|"Non-Mortal and Mysterious Feelings": On Pushkinʼs Christianity1|
|One of the most solemn and final of Pushkinʼs poems, framed as a kind of last word, surveying not only his complete work and its significance, but also its future after the poetʼs death2 concludes with a surprising line: «И не оспоривай глупца» («Dispute not with a fool»). It is surprising because we have come to expect a summation, a resolution in the concluding line of a poem. And Pushkin usually follows this compositional rule in his completed lyrics. So what is this gesture, that seems so unexpected after the solemn and triumphant tone of the preceding lyrics, supposed to mean? Such a conclusion has led some interpreters to consider Monument wholly in terms of a parody of Derzhavin. The «fool» in that case is the person who takes the lofty style of the poem for real. Indeed, how could Pushkin who had proclaimed the independence of the poet from the peopleʼs judgement («Поэт! Не дорожи любовию народной»; «Зависеть от царя, зависеть от народа – Не все ли нам равно?» [«Poet! Hold not dear the peopleʼs love»; «Is it not one to us whether we rely on the tsar or the people?»]), have been proud of being loved by the people?|
However, Pushkinʼs irony and use of ambiguity have their limits. We could never doubt the seriousness of the first lines of the poem. The seriousness of the last is also obvious. Is this wretched fool so important to Pushkin, that he concludes his farewell poem with the foolʼs superfluous «praise and accusation» («Хвалу и клевету приемли равнодушно / И не оспоривай глупца» [«Be not swayed by praise and accusation; / Dispute not with a fool»])? We of course know that Pushkinʼs relationship with his readership in the last years of his life had been a disaster (one only needs to read what Karamzin wrote about Monument in his correspondence) and we can explain such a final line by Pushkinʼs biographical circumstances. But we also know what kind of filter Pushkinʼs biographical circumstances had to pass through to become part of an artistic creation.
This final line would not seem so unexpected if we bore in mind the role played by foolishness in Pushkinʼs world. Foolishness is a notion that has not been clearly defined or rationalized. It is equal in scale to Blokʼs «пошлость» (triviality; vulgarity): the most hostile and the most hopeless of things. It is the face that evil itself had shown him.
Face to face with foolishess (or «violence», «blindness», «childishness», «drowsiness» etc.) Pushkin recommends (and not only in the final line of Monument) the only intelligent tactic: silence, refusal to answer, the indifference of superiority. One can notice, however, that Pushkin never managed to assume the pose of the unruffled aristocrat, and a condescending laissez-faire – «do as you are doing»; «let them be» – could never cover up the immense pain or, as Pushkin himself puts it, the «immeasurable sadness»: «Доволен? так пускай толпа его бранит / И плюет на алтарь, где твой огонь горит, / И в детской резвости колеблет твой треножник» («Are you satisfied? Then let fate curse him / And spit on the altar where your fire burns / And shake your tripod with childish joy»).
Yes, it is nothing more than a «childʼs playfulness», but the games of such adult children are rather frightening and they play them in the most inappropriate places. «Procul este, prophani!» – this is Pushkinʼs sincere reaction to the games of chance played by foolishness. «Подите прочь – какое дело / Поэту мирному до вас!» («Depart! What business / Can the peaceful poet have with you?») Foolishness, as Pushkin portrays it, is always blasphemous, ever-ready to mock («ругается») the upright man: «Над кем ругается слепой и буйный век» («Whom the blind and unruly age mocks»).
It blasphemes both when it bursts on to the altar to desecrate priest and sanctuary (as in the poems quoted, where a symbolic poetic altar [with pagan overtones] is described) and when it acts as custodian of the sacred (as the sentries in Earthly Power [Мирская власть])3. Foolishness does this not because it does not believe, but because it does not understand what is taking place:
Иль мните важности предать царю царей?
Иль покровительством спасаете могучим
Владыку, тернием венчанного колючим...
Иль опасаетесь, чтоб чернь не оскорбила
Того, чья казнь весь род Адамов искупила...
