The Poet Embarks

I Lyrical Pantheon

In 1840, Afanasy Fet made his literary debut by publishing at his own expense a Volume of verse pretentiously entitled Liricheskii panteon (Lyrical Pantheon) and modestly signed «A. F.» Life had not been kind to this twenty-year-old student. At the age of fourteen he had discovered he was not the eldest son of the proud and influential Russian landowner Afanasy Shenshin, as he had hitherto believed, but the son of an obscure German tax assessor, named Foeth (Fet).

The popularity of the young poet’s verse among his fellow students and the appreciation of it expressed by Nikolay Gogol,[1] who during the 1830’s and 1840’s was the idol of Russian youth, inspired Fet with romantic hopes of making his way in the world with the money received from the sale of his poems.

These hopes were soon dashed. He would never forget the humiliating experience of soliciting funds for the publication of this first volume of his, and the reproaches of his stern stepfather, Afanasy Shenshin, who gave him to understand that his plans and aspirations were childishly naive. This coincided with his first disappointment in love, rejection by a poor governess to whom he had given his heart!

To these early disappointments Fet dedicated his poem «Kol’tso» («The Ring»), which conveys his fleeting exhilaration, followed by a persistent distrust of the future. The agonizing presentiment that happiness would never be his, his acceptance of the stoic ideal, his early conception of universal harmony-all these foreshadow the mature poet.

My heart makes answer in your stead,
And now I kiss you, friendly ring,
Symbol of eternal life; this endless circle
Pledges to me a golden immortality....


Happiness, away! I know you not.
We two are bound by nothing but this ring
Here, sea—accept my gift,
For which you long have clamored.
So sharp a change from calm to storm
Shall find no least reflection on my face.
Now light my heart. Gone is my ring,
Gone too the last poor spark of hope
Within this breast.[2]

«The Ring» is one of the poems included in the Lyrical Pantheon. A beginner’s diffidence is revealed in the traditional forms Fet uses and in the imitativeness of many of the pieces, whose themes, imagery, phrases, and rhythms remind us now of Alexander Pushkin, now of Vasily Zhukovsky, Mikhail Lermontov or Vladimir Benediktov. It is as if the poet had set himself the task of trying his hand at all the popular forms of the day: Romantic medieval ballads in the spirit of Zhukovsky («Raufenbach Castle»); oriental ballads in imitation of Lermontov («Abducted from the Harem»); drinking songs; and love lyrics.

Yet even in this first collection there are intimations of the new and distinguished style that was to be Fet’s own. If at times he imitates Benediktov, it is always with reserve, avoiding in his own work the vulgar excesses of the older poet. Fet’s rejection of the pomposity that many authors of romances confused with elevated feeling, his powers of close observation, and the use of only his own personal feelings and experiences in his writing established a deep affinity between him and the young writers of the 1840’s, who were intent on discovering new means of depicting the men and the world of their own day.

Fet treated the purely Romantic subject of his ghost ballad «Udavlennik» («The Hanged Man») as an episode from real life, a tale told by a simple and superstitious man. One perceives Pushkin’s influence here—his ballad «Utoplennik» («The Drowned Man») and «Funeral Song» from Songs of the Western Slavs. The credulous storyteller of «The Hanged Man» and the horrors he relates, obviously reflecting the gullibility of the simple folk, are set in surroundings recalling the poet’s own:

Supper is over. Thank the Lord
All are ready and gathered at last.
Come, sit silent here a moment
For Godspeed. Then off we go! (373)

The family is seeing their son off on a long journey (as if it were Fet himself leaving for boarding school). As they choose the road he is to take, they tell him about the ghost of a man who hanged himself and rises from his grave to frighten travelers. It is not difficult to surmise that Fet took many of the hair-raising details of this story from the accounts given by the house servants at Novosyolki (the Shenshin estate where he spent his childhood) of how a neighboring landowner had been hanged by his serfs. In his memoirs, Fet says: «The story of the murder of this neighbor, with whom we were well acquainted, grew into an epic poem to which each new narrator added details and coloring. I am unable to identify the contributions of the innumerable people who created the poem. I can only give it in the form in which it reached my youthful ears.»[3]

