by Egor Sychugov
Death is the only concept in the existence of humans that limits their supremacy over na-ture. Human life is valuable only because of death, just as time is valuable only when lim-ited. The presence of inevitable end extols the beginning, and death, ultimately taking everyone, is a kind of measure of reality for people — if there was no death, there would be no life, but only existence in time that we would not be able to sense.
The interest of poets in death is natural. ‘’How can I, so beautiful and intelligent, writing such excellent poems, die?’’ Consciousness of their own mortality came to every demi-urge who, feeling the power of creating an infinite number of poetic lives, was horrified, realizing that he could not save his own in a fateful hour. Or could? Or death is not the end, but something more subtle? Since the dead do not write poetry, the mysterious boundary between life and death has always interested poets who are looking for an-swers to their spiritual impulses.
In world history, not so many countries have experienced as many upheavals as Russia has. ‘’A poet in Russia is more than a poet,’’ said Nekrasov, and this is an absolute truth: as poetry is a part of the language, the language is a part of poetry; as the poets are a part of Russia, Russia is a part of the poets. Death of one is death of another. For language determines thinking, poets of different countries should see same things in different ways. Russian poets of 20th century, which was full of upheavals, had their own unique view on how death affects humans, and how mortal poets really are.
For Alexander Blok, who was considered to be one of the most significant figures in Russian culture of the 20th century, death never represented tragedy. His oeuvre had a strong motif of eternal search for path and purpose in life, and death, as it would seem, should be the logical conclusion of this search. On the contrary, the image of death is not dramatic for Blok at all, because it is just a transitional phase between two worlds: from the lower world — the world of human life — to the sublime one, unknown and romantic. However, the fact that death is not tragic for Blok does not mean that the poet idealizes it; rather, Blok refers to death as to a necessary end to the journey of soul, and does not see anything surprising in it — death exists, it will come, and he, being a poet who had learned life in all its metaphysical and ontological completeness, should not be afraid of it.
“Both late and dark. I’ll leave without a desire Rebellious God’s house. I’ll end the bright way, I’ll not wait for visits, As I walked there — I’ll go out, unknown.” (1)
Such a perception of death, the researchers of the poet’s work maintain, is inspired by the teachings of Socrates, who perceived death as a form of rebirth into a higher form of being (2). The personal intrepidity of the philosopher inspired Blok, and the idea of high spirit was an important part of his poetics: for Blok, theosophical vision of the world was closely intertwined with the anthropocentric, which formed the basis of his “Trilogy of Incarna-tion.” He went to the third volume with an ascending thought, and as his poetry devel-oped, his philosophical understanding of the world did so, too; the third volume starts with the cycle ‘’Scary World’’, 1909-1916, in which the premonition of panhuman end is felt strong as never before. Eschatology is manifested in the rejection of the “vulgar world”, and death, in this context, acquires new semantic nuances: the poet sees it as a divine solution, a punishment, and as a deliverance at the same time, which can finish madness that is so alien to the poet.
Since he himself is a sublime being unable to do away with the arbitrariness of flesh, death can do this. In particular, the image of “harlot” from the poem ‘’The Last Day’’, 1904, refers to one of the most im-portant images of Christian eschatology, the Whore of Babylon, a character often referred to infernal and apocalyptic conceptosphere. The lyrical hero feels a carnal appetence for the woman, and he is ashamed that his beautiful soul can be unified with abominable body. Therefore, at the level of imagery, he tolerates disgust on the surrounding world: furniture (‘’the red commode was the most terrible’’), clothes (‘’the folds of the shirt hang-ing down hideously’’) and the harlot (‘’pale as death’’). Using epithets as a tool of accu-sation of the surrounding world for being banal and lowland, Blok extols his image as of a poet. However, at the end of the poem, there is a paradox: during the Apocalypse, only the harlot is truly faithful to God:
“There, on a dirty street where people gathered, A woman harlot sat — from the bed of drunken desire — On her knees, in her shirt, she raised her arms high…”
The impending death in this poem reveals Blok’s detached attitude towards death. Again: he does not believe in mortality of his spirit and, as a result, transfers the dualistic prob-lem to the harlot; through her faithfulness to God (his faith is undeniable), Blok depicts salvation of all things. Since the Russian symbolism required a meticulous work with se-miotic systems, Blok learned how to hide real meanings behind the illusory ones; in this case, through a romantic Doppelgänger, he demonstrated immortality of his soul and death of his flesh.
