N. V. PERCOV
“THE NIGHT, FULL OF CONSTELLATIONS...”:
THE SYNTHESIS OF SPACE-TIME IN XLEBNIKOV
Xlebnikov’s poem “The night, full of constellations...” (“Noch’, polnaia sozvezdij...”) was written, apparently, in 1912; it can be linked to Xlebnikov’s visit to the South, to the Tauris province, where, in August 1912, he stayed at the Burliuks’ estate Chernaia dolina (Chernianka).
In some of his works Xlebnikov realizes his own peculiar synthesis of space-time. Thus, the introduction to the narrative poem, The Poet (19191921) presents a cascade of dizzying and, outwardly, illogical spatial-temporal shifts: from an autumn garden up to the sky, from the sky down to the slope of the hills, to the white ravines of the plain; from mid-October onward to late autumn, then back to early autumn, then there is a sudden change for the first winter frosts, followed by spring; then back to Shrovetide and, once again, onward, to the exuberant greenery of late spring and early summer.
In “The night...”, time and space are interpreted through each other. In the opening line, a temporal segment (the night) is presented as containing spatial objects (full of constellations). In the concluding line (Na polnoch’iu shirokom nebe = On the sky which is broad at midnight or by midnight), a spatial notion is given a temporal attribute.
“The night...” is deeply rooted in the poetic tradition of conceptualizing the starry universe as a book. Xlebnikov’s poem takes us back to Lomonosov’s famous ode, Evening Meditation On the Grandeur of God, on the Occasion of the Great Northern Lights (1743). An echo of Baratynskij’s On the Death of Goethe (1832) is even more evident: <...> He could understand the starry book, // And the sea wave spoke to him. The comparison of the starry sky with a book or the simple proximity of these words, unified by a common context, is found in a whole number of Xlebnikov’s poem, such as The Poet, The Present (1921), The Sailor and the Chanter (1921) and others.
Although there are no neologisms in “The night...”, this poem abounds in the roots which were significant for Xlebnikov (the number of the word-building families formed by these roots can be taken as a measure of saturation, and the number of their derivatives can be taken as a measure of their significance).
Lacking neologisms, the poem includes a syntactic innovation in the second sentence and a lexical-syntactic ambiguity in the last sentence. In the second and the third lines, the question is asked about the syntactic address group, headed by the noun kniga (‘book’): Kakoj sud’by, kakix izvestij // Ty shiroko siiaesh’, kniga? = Of which fate, of which tidings // Are you beaming wide, book? The interrogative pronominal forms kakoj and kakix (‘which’) are embedded in the address group, which according to the language rules is a “syntactic island” (that is, cannot be transformed syntactically and, in particular, cannot be transformed into a question of this type). In the concluding line, the word form polnoch’iu can be interpreted in two different ways: either i) as a nonce adverb (cf. noch’iu ‘at night’) which means ‘at midnight’ and designates the moment, when the breadth of the sky reveals itself, or ii) as an aspect (or attribute), by which the breadth of the sky is typified [cf. shirokij v plechax ‘broad in the shoulders’, shirokij dushoj ‘with a generous (lit. broad) spirit’].
The vowels and consonants in the opening line of “The night...” correspond to those in the concluding line. The two word forms, with which the poem begins, are phonetically “absorbed” and “inverted” in the last line: noch’, polnaia... na polnoch’iu... (this is an almost ideal syllabic palindrome).
In his lyrical masterpiece, the futurist poet combined the classical motif of contemplation and interrogation of the starry sky with the breaking of the “fetters” of language, as well as an exit into cosmic space-time.