(Or do you think you are adding importance to the king of kings?
Or that you are saving him with powerful protection?
The ruler, crowned with prickly thorns ...
Or do you fear that the rabble may insult
Him whose passion has redeemed all the seed of Adam?)
Neither of these ways of treating the sacred – open mockery and ridiculous protection – excludes the other. «The blind and unruly age» easily makes the transition from unreflecting mockery to absurd protectiveness – something we in Russia have unexpectedly witnessed in recent years.
When discussing Pushkinʼs Christianity and, more broadly, his «religious orientation», the principal danger is that we ourselves may succumb to foolishness in the Pushkinian sense, that is, to presumptuousness, over-simplification and moralizing. We may also boldly rehash run-of-the-mill verities that are «new» only to us, comparing Pushkin with a standard of morality and piety, which would have fitted Faddei Bulgarin just as well, if not even better.4 It does not really matter whether we come out with praise or blame. Foolish praise insulted Pushkin much more than reproaches.
I hope that by considering the theme of foolishness and intelligence we may be brought closer to understanding Pushkinʼs inner world than by other approaches: comparing his views to the school catechism or describing his life in terms of «the return of the prodigal son».5 It is well known that Pushkinʼs departure from atheism was less a response to any «call from the heart» or to «pangs of conscience», than to the demands of intelligence. He found atheism unsatisfactory from an intellectual point of view: «Not admitting the existence of God is more stupid than supposing, as do certain nations, that the world is held up by a rhinoceros».6 Since his school days the struggle between his heart and his mind had taken a form diametrically opposed to the usual: «The mind socks the Godhead, but the heart fails to find» (Unbelief [Безверие, 1817]); « Mon coeur est matérialiste, mais ma raison sʼy refuse» (diary entry, 1821).
The other possibility has been noted by S.L. Frank, who supposes that the investigation of the religious spirit of Pushkinʼs lyrics demands a «formal analysis», the analysis of poetical form.7 But the matter is not so simple, presupposing as it does an understanding of the form of secular (non-ecclesiastical) art, which answers the criteria of «religious». Do we have such an understanding? I am afraid not. However, even in the most general essay, even before the analysis, we could say that the elusive characteristics of Pushkinian form are closely connected to our theme, the theme of intelligence and foolishness. I doubt that we could call any other Russian writerʼs style of writing so unequivocally intelligent.
Let us dwell on the most general characteristics of foolishness in Pushkinʼs works. First of all, foolishness is not a lack of intellect («an impertinent know-all» in Pushkinʼs understanding is also a fool. Consider his well-known distrust of abstract thought; his obvious preference for the English pragmatic attitude over the German metaphysical). Foolishness is rather a delusion of the soul. Probably aesthetic, rather than intellectual, it is a kind of ontological indelicacy, inappropriateness, or lack of taste (we will talk about the link between taste and intelligence later). Thinking this way, Pushkin denied that the hero of Griboedovʼs Woe from Wit possessed «wit» (that is, was prudent or sensible).
This is a feature that strikes me as interesting and important. Pushkin was a man of his time – the «new», the «enlightened age», the post-Enlightment era, – that is, sceptical and rational. The Byronic period, as Pushkin clearly sensed (if one compares what Tatiana and Onegin read) was another step in the progressive breaking away from «wonderful illusions» (a process which in our times is effected by «demythologization» and «destructivism») and the peaceful euphoria of sentimentalism. Pushkin was early acquainted with the works of sceptics, cynics and pessimistic moralists like La Rochefoucauld. Foolishness and intelligence are most certainly the main theme in this line of thought. The contemporary man saw himself, first of all, as cultivated and thinking, and this made him consider himself superior to «the simplicity of yore». To think meant to be capable of looking at things, including oneʼs self, from the sidelines, («metaphysically», to use the language of the time), critically, taking nothing on trust and maintaining the safe distance of doubt. It is in this sense that Onegin speaks of the «thinking man»: «Кто жил и мыслил, тот не может / В душе не презирать людей» («He who has lived and thought cannot but / Despise people in his soul»).
