The St. Petersburg Literary Circle
I The Problem of Anthological Poetry
The collection of 1850 was well received by the critics. Journals of such different trends as The Contemporary, Notes of the Fatherland and The Muscovite spoke of its high quality. Appreciation was likewise expressed by the periodical Repertoire and Pantheon, which began publishing his poems. Only Library for Reading remained faithful to its earlier disapproval of Fet’s poetry.
But neither the fame it brought him, nor the recognition of his talent by fellow writers, nor the popularity of his poems, which spread to the most remote districts of the country, had any effect on the poet’s circumstances. He continued to lead a dull existence as an army officer stationed in the provinces, pressed for money, and forced—or so it seemed to him—to renounce love for purely material considerations. In a letter to I. P. Borisov of December 30, 1850, he wrote that the only thing his life could be compared to was a mud puddle, and that his spiritual suffering was like the suffocation of a man buried alive.
He sought relief by applying for a transfer to the Guards. This he received and at the end of 1853 went to St. Petersburg, in whose suburbs the Uhlan regiment in which he was to serve was quartered.
On his way to St. Petersburg from the south he stopped off at the Shenshin estate of «Novosyolki,» where he met Turgenev, a neighboring landlord. Turgenev immediately took a liking to him, though he disapproved of his respect «for systematized views of life,» i.e., for philosophical systems. In 1854, in St. Petersburg, Fet made the acquaintance of Nekrasov, the most outstanding of the progressive poets and an editor of The Contemporary. This event led to his meeting other members of the editorial board and also contributors, including Ivan Panaev, Avdotya Panaeva, Alexander Druzhinin, Pavel Annenkov, Dmitry Grigorovich, and Ivan Goncharov. Nekrasov competed with Andrey Kraevsky, editor of Notes of the Fatherland, in trying to persuade Fet to contribute solely to his journal.
The deterioration of Russian relations with England and France impinged upon the poet’s life by forcing him to leave St. Petersburg, where he had achieved a longed-for place for himself among writers, and accompany his regiment to guard the Baltic coast. The place he had won among the literary intelligentsia was secure, however; his St. Petersburg colleagues regarded him as a poet of great promise, who should be taking an active part in the literary life of the day.
Most of the writers grouped around The Contemporary were close to Belinsky: they had either formed their own views under his direct influence or had adopted his views and considered themselves his pupils. As became clear at the end of the 1850’s and the beginning of the 1860’s, people of different political and esthetic convictions held widely differing conceptions of Belinsky’s teachings. Writers found it expedient to define their attitude toward Belinsky as the literature of the era developed. During the «grim seven years» of ruthless censorship and liberal disillusionment (1848-55), some writers came to a sharp break with Belinsky’s ideas, especially those of his last period. The critic Druzhinin was one of them.
Although Belinsky was «banned» after his death in 1848 (any mention of his name was deleted by the censor), critics at the end of the 1840’s and the beginning of the 1850’s kept referring surreptitiously to his works. Belinsky’s activities brought prose to the forefront in Russian literature and demolished the idols of Romantic poetry (among them the poet Benediktov, who had been worshipped during the 1830’s). At the same time, Belinsky asserted the importance of poetry as the enunciator of ideals. He maintained that the moment had not yet come for prose to propound these ideals, since real life did not present appropriate material to the prose writer. Poetry, on the other hand, could meet this need if the individuality of the poet was equal to the task.
Belinsky considered Pushkin a poet of such stature. His appraisal of Pushkin coincided with Gogol’s, who knew Pushkin personally and wrote of him: «The name of Pushkin suggests the idea of a Russian national poet.... Pushkin is an extraordinary manifestation, perhaps the only manifestation of the Russian spirit. He is what the Russian will develop into, what he will be in, say, two hundred years.» — poets who, because they were free in spirit and spontaneous in expression, were capable of absorbing the poetic experience of the ancient world. Contrasting, as did Gogol, Pushkin’s short lyrics, «in which every word opens up endless vistas, every word is as illimitable as the poet himself,» with the cascades of eloquence indulged in by the vulgar Romantics, Belinsky pointed out that Pushkin’s lyrics in classical form revealed, through pictures of nature and concrete imagery, the ideal of the human spirit, strong and whole. In his article «Latin Elegies» Belinsky points to the great German poet Goethe and the great Russian poet Pushkin as mighty forces opposing the vulgarity of their surroundings and as spokesmen of the lofty, poetic ideal
The term «anthological» was commonly used in referring to poems employing Greek and Roman imagery (taken mostly from mythology) and classical verse forms. Belinsky, however, included many of Pushkin’s lyrical miniatures in this category, even though they treated of matters and were wrought in forms highly contemporary, and in no way followed the canons of ancient literature.
Belinsky considered the distinguishing characteristics of «anthological» poems to be complete lucidity of thought, grace, and conciseness of form. It was the clarification of «inexpressible» feelings and elusive sensations and their incorporation in harmonious forms that constituted the beauty of anthological poems. Citing «Son» («The Dream»), a poem by Apollon Maykov, Fet’s contemporary, whom Belinsky introduced to the reader as «a little known but highly talented poet,» Belinsky asserted that this «anthological poem proves better than any argument that poetry is the expression of the inexpressible, the revelation of the secret, the clear and precise idiom of emotions that remain mute and mystifying when undefined.»
In other words, Belinsky regarded anthological poems not only as an antidote for the ultra-Romanticism of the 1830’s, but also as a means of freeing poetry from subjectivism. He criticized Apollon Grigorev’s poetry for being too subjective and personal. He also criticized the «lyrical monologues» of Nikolay Ogarev for the Hamlet-like frankness with which they exposed the poet’s tortured soul.
These and similar views held by Belinsky exerted great influence on the attitude of poets of the 1840’s and 1850’s toward anthological poems. Nekrasov, whose own poetry had little in common with the classical genre, spoke of them with the highest admiration: «The most difficult poetry to write is that in which to all appearances there is no message, no idea: I am speaking of landscapes in verse, pictures drawn with two or three brush-strokes.» Obviously, he is referring to only an apparent absence of idea, its expression through graphic images, and not directly. Nekrasov wrote these lines about the poetry of Tyutchev, Russia’s greatest philosophical poet.
It is characteristic of the period that Nekrasov should have given preference to anthological poems, in which ideas are expressed only indirectly, and that he should have proclaimed the writing of such poems an intricate task worthy of the efforts of a true artist. It was only after a thorough analysis of Tyutchev’s classical lyrics that Nekrasov presented a brief and rather superficial review of his other works, «in which the idea is the dominant element.» But Tyutchev was primarily a thinking poet, the spokesman for a period in Russian history when all the energies of the avant-garde were concentrated on finding a philosophical conception of existence, on working out a «basic idea.»
A tendency toward objectivity, toward a broad and many-sided view of life in its concrete manifestations, a tendency away from the domination of prevailing philosophical systems-such a trend was typical of Turgenev, too, who later announced: «I myself am naturally a Realist and a son of my times—but antiquity and classical forms in art are the things I most love and admire.»
Not only Belinsky’s avowed followers, like Turgenev and Nekrasov, but even those who at the beginning of the 1850’s had parted company with him—for example, Druzhinin and Grigorev—reached the same conclusion by different paths: that Pushkin, as an objective poet and heir to the classical ideal of the harmonious individual, was the model to be followed by contemporary poets.