It is important to note that the conflict of physical and spiritual is in-spired by the concept of incarnation: dyophysitism, according to which Jesus Christ had two natures — divine and human, is a rethinking of the idea of a hypostatic union. Blok reflects on the possibility of achieving such a unification by man and raises the question of equivalence of these ways: is it that possible to transform a human being into a god as a god into a human being, and from where did Jesus begin the path of the hypostatic union? This issue will be the central idea of Blok’s poetics of cleansing and exaltation, as well as the desired resolution of the conflict of heaven and earth.
Blok, being the main Russian symbolist, always sacralized the idea of spirit as of a sepa-rate substance from flesh, and therefore we can say that death did not frighten Blok, as he always felt special affinity with it. It is similar to the ideas of Buddhism in some way, but the idea of World Soul, the all-healing and all-moving power, individualizes Blok’s onto-logical concept of world perception.
“Who sighed at the grave, Whose chest was eased? Pardon a woeful soul, Lord! Let me rest.”(3)
So, main motifs associated with death, such as transition to a higher world, enveloped in a ‘’mysterious veil’’, were formed in early works of the poet. One of the early examples of death representation is the poem ‘’She grew up beyond the farthest mountains…’’, written in 1901, where Blok strove to convey the mysterious pro-cess of transition of the subtle line between life and death. It is noteworthy that his hero-ine reacts to her last seconds ambivalently — yearns because of the need to say farewell to life, whilst waiting with impatience for the posthumous transformation.
We can see one of the author’s favorite techniques in this poem, which he often used in this period of work — the metaphor of ‘’flowering’’. The spiritual transformation of the lyri-cal heroine is shown through the prism of habitual and natural changes, “She suddenly blossomed, triumphing in azure’’. Psychological parallelism is used by Blok as a mani-festation of the idea of eternity of nature and the peace of soul as a semantic opposition to the traditional understanding of tragic death. Death is not a phenomenon over a per-son, but a phenomenon in a person, and this is a mere transition — as if in a space, which does not hurt the soul.
Likewise, the theme of death is realized in his later poem, “Here it is, a series of grave steps”, the heroine of which awaits death as a purification and liberation. For Blok, eternal life and transfiguration triumph over death, and only after passing through death, lyrical hero finds a solution to his spiritual torments. Death reveals its true meaning in immortality and eternal spiritual existence.
“And she went to death, wanting and yearning. None of you have seen the ash here… Suddenly she blossomed, triumphing in azure, In different faraway and in unearthly mountains.”(4)
It is notable that theme of love is implemented through the perspective of death — only when the vital boundary had been overcome, the heroes can think of a full mystical reun-ion. In Blok’s letters to his beloved woman, Mendeleyeva, he brightly reflected this particular view of human relations, the impossibility of a lifelong confluence of souls: “If the final un-ion is impossible in this life, and the pure goal is the final union, then why don’t tear your-self away from this life…”. The poet repeatedly called his beloved “the ultimate goal not only in life, but also in death,” emphasizing that there is spiritual life and love even be-yond existent.
“Like here, where they sang and censed, Where sadness cannot be quiet as well, She dressed in a veil of dust, And was waiting for Another Bridegroom…”(5)
The theme of death can be considered as a connecting element, binding all the works of Blok. Through the theme of death, Blok realizes his attitude towards man, humanity, and himself as part of the world. For a poet, people have never been a bunch of insensitive beings who are subject only to their own natural instincts, but their fragmentary nature had evoked a number of religious and dogmatic questions. A person in Blok’s poetic world has a fate of a traveler, doomed to eternal search for Truth. It is no accident that the poet himself called his work a road to “incarnation”, where ‘’the seeker will find, and the beggar — will be repaid.’’