«The Hanged Man» was not merely an imitative work. Its atmosphere was taken less from Fet’s reading of Zhukovsky and the German poets than from his own observations. Among his fellow-students at school were the sons of a wealthy Baltic baron named Pereir. These boys once took Fet home with them during vacation and visited the boys’ grandfather, whose luxurious mansion and. grounds, the latter including a graveyard with ancient tombs and vaults, made an indelible impression on Fet. In his memoirs he gives a detailed description of the buildings on the estate and of his adventures in one of the vaults.[4]

The sense of reality and genuine feeling behind Fet’s descriptions and lyrics, his presentation of native scenes without exaggerated coloring, and the emotional reserve maintained throughout the book, distinguish the poems of the Lyrical Pantheon from the imitative, Romantic productions of other apprentice poets of that day. Fet himself was aware that simplicity was the basic attribute of his poetry. He compared his muse to an unaffected maiden in simple attire: «An air of simplicity envelops my muse.» Simplicity was fundamental to Fet’s conception of the beautiful, testifying to his sincerity and daring, and to his acceptance of Pushkin as his poetic ideal. His poem «Uzh, serpy na plecha vzlozhiv, ustalye zhnetsy...» («At Eventide the Weary Reapers...»; with an epigraph from Horace: «Nec sit ancillae tibi amor pudori,» «Be not ashamed of thy love for a slave») presents, in the slow measure of Russian hexameter (dactyls combined with trochees), a picture of evening in a Russian village. It concludes by describing the sufferings of a youth who falls in love with a peasant girl he glimpses beside a stream. The poet’s precise, unambiguous use of adjectives renders physical objects concrete and visible, brings them, as it were, into sharp focus: «weary reapers,» «cool field,» «scrubby bushes,» «old and spreading willow.» He creates homely images to convey the living spirit of evening in his native village.

The wood is fragrant with lilies; above the ravine the birches
Are rosy with sunset light; here in these scrubby bushes
A nightingale sings, welcoming the coolness of evening. (398)

In Alexander Blok’s copy of Fet’s verse, the lines from this poem «My trusty mount steps slowly ahead... Brushing away the gnats with his tail» are underscored. Blok seems to have found them trite. He underscored another unhappy line in the poem «K leshemu» («To the Wood Goblin»), although on the whole this poem pleased him, as well it might, having much in common with Blok’s own «Bolotnym popikam» («Little Priests of the Bog»). In this poem, Fet presents the woodland sprites and goblins of Russian folklore, which the modern sculptor Sergey Konenkov discovered and to which he gave permanent form in the gnarled roots of trees. Despite the classical conventionality of the love theme in this miniature poem, «To the Wood Goblin» conveys a genuine impression of the woods and the poet’s response to nature.

Many of the pieces in the Lyrical Pantheon are introduced by epigraphs indicating that the young poet was presenting his own conception of an idea already treated by an older poet. His «Solntse potukhlo, plavaet zapakh...» («The Sun Is Low, Sweet Scents Are Wafting...») develops the theme of Pushkin’s «Vesna, vesna, pora liubvi» («The Spring, the Spring, the Time of Love!»), which serves as epigraph. Fet’s «Ty mne prostish, moi drug, chto kazhdyi chas...» («Forgive Me, My Friend, If Every Time...») is a story in verse illustrating Horace’s «Amantium irae amoris renovatio...» («Lovers’ quarrels feed the flames of love...»). The characters in the story are the poet, his young friend, and his friend’s beloved. The author casts the light of irony upon the feelings and relationships of those involved in this little incident. The sweethearts quarrel, but their quarrel is feigned as a means of veiling and justifying a wild upsurge of love. Behind the indignant lover’s demand that the poet sympathize with him in his suffering is his desire that the poet be witness to his happiness. The poet, enchanted by this evidence of true feeling, is ironic about the Romantic pretense of estrangement, the mask of disappointment the lovers vainly attempt to wear:

I say, what a droll picture you make at the window,
In slippers and dressing gown, smoking a cigar cheroot:
Aleko, Mortimer, ah yes, Othello,
And even a hint of Hamlet! (395)

There is amusement in Fet’s identification of his friend with all these literary heroes: the complaining lover was probably more like the ordinary young men of Fet’s acquaintance. Horace’s aphorism, then, becomes the point of departure for a story about Fet’s contemporaries, their whims and fancies, the manners and feelings characteristic of their day, and the relationship of young people to one another. Fet felt that he himself had «a hint of Hamlet» in him, but with respect to himself this feeling was not only without irony but often deeply tragic, as expressed in his later poems.