Nekrasov’s article «Russian Minor Poets,» which appeared in The Contemporary in 1849 and was devoted to an analysis of the poems of Ogarev, Tyutchev, and a number of less important poets, was one of the first efforts of The Contemporary to revive interest in poetry. As time went on, this effort became more persistent and systematic, a development that largely explains the cordiality with which Fet was welcomed into the Contemporary circle. Fet’s departure from St. Petersburg did not disrupt his connections with this circle. In April 1855, Fet received a letter from Turgenev proposing a new and revised edition of his poems. «Nekrasov, Panaev, Druzhinin, Annenkov, Goncharov—in a word, all of our friendly circle send you greetings... We would ask you to prepare a new edition of your poems, which well deserve meticulous revision and handsome presentation.... Why do you write to me of Heine? You are superior to Heine because you are broader and freer than he.»
This letter and the proposal it contained showed in what esteem the staff of The Contemporary held Fet, and also exactly what they most valued in him. By contrasting him to Heine, with whom Fet’s friend Apollon Grigorev had compared him a little earlier (both of them, in Grigorev’s opinion, represented «morbid poetry»), Turgenev indicated that he admired in Fet his «objectivity,» the breadth and freedom of his world view, his independence from theory and lack of personal prejudices—qualities he did not find in Heine.
At the same time, Turgenev let Fet know that he found much that was not only undesirable but even unacceptable in his poetry. He warned him that preparation of the new edition required careful revision and strict selection.
II Preparation of the 1856 Collection
Fet expressed his willingness to ready the new edition and began intense work on it. In his copy of the 1850 collection Turgenev marked poems, stanzas, and phrases with which he found fault. In the margin of this same copy Fet offered new versions, some of which were accepted, and others rejected. Turgenev couched his disapproval and suggestions in sharp, peremptory form.
In later years Fet spoke with bitterness of his enforced subservience during the preparation of the 1856 collection.
Naturally I was profuse in my expressions of gratitude to the circle, and in the hands of its chief, Turgenev, work progressed rapidly. Almost every week I received letters with underscored verses and the demand that they be changed; I jealously defended my own version but, as the saying goes, «One man in the field is no warrior,» and I had to submit to the majority opinion, as a result of which the collection edited by Turgenev came out more distorted than distilled.
Many students of Fet’s poetry consider the changes demanded by Turgenev a violation of Fet’s rights as an artist and a mutilation of his work. Boris Bukhshtab, however, to whose able scholarship we are indebted for the last two complete collections of Fet’s poetry (1937 and 1959), rightly draws our attention to the fact that in later editions of his works Fet let stand the changes introduced in the 1856 edition. The work of the editor’s hand comprised nothing but deletions. Turgenev did not add or change a single word. The poet himself made all the changes, after long and painstaking effort. Therefore, these revisions are not to be condemned lightly.
A close study of the 1856 collection led Bukhshtab to the conclusion that he must examine each change separately before deciding whether it improved or damaged the original version. He further observed that Turgenev’s main purpose as editor was to remove all «muddy spots» from Fet’s text—all that he and other members of the circle found «obscure.»
Some of the poems, which by that time had won wide recognition, became the subject of hair-splitting criticism by the members of the circle. For example, the phrase «the coils of a fantastic bough» from the poem «Fantasia» was the subject of extensive correspondence. Several versions submitted by Fet in response to his editor’s demands were rejected. In the end, Turgenev wrote Fet a letter of «amnesty»: «Don’t torture yourself any more about the coils of that fantastic bough. Druzhinin has convinced us that the firebird, being a rococo creature, can perch only on a coiled bough, be it in a fresco or in a poem. And so we have agreed that this is not to be touched.» — discussions in which he was forced to give way to Fet, who was supported by Druzhinin. Behind his jocular reference to the firebird as a rococo creature, we sense Turgenev’s annoyance with these discussions of «preposterous» epithets, unacceptable to a critic of the rational school
Turgenev’s editing reduced the subjectivity of Fet’s poetry by eliminating what he considered arbitrary associations and illogicalities. Actually it meant a changing of its basic tendency so that the objective, classical element became dominant. His resolute and logical pursuit of his aims led Turgenev into many a pitfall, especially when he came into direct conflict with the poet on the battlefield of his verse. A striking example of this predicament is his editing of the famous poem, «I Come to You with a Greeting.» He struck out the stanzas about love and the creative impulse, attempting to turn the poem into a classical lyric by depriving it of the movement involved in the hero’s recognition of the process taking place within him, and thereby transforming it into a static description of nature. Turgenev was particularly irritated by the poem’s ending, which at that time he accepted as a statement about the unconscious, intuitive nature of art. Turgenev’s revision did not make a classical lyric out of the poem. Instead of a harmonious whole, it became a damaged fragment.
Similarly, Turgenev did battle with Fet’s unconventional philosophical views as reflected in his lyrics. Turgenev, who had received a serious philosophical education at the hands of German professors, looked upon Fet’s ventures as feeble inanities which he dubbed «philosophoonings.» Accordingly, he changed certain titles, among them «Distance.» By removing this declarative title, Turgenev reduced the poem to a lyrical landscape without implied meaning.
The revision of certain poems and the deletion of others changed the entire character of the cycles and, consequently, of the book itself. The poem that introduced the collection of 1850 («I Am a Bussian, and I Love...») was completely redone. The beginning was deleted; the night scene was changed to a day scene which did not correspond with the ending of the poem; the series of images (including that of the lifeless, snow-covered plains), symbolizing the triumph of death, was disrupted. The poem lost its unity and key significance in the collection. Indeed, the «Snow» cycle could no longer be considered basic to the entire collection. It was transferred to the middle of the book from the beginning. With ruthless pen Turgenev struck out the fourth poem of this cycle: «Veter zloi, vetr krutoi. ..» («A Bad Wind, a Mad Wind .. .»). In addition to the «Snow» cycle, the cycles «Fortune-telling,» «Ballads,» «To Ophelia,» and «Melancholy» were reduced. The themes that suffered most from this editing were those of Bussia and the inner conflict experienced by Fet’s contemporaries. Many «Melodies» were also discarded.
It should be noted that in cutting the «Melodies» cycle Turgenev strove to retain only those poems dominated by pure sound and melody. He preserved all the ones in which music, sound, and song were the poetic theme. He rejected «Vesennee nebo gliaditsia» («The Spring Sky Spreads Above Us») because he believed that the picture it painted of an evening on the Main River in Germany and the description of the poet’s nostalgia distracted the mind from the sheer music of the verse and the emotions it evoked. Perhaps, too, the editor found this poem, the implied theme of which is also «I am a Russian» (it deals with the performance of Russian music in Germany), too subjective, too intimately connected with the poet’s personal experience and therefore less comprehensible to the reader:
Heavy is my heart with the secret
Communed by the dying violins.
Mid the noise of this alien crowd
Their message is doubly clear.
With magic power they remind me
Of all that I hold most dear.
