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Kljuev: Truths in poetry and in reality. Kljuev and his relationships with some german philosopher and writers. Doubts, problems, and disputes

1. Introduction

1. About tesi di laurea.

2. Kljuev’s fortune.

3. Search of material.

4. Method.

Title of this tesi di laurea is meaningful. The aim was the realisation of a “description” of Kljuev’s life through the critical interpretations of some selected poems. I choose term “truths” for a precise reason. We have not only one truth about his life, which had a very mysterious end. It is possible to interpretate his poetry? How can interpretate his poetry? It is possible to comprehend more about this author after the analyse of some fundamental poems? Which are ties between this poet and most important historical happenings of his period? Which are the relationships between this poet and german culture? Which are problems, doubts, quarrels about his life? Those are the questions that I tried to answer.

Critical fortune of this poet is particular. He was such a kind of spiritual teacher for Esenin, but many people, also in USSR, ignored his works. At the end of his life he was isolated by the literary world, because he criticises industrialisation and the other complex socio-political upheavals that passed in his homeland. During his life we know about some translations of his works in Italy, and in French.   He receives more attention in Germany thanks to work of Heinrich Stammler, a fundamental Slavist. The only nation out of his country where he has a complete edition of his works is Germany in 1969. In Italy we have some translations, Olga Simcic’s biography and research of Kamilla Danil’cenko, who teaches in Bologna’s University. Only in the last years Kljuev’s works are published in his country. Kljuev’s poetry has furthermore a strong relationship with russian culture, especially with Old Believers, religious sects and paganism. Those questions convinced me to write a brief chapter about material’s research. Research of material had two different objectives. First of all, I had to find Kljuev’s poems to translate and then I had to research materials about religious sects and paganism. I wrote about search with traditional means, like libraries, and with new means like Internet. An important part of material regarding sects and paganism, like Etkind’s books, was given me by Professor Danil’cenko. I had to find Bonc-Bruevic’s books about religious sects. Here in Italy we have few exemplars of this book. They are not available. Also in Russia this specialist in anthropology is totally unknown. I found only a copy of this book by a russian professor.

Search of material is a basis of all tesi di laurea. I wrote before that I tried critical interpretations of some poems, that correspond to all Kljuev’s life. I think it is possible to analyse Kljuev’s works in two ways. I attempted to give importance to text and context. Give importance to text means analyse with a big precision every word, that has often a multiple and difficult meaning, but also to analyse relationships among each other. The individuation of a central idea of a poem is the principal aim. I tried to locate also secondary ideas that constitute different part of poem. This individuation should be explained at the end of introduction. Those operations must be motivated with all rhetorical, metrical and stylistical elements belonging to text. The argument must be done in the central body of analyse.

Give importance to context means to locate poem in its own historical and cultural period. It is important to describe main historical and cultural events preceding writing of poem. Moreover a brief description of his life should be done. Those procedures belong to the introduction. The final part of analyse should be a summary of the elements founded into the poem. I wrote if my thesis was totally demonstrated. It is not necessary that a thesis is totally confirmed. The goal of a critical interpretation is to stimulate other debates. The importance to the context is done also by the description of the historical and cultural context after writing of a poem.

2. A modest proposal: a “division” of Kljuev’s life in three parts

Three central chapters of my dissertation correspond to three periods in Kljuev’s life. I know that such a kind of division is disputable and opinable. Life is continuos development. However I could find some trends, that characterise poet’s life. From 1905 to 1918 he writes poems, that are characterised by an idyll with nature but also from participation to 1905 revolution

Second period is marked by an enthusiasm for October revolution; third period represents upsetting of values and the end of K.’s life.

3. Idyll with nature

1. Poet’s function.

2. Rodina.

3. Scapegoat.

4. Spezialisierung.

Poet declares his own function, he is a prophet, and he must respect Gods. Poet is not Prometheus. K. is more than a poet. His own ideal is a medieval Russia in which land has main importance. As I said before, K. took part to 1905 revolution. Poem gde vj poryvie kipučie is a good example. A linguistic aspect is particularly interesting. We find concept of rodina. I translate this term with patria (fatherland), but it is not a perfect translation, because it is a different concept. The origin of this term is pod. Some other terms have the same origin: roditeli (parents), rodnoj brat (twin), rodnoj jazyk (mother language). It expresses the act of generation. Land is personified; land is such a kind of goddess. Rodina is principle of the world. I would like to cite also sectarian concept of Mat’-Syra-Zemlja “Mother-Humid-Land”. Rodina-sofia-bogorodiza[1]-mat’-: a union among paganism, religion and sectarism is the basis of K’s poetry. It is important to understand tie with germanic concept Heimat Vaterland that I analyse in my tesi di laurea.