Richard F. Gustafson, the American critic, has correctly noted that in the poem «Vodopad» («The Waterfall»), which was included in the Lyrical Pantheon, Fet expresses his opposition to the Romantic point of view. In this poem, Fet handles a favorite theme in Russian poetry. Gustafson compares Fet’s poem with poems on the same subject by Gavriil Derzhavin and Evgeny Baratynsky and concludes that Fet’s treatment is distinguished by the peculiar reality of his imagery. He perceives objects spatially. He juxtaposes two conflicting concepts: the dark and chaotic depths at the foot of the waterfall, and the placid waters of the river flowing in the distance, intimating that this calm distance is the harmony toward which man aspires.[5]

In «The Waterfall,» the young poet demonstrates his careful study of Pushkin’s artistic achievements. In its composition and structural characteristics the poem is akin to Pushkin’s «Kavkaz» («The Caucasus»). Pushkin, and subsequently Fet, survey the majestic scenery from above. Pushkin sees in it «the source of life,» watches, as through storm clouds, the «thunderous fall of the stream,» and then, allowing his eye to travel the length and breadth of the valley, focuses it upon the river flowing between cliffs. This is not a placid river, contrasting, like Fet’s, with the chaos of the waterfall, but rather a mountain stream caught between walls of rock and wildly protesting against its confinement. It is not the idea but the structure of the poem that enables us to see in it the prototype of Fet’s «Waterfall.»

It is of great significance that behind Pushkin’s powerful description of the grandeurs of waterfall and mountains lay a philosophical concept that gave metaphorical significance to the scenery. In his first version, Pushkin revealed such a philosophical plane by the use of direct comparison rather than metaphor. That version ended in the following lines:

Thus does the law curb the wild and the free,
Thus do they languish ’neath foreign oppression.
Thus the mute Caucasus nurses resentment,
Thus is it blighted by alien rule.[6]

There is good reason to apply a philosophical interpretation to Fet’s «Waterfall» as well. As the poet contemplated the rebellious waters confined within overhanging cliffs and blocked by a granite boulder as by «a felled Titan,» then raised his eyes to where the stream flowed quietly between low banks in the distance, he was reminded of the circumstances of his own life and his hopes for the future; to him, the movement of the stream represented the movement of human life in time. Perhaps the free-flowing river expressed his youthful faith in life’s wisdom and beneficence, and that is why the mood of the poem is bright and uplifting.

In the Lyrical Pantheon, the young poet introduced themes and images to which he reverted repeatedly in his later work. By the time Fet’s poetry had freed itself of literary clichés and acquired its characteristic precision of description and depth of psychological motivation, these recurrent themes and images had been enriched by elaborate associations and philosophical connotations.

We have already spoken of Fet’s predilection for the circle image, which first appeared in his poem «The King.» In his translation of Goethe’s «May Song» he introduces it again, even though Goethe does not make direct use of it in the original. «Is it not thou, Love, who hast attired Nature in fine raiment, who hast blessed the meadows and cast thy radiance upon this earthly sphere?» «Sphere» in this case refers to space encircling all of mankind rather than the application of «ring» or «circle» to a given individual. In Fet’s later poems, this favorite image is used predominantly to indicate the individual’s environment, the «circle» in which he lives and moves, and which has its own peculiar moral atmosphere.

The poem «Moi sad» («My Garden») represents another first appearance of images that appear again and again in Fet’s later poetry. Gustafson is inclined to accept this poem as a symbolic expression of the philosophical essence of Fet’s poetry.[7] To this critic, the images of the garden and eternal spring represent Fet’s rejection of real life with its prosaic concerns and its struggles.