Awakened memory summons
The joys and griefs of the past,
And my heart contracts or rejoices
With every new run, every chord. (176)
In other words, Turgenev introduced logic and singleness of meaning into the structure of this cycle, which, by its very name of «Melodies,» should have expressed Fet’s characteristic principle of the subconscious, supra-logical nature of poetry, a principle that was gradually to become his profession de foi. He rejected Fet’s intimations in this cycle of the close affinity of sound and color. It is true, of course, that in the greatly shortened poem «Ulybka tomitel’noi skuki» («A Smile of Weary Boredom»), the lines asserting that music «With languor and sad insouciance / Transports us to its colorful world» are preserved, and in the poem «Fantasia» the adjective «brilliant» is retained to describe the nightingale’s song, but all other poems in which brilliance and colorfulness are presented as the main attributes of melody were stricken: «Pearls of the orient—her teeth» (poem one); «As her sense becomes her, so her sensibility» (poem two); «The morning mist rises from the meadows» (poem four); «Has it been long since to those magic strains... ?» (poem three); «When I do kiss your glistening locks» (poem ten); «With a tambourine in my hands and delight in my eyes...» (poem eleven); «I will recognize at once your snow-white veil» (poem twelve).
As a result, «Melodies» became a cycle of love songs and poems about music. From the third place this cycle occupied in the collection of 1850, it was moved to seventh. It is not surprising that some students of Fet’s poetry assert that Turgenev proved in many instances to be indifferent to the melodic aspect of Fet’s verse. And yet our critical approach to Turgenev’s editorial efforts must not blind us to the beneficial influence he exerted upon his «protége» of those early years.
Without Turgenev, on whose initiative the collection of 1856 was undertaken and whose labor and enthusiasm carried it through, the book might never have appeared; in addition, the sympathy and support of The Contemporary, whose editors and contributors were the foremost writers of the day, encouraged the young poet, stimulated his creative efforts, and helped him endure the army service that left him little leisure for writing. It is a common mistake to look upon the stern criticism of the composition, coherence, and artistic perfection of Fet’s poetry by his new-found literary friends, men of high culture and refined taste, as a violation of his creative individuality, detrimental to the further development of his talent. The fact is that their judgment often aided the poet in perfecting his style and discovering for himself its distinguishing characteristics. The judges consulted by Turgenev were the most outstanding men of letters of that day, representatives of Fet’s own generation and of his own artistic convictions, nor did they ever offer their opinions as final and infallible. Many of them continued to be enthusiastic admirers of Fet’s poetry and maintained their professional ties with him for many years (Turgenev, Annenkov, Leo Tolstoy, and Vasily Botkin). It was Fet’s desire not only to be understandable to his readers, but to be understood by them. What better readers could he have had for the purpose of verifying his poetic idiom than the men of letters gathered around The Contemporary? Pushkin’s implacable demands of succinctness, precision, and effectiveness of artistic means, which these writers applied to Fet’s spontaneous and impressionistic creations, put him through a severe school for developing his own critical judgment.
Following the traditions of the 1820’s and 1830’s, Fet sought to give each of his poems an effective ending, an unexpected turn revealing its meaning. Turgenev was opposed to these endings. We have already noted that in certain instances the deletion of the ending meant that editor and author differed basically over the very idea contained in the closing lines. In such cases, Turgenev’s editing distorted the poem. But at other times, Fet’s endings were added merely in accordance with prevailing tradition. An example of such conformity is «Spi— eshcho zarioiu» («Sleep; As Yet the Dawn...»), which concludes with the banal coda:
Soon a blush will liven
Clouds and mountain tops,
And the pallid features
Of the sleeping streams. (695)
Turgenev struck this ending. Fet proposed another, but the editor, preferring that the poem should have no conclusion at all, rejected that too. He raised a similar objection to the quatrain ending the poem «Letnii vecher tikh i iasen» («Still and Clear the Summer Evening»), a miniature depicting a village scene and ending:
Do not, do not close the window!
Linger here a little longer.
What has happened? Why this longing
To escape, to fly away? (696)
Boris Bukhshtab has cited this editorial deletion as an example of the general trend of Turgenev’s editing, which was to eliminate the subjective element in Fet’s lyrics. Bukhshtab classified this poem as among those in which an ending is used for the sole purpose of shifting emphasis from the outer to the inner world, the world of the poet’s emotional experience. — the poet and his prosaic companion who wishes to close the window—constitutes a plea for a lyrical response to the beauty of the evening. The reality of the picture reminds us of the scene from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which the romantic Natasha is unable to tear herself away from a contemplation of the night, while the prosaic Sonya is overcome by sleep. However, in this particular instance the «coda» is more objective than subjective. It withdraws us from the poetic mood evoked in the reader by the preceding lines and, by presenting a scene between two individuals
In eliminating these and similar endings, Turgenev demonstrated that the meaning implied in the poems is clear without the addition of any logical conclusions. He showed that the reader himself will never close the window on the brief glimpse of eternal beauty revealed by the poet. Accordingly, the poem appeared in the following version:
Still and clear the summer evening,
See how drowsy droop the willows;
In the west the sky is blushing,
Silver-bright the winding river;
On the lofty wooded heights
The wind steals soft from crest to crest.
Hear that neighing in the valley?
There the horses are at play. (210)
III Arrangement of the Collection of 1856
Even in its external appearance the collection of 1856 was a great improvement over that of 1850. The earlier book was carelessly designed, printed on poor paper, and marred by numerous typographical errors. The poems were set one after another, so that a new one often began at the very bottom of a page. The 1856 collection was designed with noble simplicity and taste; each poem began on a new page; the text was carefully proofread; the book design reflected the classical spirit. It opened with the «Elegies,» that is, with a collection of verse belonging to the genre that reached the height of its popularity in the Pushkin period.
The arrangement of the cycles according to the principle of contrast, adhered to in the 1850 edition, was retained in that of 1856. The «Elegies,» with their poetic restraint, were succeeded by «In Imitation of Oriental Poetry,» whose colorful exoticism was tempered by the following poem, «To Ophelia.» The «Ballads» were placed adjacent to «Anthological Verse.» It should be noted, however, that in this edition there was a marked weakening of the principle of contrast, a consequence not so much of the rearrangement of the cycles as of the alteration in their character resulting from the deletion of poems that most vividly reflected the poet’s characteristic way of seeing the world about him.
The editorial distortion of the poem that introduced the 1850 collection, and the omission of the poem that expressed its essence: «I Am a Bussian, and I Love...,» as well as the deletion of other verse belonging to the «Snow» cycle, fundamentally changed its significance. Alterations in the text of certain poems from «Fortune-telling» deprived this cycle of some of its «mystery.» The «Ballads» suffered serious losses. Two folk ballads, «Zmei» («The Serpent») and «Metel» («The Blizzard»), were omitted. The first told the tale of a black-haired widow who «combed her tresses and bathed her neck» in anticipation of the coming of her lover, the fire-serpent, who breathed flame above the thatched roof of her dwelling every night. The second was a drama of peasant life. A translation of Adam Mickiewicz’s ballad, «Dozor» («The Watch»), a poem about the ancient Slavs, was also omitted, as were the Romantic ballads «Sil’fy» («The Sylphs») and «Geroi i Leandr» («Hero and Leander»). The title of a ballad concerning a maiden languishing for her dead lover, who appeared to her while remaining invisible to others, was changed from «The Vampire,» which cast the shadow of grim superstition upon the events recounted, to the dispassionate title of «Taina» («The Secret»). «Poems for Children» then came to dominate the cycle, and the ballads were furnished the rational justification of being verse recited to the author by his nurse in childhood.
