|РВБ: Вяч. Иванов. Критические издания.||Версия 1.0 от 9 марта 2010 г.|
It was my fortunate privilege to see something of Vyacheslav Ivanov in 1947 and 1948, when he lived with his son and daughter in the district of San Saba in Rome. Though he was over eighty years old and gravely handicapped in his physical movements, he was in full mastery of his faculties and left an unforgettable impression of a most noble and striking personality. Age had emphasized the fine structure of his face which, with its high forehead, sensitive mouth, and resolute chin, bore witness both to the many ordeals and sorrows of his long life and to the courage with which he had faced and surmounted them. Differences of age and nationality meant nothing to him, and, talking with great ease in more than one language, he would treat his guests with a charming, unaffected courtesy which was born from a true consideration for them and a desire to give all that he could to them. Conversation would range over many subjects, but often turned to Greek poetry, for which he had a life-long love. The years had not impaired his intimate knowledge of Pindar, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, and he knew them as only a true scholar can who loves them for their own sake and has made them part of himself. But he had something else not always found in professional scholars. He would advance from the particular text to the general issue, from the words to the ideas behind them, from the single poem to the whole significance of poetry as a source and a scheme of life. As he warmed to a theme, he would present his views in crisp, imaginative, memorable phrases, and reveal that behind the generous, exact learning and the powerful intellect lay the vision of a poet and that, though he had trained and disciplined himself in a hard school, he had never allowed this to damp his central flame or to deflect him from what he knew to be his real task. He was not, like Housman, a scholar who wrote poetry in occasional intervals of scholarship; he was a poet who was indeed a consummate scholar but used his scholarship to deepen and enrich his poetry.
Ivanov was born on 16/28 February 1866 and at an early age two tendencies revealed themselves which were to shape his later life. His mother, who came of a clerical family, gave him a religious education, which provided him not only with his religious creed but with an intimate knowledge of Eastern Orthodox liturgy and of Church Slavonic that left an enduring mark on his style. He was also a classical scholar of such outstanding promise that his teachers, among whom was Paul Vinogradov, arranged for him to go to Berlin, where he studied under Mommsen for five years. He felt with delight the powerful impact of the great scholar's mind and in later years would recall how, when at his seminar a student had produced even quite competent work, Mommsen would cry out: 'Das ist nicht scharf genug.' But though Ivanov admired Mommsen and earned his praise for a doctoral dissertation on the Roman system of taxation, he did not become a Roman historian. His first and greatest love was for the Greeks,and his special interest was in the Dionysiac religion, to which he came through Nietzsche but in so doing turned the tables on him. Nietzsche saw in Dionysus the antithesis of Christ, but Ivanov, true to his upbringing and his unchanging convictions, believed that the religion of Dionysus was 'a stream that poured all its waters into the Christian ocean' and was indeed 'the Old Testament of the Gentiles` Classical learning was an indispensable part of Ivanov's equipment, and his translations of Greek poetry show how profound his understanding of it was in all its range and strength and significance. When he went from Moscow to Baku in 1920, it was right that he should be appointed Professor of Classical Philology and hold the chair for four years, just as it was characteristic of him to refuse an honorary doctorate and to insist on defending his thesis in the traditional way. His scholarship was closely wedded to his conception of spiritual powers at work in the world, and though for a time he may have hesitated about becoming a professional scholar, he came to see that he was first and foremost a poet, and to poetry he gave his allegiance from the publication of Kormchie zvezdy in 1902 to the third sonnet in De profundis amavi, to which he gave the final touches on 14 July 1949, two days before his death.
Ivanov believed that poetry is an immediate revelation of the highest truth. How he himself came to see this he told in a letter to Professor Karl Muth which he wrote in 1939 a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War:
About thirty years ago, together with a noisy, merry crowd I was driving through a long dark gorge towards the Black Sea coast. Suddenly in the midst of the voices of my fellow travellers, I heard something like a faint call coming from deep within me — or was it merely the distant sound of the breakers echoing in my soul? I heard a few Latin words; they were so unexpected, that at first I could not grasp their meaning. The more I reflected upon this call, the more full of significance did it appear to be: that which I had previously apprehended — and which these words suggested with a gentle insistence — was now so convincingly self-evident that it seemed like a new and concrete discovery. Quod поп est debet esse; quod est debet fieri; quod fit erit — these were the words which I heard. 1
To whatever source or cause we ascribe this experience, it is clear that it was close to what we call inspiration, and there is no doubt of its importance for Ivanov. It crystallized in a moment of clairvoyance what must for long have been shaping itself in the depths of his mind and it provided him with a creed for his poetry. He saw that his task was threefold. He must bring into existence that which does not yet exist; he must transmute what already exists into something new by bringing it into a fresh relation with the world of becoming; finally this world of becoming must be turned into the permanent reality of being. True to the Greek tradition, Ivanov regarded the task of poetry as a search for an unchanging reality behind the veil of changing appearances. By creating the poet reveals, and what he reveals is the essential nature of the universe. Such a conception was certainly ancient but it would easily find acceptance in Ivanov's own generation after the great revival of Russian poetry which began with the last years of the nineteenth century. Annensky, Balmont, and Bryusov had been influenced alike by Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Nietzsche and used as their text Goethe's words:
They sought to penetrate the mystery of things and to reveal it through significant symbols. Ivanov, with his friends Blok