Despite Blok’s great influence on Russian poetic thought, 20th century had many other unique poets with delicate worldview. Marina Tsvetaeva, as Joseph Brodsky rightly not-ed, was the brightest poet of the century. Tsvetaeva’s poetics was imbued with tragic worldview, which had been formed in her childhood as a result of death of her mother, years spent in lovelessness, and hypertrophied sensitivity, which was born from an ex-traordinary poetic gift. Tsvetaeva began to write poetry very early, and when she was seventeen, in 1909, her lyrical heroine began thinking of death in the poem called “Prayer”:
“Christ and God! I crave a miracle, Now, at present, at the beginning of the day! Oh, let me die, while All life is like a book for me.”
She asks for death “at the beginning of the day” — that is, at the beginning of life, before the sun sets and before her dawn as a woman, as a poet and — more importantly — as a soul. Tsvetaeva is resolute in her impulse, since all life for her is the subordination to the desires of her soul, substance that is most important for her as for a poet. ‘’You gave me it — too much!’’, she exclaims, trumpeting depth of her poetic gift, which cannot be system-atically developed and, therefore, cannot fit into any chronological or topological frame-work of a life of an ordinary person: her soul is too great, and the apotheosis of her crea-tivity is in poetic explosion, cultivated by her own ambrosia, born from Tsvetaeva’s strong tradition of mythogenic poetry.
The most important myth for Tsvetaeva is the myth of Psy-che, the personification of soul, which, as she thought, is the only sufficiently pure and subtle substance capable of ‘’flying’’ through death (the motif for liberation from the “flesh cage”). Speaking about her desire of ‘’all roads’’ — all the lives that Tsvetaeva cannot live — she cannot become a nun, a poet, a gypsy, and an astronomer — she asks for a common denominator for all lives, which is death, where all souls merge together.
“I love the cross, and silk, and helmets, My soul is a trail of moments … You gave me childhood — better than a fairy tale, And give me death — at seventeen!”(6)
The young Tsvetaeva has a rather widespread perception of death, similar to the general cultural context: death as liberation of soul from worldly life. Later, Russian philosopher Leo Karsvain, who was one of Tsvetaeva’s friends, would be thinking: “What kind of life is this if there is no death in it? In such a ‘’life’’, nothing disappears and, therefore, nothing arises… There is no love in it, for there is nothing to give, and there is nothing to sacrifice… This is not life without death, but death without life: something with no existence. You cannot save without losing, you cannot touch the truth of life without realizing the truth of death, but ‘’to be able to die — to be able to overcome dying — that is, once again, to be able to live’’.
Afterwards in the work of Tsvetaeva, who succeeded traditions of romanticism and, in particular, the idea of dualistic world, death will be represented as an alluring ‘’there’’, which is better and more pleasant than fragile ‘’here’’. This traditional sensation of ro-mantic doom in Tsvetaeva’s poetics is transformed into an eschatological anticipation of her own fatality, to which she does not aspire, though she does not resist it, idealizing and romanticizing death in her visionary world of inevitable end. In the very basis of con-struction of Tsvetaeva’s poetic world lies the idea of ‘’double world’’, or ‘’dualistic world’’, which goes back to the teachings of Plato (7). The idea of neglecting external life, gravita-tion toward death and suicide are comparable with the arguments (8) about death of Sigmund Freud, who had affected Tsvetaeva.
“Admit that no matter who you want to be in this world, There is something more beautiful: not to be.”