A certain rationalism, harmonious equanimity, and poetic restraint were characteristic of most of the poems comprising the «Elegies.» As the first cycle in the collection, they did not have the thematic significance of the «Snow» cycle of the 1850 edition, nor even that of the «Fortune-telling» cycle. They did, however, foster the image of Fet as an «objective» poet. Among them were elegies reminiscent of the later Goethe’s, and elegies of lyrical resignation as finely wrought as anthological verse. There were also gloomy elegies. The great variety of subjects treated and the wide range of qualities displayed by the persona and his beloved create the impression that the poet is a demiurge playing with the world, giving vent to any feeling that possesses him at the moment, refracting whatever comes his way through the prism of pure art, and dedicating himself to no one subject to the exclusion of all else. This trait of the «Elegies» did not, however, prevent the poet from formulating in them sharp moral and psychological conflicts and from offering his reflections on the philosophical problems that constantly absorbed his interest.
A mood of deep and bitter melancholy pervades the first elegy, addressed to a woman whose prosaic mediocrity the poet accepts intellectually but rejects emotionally. He is baffled by her indifference and cold courtesy; in his dreams, he confers upon her the richness of his own personality. He is ashamed of his own weakness and laments his fate:
Alone, observed by none, my breathing labored,
My face dark-burning with vexation and with shame,
I frantically and futilely explore my mind
To find an enigmatic aspect of the things you say;
And mutter to myself additions and corrections
Of words I so resentfully addressed to you,
And in delirium, defying sense and reason,
Shatter the darkness by calling out your name. (81)
In certain of his elegies Fet chose not to follow the traditions originating in the Weimar classicism of Goethe, nor yet those of the Russian Romantic school of the 1820’s, but to adopt the psychological realism of Pushkin’s last ten years. Fet’s elegies revive the lyrical motifs of Pushkin’s celebrated «Vospominaniia» («Recollections»), so highly praised by Leo Tolstoy. Pushkin’s poem reads as follows:
At night, when all activity has ceased,
More lively writhe the snakes of conscience;
Dreams do crowd, and the dejected mind
Teems with discontented thoughts.
Before the inner eye memories silently
Unwind their endless scroll,
And as I read the loath èd record of my days
I shudder and I curse,
And bitterly complain, and weep as bitterly,
But nothing can erase the sad account.
The qualms of conscience suffered by Fet during sleepless nights are always associated with remembrances of the love he betrayed. His recollection of first love invariably brings regret for his lost spontaneity and integrity of feeling, for everything connected with his better self, for being doomed ceaselessly to search for a moral haven where his soul can find peace.
When in my dreams I’m ferried back to distant shores
And find you rising out of veils of mist,
Then do I weep with joy, like those sons of Judah
Who first set foot upon the promised land. (81)
In the elegy «Ne spitsia» («I Cannot Sleep»), the poet says to the girl he had loved in days gone by:
Why? What have I done? How am I guilty in your sight?
And do my very thoughts of you deserve rebuke,
That now your ghost should jeer so spitefully
And fix me with incriminating eye? (87)
This deeply personal and tragic poem, in which the poet generalizes a bitter life experience, appears among poems of an entirely different order—poems about happy youth, and requited love, and the joy of living, all presented in pensive, elegiac form.
The poem «Postoi! Zdes’ khorosho!» («Stay! How Fair This Spot!») was radically revised by the author for the collection of 1856. The poem’s main interest lies in its subject, which is in praise of enclosed, sheltered space. Only in the silence and solitude of limited space does the poet feel at home. The proximity of the chaotic sea frightens him:
Stay! How fair this spot! The shadow of the pines
Lies in a wide dentate border etched in moonlight…
How still it is! Yonder mountains make a wall
Cutting us off from sounds of tumult and rebellion.
No wish have I to go beyond the wall, where rocks,
Cunningly escaping from beneath the heel of sheerest cliffs
Tumble to the spiney shore where towering waves
Rush up, rush back to the embrace of other waves. (82-83)
This might have been written in answer to Lermontov’s well-known poem «The Sail,» in which a white sail is likened to a strong and turbulent spirit cleaving the world as the ship cleaves the sea and finding happiness only in storm and struggle.
This same fear of the sea, which Fet perceived as a boundless, threatening element, and this same symbol of the sail, now seen as a doomed creature afloat on the vast main of the soul, is found in the poem «Staryi park» («The Ancient Park»).
The melancholy tone of the verse is set in the very first stanza, describing autumn as a time of dying. Life’s retreat in autumn brings an end to life’s joys, an end, in fact, to the world:
Ready, resigned, the year’s expiring blooms
Are mournfully awaiting autumn’s blast;
The maple leaves are flaming at the edges,
The dahlia drops her head, the rose her petals.
Dawn spreads her glow above the somber forest,
But now her brightness does not cheer the birds. (265)
Autumn brings an end to the world. (This ancient park once belonged to human beings, to a family; the sphere that was once theirs is disintegrating.) Fet always looked upon the grounds surrounding a house as nature, the «private» piece of nature belonging to man. In losing its owner, the ancient park lost its soul and its security, its defense against encroaching chaos.
High upon a cliff a summerhouse is seen.
I enter. Two lions, pawless, greet me on the stairs,
And on the balustrade two names, unknown,
Entwined, are half erased by time.
I glance below. The tips of the unmoving pines
Veer down in green and bristling wall
To where a mountain path, carved by freshets,
Twists like a yellow snake along the valley’s bed. (265-66)
The poet is haunted by thoughts of the people who once enjoyed this cultivated spot, and his mournful impressions are crowned by a glimpse of the threatening sea on the horizon, which swallows up an unknown sail in the misty distance:
I am alone. No step is following mine.
My soul is desolate, intent my gaze;
Beyond the pines stretches the sea,
Unfeeling, uncompassionate, curving in a vast blue dome,
A sail upon its crest white-gleaming like a gull.
I wait to see it sink; it does not sink
But, gliding slowly down the curved horizon,
Vanishes in haze as cloud wisps melt in sky. (266)
The first cycle in the book, unified by the genre of the poems, had psychological and philosophical ties with the other cycles, especially with the nature and anthological lyrics. «In Imitation of Oriental Poetry» and «To Ophelia,» which followed the «Elegies,» were greatly reduced. Turgenev’s editing, either by chance or with the intention of achieving a unity quite different from the unity Fet saw in the cycle, resulted in the retention of only two poems in the oriental section, both of them depicting passionate and impulsive love and the oriental ideal of womanhood. Among the verses omitted were some devoted to the language of flowers, and also several philosophical quatrains from Saadi. Editorial omissions and revisions of the «To Ophelia» series were aimed at removing all discord and contradictions from Fet’s conception of Ophelia and at eliminating the cynical irony and subjective appraisal from Hamlet’s attitude toward her. In the new version, Ophelia becomes a harmonious ideal, the incarnation of pure faith, a bright harbor in which the poet’s soul takes refuge—and nothing more. Gone are the vagaries of the contemporary woman’s character. She is elevated to an ideal to be worshiped instead of the flesh-and-blood woman the persona of the poems loved and tortured. This new Ophelia stood as the sublime, Northern ideal of womanhood as contrasted with the earthy, oriental concept. As this contrast developed, the image of Hamlet, the hero of the cycle, was simplified out of existence. Stripped of his subjective views and resentful irony, he was transformed into a melancholy symbol worshiping a fleshless ideal of beauty.