It is true that «My Garden» anticipates a frequent use of this theme in Fet’s succeeding work and suggests the philosophical view that man’s perception of beauty in nature, in human relations, and in art is something apart from the rest of human life. On the other hand, the very understanding of beauty as expressed in this poem is so like that of all Romantic poets, and Fet’s world of imagery is so directly connected with all that had been produced before him, that «My Garden» is more nearly the garden of Romantic poetry in general (very like the garden in Heine’s Buch der Lieder, of which Fet was so fond) than a revelation of a secret world belonging to Fet alone.

As we shall see later, nature became for Fet a means of apprehending and defining the beautiful instead of merely a stimulus leading the poet to give expression to a fixed order of esthetic images corresponding to an accepted artistic platform.

«Vzdokh» («The Sigh») gives the first indication of a trend that can be traced in all of Fet’s succeeding poetry. The name itself is unusual, yet typical of Fet. It reveals something unique in his conception. He does not write about a person who sighs; the poem is itself a sigh, a spontaneous and involuntary lyrical impulse. Brief, expressed as it were in one breath, it instantly captures an idea emerging from a prolonged state of melancholy.

This use of a single, trenchant word as title to supplement, even elucidate a poem, was often employed by Fet later—as for example, «Dal’» («Distance»), «Nikogda» («Never»), «Teper’» («Now»).

If, then, in the Lyrical Pantheon the young poet is clearly a beginner taking his cue from older masters, there are also definite signs of his creative individuality. This individuality is expressed, among other ways, in the choice of teachers he wished to follow, in his selection of the Pushkin tradition as his guide, and in his interest in world poetry, especially Latin verse (Horace in particular) and German verse, with which even at this early date he was thoroughly familiar.

II The Period Following the Lyrical Pantheon

Fet did not expect that the appearance of his modest first collection would create a sensation, but he did hope it would be noticed by the critics, and he took steps to ensure this outcome. His energetic nature led him to such action, as did his realization that a good review of his work was essential to the continuation of his literary activities, which alone, he felt, could extricate him from his material difficulties and offer him a distinguished career. He was further impelled by his fear of the relentless critic Belinsky, writing in the journal Notes of the Fatherland, who had directed his devastating pen even against Benediktov, the idol of the day. He appealed to his friend, Irinarkh Vvedensky, then on the staff of the popular magazine Library for Reading, who had promised to help him. Fet confided to him his reasons for wanting a good review of the Lyrical Pantheon: «I must confess that I greatly fear Notes of the Fatherland and the ogre Belinsky... God willing, I shall devote myself exclusively to literary activities; if this proves impossible I will be in a bad way indeed. My soul is poisoned by circumstances revoltingly sordid.»[8]

Irinarkh Vvedensky promised Fet the review, but instead of Vvedensky it was eventually written by Osip Senkovsky, a well-known journalist on the editorial board of the Library for Reading. The review was annihilating. This disappointment, however, was compensated for by the unexpectedly favorable reaction from Notes of the Fatherland. Though written by Pyotr Kudryavtsev, the review was inspired by Belinsky. Both these estimates of the Lyrical Pantheon and its author, though written from opposite viewpoints, were sufficiently astute to detect qualities that became typical of Fet’s later work. Senkovsky observed sarcastically that at the center of all the poems stood the poet’s ego. «A pantheon,» he wrote, «is a temple of the gods—that I know, but I must confess my ignorance of what a lyrical pantheon is. A temple to lyrical gods?» he asked, by way of scoffing at the volume’s pretentious title. In his opinion, the author reserved all the niches in the pantheon for himself.[9] He asserted that the poetic images in the book lacked harmony and divine inspiration. «This is no pantheon!» he exclaimed. «More like pandemonium! A temple to imps and devils!» He was particularly incensed by the poem «To the Wood Goblin.» After citing it, he expressed his incredulity that the poet could associate this malicious sprite of folk demonology with love. Later we shall see that this association, which Senkovsky felt was a chance one, became the central image of a whole cycle of Fet’s poems.

Another observation in Senkovsky’s short and unfavorable review deserves attention. He accused Fet of despising logical thinking. Fet was subjected to this same accusation at various times thereafter, and in the excitement of rebuttal the poet often spoke testily of «the logic of prosaic practical thinking» as opposed to «the bard’s wild flights of fancy.»