For his own rodina a man should sacrifice himself. This is the idea of scapegoat, that is present in poem besotvetnjm rabom, but also in many many cultures. I can find some resemblance with the idea of Christ. Sacrifice is a mean to save his own life and life of other people. Country is the centre of the rodina, gives life, land is totality (gesamtheit), is the kingdom of harmony between dionysiac and apollinean[2]. I found an interesting relationship between K. and Goethe about theme of spezialisierung (specialisation). They both live during revolutions. First one lives during 1905 and 1917 revolution; second one lives during industrial and French revolution.  They both appreciate those events. They both are convinced specialisation is the direct consequence of those events. People star to dedicate themselves to manual work. In USSR industrie becomes more and more powerful, land starts losing importance. Cities grow more and more. Totality, gesamtheit is destroyed. Kljuev finds in country his own totality. The big difference between those two 2 writers is that Goethe finds a “solution”, Classicism and Entsagung, for his own disappointment. Kljuev finds not a “solution” and dies.

4. Hopes in the Revolution

1. Lenin as Avvakum and Luther.

2. Castration.

3. Pantheism.

4. Spirits.

October revolution represents a great hope for many people, like, for example, peasants. Sectarians and poet like Kljuev hope that Bolsheviks can improve land’s destiny. K writes a poem called Lenin, in which he paragons Lenin to Andrej Denissov, Avvakum and Luther. This poem is a sort of political “manifesto”. K. thinks that Bolsheviks can hold on Russia. Bolsheviks are initiated, they are part of an “elite”, we could say. Etkind confronts skopçy to bolsheviks. They are both initiated; they are both especially virtuous. Castration[3] is a symbol of virtue and immortality, gives a strong identity to those people, like political belonging. Freud studies castration complex as fear to be castrated by father, by reason of Oedipus complex. In this case sectarian community represents mother and castrates in order to increase virtue. Father does not punish anymore with castration, but by reason of castration. Father is represented by zar regime. Androgynous, undifferentiated is the consequence of castration. The androgynous is a symbol of perfection, is a symbol of streben towards the original unit. Also revolution wants to realise original unit by eliminating classes fragmentation. Lenin is a moralising figure, like Luther and Thomas Munzer, who should bring Russia to Middleage.

In this period language utilised by this poet is more and more richer. I can speak of Kljuev’s languages.

Firstly K. uses many terms belonging to nature, particularly to siberian nature. There are some problems during translation, because many terms do not have an equivalent in our language. I should also gather information about nature. I should also put in notes to complete my translation.

Secondly K. has a strong relationship with religious sects, so he uses many terms belonging to Old Church Slavonic and to Old Slavic. Some terms are part of sectarian language, like брат, brother. This terms means belonging to a religious sect. K. uses these terms and some people think it was an implicit declaration of homosexuality. In those times homosexuality is not accepted, many people die by reason of their homosexuality.

Chlysty think every man could be Christ. Etkind[4] writes that an important member of Chlysty says, in 1826, to some sect’s members, you are the temple of living God. Sectarism is also pantheism. I find some bounds with Meister Eckart’s ideas. He thinks that men unite with God through intellect, in which lies unity with God. Every soul wishes this union. Sectarian “go” to God through radenie’s ritual, that consists in dances, religious songs and music. These dances are often circular. They lose normal life’s connection and spatio-temporal concatenations, they realise a ritual that is similar to dionysiac esthasis. This sect is such a kind of world, with many different tendencies. It is interesting to analyse poem Menja Rasputnym nazvali. It is a kind of poetologic poem. He confronts himself with Rasputin. Rasputin is an important politics and a member of Chlysty. K. is a pure and chaste man, Rasputin is sinful. Rasputin makes orgies, even if with a religious meaning.

As I said before, paganism is one of the most important aspects of K’s poetry. Poet thinks nature is live. Spirits[5] live in the nature. Many people are convinced spirits decide their own destiny. Spirits are ambiguous, because they can be good with good people, but they become bad with bad people. In poem Ne ver’te, čto besy krylati I translate besy with demoni (demons) and I explain in the critical interpretation, the ambiguous character of those entities. Also in italian exists term spiriti, but he does not represent the same concept. Word spiriti has a neutral meaning.

5. Desperation and death’s presages in the last phase of poet’s life

1. First death’s presages.

2. The values upsetting:

a) village;

b) spiritual world.

3. Difficult relationship between USSR and other nations.

4. Lost of innocence.

5. Poet’s function.

6. The end.

After Lenin’s death there is a big struggle to obtain power. There is many candidates, Malenkov, Bucharin, Stalin, but, at the end, the last one will be USSR leader. There are many disputes about this historical period. Nowadays many people think S. is a cruel dictator, without any kind of pity. A lot of historians think Stalin eliminates democracy, makes massacres. Nevertheless there are other historians, they think USSR was an encircled state and so finds itself in an emergency state. Many fascists and democratic states are enemies of USSR. One of causes of political upheavals of this period may be this particular situation. What are poet’s reactions?