The anthological poems became the heart of the book, not so much because of their content as because of their classical style, which determined the character of the collection as a whole. Their influence is felt in the «Elegies,» in «Evenings and Nights,» and in «Miscellany.»
IV The Anthological Poems
The poem of this cycle that enjoyed the greatest success was «Diana.» In the margin of his copy, so generously sprinkled with critical and sarcastic remarks, Turgenev wrote beside «Diana»: «This is a chef d’oeuvre.» The poem’s praises were sung most frequently in the middle of the 1850’s and the beginning of the 1860’s. Nekrasov said of it that «no praise is too high for this lofty poetry, which is as a refreshing draught to the soul.» Nekrasov further noted the poem’s wholesome moral influence, suggesting its superiority to the morbid poetry of the day. Vasily Botkin, also an ardent admirer of «Diana,» was most struck by the poet’s extraordinary portrayal of the esthetic perception of a work of plastic art. «Fet’s ‘Diana’ is a perfect jewel of anthological poetry,» Botkin wrote. «Never before has the mute poetry of sculpture been felt and expressed with such force. These lines have truly imbued the marble with mysterious life.»
Fyodor Dostoevsky did not view the poem as a model of detached esthetic contemplation, nor as an exposition of an esthetic principle. «The last two lines of the poem,» he asserted, «are so pregnant with impassioned vitality, yearning and significance that the whole of Russian poetry can offer nothing to compare with them in force and vitality.»
This short poem about a statue of the virgin goddess Diana, held by some ancient cults to be the patron of women during childbirth, appears to be merely descriptive. In reality, it contains within itself reflections on the nature of art and its relation to life. Wherein lies the force of a work of art? What does a poet see in it?
I glimpsed the lovely contours of the maiden goddess
Between the trees, poised above clear waters,
In all the glory of her glistening nudity,
Her wide eyes long and colorless,
Her body motionless, in rapt attentio’n.
To the supplications of her sisters in the throes
Of childbirth the marble maid was listening.
Suddenly a morning breeze came through the trees,
And on the waters her reflection stirred;
I thought she now, with bow and quiver,
Would whitely streak away among the trees,
Off to her native Rome, city of eternal glory,
To gaze again on Tiber’s yellow flood,
On clustered columns... But no, the marble glistened
Motionless in dawnlight with beauty incomprehensible. (227)
Everything would seem to make this poem a model of antho-logical poetry: its classical atmosphere, the admiration it expresses for plastic beauty, its reflective mood, its harmonious style, in which all its constituent parts, from general composition down to each separate word, are precise, polished, elegant. Yet there is an element in the poem which sets it apart from the ordinary monothematic anthological poem. The element expressing this antianthological tendency within an anthological poem is contained in the generalization of the last two lines (those noted by Dostoevsky) suggesting the mystery, the in-explicability of art. Such an ending was an innovation in anthological verse, as was the lyrical feeling pervading it: on the one hand, a sense of the fullness of life; on the other, a yearning to discover the answer to art’s mystery.
From the very beginning, the poet finds the statue ambivalent: she lives and lives not, feels and feels not, moves and moves not. Her eyes are colorless, she does not see, but her head is raised high, which means she can raise her head, and it is only her intense concentration that prevents her from moving. She is listening to the groans of those suffering the pangs of childbirth, but instantly the poet remembers that sympathy is a feeling alien to her («the marble maid»). A stirring of her reflection caused by the wind on the water and it seems her immobility is over; the moment has passed and will be succeeded by a burst of movement. The statue will acquire the power of vision and will look once more on Rome, the yellow waters of the Tiber, the clustered columns. Yet it is not this animation of the inanimate marble that is presented as a miracle, but the statue’s continued immobility, the absence of the expected, the sensed, the almost achieved animation. In this portrayal of a poet’s response to a work of plastic art, Fet gives full expression to his esthetic tenets. He held that the mystery of a work of art lay in its simultaneously belonging to two spheres: the sphere of things lifeless, immobile, changeless, and eternal; and the sphere of the constantly flowing, ever-changing. Art frees life from its inevitable companion, death; reveals the significance of the passing moment; recreates life forms so complete, so mature, and so perfected, that they tremble on the edge of change, of transition into other forms. At the same time, art constrains life; it inhibits the unfolding of processes apparently ready to unfold. It confers immortality upon the passing moment.
The remaining anthological poems in this collection do not hold such philosophical meaning. But in his later lyrics Fet would employ philosophical themes combined with classical imagery and classical verse forms. The concept of the unity of opposites, such as eternity and the passing moment, life and death, beginning and end, was of central importance to him.
Fet’s nature poetry was influenced by the anthological style and became imbued with the philosophical notion of the beginning as the source of all movement and the point at which the meaning of a process is concentrated. A poem that illustrates this idea is his «Pervaia borozda» («First Furrow»), printed in The Contemporary in 1854 and included in the collection of 1856.
Again the rusty plowshare flashes
Where the bowing bullocks passed,
And the new-cut furrow follows
In a sable velvet band;
Something fresh, something tender,
Is diffused by vernal rays.
In the footsteps of the plowman
Come the rooks in ravenous tribe.
Sweetly are the breezes laden
With the scent of soil upturned—
And young Gaea’s bed is waiting
To receive brave Jupiter. (263)
Early spring, the first furrow, the first combining of the elements of light, sun and clear skies with the elements of the dark earth, full of mystery; this poem about beginnings sums up the story of nature in its entirety, for the beginning is the most meaningful moment of the whole process.
It is interesting to note that man, bullocks, and rooks are participants in this beginning, and it is they who form a nexus between heaven and earth. The efforts of each are equally important and significant. A belief in the affinity of man and beast and a sense of their equality in nature were, as we know, important elements of Fet’s poetic credo. The lines «In the footsteps of the plowman / Come the rooks in ravenous tribe» sounded odd to many of Fet’s contemporaries: they were parodied more than once. Aleksey Tolstoy, a poet and dramatist of that’ day, whose esthetic principles resembled Fet’s in many respects, ended a satirical poem «Mudrost’ zhizni» («The Wisdom of Life») with these identical lines.
In the anthological poem «Zeus,» written in 1859, Fet expressed his conviction of the importance of «beginnings» with particular clarity. He presents Zeus, lord of the universe, at his «beginning,» in infancy, soon after his birth:
In a Cretan cypress wood
Rhea’s infant son is crying,
Angrily his little hands
Seek and find his nurse’s nipples.
Full of hatred is the god,
And his crying speaks of vengeance,
Though as yet earth sees him not,
Nor is he heard in heaven. (300)
It would be difficult to state more explicitly that to the new, the weak, the unknown, the newborn, belongs the world. Zeus is not yet Zeus; no one has even heard his name; he is merely «Rhea’s son.» So far, the only thing he is lord over is the breast of his wet nurse. But his future begins with his infancy, and it is precisely at this time, when «earth sees him not / Nor is he heard in heaven,» that he is most eminently a god, for in him at this moment are concentrated all the forces that are to determine his development and make him supreme over all.