Sacralization of soul in the physical body is fundamentally important for Tsvetaeva: she exalts soul as something between the world of living and the world of dead, deviating it from traditional cosmogonic picture of the world, in which body refers to the semantic field of life and soul refers to the semantic field of death. Here we can see the poetic innova-tion of Tsvetaeva, and her thought about impossibility of touching being without touching non-being is expressed in the following lines of ‘’Poem of the End’’:
“The last bridge. (I will not give up my hands, I will not!) The last bridge, The last ferriage. Water and the firmament. I spread coins. Day for the death, Charon’s fee for the Lethe.”(9)
‘’The last ferriage’’ alludes to Charon, the ferryman of Hades in Greek mythology. In the poem above Tsvetaeva amalgamates the significancy and polysematism of Greek aes-thetics in the context of her own vision of life and death, which she thinks are derivative concepts after this of soul. She mixes ancient mythological perception of death with or-thodox by using Christian lexicon (‘’firmament’’) together with allusions to Greek mythol-ogy, thus broadening semantical boundaries of mortal discourse.
The contradictory nature of Tsvetaeva’s poetics unfolds in close interweaving of the sac-raments of ‘’descents and ascents’’, which formed the core of the Eleusinian mysteries. Again, we see that cultural context is essential for her. Poeticizing death, she uses high-flown, even grandiloquent epithets, which originally are used with vital images, not mortal: ‘’cheerful sailing’’, ‘’welcoming end’’, ‘’beateous finis’’. This kind of euphemisation transforms death into something mysterious and graceful, which is inviting because of its ethereal nature.
The motif for liberation of the fallen soul is absolutely orphic for her as for Psyche (“In the body — as in the swamps, In the body — as in the crypt… The world — is the walls, The escape — is the ax …”). With the help of simile, Tsvetaeva transforms a number of epi-thets into oxymoron, where the repugnancy of thought in simile of the body with the crypt turns into a new literary device.
Tsvetaeva is a master of poetic form and the most frequent user of a dash — the sign of ‘’extraordinary poetic power’’, through which she transmits an emotional tear. In the po-ems of mortal discourse, dash often performs function of creating a dramatic pause be-fore changing the semantic layers; for example, from life to death, and back again. The unity of Apollon and Dionysus also explains the integrity of Tsvetaeva’s poetics, the indissolubility of her aspiration for all bounds (“What should I do, the singer and the first-born… With this immeasurability in the world of measures?!”) with the desire to retain, to preserve the smallest ‘’atom of being’’.
Tsvetaeva defines her belonging to space and time by clear selection of words: she says to leave not “this world”, but ‘’that world”, meaning that she is already in another dimen-sion. Here are lines from the poem called ‘’Minute’’, written in 1923:
“Oh, how I’m eager to leave that world, Where the pendulums tear my soul, Where the eternity of my soul is reigned By the dissimilation of minutes!”
In this quatrain the lyric heroine of Tsvetaeva speaks of ‘’pendulums’’ that tear ‘’the eter-nity of her soul’’ — that is, the measurability of time that causes pain to the immeasurable soul of Tsvetaeva. This refers us to the early work of the poet, where she asked Christ for death for the same reason: the impossibility of living a life that is measured by something. Tsvetaeva believes that time — as the precursor of death — is only around, but never in-side a poet. ‘
’There is a gap: into the depths of time, a gap leading to stalactite caves of pre-history: into the underworld of Persephone and Minos — to where Orpheus said goodbye: — to H. A. D. E. S’’ (10). Again, the same dialectic of Spirit: death is trampled upon by death. It is impossible and useless to fathom this phrase in naturalistic way — as a call to suicide; nevertheless, it is a romaticization of death, which is seen by Tsvetaeva as something median, neither beginning nor end, something that is a mere part of existence.
Speaking of psychological analysis of the image systems in Tsvetaeva’s poetics, we can say that she was moved by the instinct of death, or death drive, about which she wrote openly; euphemisms only gave the deadly images an appeal, referring to the secret mys-teries. This was defined by Sigmund Freud as tanathos, or death drive. Despite Tsvetaeva’s poetic egoism in her desire to die, she considered a poet to be ‘’a victim and a priest’’.