Poem Večer  is a first example of K’s end. The idyll with nature is disturbed by death’s presence. K. lives not well this situation. We know USSR and the other states were mistrustful between each other. K. expresses this difficult relationship in Mne revoljuzja ni mat’. We read about problems who had russians emigrated in other states when they come back to USSR. We read about a meeting between two men. First one is emigrated, second one lives in USSR, represented by two coats, a “russian” coat and an european coat. Kljuev feels that his world is in danger. He thinks many people forget sacred songs and pagan songs. He quoted Alkonost, a goddess belonging to russian mythology. This is the beginning of the end, the upsetting of traditional values. Village becomes more and more troubled in Derevnja – son brevenčatyj, dublenyj. Descriptions become more and more painful. Nature’s descriptions are totally subjective. Also spiritual values[6] are destroyed. An other good example of K’s decadence is Rossia byla glucha, chroma in which he becomes Ganymed only for a day. Poet meets a female demon, description is crude, realistic. He chooses oblivion, he refuses memory, because his world is dying.

Even this period is marked by a description of poet’s function[7]. Poet must establish goodwill between people, poet will be soon killed. The end is arrived. Est’ dve strany; odna — Bolniza is a sad leave. His death was misterious, in 1937. Many people die, war will start soon.

6. Bibliography

1. A. ROŽDESTVENSKIJ, 1882, Chlysty i skopčestvo v Rossii, Moskva, Izdatel’stvo Obščestvo istorii i drevnostej Rossijskich

2. K. KUTENOV, 1883, Sekty chlystov’ i skoptçov’, Kazan, Tipografija Imperatorckago Universiteta

3. V.V. VLADISLAVLEV, 1928, Literatura velikogo desjatiletija, Moskva, Gozisdat

4. E. MUSTANGOVA, 1929, Sovremennaja russkaja kritika, Leningrad, Priboj

5. V.V PERCHIN, 1937, Russkaja literaturnaja kritika 1930-ch godov, Sankt-Petersburg, S.-P. Izdatel’stvo

6. V.D. BONČ-BRUEVIČ, 1959, Izbrannye Sočinenija (v trech tomach), Moskva, Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk [In realtà i tomi sono 2, perché ne venne interrotta la pubblicazione]

7. JU.N. AFANAS’EV, 1969, Sudb’y rossiskogo krist’anstva, Moskva, RGGU

8. N.A. KLJUEV, 1969, Sočinenija (v dvuch tomach), [Munchen:], A. Neimanis Buchvertrieb und Verlag

9. N. KLJUEV, 1986, Stichotvorenija i poemy, Vologda, Severo-zapadnoe izdatel’stvo

10. A.I. MICHAJLOV, 1990, Puti razvitija novokrest’janskoj poezii, L. Nauka

11. JU.N. AFANAS’EV, 1995, Derevnija v načale veka: revoluçija i reforma, Moskva, RGGU (Rossiskij Gosudartstvennyi Gumanitarnyi Universitet)

12. A. ETKIND, 1998, Chlysty, Moskva, Kafedra slavistiki Universiteta Chel’siniki, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie

13. K. DANIL’CENKO, Anno Accademico 1998-99, Le radici culturali delle poesie dei poeti “neo-contadini” (Corso monografico di Letteratura Russa Moderna e Contemporanea), Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere, Università di Bologna

14. OLGA SIMCIC, 1986/87, Il poema Pogorelscina di Nikolaj Kljuev, un requiem alla Russia in Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università degli Studi di Perugia, vol.XVI Nuova serie 10, pp. 227-245

15. OLGA SIMCIC, 1991, Izba e Universo, vita e poesia di Nikolaj Kljuev, Monopoli-Roma, Edizioni Vivere In

16. ETTORE LO GATTO, 1995, Storia della Letteratura Russa, Firenze, Sansoni



[1] Virgin Mary represented by Kljuev, is similar to Goddesses-Mother, is principle of cosmos, harmony.

[2] Cfr. Vesna otsijala…

[3] Cfr. Etkind: 1998, 72-99; Cfr. Bertholet: 1991, 85 (Alfred Bertholet, 1991, Dizionario delle Religioni, Roma, Editori Riuniti), Matteo 19, 12.

[4] Cfr. Etkind 1998, 80.

[5] Cfr. Etkind 1998, 80.

[6] Cfr. Etkind 1998, 80.

[7] Cfr. Menja Oktjabr’ Nastig’ plečistym...