Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Khodasevich. Lectures on Pushkin for Proletkult (1918) (1)

Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Khodasevich. Lectures on Pushkin for Proletkult (1918) (1)

Article excerpt

First Lecture, Fundamental Techniques for Reading Pushkin Consciously (2)


1. I have already written about the necessity of education for proletarian poets. (3) There is no need to repeat my conclusions: your presence here demonstrates that you share my views.

2. More important is the question of just what the proletarian poet needs to study. The answer to this question depends on the answer to a more general question: what does it mean to study when we are speaking about the education of beginning poets?

Poetae nascitur. (4) It is not possible to teach someone to be a poet. One can teach poetry writing, i.e., acquaint [students] with the main techniques of poetic art. This is almost purely theoretical. In practice--analysis. No teaching, no forcing. Poetry does not occur at will. It is a miracle born of an individual's spiritual power. A mystery, a sacrament. Rehearsing a miracle? Staging a sacrament? This is blasphemy. (5) And what's more--it's fraud, delusion. (Charlatanism.) (About the bourgeois studio.) I hope that Proletkult will not take that path.

3. The only correct path is to learn to read. He who knows how to read, if he has talent, will learn to write as well (only separate instructions, advice, but no "lessons for tomorrow"). Without talent, no subtleties, tricks or fashions will help. (I can lift 10 lbs. If you see me juggling weights like a real circus performer, know that they are cardboard. My "strength" will be of no use at all.)

So, the main goal of our special section will be to create readers of poetry, not writers. In Russia people have never known how to read poetry, and they still don't. The main error has been changing views: now content, now form. Neither one nor the other. Content and form are indivisible. One is indissolubly bonded to the other, and it is not possible to read poets without keeping this in mind.


1. If we are to learn to read poetry, then of course we should read Pushkin, the greatest poet, with his striking harmony of form and content. But how does one learn to read Pushkin? What does it mean to read Pushkin? To study him. But here we have a number of paths.

2. The study of Pushkin. Its meaning and import. Its goal--the true understanding of Pushkin. To achieve true understanding it is essential to know:

1) The conditions, social and personal, under which a given work was created. The very same poem, line, or word can have various meanings, depending on ...

2) The establishment of the true final text. Example: the end of Boris Godunov. A change in the text by Pushkin is a sign of that intellectual and spiritual process that went on within him, i.e., [the change] reveals anew the true meaning, in all its fullness, of the given work. Example: "Dreams, dreams, where is your sweetness?" ["Mechty, mechty, gde vasha sladost'?"]. Details: a change in external meaning can also be significant. Example: the comma in "The Faun and the Shepherdess" ["Fauna i pastushka"]. This is important for the language, interesting for the content, the plot. But the poem itself is not particularly important. However, sometimes it can happen ... Both at the same time--The Bronze Horseman.

3) An analysis of the structure of the line, because the line unconsciously reflects the internal movement. Andrei Belyi. (6) Early efforts. About rhythm, gestures ...

3. Therefore in the study of Pushkin, the work moves along a number of different channels which sometimes diverge and at other times converge. In studying Pushkin it is essential to consider everything, sometimes all at once and sometimes separately.

4. What we can do. The necessity of limiting ourselves. An exact formulation of the themes of my lectures. The decades.

It is possible to talk about Pushkin from various points, it is possible to use various techniques--and it will all come to the same thing: studying how to read Pushkin. …

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