miraculous animation of the bronze poet induces in the viewer an uncanny feeling, akin to Eugene's fear at the sight of the stirring Bronze Horseman.

Discussing Annensky's alusions to Pushkin, Musatov unfortunately ignores the long poem-cantata "Rozhdenie i smert´ poeta" (1899), also composed for the centennial of Pushkin's birth. The poem not only addresses the significance of Pushkin's verse for Russian literature, but also mimics Pushkin's metaphors, rhyme patterns and certain oft-employed images, particularly shadow. The use of the genre of bylina with its typical meter, taktovik, recalls Pushkin's own use of folklore, as in his "Skazka o medvedikhe."

The second chapter focuses on the role of various nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets in the formation of Mandel´shtam's poetic themes. Tiutchev's motifs of the transcendental abyss and the return to an organic state exerted crucial influence on Mandel´shtam's early verse, although they were given entirely different normative content by the later poet. For Mandel´shtam's infantile lyric I, the goal was individual self-realization through creative action and participation in culture; therefore, self-negation and return to nature was viewed as negative. Against Tiutchev's obliterating chaos Mandel´shtam juxtaposed Pushkin's acceptance of the material world and valorization of culture in its most structural manifestation—architecture.

In Musatov's opinion, Mandel´shtam's Stone contains several Pushkinian themes, especially in poems trating St. Petersburg, its founder and its architecture. In "Nôtre Dame," the imposing mass of the magnificent building looming over an ordinary person serves as an allusion to The Bronze Horseman. "Petersburg Strophes" seemingly resolves Pushkin's dichotomy of state and individual: instead of a helpless rebel against an inhuman, albeit brilliant historical idea, Eugene becomes an inconspicuous but inherent element of Petersburg's Empire-style architecture.

Further, Musatov traces Mandel´shtam's dialectic in the post-REvolutionary period. After 1917, due to his relationship with Tsvetaeva, Mandel´shtam "discovered" Moscow and the whole pre-Petrine period in Russian history. The poet became aware of irrational forces in Russian history, ready to erupt at any moment. The Revolution confirmed Mandel´shtam's new understanding of history, and he turned to another Pushkin theme, the "senseless and merciless" rebellion.

Simultaneously, the image of St. Petersburg in Mandel´shtam's poetry was transformed, becoming nocturnal and ominous. Tiutchev's cold, "metaphysical void" reentered his verse, driving away Pushkin's cosmogonic myth. Musatov argues that with the tragic realization that the Pushkinian period in Russian culture was drawing to a close, Pushkin's influence faded in Mandel´shtam's portrayal of St. Petersburg. Musatov seems to hold a one-sided view of Pushkin's St. Petersburg as stately and classical. In The Bronze Horseman, after all, Pushkin outlined two opposite aspects of the city: on the one hand harmonious, beautiful, and ruled by human logic and will, yet sinister, destructive, and irrational on the other. It would be more appropriate to say that around 1917, Mandel´shtam turned his attention from teh "brighter" to the "darker" side of St. Petersburg while continuing the Pushkinian tradition.

In the chapter on Akhmatova, Musatov debunks the conventional view that the main Pushkinian feature in the poetess' verse lies in its novelistic quality. Akhmatova, according to the author, hardly ever developed plots in her lyrics, focusing instead on the collision between the heroine and fate. Akhmatova's poems, like Pushkin's, were generated by drama. She used objects to mediate her emotions and revealed the persona's psychological state through movement, gesture, and intonation. This orientation toward theatrical performance is equally noticeable in Pushkin's poetics.

The Poem without a Hero is saturated with Pushkin's conception of history as drama. Eugene Onegin finds deep resonance in the poem, as Akhmatova suggests under-realization is the fate of Russia. Like Pushkin's novel in verse, Akhmatova's Poem reflects the most intimate aspects of teh author's life, encoded and objectivized in characters and situations and unrecognizable to the uninitiated reader.

Musatov also points out that the theme of the Tsarskoe Selo in Akhmatova's verse stems not from Pushkin, but from Annensky. Instead of celebrating the beautiful parks and architecture, Akhmatova foreshadows the future destruction of this harmonious world, very much in the vein of Annensky.

In the last chapter, the author argues that Pasternak rehabilitated nature and restored the harmony between man and the world which had disappeared from Russian poetry after Pushkin and Fet. In clear opposition to Annensky's skepticism, Pasternak defined nature as a miracle of creation and poetry as a miracle of creativity. The revival of Pushkin's spirit is manifested in Pasternak's dramatization of history and ther recognition of the historical role of the artist. Doctor Zhivago expresses Pushkin's view that therea re two levels of history: the individual level, where historical events appear contingent and irrational, and the supra-individual, metaphysical level, where all seemingly disparate forces cohere and make sens as movement toward fulfillment of the divine plan. The artis'ts ultimate role is to observe life and assert man's free participation in the drama of objective existence.

In conclusion, Musatov restates the three main facets of Pushkin's influence on the poets under consideration: apotheosis of artistic freedom, history as drama, and individual self-realization through art.

The author's research is solid, although limited to sources available in Russian. Musatov's impressionistic style, the amorphous structure of the book, and the apparent lack of logical connection between sections occasionally hinder coherent reading. Extended digressions are often unjustified, distracting the reader from the book's main quest. These deviations create the impression that the title does not adequately represent the scope of the book. However, these deficiencies are insignificant in comparison to the innovative and valuable material the author provides. Musatov offers a comprehensive picture of the transformation of the "classical" tradition in the works of four outstanding poets of our century, with PUshkin at the epicenter.

 

Maria Rubins
Brown University

 

Download:

Rubins, Maria. Rev. of V.V. Musatov, Pushkinskaia traditsiia v russkoi poezii pervoi poloviny XX veka: Ot Annenskogo do Pasternaka. Pushkin Review 1 (1998): 169-72.

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Vol. 01 (1998)