Kudryavеsev’s opinion was shared by the editorial board of Notes of the Fatherland: in one of his letters, Belinsky supports Kudryavtsev’s appraisal of the young «A. F.» ’s talent. Kudryavtsev found the greatest virtues of the poems to be the simplicity and modesty of their language (the very attributes with which Fet had endowed his muse), their loyalty to the traditions of the best masters, and their freedom from Romantic exaggeration. He selected the anthological poems as the most significant and promising but also praised the translations from Goethe and Horace, noting at the same time that the author showed inadequate knowledge of the Greek poets, despite an intuitive feeling for the ancient world, demonstrated in his poem «Greece.» This last criticism went straight to the mark: as a student at Moscow University, Fet had been required to spend two years in the third course owing to his failure in classical Greek.

After quoting from Fet’s anthological lyrics, Kudryavtsev exclaimed: «What is the source of such marvelous imagery? ... But indeed it matters little whether it comes from inborn talent nurtured on the deathless poetry of the past, or simply from inherent delicacy, an inherent feeling for nature; the main thing is that it lives! We cordially welcome the appearance of this new poet.»[10]

Belinsky, from whom Fet had feared the worst, felt that the reviewer’s occasional references to the poet’s youth and inexperience were uncalled for. «What a fine review he gave of Fet’s Lyrical Pantheon!» wrote Belinsky. «Only he was too sparing of his praise. Oh, stern critic! A. F. shows great promise.»[11]

Soon Fet himself became highly critical of his first book. One of the few writers of his day capable of accepting criticism, he learned a lesson not only from Kudryavtsev’s sympathetic remarks, but also from Senkovsky’s taunts. To be sure, then as later, the only advice Fet accepted was that which helped him elucidate and perfect his own artistic method and which was pointed in the direction of his own creative strivings. He immediately admitted the pretentiousness of the title of his first book, and his next three collections appeared in print merely as Poems by A. A. Fet. He included only four of the poems from the Lyrical Pantheon in his second book and only two— both lyrics in the classical style—in succeeding collections.

The poem «Greece,» which had won praise from Kudryavtsev, was included in every succeeding collection and was supplemented, in the second one, by a series of translations from the Greek, which Fet, taking his critic’s advice, had learned more thoroughly.

Fet’s complete absorption in the writing of poetry made him long to have his poems reach the public. This was no easy undertaking. Over a period of several years, his efforts to publish in periodicals were vain. The frustrated poet’s greatest consolation lay in his friendship with Apollon Grigorev, a poet who would become a leading critic. On calmly receiving the news of Grigorev’s death many years later, when the two had long since parted company and their lives had followed different paths, Fet recalled the years of their youth and their poetic rapport:

Never have I had such a jealous admirer and collector of my first drafts as Apollon. Soon after I went to live in his house my old yellow notebook was replaced by a new one in which my poems were meticulously written in Apollon’s hand.
At times my inspiration was born of the dreariness of our empty lives that oppressed both of us.
Once he exclaimed, «God! Just take a look at that stove, that table with the burnt-out candle on it, those frozen windows! It’s enough to drive a person mad!»
It was then I wrote the little poem, «Do not fret, my pretty kitty...» which Apollon took a great fancy to. He had an ear as sensitive as an Aeolian harp. I remember the raptures he went into over the little piece, «My kitten is singing, eyes shut tight....» «How happy the cat and how miserable the child!» he exclaimed.[12]

Not merely individual poems (though there were many of them), but whole cycles were inspired by moods shared with Apollon Grigorev at the beginning of the 1840’s. Fet himself has told us that the classification of his poems into cycles was Grigorev’s work. In this way the cycles «Melancholy» and «To Ophelia» seem to have evolved. «Occasionally one meets with ties like ours—for better or for worse,» wrote Grigorev in later years. «For a moment of merging with that proud, that feminine, that masculinely-noble soul, for the rare evenings when we were perfectly attuned to each other, I thank Providence more—oh, a thousand times more!—than for my whole life.»[13]

Naturally, many of the cycles composed at the beginning of the 1840’s were an expression of Fet’s own creative aspirations, independent of his friend’s mood. This is true of the somber cycle «Snega» («Snow»), describing country scenes and life in a remote village, and partly true of «Gadaniia» («Fortune-telling»).