“I know, I will die at dawn! On which of the two, Together with which — impossible to decide by order.”
The symbol that personifies human life is the “torch”. The poem does not trace all life in its successive path from birth to non-existence, but only one moment of agony, which an-ticipates near death.
“I know, I will die at dawn! — God will not send Hawk Night to my swan soul!” (11)
So, the conceptual meanings of death in Tsvetaeva’s poetry correspond to those of life, but marked by negation. In this marking, she actualizes the spatio-temporal and percep-tual characteristics of death, which helps here to objectify the mortal discourse. The satellite-images of death are those of emptiness, darkness, and abysses. For exam-ple, death provides a possibility of liberation from crowdedness (from odious flesh), and helps soul to do away with measurements, merging with infinite Cosmos after the mo-ment of dying.
Death is always something median for Tsvetaeva’s high-flown soul, and quickness of death is usually associated with rivers, bridges, or railways — traditional archetypical im-ages of portals to the afterlife. This resembles the idea of incompleteness of death.
“So many times I wanted to live And so many times — to die!” (12)
In the poetic consciousness of Tsvetaeva, life and death, while having semantic proximi-ty, are still equally invalid concepts. ‘’There is no life, there is no death, the is third, the New’’ (13). Thus, we can conclude that there is something ‘’third’’ in Tsvetaeva’s poetics; apart being and non-being, there is also an other-being, which is equally antonymous and synonymous with concepts of being and non-being.
“Will fit and look, Death, the zealous gardener. In thoughts of another, And not found, like a treasure, Step by step, poppy by poppy, Beheaded the whole garden. So, someday, in the dry Summer fields, on the edge, Death, with a negligent hand, Will take my head off.” (14)
Here we can see that Tsvetaeva’s poetic skill reaches an incredible height. In creating the image of Death, Tsvetaeva goes not to, but from it, from its scythe. She unloads desemantization of Death by semantization of the lyrical heroine — turning her into a plant, she turns her into something that can be cut off by Death. Thus, Tsvetaeva seems to adjust the whole world under the semantic field of Death. We can call it regenerative semantization, when the word is being cleansed of metaphorical and symbolic compo-nents, returning to its original — and most precise — meaning.
Apropos, death is mentioned in Tsvetaeva’s poems 133 times, which is quite high con-centration of mortal discourse in her 429 poems. Moreover, most of the poems about death were written between 1912 and 1913, the year she married and gave birth to a ba-by. It demonstrates how difficult its was for her to live an earthly life; that is, she continued to write about suicide and funerals. The long romance with death ended in Yelabuga in 1941, where one of the greatest poets of 20th century committed a suicide. Tsvetaeva created her own vision of death, which is distinct from the majority of religious and dogmatic teachings. She saw non-being as “cosmogonic” being, or other-being of a poet with high soul, which is a fundamentally new vision of death in Russian poetry.
Death has always been seen as something personal and intimate by poets, and this is quite reasonable — if you are dead, this is your end. Meanwhile, in contradistinction to egocentric poetry of Tsvetaeva, there were poets who perceived death as something omnipresent and unavoidable. If there was a poet in 20th century who transmitted all the pain of that time, it’s Anna Akhmatova. She lived an unusually long life for a poet — 76 years — suffering revolution, war, and all the upheavals that happened in Russia. Born in the Russian Empire, Akhmatova preserved greatness of the Russian word and spirit till the very end, proudly and quietly bore the cross of a Russian poet over piles of bodies and rivers of blood. She died in the Soviet Union after numerous attempts to free her son from the camp, burying three husbands and living years under despotic supervision. However, she remains to be the main Russian female voice of the 20th century, and per-haps the main Russian female voice in history.
