The Versification of Joseph Brodsky, 1990-1992
Smith, G. S., The Modern Language Review
It has long been understood that for the formal articulation of the poetry he composed after he was compelled to leave Russia in 1972, Joseph Brodsky (1940-96) soon developed a distinctive selection of metrical resources. (1) They included first and foremost the dol'nik as the principal metrical group instead of the binary and ternary metres that were (and are) still being used in the bulk of their work by the majority of Russian poets, (2) and within that group, by Brodsky's use of longer lines than average, in sequences that lack strict regulation. (3) Meanwhile, he continued to use rhyme and a broad range of stanza forms, as he had before 1972. Further research has shown that apart from rhyme and the stanza, Brodsky did not altogether abandon mainstream metrical resources as time went on; instead, he sometimes returned to the syllabo-tonic metres, never ceasing to experiment. (4) Consequently, in order to build up a comprehensive description of his formal development, it is expedient to analyse this development in short temporal segments, even year by year, paying detailed attention not only to metre, but also to other constituent levels of verse structure. The material studied in the present instance consists of the twenty-eight poems written or first published in the years 1990-92 inclusive. Analysis will employ the linguistic-statistical method and theoretical basis that have long been standard in academic research on Russian versification, modified where appropriate to take account of the particular features of the material. (5)
In the most complete edition of Brodsky's poetry to date, these poems form part of a larger section, which covers the years 1990-93. (6) To facilitate reference they have been numbered serially according to the order in which they stand in this edition. The poems will first be listed, giving serial number, title or first line, and page number in parenthesis: 1, 'Ne vazhno, chto bylo vokrug ...' (p. 81); 2, 'Vertumn' (pp. 82-90); 3, 'Angel' (p. 91); 4, 'Vot ia snova pod etim bestsvetnym nebom' (p. 92); 5, 'Metel' v Massachusetse' (pp. 93-94); 6, 'Mir sozdan byl iz smeshen'ia griazi ...' (p. 95); 7, 'Tsvety' (p. 96); 8, 'Sheimusu Khini' ('Ia prosnulsia ot krika chaek v Dubline') (p. 97); 9, 'Arkhitektura' (pp. 98-100); 10, 'Kappodokiia' (pp. 101-03); 11, 'Portret tragedii' (pp. 104-06); 12, 'Presepio' (p. 107); 13, 'Lido' (p. 108); 14, 'Nadpis'na knige' (p. 109); 15, 'Pis'mo v oazis (p. 110); 16, 'Posviash-chaetsia Dzhirolamo Marchello' (pp. 111-12); 17, 'Ty ne skazhesh' komaru' (p. 113); 18, 'Vid s kholma' (pp. 114-15); 19, 'Kolybel'naia' (pp. 116-17); 20, 'K peregovoram v Kabule' (pp. 118-19); 21, 'Mikhailu Baryshnikovu' (pp. 120-21); 22, 'Nariadu s otopleniem [...]' (p. 122); 23, 'Podruga, durneia litsom ...' (pp. 123-24); 24, 'Posleslovie k basne' (p. 125); 25, 'Priglashenie k puteshestviiu' (p. 126); 26, 'Provintsial'noe' (p. 127); 27, 'Snaruzhi temneet ...' (p. 128); 28, '--Chto ty delaesh', ptichka ...' (p. 129).
Certain important external factors condition the interpretation of Brodsky's work during this period. (7) First and foremost, he was now writing for a worldwide readership that included Russia. Hardly any of his original poetry had appeared in his native country before he left in 1972, and nothing whatsoever between that date and the end of 1987. For about two years, the publications were mainly retrospective, in a belated attempt to give the average Russian reader access to what was by then universally acknowledged to be the most important body of poetry created in the language during the second half of the twentieth century. From about 1990 Brodsky regularly published his new work in Russian serials and collections, and many of the poems of 1990 to 1992 first appeared in these sources. (8) In what way the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991 made a difference to Brodsky's prospects and plans for publication in Russia remains to be investigated; it passed without any extensive comment in his poetry. …