1 Quoted by O. Deschartes in Oxford Slavonic Papers V. 41.
and Bely, pursued the same end with a greater rigour and a clearer conviction of what they sought. They learned their mystical metaphysics from Vladimir Soloviev, and from these they advanced to the conclusion that poetry works through vision and is akin to prophecy. What Soloviev called 'Sophia' or the Divine Wisdom was their goal, and though they sought it by different means and found it in different manifestations, they agreed that their task could be done only by poetry and was indeed its immemorial function and urgent duty.
The foundation of Ivanov's poetry is his religious faith. Though he was brought up as a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, he joined the Roman Catholic Church, when he was living in Rome, in 1926 and in so doing felt that he resolved an inner conflict in himself. But he had none of the narrowness which is sometimes ascribed to converts. He held that the difference between Greek and Roman claims was no more than a matter of discipline and that the belief in suffering and sacrifice, which was central to all Christianity, had been anticipated by Greek cults of Dionysus. His beliefs were not very far from those of Dostoevsky, and though at one time, like Ivan Karamazov, he advocated 'non-acceptance of the world', he soon modified this position and sought a vision of existence which should at the same time be both mystical and realistic, aware alike of the spiritual nature of life and of the actual forms which it takes before our eyes. He was less concerned with the articles of his creed than with his profound sense of what Christianity meant to the human heart. He felt that his religion must indeed be universal and pass beyond the bounds of Holy Russia to the whole world. He wanted some embracing and inspiring system in which he would be free to be himself and to enjoy his own vision which was in its essential elements the same as that which had been enjoyed by Dostoevsky, Dante, and the great Greeks.
Ivanov differed from Dostoevsky in being concerned with much more than Russia. Not only his education but his travels widened his outlook and made him feel the full importance of European tradition. In 1891 he went to Paris, and in the next year to Rome, where he studied archaeology for three years. There he met his wife, Lydia
Zinovyeva-Annibal, and with her he travelled extensively in England, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Greece. He returned to Russia in 1905 and stayed there till 1924, when he went to Rome and lived there till his death. He was well equipped to know Europe both in its storied past and its present problems, and, despite his lasting love for his own country, by whose fortunes he was deeply agitated, he saw beyond them and found his own solution for them. For him the vast cataclysms through which Russia passed were part of a universal problem, and he saw no answer to it except through the restoration of the individual soul by the life-giving powers of the divine spirit. The poems collected in this book, which were composed between 1913 and 1949, show how he faced his own terrible trials and was not discouraged by them from pursuing his mission. Indeed it was this inner independence which enabled Ivanov to continue his art at a time when other Russian poets found their powers withering in exile or broken by the brutal realities of the Revolution at home. His Muse came to him intermittently, and as he grew older, the gaps between her visitations became longer, but when she came, she came with much of her old, compelling force and there was never any suspicion that Ivanov wrote verses simply because he had made a habit of it or had nothing better to do.
Ivanov was a man of strong feelings. Just as in conversation his courteous calm would sometimes be broken by an outburst of indignation or grief or compassion, so his poetry was written from the abundance of his full, emotional nature. Yet in comparison with Blok or Bely he seems to keep himself in much stricter control and not to allow his emotions to dominate his poetry too violently. They inspired and informed it, but they were reduced to order and discipline, and much of his strength comes from what he keeps in reserve by hint and understatement. This cannot have been entirely easy for him. In his earlier poetry there is a strain of wildness both of mind and body, which is indeed Dionysiac, but later he kept this out of his work and wrote in a calmer and more collected mood. His manner of work is entirely consistent with his general outlook and rises from his belief that in every work of art there must
be an identity of form and content, and that the form is the means by which the original intuitive perception of life is transmuted into 'the flesh and blood of a new world of living entities'. 1 Starting from his own special intuition he transmuted his discoveries into a more or less traditional form. With his powerful sense of the continuity of literature he could hardly have done otherwise, and when he began to write, even revolutionaries so extreme as Mallarmé were still using forms of verse which had been current for some 600 years. Ivanov lived to see new schools of poetry, like the Futurism of Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov, rise and fall, but he was not drawn to them and did not allow his art to be influenced by their aims or their methods. Though he matured and modified it, he did not change it fundamentally, and for this he had good reasons.