Akhmatova’s sensation of death is very different from that of Tsvetaeva. Despite the fact that they are two main Russian poetesses (Akhmatova protested against this word and asked to be called a poet), their poetry varies as much as it possible. Tsvetaeva saw death as a part of earthy life, and therefore she, a high soul, invincible in her moral im-perative, was not affected by death; her spirit was in another world, where she was above death and below it. But for Akhmatova everything was exactly the opposite. Akhmatova, who lived a life full of deaths, watching horrors of revolution and repressions, considered death to be an inalienable end, unfair in its inevitability. She felt the otherworldly eeriness in how death silently overtakes a person, regardless of who he or she was.
In the vey first album of Akhmatova there is a poem called ‘’The Funeral’’, 1911, dedicat-ed to Akhmatova’s deceased sister Inna. With this poem, a string of dedications began, poems of ‘’memory’’, as Akhmatova buried a huge number of friends and loved ones. Those will be the verses of ‘’To The Memory of Bulgakov”, “The Death of a Poet”, dedi-cated to Boris Pasternak, and many others; for a long time Akhmatova was watching how death took others, and only later, through association with the fate of other people, she understood that she is also mortal.
“Oh, who could think that I was crazy, To me, the mourner of the days that had not been, To me, smoldering on the slow fire, All survived, all forgotten…” (15)
Preceding and traditional poems of memory contained descriptions of feelings for the de-ceased, descriptions of what a great man passed away and how the world changed without him or her. In this poem, we can see a departure from the genre — giving honor to Bulgakov, Akhmatova touches herself, as well as regarding the comprehension of her place in relation to death. ‘’To me, smoldering on a slow fire,’’ so she describes her life, the life of a poet, which Tsvetaeva similized with the torch. Smoldering, as opposed to burning, is a phenomenon with an apparent intonation towards the end, extinction, and death; so, Akhmatova comprehends her death through a doleful chant. Violation of the genre allows her to expand semantic boundaries and show that there is no difference who the poem had been dedicated to and who had died, because all of us will die. A year earlier Akhmatova wrote a poem titled “To Death.”
“You’ll come anyway. “Why not now?” I’m waiting for you — it’s very difficult. I put out the light and opened the door To you, so simple and wonderful.” (16)
From the first lines she appeals to death as to a conscious being, and speaks to her not in fear, but in a calm manner, as an old friend. What else is left, why should one wait, and why not to take life now, when so many deaths had already been seen? Akhmatova writes that it is ‘’very difficult’’ for her to wait, and the reader can guess that it is hurtful for her to live, it is painful to ‘’slowly smolder’’. Alliteration of the hissing sounds [ch] and [sh] creates an illusion of whisper, as if Akhmatova’s lyrical heroine is haggard or dying and asks this life to be completed. Unlike Tsvetaeva with her endless struggle and Brodsky with his endless escape from death, Akhmatova accepts the end and waits for it. She doest it not the way Tsvetaeva expects “death at seventeen,” but in the manner old peo-ple die — people who had seen the century. Akhmatova is almost playing with death: she put out the light — in the house, in the eyes, or in her life — and opened the door for the guest to enter; the poet calls death ‘’simple and wonderful,’’ referring to death as to a prose of life. It will be over, and nothing more.
