in Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry
In twentieth-century Russian poetry we can discern two significant psychological trends: the one was away from life, bringing with it a growing dehumanization in poetic consciousness and expression, which reflected a like dehumanization in Russian society at large. The other was an attempt to revivify the human poetic experience by reconnecting it to life and to the cosmic source of spiritual being.
In the trend away from life, Russian symbolism played an influential role, for, its impact, as Osip Mandelshtam reminded us in the mid-twenties, reached far beyond the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The symbolists’ romantic intensification of poetic experience, removing life as we know it into abstract, transcendental spheres, the pathological destruction and fragmentation of personality and normality as we find it in Fedor Sologub’s and Andrey Bely’s work, the defilement of the ideal and its consequent spiritual stress and frustration as we see it gather force in Alexander Blok’s poetry, the obsession with poetic craft as reflected in Valery Bryusov’s poetic work, and ultimately, the symbolist idealization of the poet and the poetic word to the exclusion of any divine source, moved the great majority of Russian symbolist poets further and further away from real life experience, replacing it with poetic phantasms. Blok’s creative impasse, Sologub’s and Bryusov’s intense solipsism and Bely’s visions of chaos bore witness to the fact that there was a heavy price to pay for a poetic sensibility raised to a higher power, for that overacuteness of the senses (Poe) which carried within it the seed of emotional bankruptcy and spiritual crisis.
The trend towards dehumanization and lifelessness in Russian poetry (and literature) continued in the theory and practice of a number of literary groups whose influence reached into the twenties and early thirties. The trans-