Magazine article Russian Life

We Once Had a Poet Called Tyutchev

Magazine article Russian Life

We Once Had a Poet Called Tyutchev

Article excerpt

FYODOR IVANOVICH TYUTCHEV was endowed with genius and good luck: a great Russian poet, he was not killed in a duel or in the Caucasus (under the mountaineers' bullets, as they said in those days). Nor did he rot in Siberia, but instead lived until he was 70 and died in his own bed. Since that happened in 1873, people seldom think of him as belonging to Pushkin's epoch, though the two are near contemporaries: Tyutchev was born in 1803, only four years after Pushkin. Today a mention of the Golden Age of Russian poetry brings to mind the names of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev, Fet, and Baratynsky. Only the first two have, to a certain extent, overcome the language barrier. Tyutchev would, undoubtedly, have been surprised to learn that his lyrics are considered by many to be the best ever written in Russian, that a few of his lines have become proverbial (in fact, quoted to death), and that hundreds of articles and numerous books have been written about the slim volume of his nature, love, and political poems.

Of all Tyutchev's aphoristic statements, the one about the unfathomability of Russia is especially well known. It runs so (all the translations are mine):

   You will not grasp her with your mind
   Or cover with a common label,
   For Russia is one of a kind--
   Believe in her, if you are able ...

   [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

There is nothing like the hypnosis exercised by this "epigram" in its native Russian. It uses the vocabulary traditionally applied to the resurrection of Christ. It expresses the quintessence of people's irrational love of their inhospitable and unpredictable land, elevates their patriotism to the level of a religious feeling, and turns Russia, with its Messianic role, into an object of blind faith equal only to God. Another familiar quotation is from the poem "Silentium!" That lyric begins with the words: "Speak not, lie deep do not reveal/Things that you wish or things you feel," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--and contains the line: "A thought expressed becomes a lie." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] It has been repeated times out of number. Likewise the poem:

   We cannot see the hidden trace
   Of every word that we have spoken,
   And we are granted friendship's token,
   As we are granted Heaven's grace.

   [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

It would be wrong to say that in his lifetime Tyutchev was not known, and anyone would be happy to have the admirers he bad. Tolstoy said that, in his opinion, the greatest Russian poets had been Tyutchev, Lermontov, and Pushkin in that order! Fet addressed him as "My adorable poet." Nekrasov happened to reread the lyrics published earlier in the journal Sovremennik (The Contemporary) and signed only by the initials F.T. and, knowing nothing about the author's identity, wondered why the Russian public neglected its "less significant poets." Also Gonchmov, the author of Oblomov, had only praise for Tyutchev. But those were connoisseurs, themselves men of genius. The average reader, however, loved long romantic narrative poems (and Tyutchev wrote only short lyrics) and later lost all interest in poetry except when it dealt with social issues. A few of Tyutchev's nature lyrics were popular; yet the second of the two books he brought out (1868) remained unsold. "We once had a poet called Tyutchev ...," wrote Dostoevsky. Turgenev, another admirer, correctly predicted Tyutchev's relative obscurity, though he could not imagine that with the rise of Russian symbolist poetry at the end of the 19th century Tyutchev would be seen as a forerunner of this trend and become the source of inspiration for the authors who sometimes shared nothing except their love of him.

Some time after the revolution, Tyutchev fell out of grace because of his Slavophile sympathies (he pleaded for a pan-Slavic empire from Moscow to Constantinople, naturally, with Russia as its mainstay) and his profession of the Christian faith. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.