At one time both friends were enamored of Heinrich Heine’s poetry. In an article written in 1853, Grigorev speaks of the spiritual affinity between the lyrical themes treated by Heine and by Fet. As a talented critic who knew and loved Fet personally, Grigorev perceived that both Fet and Heine suffered from a gnawing egoism, that their inner world was tragically shattered, and that their restraint and withdrawal, their attempt to hide or disguise their feelings, was the result of a painful modesty.[14]

Without mentioning the kinship between his own and Heine’s muses, Fet, with characteristic reticence, speaks in a purely professional way of certain similarities of Heine’s style to his own: «nobody... ever exercised such power over me as Heine, and this was because of his manner of speaking not of the influence of one object upon another, but only of the objects themselves, forcing the reader to sense their relationship; for example, the weeping daughter of the dead forester and the dog curled at her feet.»[15] Here, Fet declares the importance he attached to the «objectification» of intimate, subjective emotions, the search for those forms taken from the real world which, given artistic representation, evoke in the reader the poet’s feelings and impressions. In memoirs written toward the end of his life he notes the importance of his youthful artistic searchings, which led him to an important discovery in the field of verse form. It was in this early period that Fet began working on miniatures in which the poet conveyed emotion by presenting an objective picture of the world about him.

Heine’s experience as a poet was of particular interest to Fet during the period when he was developing his professional skill and seeking new devices of poetic expression. In the short poems he wrote at the beginning of the 1840’s, he fixes a certain moment in the constant flux and flow of impressions, a moment lending impetus to the development of feeling and the birth of ideas. But even then the poet pondered the problem of the «content» of time and tried to «expand» time by compressing impressions, emotions, and sensations within a given moment.

Boris Bukhshtab, a Soviet scholar, discovered in the Betskov archives of the Lenin Library in Moscow a list of poems compiled by Fet; the poems belonged to a cycle called «Mgnoveniia» («The Fleeting Moment»), which Fet gave to Stepan Shevyrov in 1842 for publication in the magazine Moskvitianin (The Muscovite). Only two of the poems on the list appeared in that magazine, the rest being published only in 1859. The cycle is interesting primarily because its theme is «time,» the basic unit of which is «the fleeting moment.» The cycle includes the poems «Khronos» («Chronos») and «Strannaia uverennost» («Strange Conviction»), which in idea, imagery, and poetical structure resemble Pushkin’s «Telega zhizni» («The Wagon of Life») and «Zoriu b’iut,» («Day Is Bung In...»), as well as the elegy «Zhelanie» («Desire»); and poems which in form correspond to the title, «The Fleeting Moment,» and are analogous, in another genre, to Sergey Prokofiev’s musical compositions of the same name («The Fleeting Moment»).

All the poems in this cycle treat of time in its tragic aspect, expressed in traditional, symbolic images: life is an open road, time is the coachman, each separate day is a segment of the road that leads to eternity. Fet’s conclusion as to this traditional treatment is somewhat unexpected: the meaning of life consists in leaving some memory of oneself behind. This is the end to be reached in life’s long and exhausting journey, but even this end, this snatching of «a fleeting moment» from eternity (the individual persists if but in a fleeting memory) is ephemeral, as is intimated by the name of the poem, «Strange Conviction.» Fet’s philosophical poem, «Chronos», seems to be intentionally senseless. The very essence of life is senselessness, the never-ending exchange of one instant for the next. The poem concludes with the line: «When the twelfth hour strikes, the first begins.»

Each poem in the cycle «The Fleeting Moment» is devoted to some passing impression: the expectation of reunion in parting in «Vozvrashchenie» («Return»); a vision of the beloved in the window in «Eyo okno» («Her Window»); a prayer («Ave Maria»). The fleeting quality of emotions is most vividly expressed in the two poems «Perchatka» («The Glove») and «Sorvalsia moi kon’?» («My Steed Has Fled»). «The Glove» is a delicate miniature narrating the hero’s infatuation at a ball, his following from afar the «sweet-smelling circle of her influence» into which he suddenly finds himself drawn. The only memory that remains of this fleeting passion is the glove he keeps.