In the first place, Ivanov needed a strict, regular form to keep his emotions in their place. Without it he might not have been able to maintain that distance from the immediate scene which was necessary for his prophetic claims or to see it in relation to the timeless reality which alone gave meaning to it. His formality was a means to control emotions which might otherwise have been too strong for him and to which he might easily have surrendered if he had not held firmly to this means of coming to terms with them. This is clear from what he wrote in certain periods of great distress and suffering in his life. Just as he wrote much of Cor Ardens when he was stricken with anguish at the death of his wife Lydia in 1907, so in his later years some of his most powerful work was written in response to other, hardly less endurable, disasters. He wrote Zimnie sonety in December 1919, when his wife Vera and children were ill in a hospital and he himself, exhausted and half-starving, used to visit them, driving in an open sleigh through the bitter cold. He wrote De profundis amavi in the summer of 1920, when he was in a convalescent home. Then Vera fell ill. He had left the last sonnet of the series incomplete when he heard the news of her death. He could not bring himself to finish it. He wrote his Rimski dnevnik in Rome in 1944, when the Eternal City, which he had hoped would be his refuge
1 Freedom and the Tragic Life, p. 7.
and resting place, seemed likely to be destroyed in the holocaust of war. In each case Ivanov wrote in an agonizing torment of spirit, and in each case he kept control of his feelings by means of his regular, highly organized art. Like other Symbolists of his time in France and Germany, Ivanov felt that he would fall short of his real aims if he did not give to his emotions, however distressing or powerful, that distance from their immediate occasion which he felt to be indispensable to his religious and prophetic task. In the end the formality of his verse not only husbands his reserves of strength but is itself a tribute to the driving pressure under which he wrote.
In the second place, Ivanov regarded poetry as a mystical activity, a means of revealing in words the divine nature of the universe. With this belief such methods as those of the Futurists were hopelessly at variance. Their jaunty rhythms and wilful violence were totally unsuited to the kind of mystery which concerned Ivanov. It is of course possible to write religious poetry by methods far less stately than his, but this was not his business. He saw poetry as a rite and a ceremonial, as something which revealed divine truths and partook of the nature of hymns and prayers. With his strong religious convictions and his deep interest in the inner significance of church services he could not accept for his art anything which did not convey his own feelings of awe and solemnity and decorum. This was true even when he wrote on personal matters which might not seem to us to be specifically religious. For him everything had a religious interest because poetry was itself a means of revelation. In all his work he saw himself as a mystagogue and a prophet, and with such a belief he could not treat his art with methods below its seriousness and its dignity. Just as he reminds us of Milton in his firm hold on his emotions, so does he also in his conviction that subjects such as his are best presented with respect for their relevance to all men whether living or dead. That is why he liked the sonnet, and used it in writing of almost every grave crisis in his life. This form, which was invented in Sicily in the thirteenth century and has passed into every European language, appealed to Ivanov because its long history gave it a special authority. More than this, just because it is governed by strict
rules and confines the poet to fourteen lines, it forces him to conform to its demands and to say within its narrow limits all that he has to say. For Ivanov it had some of the hallowed character which belongs to a religious rite, and for this reason he turned to it in his darkest hours.
In his earlier works, especially in Cor Ardens, Ivanov used a language which consciously matched their apocalyptic claims. He drew freely on the vocabulary of ecclesiastical Russian, which was well suited to his air of prophetic majesty, and at times he copied Greek idioms and syntax, which reflected his care for the religion of Dionysus and the living claims of the classical past. In his later poems he modified this manner, and though he hardly brought his vocabulary closer to conversation, he certainly made it less monumental and allusive and Alexandrian. His movement is easier and lighter, and he often presents his feelings with an impressive simplicity. When he was not composing sonnets, he used a wide variety of verse-forms, and each was chosen with a keen eye for its appropriateness to its subject. He had once indulged in such acrostics as writing a series of sonnets, in which each began with a line which he had used in an introductory sonnet, but as he grew older he abandoned these acrobatics and was content to use his verse-forms simply because their rhythm and arrangement suited the subject which he had in hand. In the same way his imagery, which had at times been almost esoteric in its brilliance, became less ambitious and more human. Indeed, though Ivanov's later poetry lacks the splendid shocks and surprises of his earlier work, it is closer to common experience, more tender and more touching. He is no longer the exalted, if troubled, prophet who speaks from a mountain-top with resonant authority but a man who has passed through suffering and found that many at first unconsidered things count for much in the end. At times he seems even to question his own most fundamental assumptions, as when he wonders whether he has fallen out of love with Hellas, only to reaffirm his old beliefs in the light of his enlarged vision. Even Russia, whose fate was never far from his thoughts and which he had viewed with something of Blok's visionary concern, recedes as he pierces deeper into the European tradition
to which all that matters most in Russia belongs. In these later poems Ivanov is not defeated or even resigned but patient and even confident. He still has his powerful feelings, and his old convictions, but they are tempered by a new spirit after they have been tested by many harsh ordeals and emerged all the stronger from these.