V New Lyrical Themes
As we have noted above, the theme of «beginnings» appeared in Fet’s lyrics in the 1840’s, bringing with it a joyous, affirmative attitude, a buoyant mood, sub-themes of love, spring, and creative activity. The poem «Eshcho vesna» («It Still Is Spring»), first printed in the 1850 collection and greatly revised for that of 1856, is exceptional among his early works. Here the poet depicts spring as the birth of the new, at first weak and fragile, yet containing within it the guarantee of its future strength. Spring is the source of new love, new meetings, new ties. Fet begins the poem with:
It still is spring—the garden seems possessed
By a presence not of earth: some spirit of the night.
I walk in silence, and slowly by my side
My own dark shadow walks.... (134)
As the joy of spring is accompanied by the young poet’s dark shadow, so the joy of beginnings is linked with grim thoughts of endings, and now the «diptych» becomes not birth and the life process culminating in a great flowering, but birth and death:
Gloom has not yet settled on the tree-lined paths;
The heavenly dome gleams blue between the boughs
As on I walk. A fragrant coolness fans
My cheeks. I walk. The nightingales are singing.
Once more I contemplate the unattainable—
The unattainable in this poor world of ours—
And deeper, and more joyfully I breathe,
And long to clasp—ah, someone to my breast!
The time will come, and very soon perhaps,
When, though the earth again be yearning for renewal,
This heart will cease to beat for all eternity,
Will cease to love, will cease to long for anything. (135)
In the collection of 1856 this connection of beginnings with endings occurs more often than in the lyrics of the 1840’s.
The tragic conception of the end is intimated in «Vesna na dvore» («Spring Has Come ...»), describing the awakening of nature and the exultation it brings to man. This little masterpiece consists of six lines presenting a wonderfully fresh and concrete picture of spring, then two concluding lines shifting to a philosophical plane. Between the sixth and seventh lines is a transitional pause suggesting a chain of reflections on the immortality of nature, capable of endless renewal, and on the brevity of man’s life, which knows no renewal. The juxtaposition of life and death is accompanied by a juxtaposition of man and nature. Owing to the extraordinary technical skill in writing miniatures which Fet developed in the 1840’s, he was able to compress so rich a content into two quatrains!
What fresh, invigorating air!
No words can do it justice—none!
How loud, at noontide, runnels in the gulley
Spin their silvery skeins against the stones!
Birdsong trembles in the ether, fades;
Rye is greenly sprouting in the field—
And soft a gentle voice is singing:
«Another spring, and you alive to greet it!» (137)
Fet expressed a similar idea by other means in a prose story and in the poem «Bol’noi» («The Sick Man»), the latter depending for its effect largely on thoughts suggested rather than stated. Nature’s renascence in spring causes a sick man to long for this season’s return in the hope that it will bring him, too, new life. As he lies gazing out of the window he eagerly notes each sign of spring. But nature’s revival has nothing to do with him. The harmony between man and nature has been destroyed, and man ends his life’s cycle unaware of the estrangement.
Despite the external similarity between man longing for the return of spring and nature «yearning for renewal,» the implication of the poem is that the lack of harmony between them will bring about the death of the sick man at the same time that nature is enjoying her rebirth.
In this poem Fet reveals what, for him, is a new sensation: horror of confinement, of limited space, a feeling conveying his subconscious sense of the great gulf dividing man from boundless, deathless nature:
He stared about him as at prison walls,
Then to the window turned his burning gaze,
And ah! how longed to be in open spaces!
How longed to breathe the air the birds were breathing!
Beyond the windowpane the days, like fragile dreams,
Came soaring out of rosy east on wider wings;
Despite the frosts that lingered on, the sun
Hung crystal drops along the rims of roofs.
One thought possessed him as the days went by:
«The skies of spring will surely bring me health.»
He waited. Soon the smells of spring must burst the window,
And there—two swallows mating on a bough! (260)
Here we find a tendency that became characteristic of Fet’s later lyrics. The poet does not proceed from an immediate observation of spring to thoughts of life and death, but from the imminence of death to a longing for life and identification with deathless nature. He displays a new attitude toward birds, too, treating them not as man’s companions, inhabitants of one and the same sphere, but as dwellers in an entirely different world, the world of limitless space, as endless as the life of nature and as inaccessible to man.
This new feeling of abhorrence roused in Fet by limited space as contrasted with the boundless sky is expressed in «Reval» (the pre-Revolutionary name of Tallinn), which, for the 1856 edition, was given the subtitle «Lines Written on Hearing ‘Der Freischütz.’»
The theatre is dark and empty. Agatha
At last is safe within her lover’s arms,
And I, still in the arms of music,
Wander light of heart through narrow streets.
Everything sleeps. Between the cliffs of houses
The sky is flowing like a spangled stream.
The clatter of cart and carriage wheels
At distant crossroads has subsided;
With every step the crowded city
Closes tighter, locking me in,
But there, on that high balcony,
A light is shining, a piano sounds....
In silvery cascades of melody,
Along a beam cleaving the darkness,
Your voice mounts freely to the stars,
And in my heart its harmonies find echo. (271)
It is of significance that this is an urban poem. In his cycle of urban poems entitled «Evenings and Nights» in every case the poet observed the city through the window:
Somehow I breathe more easily at night,
More deeply, somehow....
Even the city does not press upon me. (207)
In «Reval,» he not only finds himself walking in city streets, but streets in a medieval, Gothic city, which are so narrow they shut off the view of the horizon. In his copy of Fet’s poems, Alexander Blok, the eminent twentieth-century Russian poet, underscored the lines «Between the cliffs of houses / The sky is flowing like a spangled stream.» These lines do indeed convey strikingly a sense of urban confinement, which here symbolizes the limited and pressing span of human life. Art in general and music in particular free man from the consciousness of his spatial limitations by furnishing him with wings to bear him above the earth. The theme thus introduced in «Reval» was destined to be richly elaborated in Fet’s verse of the 1860’s and 1870’s. Again and again in those years, he was to convey the impression made by music by comparing it to flight, to a lifting off from the earth and a commingling with the air.
So keen was Fet’s sense of nature as a continuous process, as a perpetual flux and flow, that he was led not only to meditate upon and seek the deeper meaning of beginnings and endings and find in this search a source of themes and imagery for his lyrics, but he was also brought to look upon every passing moment chosen for portrayal as a moment of transition, one link in an endless chain of changes in man and nature. «Fet seeks to fix moments of alteration in nature.... Fet takes particular pleasure in describing brief moments of transition—boundary situations,» Bukhshtab has written.
This characteristic trait of his poetry, evident even in the 1840’s, was further developed in the 1850’s.
One might say the poet not only chose transitional moments and moods as a subject for portrayal, but also accepted the very fact of change and transition as an esthetic element, an element of the beautiful. But the reading public, even in the 1850’s, found the portrayal of movement in nature too odd, too indefinite, too meager to serve as total subject matter.
In reference to Fet’s poem «Zhdi iasnogo na zavtra dnia» («Await Clear Skies Tomorrow»), one of his most delicate and inspired creations, in which the details selected build up to a picture outwardly still but inwardly full of imperceptible movement marking the change from day to night, the critic Boris Almazov, friend of Grigorev, wrote testily: «The vagueness of the poem could not be more complete.» He follows up this statement with quotations, on which he comments contemptuously: «What sort of stuff is this?»
Almazov considered a poem that merely describes the transition from day to night empty and meaningless.