The two quatrains comprising «My Steed Has Fled» violate Fet’s principle that «a short poem should have but a single core.»[16] In the poem in question the violation is fully justified. The first quatrain describes the excitement and alarm attending a youth’s discovery that his horse has fled from the stable. He rushes in pursuit, shouting for help, but suddenly he spies a neighbor’s daughter, who has come to the window in response to his cries (her name and his manner of address suggest that she is a simple country girl). Forgetting all about the horse, he calls wonderingly to those who have come to his aid: «Look, oh look! / Pasha has come to the window!»

The instantaneous change of the youth’s emotions transforms those who have come to assist him into confidants to whom he reveals the state of his heart. Such a shifting of theme harmonizes with the idea of the cycle, which is to capture fleeting moments, showing their endless succession and their shifting of content. The precision and compactness of the story, focusing upon a simple exclamation of surprise, the spontaneous emotional response to an unexpected situation, is only another means of conveying the «fleetingness» of events and the hero’s instantaneous response to them. The form of the verse in this cycle corresponds to its content, since most of the poems consist of only two or three quatrains, using two- or three-foot lines of iambs or anapests. The poem to which Fet first gave the name «Desire» («Dear God, how much of this my life I’d sacrifice...») is an exception. A note written in Fet’s hand in the margin of the list of poems belonging to the cycle indicates his doubt that this particular poem should be included. «I was mistaken when I included this song, this elegy, among the others,» he wrote. The poem is indeed a typical Fet «love song,» written in flowing rhythm (iambic hexameter). But even in this poem the lyrical theme is interwoven with the time theme, the «long» moment juxtaposed with the «brief» eternity.

Dear God, how much of this my life I’d sacrifice
To spend alone with her one quiet Northern evening,
To silently commune in language of the eyes,
To call her mine if but for one brief Northern evening.

A whole life may be contained in a single evening, and endless days may not be as valuable as one short experience; and this because in a few precious hours there may occur the miracle of realizing one’s individuality in all its richness, the miracle of a complete spiritual renascence, the miracle of meeting and recognizing another and a kindred soul.

To see a tear form slowly in her eye,
The tear I have reflected on so often,
And to respond to everything with all my soul—
To everything so richly given her by Heaven.

The concept of a «precious hour» representing a segment of time whose qualitative uniqueness effects a quantitative change (the «long» moment, hour, evening) thereafter became a dominant idea in Fet’s lyrics.

[1] A. A. Fet, Rannie gody moei zhizni (Moscow, 1893), p. 141. This fact is also mentioned in a letter of May 23, 1888, from Fet to Yakov Polonsky. On this see G. Blok, Rozhdenie poeta (Trudy Pushkinskogo doma pri Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk) (Leningrad, 1924), p. 100. Cited below as: Blok, Rozhdenie poeta.

[2] A. A. Fet, Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii (2nd ed., Leningrad, 1959), p. 381. Page references to Fet’s poetry included in the text will be to this edition.

[3] Fet, Rannie gody moei zhizni, p. 54.

[4] Ibid., pp. 105-10.

[5] Richard F. Gustafson, The Imagination of Spring: The Poetry of Afanasy Fet (New Haven and London, 1966), pp. 42-45. Cited below as: Gustafson.

[6] A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow-Leningrad, 1949), III, 471. Cited below as: Pushkin.

[7] Gustafson, pp. 84-98.

[8] Blok, Rozhdenie poeta, p. 61.

[9] Biblioteka dlia chteniia, No. 1, 1841, section VI, 1, 3.

[10] Otechestvennye zapiski, No. 12, 1840, 42.

[11] Belinsky, XI, 584.

[12] Fet, Rannie gody moei zhizni, pp. 152-153.

[13] A. Grigor’ev, Vospominaniia (Moscow-Leningrad, 1930), p. 190.

[14] Grigorev, I, 86-96.

[15] Fet, Rannie gody moei zhizni, p. 209.

[16] Letter of April 7, 1887, from Fet to K. R. (Konstantin Romanov), preserved in the archive of the Institute of Russian Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The letter is quoted by P. P. Gromov in his introductory article to A. A. Fet, Stikhotvoreniia (Moscow-Leningrad, 1963), p. 35. The same notion was also expressed in Fet’s article «O stikhotvoreniiakh F. Tiutcheva,» Russkoe slovo, February 1859, section «Kritika,» p. 80.