In the European scene Ivanov is a characteristically Russian counterpart of the French Symbolists, who takes up their theories, but with a rigour and consistency typical of his race applies them to new purposes. Though he accepted and honoured their notion that Beauty was itself an absolute and transcendental end, he differed from them in relating it to his religious faith. This saved him alike from the blind alley into which Mallarmé was led by his cult of Le Néant and from the defeats and depressions which lurk in an unqualified aestheticism when the beautiful too often turns out to be mere sensation. Because he felt that beauty was essentially related to God, and found through vision a mystical approach to the reality behind appearances, he extended his scope and strengthened his powers. As a comparatively young man he had in his poem Kochevniki krasoty proclaimed that artists are anarchists free to do what they will and are almost destined to destroy. In later life he did not disown this poem but he was careful to explain that he no longer believed all that it said — a conclusion which he could hardly avoid after Bryusov had used it as a text for his Gryadushchie Gunny, in which he proclaimed the thrill of destruction as an end in itself. Ivanov sought not to destroy but to create, and above all to revive the living spirit of the past as it was embodied in European faith and art. He remained remarkably steadfast in his convictions, and for this reason did not pass through such agonizing changes as his friend Blok or his contemporary Yeats did when they came down from their dreams to a world of harsh realities and were driven to refashion their art to meet the appalling needs which they saw around them. Indeed Ivanov had never retired into dreams as they had, but had always related his vision to the world about him, which he saw illumined by a celestial light and symbolic of vast issues behind and beyond it. Just because he never ventured
into realms so rarified as Blok, he never suffered a like disillusion or despair. In the end this may make him less sympathetic than Blok, and certainly his restraint and self-control mean that he does not move us, as Blok does, with an immediate, overwhelming appeal. But perhaps that after all is the doom of all poets who believe in some positive solution to the riddles of existence and are not without hope that in the end all will be well. Such a position forbids truly tragic splendours, and though Ivanov knew what tragedy meant in both the ancient and the modern world, he had his own solutions and consolations for it which would have meant little to Blok or even to Yeats.
Yet the tragic outlook is not the only outlook for poetry and Ivanov had enough of it to know what it meant and to give depth and seriousness to his work through it. His special strength comes from his courage in the face of adversity, from his ability to feel troubles in their full force with his whole being and yet to see beyond them and to master them through his far-reaching vision. He knew that facile solutions were wrong and useless and he had no trust in happy endings. Even the Odyssey failed to make a final appeal to him because he felt that in it the tragic tension, which is the heart of the Iliad, was exhausted. The secret of his poetry is his transformation of warm, human feelings, notably personal love but also a deep concern with humanity, into something less frail and less transitory through the place which he finds for them in a divinely ordered scheme. Ivanov was no narrow theologian or dogmatist. He was primarily concerned with the basic principles of love and sacrifice, and it is these, and not any precise articles of belief, which dominated and inspired him. The whole of humanity was his concern, and he had few harsh words to say even of those who denied and rejected his beliefs. In some ways he spoke for the end of an epoch, of that Russian world which sought to give a new meaning to its ancient faith by thinking it out in relation to present needs and in reducing it to its least dispensable elements. He turned his learning into poetry because it meant much more to him than to most scholars and because he felt that he could not grasp the present without understanding the past.
Yet though Ivanov appeals to us by his human qualities, they are enormously enhanced by his special kind of vision. He did not, like Blake, see a transcendental reality almost with the naked eye, not did he, like Blok, forecast with uncanny prescience coming catastrophes. His gift was for seeing divine powers at work in the world, which gained through them a significance unnoticed by ordinary men. This enabled him to give to his own religious experience a concrete presentation which makes it much more immediate and firm and personal, but it also meant that the visible scene was shot through and informed by his conviction of divine powers at work in it. When he writes of nature, it is often through the illumination which religion has given him, and the result is that he sees in it much more than merely delights the senses. So too when he writes about places, especially about Rome, he sees them as the embodiment of the highest elements in man, who by shaping his aspirations in palpable forms conveys what is finest and most worthy to endure in himself. Ivanov regarded himself as a realistic mystic, and if we allow that his vision was a form of mysticism, we can certainly agree that it is also realistic. His senses were controlled by his vision, but they were for that reason more active and more perceptive. With such gifts Ivanov could hardly have written otherwise than he did. He was not a forerunner of modern techniques, and his verse has the stately march that matches his moods, but in his own sphere he was a consummate practitioner, who never abated his conviction that, since poetry is the revelation of unseen truths, he must give to it the concentrated resources of his vision, his sensibility, and his scholarship.
C. M. BOWRA
© Электронная публикация РВБ, 2010.