«Await Clear Skies Tomorrow» belongs to a cycle called «More» («Poems of the Sea»), begun when Fet’s regiment was sent to Estonia to guard its Baltic seacoast in 1854 and 1855. The cycle was augmented by poems written during travels on the Black Sea and a vacation in Italy (1856-57). A few poems date from Fet’s latter years. When toward the end of his life he prepared a complete edition of his works, he united all these poems in the cycle «Poems of the Sea,» which is not to be found in the 1856 edition.
In «Await Clear Skies Tomorrow» Fet records a new impression received from, and a new attitude adopted toward, nature. The sea is no longer a hostile and dreaded element. The poet is separated from the limitless horizon by the ships «drowsing» in the harbor, but this limitation of space is relative. True, the ships’ flags are but faintly stirring in a breeze that could not possibly fill their sails and bear them away, and yet these ships are not the primeval forest that shut out the horizon in the poems of the 1840’s. In their very essence, ships are meant to slice through space and not block it off; it is only the time—the moment of transition from day to night—that transforms them temporarily into a barrier standing between the harbor and the boundless sea. This change is not enough to disturb the poet’s composure.
Later, Fet explained that his chance to observe the sea constantly, day and night, had enabled him to develop a new lyrical feeling for it and to create for himself another, more real and exact image of it. Days spent on the seashore, nights sleeping in a summerhouse built directly over the sea, enabled him to make the intimate acquaintance of an element he had scarcely known before. «In the course of the summer I had an opportunity to observe the sea in all its many aspects,» he recalled. He named its three primary moods as perfect calm, slight agitation, and storm, adding: «But how can one convey, how can one even hint at the subtle modulations from one state to another? Here is the beauty of the sea and a sea of beauty! My daily proximity made me its votary, as witness my poems of the sea, which at the time were received most sympathetically by Turgenev’s literary circle.»
In the new cycle, Fet appears to have set himself the aim of showing the vast variety of the sea’s moods, and in this movement and variety to reveal the beauty and richness of life. The poet observed the waters from the shore, but they drew him, even hypnotized him: «Whenever I pass that ancient willow /I must turn for a view of the bay» (241), he writes in the poem called «The Bay.» In other poems of the same cycle, he stands on the shore facing the sea and is unable to take his eyes away from the endless diversity and movement of what at first glance seems a static body of water. He is fond of watching the approach of a single wave, which completes its life span by breaking on the beach, following the pattern of all the waves that have come before and will come after it.
This response to, and representation of, the sea record Fet’s personal way of seeing things. Just as for him time is constructed of a series of moments varying in intensity according to content, and space is built up of limited circles, of the delineated «spheres» surrounding the individual, and the life process itself is a constant transition from one state to another, so then is the vast panorama of nature divided into separate objects and phenomena, each of them, even though it be the same as numerous others, having its own particular significance and its own fulfillment.
Fet’s personal lyrical representation of the world must be considered in association with the analytical nature of Russian Realism of the middle of the nineteenth century. As the Soviet scholar Gromov has correctly observed, Fet’s «lyrics of transitional states» derive from the tendency of psychological realism to dissect a single emotion, study it, then reproduce it from the elements of which it is composed. Despite a new note of reconciliation with the watery element, all the sea lyrics of the 1850’s and 1860’s are characterized by the author’s vital awareness of his attachment to, and his oneness with, the earth. His poem «Na korable» («Sea Journey») again expresses his distrust of this perfidious and alien element. The poet’s fear of chaos recurs with its former strength, and he feels with new intensity that he belongs to the limited, the dear and familiar earthly sphere that he trusts like a child:
We fly! The earth skims past the ship
In a vast and misty blur;
Beneath the boards on which I stand
An unfamiliar element
Is heaving, spewing foam and spray;
And heaves my heart, and dully aches.
What matter that the sea’s rim shimmers bright?
My soul is captive in a foreign sphere
To which a force mysterious
Against my will conveyed it.
I seem to have a foretaste of that day
When I, without a ship, shall sail
Upon the airy ocean, leaving behind
Beloved earth to vanish in the mist. (243-44)
Finding himself in the power of the chaotic sea, the poet is unable to accept its changes as an expression of the fullness and richness of life. He finds it perilous, a dread and unfamiliar element signifying death.
VI Lyrical Monologues
Richard Gustafson devotes a whole chapter of his book on Fet to what he calls «the addressed monologue.» He classifies many of Fet’s lyrics as such but explains that the addressee is an abstraction and the conversation is really an analysis of the persona’s emotions spoken silently to himself.
It is true that many of Fet’s lyrics are cast in the form of spontaneous and impassioned communications of his feelings, declarations of his impressions in the process of recognizing and appraising them, and expressions of his thoughts in the process of conceiving and elaborating them. It is equally true that in many instances the strength of his emotions and impressions reduce to insignificance the woman (the «beloved») to whom they are addressed. But at least in his early lyrics this woman was not an abstraction or an object of indifference to him.
We have noted above that Hamlet, the spokesman of the cycle «To Ophelia,» is a personality no more rich and complicated than Ophelia herself, to whom he pours out his heart. For that reason Ophelia may be placed on the same plane as the oriental women who speak in the first person in the cycle «In Imitation of Oriental Poetry.» It was Fet’s ability to conceive strong and striking women that enabled him to speak for them in so many of his poems, including those from the cycles «Fortune-telling,» «Ballads,» and «Miscellany.» We hear the voices of vivacious girls in village huts; pensive noblewomen; sad women, abandoned by their husbands; passionate southern belles; stern, kind mothers; and superstitious nursemaids devoted to their charges. The characters of many of Fet’s women are mysterious, complicated, exalted, doomed, and sometimes so elusive that the poet himself cannot grasp them. It is such women whom we meet in the monologues «Ia znaiu, gordaia, ti liubish’ samovlast’» («I Know, Proud Maid, You Love to Wield Your Power»), «Ia znal eio maliutkoiu kudriavoi» («I Knew Her as a Curly-headed Child»), and «O, ne zovi! Strastei tvoikh tak zvonok rodnoi iazyk» («Oh, Call Me Not! Our Native Tongue Rings With Your Passions»).
Some of Fet’s poems are «inner monologues,» revealing, as in confession, the innermost workings of a woman’s soul and portraying the feminine character in relation to the circumstances and events which throw it into relief, for example «The Secret,» «Sestra» («Sister»), and others.
