“THE BRONZE HORSEMAN”: VERSE AND MEANING
(The Discussion of Andrej Belyj’s Book “Rhythm as Dialectics” in the State Academy of Artistic Sciences)
Edited, preparation of the text, introduction and notes by M. V. Akimova and S. E. Liapin
Andrej Belyj’s study, Rhythm as Dialectics and “The Bronze Horseman”, was published in 1929. The author discovered a new method of studying poetic rhythm as it is connected with the meaning of the work of art concerned. He suggested that one should look for the peculiarity of rhythm in the alternation of lines which are acoustically similar or dissimilar. The text of the poem was divided into formally and thematically independent fragments, whose coefficient of rhythmic diversity was calculated by a special formula. The results of these calculations were represented in a diagram showing “the celebrated curve where all fragments with a lowered diversity of rhythm coincided with the theme ‘Peter, Petrograd and the flood’, while all fragments with a heightened diversity of rhythm coincided with the theme ‘Eugene, his suffering, revolt, death’”. From this observation Andrej Belyj “came to a far-reaching rhetorical conclusion about the revolutionary character of Pushkin’s poem” (M. L. Gasparov).
Belyj’s work had a critical reception from the reviewers. But it was the semasiological component of the study, its “subjective impressionism” that, first and foremost, gave rise to objections: “Making a proletarian poet of Pushkin is an absurdity so obvious that no ‘curve’ will redeem!” (S. Malaxov). The reviewers also questioned the correctness of Belyj’s method of studying rhythm: Viktor Maksimovich Zhirmunskij, for example, disagreed with the idea that the rhythm of the poem is determined by “the similarity or contrast of adjacent lines” and that “the difference between the rhythmic quality <...> of verses can be <...> measured”. However, none of Belyj’s public opponents doubted that the author’s provisional analysis of the rhythmic form was correct, and that his mathematical computations were accurate. Such a leading student of Russian versification as Gasparov even called this aspect of Belyj’s research “completely objective and highly interesting”.
Nevertheless, among Andrej Belyj’s contemporaries there was a scholar who thoroughly examined the whole construction, from the text segmentation and prosodic analysis of poetic lines to the summarizing curve and its semantic interpretation. The results of this “audit”, which was conducted by one of the most prominent Russian literary scholars of the 20th century, Boris Isaakovich Iarxo, did not appear in print, but in November 1929 he reported them to the State Academy of Artistic Sciences (Gosudarstvennaia akademiia xudozhestvennyx nauk, GAXN). An abstract of this talk survived; moreover, a summary of Belyj’s book and an outline of the paper were found in Iarxo’s archive. As these materials demonstrate, Iarxo revealed that Belyj’s conception was completely groundless (so to speak, “from top to bottom”). The publication of Iarxo’s abstract is accompanied by an extensive commentary, both historical and scholarly, in which Iarxo’s own arguments are supplemented by those of the commentators.