Here again we can see the fundamental difference between two poetesses, for Akhmato-va, at the bottom of her soul, while understanding all her poetic power, remains modest. Later, in the epilogue of ‘’Requiem’’, 1934-1963, she asks to place her a monument nei-ther in her native places, nor near the sea, but near the walls of camps and prisons, where people died, where she ‘’stood for three hundred hours’’, and where she saw the horrors of stalinism. Such a life for Akhmatova is more terrible than death, which is “so simple and wonderful.’’ Speaking of how she would be perished, Akhmatova uses poly-syndeton, repeating “or” several times and thus accelerating the narrative of the text. This was done in order to demonstrate indifference of the lyrical heroine to how she would die:
“Bomb with the poisoned shell, Or with the weight, stalk like an experienced bandit, Or envenom with a typhoid child, Or with a fairy tale, invented by you, Which is familiar to everyone to nausea…” (17)
Akhmatova is a master of poetic form, which complements the content and creates a spe-cial poetic grace. Again, unlike Brodsky and Tsvetaeva, who loved to allude to myths and folklore, and who were poets of the past and mystical ‘’there,’’ Akhmatova is extremely concrete — she is a poet of specific ‘’here’’ and specific ‘’now.’’ She uses prosaic motifs and images from everyday life, giving them new poetic form and showing how beautiful — and lamentable — our lives truly are. Nonetheless, sometimes Akhmatova alludes to images from historical and cultural con-text, as in the poem ‘’Lot’s Wife.” Here, the poetess rethinks the biblical myth of Lot and his wife:
“But the heart of his wife whispered stronger and stranger: “It’s not very late, you have time to look back At these rose turrets of your native Sodom, The square where you sang, and the yard where you span, The windows looking from your cozy home Where you bore children for your dear man.” She looked — and her eyes were instantly bound By pain — they couldn’t see any more at all: Her fleet feet grew into the stony ground Her body turned into a pillar of salt.” (18)
Akhmatova sees manifestation of an incredible willpower and love in her lyrical heroine — willpower of not to not turn around, but to turn around. For her, as for a woman and a mother, this is the only true and possible choice in such situation, when you are forced to leave your home. Perhaps Akhmatova subconsciously identified herself with Lot’s wife, since she considered herself as unworthy woman and ‘’bad mother,’’ and the fact that she accepted death in exchange for ‘’one single glance’’ becomes an apogee of nobility for the poetess.
Tsvetaeva, in particular, did not like this poem: she believed that Akhmatova had to turn either herself into Lot’s wife or vice versa, but she had no right to separate their images. Akhmatova could make this choice for several reasons: firstly, in order to fully praise the exploit of Lot’s wife, without desecrating it by uniting with her own image; secondly, in or-der to not to lie to herself, not being sure whether she was ready to die for what the heroine died for. Therefore, Akhmatova proclaims:
“Who’ll mourn her as one of Lot’s family members? Doesn’t she seem the smallest of losses to us? But deep in my heart I will always remember One who gave her life up for one single glance. ” (19)
One poem should be considered specially — the ‘’Seaside Sonnet”, written in 1958.
“Everything here will outlive me, Everything, even the dilapidated birdhouses, And this air, the air of the spring, Which had completed the maritime flight.”
The word “outlive” is extremely important in this poem from the point of semantic power, for it reflects the poet’s attitude to death, which differs from the previous creative context. In the poem ‘’Willow’’,1940, Akhmatova says:
“…I liked mugs as well as nettles, But most of all — the silver willow, Which — strange! — I outlived…”
The same verb expresses the different attitude towards death. In ‘’Willow’’, Akhmatova is struck by the fact that she lived more that the old tree. In ‘’Seaside Sonnet’’, she says that ‘’even the dilapidated birdhouses’’ (as well as ‘’spring air’’ and ‘’cherry blossoms’’, rhymed with them) will outlive her, and she does not think about the posthumous fate of her works, as it might be pointless.
The motif of path holds an important place in Akhmatova’s poetics. Sometimes it means path to death: ‘’I’m visiting white death, On the way to darkness…’’ But in this particular poem the word ‘’road’’ is used in a rather unusual syntactic construction, which makes is notable: ‘’The road I won’t tell you to where…’’ Akhmatova uses a figure of reticence, a common device for her writing, not wanting to say directly where this road leads. At the same time, it is a vernacular construction, which contrasts sharply with the profound phil-osophical mood of the poem. In ‘’Seaside Sonnet’’, the only Akhmatova’s poem titled ‘’sonnet’’, she experiments with its form, as if not willing to follow the rules of versification: there are two quatrains and two tercets, as well as three double rhymes are applied in tercets. Traditional requirements might look to be done; however, the uncanonical run for a sonnet — iambic tetrameter — levels the meaning of form as of a sonnet, but deepening it as of a poem.