Poems addressed to Mariya Lazich and those presenting her image are imbued with a spirit of tragic fatality: «V dolgie nochi, kak vezhdy na son ne somknuty» («In the Long Nights, My Eyes Unclosed»); «Neotrazimyi obraz» («Compelling Image»); «Starye pis’ma» («Old Letters»); «Alter Ego»; «Ty otstradala, ia eshcho stradaiu» («Your Suffering Is Over, Mine Goes On»); «Dolgo snilis’ mne vopli rydanii tvoikh» («For Long I Heard Your Sobbing Cries»); and others. The story of this wrecked, early love that still holds Fet in thrall runs like a leitmotif through all his verse of the 1850’s and 1860’s; against this background there arises a new image, that of a young, impetuous and impassioned girl, incapable of understanding the poet’s bitter experience. In her, the poet seeks a haven for his tortured soul. She brings comfort, faith and blithe innocence into his funereal world. This young creature is not the doomed, incorporeal Ophelia, nor is the hero the suffering egotist of Fet’s first book of verse, only too willing, according to Apollon Grigorev, to find pleasure in indulging his grief. The relationship of the hero to his new and youthful beloved is determined by the depth and reality of his suffering, his disappointment in the path he has taken in life, his disillusionment with wordly values, and a longing for life and happiness despite the bereavement he can never forget. He is tenderly solicitous of her untainted spirit, which lives by simple and eternal values. She brings him the happiness of human communication and transports him to a sphere «where storms pass us by, where impassioned thoughts are pure.» Such a woman in Fet’s favorite setting of the homecircle (comparable to Pushkin’s ideal of «fireplace comfort») is presented with such charm in the following poem that, set to music by Pyotr Bulakhov, it soon became one of the most popular drawingroom songs in Russia:
When the shadows of evening are falling
I wait for the ring of the bell;
Come to me, come, little darling,
We will sit by the fire, you and I;
I will snuff out the quivering candles-
Sufficient the light of the logs;
To your merry chat I will listen
To ease the ache of my heart;
To your childish dreams I will listen,
And pray that they be fulfilled;
At the sound of your voice my feelings
Well up till I press back the tears.
Before dawn we will rise and I gently
Will tie your scarf ’neath your chin,
And we’ll walk over patterned moonlight
Till we come to your garden gate.
The poet’s relations with this young lady are without bursts of passion and without the conflict resulting in mutual attraction and repulsion. He yearns to be in her presence and eagerly shares her inner world. It is she, this simple, innocent soul full of trust and given to happy daydreaming, who leads the conversation, while he, the intellectual who has thought and suffered so much, listens eagerly and in silence to her «chat,» feeling that the choking pain within his breast is about to be relieved by a flow of healing tears.
Even in the 1840’s self-contemplation became an essential and consciously induced stimulus to Fet’s creative activity. His contemplation of the objective world and of himself as part of this world was the root from which his poetry sprang. This led Apollon Grigorev to liken Fet’s artistic method to that of the «naturalistic school,» which was part of the new Realistic trend in Russian literature of the 1840’s.
Fet himself considered the ability to observe and reveal new qualities in nature and in human psychology the principal element of a writer’s talent. The men of letters grouped about The Contemporary agreed with him in this and regarded him as a discriminating observer and an author who recorded his observations accurately and answered for their truthfulness. The poem «Na Dnepre v polovod’e» («On the Dnieper in Spate») is dedicated to Avdotya Panaeva, Nekrasov’s common-law wife and a member of the literary circle associated with The Contemporary. This poem is a living picture of nature; in it, at no point does the poet directly address his companion, and only at the very end does he openly reveal the idea glimpsed darkly in the picture. And yet this poem, too, is a monologue addressed to his companion—not, this time, the impulsive young creature who has captured his heart, but a woman his own age, with similar interests, tastes and, to a certain extent, life experience.
The lyrical content of this poem resembles that of many of Nekrasov’s poems. It paints a picture of the «healing» expanses of nature in the depths of the poet’s native land. Here the themes of Lermontov’s «Native Land» are reduced to the single lyrical theme of contrast between the calm of wide open spaces and the spirit of revolt animating that «eternal wanderer,» the Russian intellectual.
It is characteristic that Fet’s wide open spaces are more «confined» than Lermontov’s. Lermontov’s Russia is the cold and silent steppe, the boundless, heaving forest, and rivers that resemble seas. Fet, on the other hand, sees the vastness of a single river, the Dnieper, in spate, and at that particular point at which their sailboat is crossing it. He sees it from shore to shore, noting the changes incidental to their crossing and thereby conveying a feeling of its wide expanse. He communicates a sense of the overpowering force of the elements by describing them in a state which, if not the usual, is nonetheless a characteristic one.
The first stanza, with enjambment severing the paradoxical metaphor and thereby stressing its originality, sharpens our senses for the reception of this unusual picture and causes us to make the special effort, necessitated by syntactical difficulties, of taking leave of the shore and plunging into the river’s swift current:
It was growing light. The wind buckled the resilient
Of the Dnieper without a single sound arising from the waves.
The old riverman set out, pushing off with his pole,
Grumbling the while at his grandson. (258)
The ensuing lines describe the struggle with the river and the subtle shifts in the relationship between boat and water throughout the course of the journey. They also present pictures revealed by an ever-changing point of view as the boat gains speed:
And there an inundated wood flew past...
Mirror-like bays had pushed their way inside it;
A greening poplar rose above the sleepy waters,
And the white froth of apple trees, and quivering willows. (258)
In the first version of the poem published in The Contemporary, the poet's presentation of the vast panorama of the flooding river was followed by a lyrical conclusion in which, awed by the majesty of nature, he condemned the vanities of city life. This ending, like many others, was deleted in the 1856 collection, only one line of it being retained as fully expressing the thought intimated by the descriptive text: «Here would I remain an age to breathe, to gaze, to listen...»
This poem made a deep impression on Turgenev, but unquestionably he found the description of nature more significant and artistically important than the sententious conclusion.
 Letter of June 5, 1853, from Ivan Turgenev to Sergey Aksakov: Turgenev, Pis’ma, II, 165.
 Gogol, VIII, 50.
 Ibid., 55.
 Belinsky, V, 257.
 N. A. Nekrasov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, 1950), IX, 205. Cited below as: Nekrasov.
 Turgenev, Pis’ma, VIII, 118.
 Ibid., II, 268-69.
 After Fet’s death, a copy of the 1850 edition of Fet’s verse, recording the initial efforts of Turgenev and Fet in preparing the 1856 edition, was found in his library. It used to belong to a relative of the poet’s wife, I. S. Ostroukhov, and therefore is now called the «Ostroukhov copy.» This copy is now preserved in the archive of the Tretyakov State Art Galley in Moscow.
 Fet, Moi vospominaniia, I, 104—105.
 Iu. A. Nikol’skii, «Materialy po Fetu. I. Ispravleniia Turgenevym fetovskikh Stikhotvorenii 1850 goda,» Russkaia mysl’, vol. 8-9 (1921), 211-27; vol. 10-12, 248-62; D. D. Blagoi, «Turgenev-redaktor Feta,» Pechat’ i revoliutsiia, Vol. 3 (1923), 45-64; N. Kolpakova, «Iz istorii fetovskogo teksta,» Poetika, No. 3 (Vremennik slovesnogo otdela Instituta istorii iskusstv) (Leningrad, 1927) pp. 168-87.
 B. Ia. Bukhshtab, «Sud’ba literaturnogo nasledstva A. A. Feta. Obzor,» Literaturnoe nasledstvo, No. 22-24 (Moscow, 1935), p. 568.
 Turgenev, Pis’ma, II, 334.
 Bukhshtab, « Sud’ba literaturnogo nasledstva Feta,» p. 567.
 Pushkin, III, 59.
 Nekrasov, IX, 336.
 V. P. Botkin, Sochineniia (St. Petersburg, 1891), II, 381. Cited below as: Botkin.
 F. M. Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (St. Petersburg 1895), IX, 79.
 Bukhshtab, p. 56.
 Moskvitianin, No. 21 (1854), p. 41.
 Fet, Moi vospominaniia, I, 59.
 Gromov, «A. A. Fet,» p. 46.
 Gustafson, pp. 165-214.
 Ibid., pp. 175, 178.
 Grigorev, I, 86-96.