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  Philologica 10 (2013/2014)  
   
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D. V. KUZ’MIN

MONOSTICH: BETWEEN ADDING LINES AND ERASING THE SUPERFLUOUS

 
 
 



 

Summary

The legitimation of the monostich as an acknowledged form of poetic statement had gone through several phases and finished only in the 1980s. Those few examples of monostich which occurred in the pre-modernist era (and therefore predated Valerij Briusov’s Oh, cover your pale legs, considered to be a turning point in the development of the monostich) can be classified as the prehistory of one-line poems; as such, they didn’t have much influence on the subsequent tradition. The early phase of the monostich’s formation is characterized by reflections on whether one-liners require additional lines. The first Russian monostich — Nikolaj Karamzin’s epitaph (1792) — was later expanded, in the process of transitioning towards the folklore modus and the so-called lapidary style (i.e. actual gravestones). Meanwhile, the second one — Dmitrij Xvostov’s epitaph (1804) — gained three additional lines after it was first published. The (im)possibility and (non)necessity of the continued development of the monostich was discussed by Petr Viazemskij (1811, in a letter to Kostantin Batiushkov) and Aleksandr Pushkin (1829, in the prose sketch A Novel in Letters). Their reflections may have been evoked by Jean Christophe de la Tourai’s monostich, published anonymously in 1783 in a French periodical, and in particular by the commentary added and published afterwards by P.-J.-B. Nougaret (1787). The reappearance of monostichs in Russian poetry after a long break started with Briusov’s one-liner and was accompanied by fundamental rhetoric changes. Briusov claimed that the monostich, far from requiring any additions, was the result of cutting away all unnecessary material (this corresponds in part to the appearance of the notorious “pale legs”, as can be seen in Briusov’s drafts). We should also consider that Theophile Gautier’s startling statement (that only one line out of all Racine’s work is of true value) might have somehow influenced Briusov, who had learnt it from Max Nordau’s treatise Degeneration. Briusov’s idea proclaiming the movement towards a text’s minimum was further developed by Vasilisk Gnedov in his Death to Art; several monostichs written by Gnedov, Nikolay Glazkov and Vasilij Subbotin also resulted from the truncation of original texts. Poets’ reflections concerning the expediency of extracting a single crucial line from a whole poem (as evident in Iurij Ivask’s and Konstantin Vanshenkin’s essays, and the important part of Vladimir Markov’s Treatise on monostichs) reached their apotheosis in the mid-1960s, when the monostich became fully recognized as a form of Russian poetry.

 

Key words: monostich

 



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