Akhmatova consciously destroys the form of her sonnet, making it look more Russian, as iambic te-trameter is one of the most widespread runs in Russian poetry; poetic space, while iam-bic tetrameter is used, is sharply reduced in comparison with other runs. This experiment impels the author to reduce the textual space by saving syllables, creating the feeling of tightness, choking, which sends us to thoughts of death and the coming end. Since Akhmatova has a strong civil voice, her understanding of death is closely related to collective grief. So, in the poem ‘’Death’’, 1944, she reflects on how someone ‘’the most important in his autocratic greatness’’ will rejoice when she dies. The reader understands that she mentioned Stalin, who saw the voice of suffering people in Akhmatova and un-derstood her power as of an image of grieving mother-of-all. There are opinions that Stalin was envious of her glory, for once he saw that the crowd applauded her standing — like to no one. (20) All the pain of the Russian people is expressed in the the poem ‘’Requiem’’, which Akhmatova had been writing for many years.
Despite the fact that the poem describes how people survived during repressions and other upheavals, it is called ‘’Requiem’’, a mass for the dead — dead of a great country that Akhmato-va once refused to leave and agreed to suffer, dying, — just like Lot’s wife. Finally, we can say that the strongest poetic voices of the 20th century sang about one thing, but sang differently. Death for a Russian poet is reflecting and interpreting one’s own life through the prism of death of other people, as well as sublimation channel in which one can find suicidal ecstasy, dying in verse thousands of times, but remaining alive; death is a complex concept, which includes microcosmical apocalypse of one per-son, where the end of his personal universe is an ordinary human death.
We have studied how poems can transmit the subtlest shades of emotions that are felt by poets interested in death, and revealed how literary devices can shape death in the text, letting the reader feel it himself. Death is a tragedy and a remission, liberation and sorrow, in which souls of the innocents rise. It is a complex phenomenon, transcendent in its incomprehensibility, and only vers-es of poetry let the poets lay the ladder to feel the anticipation of what awaits a person in the afterlife.
Egor, 19, has recently finished school. He has a stake in classic and modern literature and an interest in its interweaving with new media technologies. He is looking to major in Communication program next year. At the same time, while working on the concept of his first novel, he writes short stories and essays, as well as makes researches about personal branding and publishing business. He also keen on film production and global transmedia storytelling.
(1) «И поздно, и темно. Покину без желаний…», Alexander Blok, 1901
(2) The Apology of Socrates, Plato, and Memorabilia, Xenophon
(3) «Кто-то вздохнул у могилы», Аlexander Blok, 1902
(4) «Она росла за дальними холмами», Alexander Blok, 1901
(5) «Она росла за дальними холмами», Alexander Blok, 1901
(6) «Молитва», Marina Tsvetaeva, 1909
(7) Phaedo, or On The Soul, Plato
(8) Beyond The Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud, 1920
(9) «Поэма конца», Marina Tsvetaeva, 1924
(10) From a letter to Ivask Y. P., April 3, 1934
(11) «Знаю, умру на заре! На которой из двух…», Marina Tsvetaeva, 1920
(12) «Бессрочно кораблю не плыть…», Marina Tsvetaeva, 1915
(13) From a letter to Boris Pasternak, 1927
(14) «Стихи сироте», Marina Tsvetaeva, 1935
(15) «Памяти М. А. Булгакова», Anna Akhmatova, 1940
(16) «К Смерти», Anna Akhmatova, 1939
(17) «К Смерти», Anna Akhmatova, 1939
(18) «Лотова жена», Anna Akhmatova, 1924. Translated from Russian by Tanya Karshtedt, edited by Dmitry Karshtedt, August 1996
(19) «Лотова жена», Anna Akhmatova, 1924. Translated from Russian by Tanya Karsht-edt, edited by Dmitry Karshtedt, August 1996
(20) «10 myths about Akhmatova», Arzamas Academy, http://arzamas.academy/materials/988