Here foolishness is understood quite distinctly (NB: this popular understanding of foolishness survives to the present): it principally implies naïveté, idealism and unsophistication. Lack of the habit of reflecting. Lack of traumatic experience: «Ума холодных наблюдений / И сердца горестных замет» («Cold observations of the mind / And the sorrowful testimonies of the heart»).
In this case the clever man would be he who already knows that everything in our world is in the worst condition; he knows that this is the unalterable truth and that we only imagine everything to be good and lofty and he is reconciled to this situation as the normal state of affairs. He, who knows that man is not an angel (a mild encapsulation of this anthropology) is effectively incorrigible. («Our virtues are our disguised defects» said La Rochefoucauld.) To comprehend the entire difference between the New Age and its predecessors, we may remember that Dante saw everything the other way round: he considered sin and vice to be the misapplication of the love which powers all creation. Vice in his ethical system plays the role of the grimace or grotesque of love and theological virtue: love that is mistaken in its choice of subject, in its proportion and degree etc. It errs because it has lost the «virtue of sense, il ben dellʼinteletto».
Moreover, the intelligent man of the New Age relies on the indisputable premise that truth is a traumatic experience. Truth discovers the mean, superficial and vulgar at the foundation of all things. It tears away the patina of wonderful, elevating illusions. For Dante, just as for his educated contemporaries, the reverse was the case: «la verita che tanto ci sublime» («The truth that so elevates us»: Paradiso, XXII, 42). The «lowly» could never be the «true» by definition, because the design of Creation is immeasurably lofty. Only a fool cannot see this «loftiness», having «given away sense for lust».
The intelligence of «contemporary man» is expressed in his resolute disappointment: in his own opinion he has long outgrown the childishness of hope. That which has burnt out may never be lit anew. Faded love may not be revived. That is a painful revelation, but it is truth for the man who has «lived and thought». To think differently is to be faint-hearted. This is the general tone of Baratynskiiʼs lyrics. It goes without saying that it is just such an insane hope that constitutes wisdom for Dante. Moreover, the Comedy tells the story of a rekindling. For Dante the faint-hearted and vile is he who accepts hopelessness, who never takes on anything impossible.
Of course this is not a complete summary of the widespread New Age understanding of intelligence and foolishness, but I shall stop here and try to describe Pushkinʼs relationship with this world outlook. The most common quality connected with cleverness is coldness: thus, warmth (lack of intelligence) versus cold – and ruthless – intelligence.
Pushkinʼs attitude (in his works intelligence is often accompanied by this epithet) cannot be described as in simple and direct opposition to this point of view. Pushkin does not deny scepticism (nor fatalism, the other face of the Age of Enlightenment) their reality. Sometimes he unites them completely, especially when it comes to social man, whom he views quite hopelessly: « О люди! жалкий род, достойный слез и смеха! / Жрецы минутного, поклонники успеха…» («O, people, pitiful race, deserving tears and laughter, / Worshippers of the moment, devotees of success...») «The blind and unruly age» remains «blind and unruly» and this motivates the political views of the mature Pushkin.8 Such an opinion of the «people», «miserable children of the world» would have been simple misanthropy, had Pushkin not known another man, not social man, but he who has «forgotten the world» and cares about «the benefits of base life», a man who returns to himself, to the penates, «to hours of inexpressible pleasures», to the «power of harmony». A man sunk in a «miraculous dream» or miraculously awakened. Pushkin describes this condition of oblivious concentration: «Душа поэта встрепенется, / Как пробудившийся орел» («The soul of the poet begins to arouse / Like a woken eagle»); «И забываю мир – и в сладкой тишине / Я сладко усыплен моим воображеньем» («And forgetting the world, in sweet silence / I am sweetly lulled to sleep by my imagination»). This man attends a school where «любить, лелеять учат / Не смертные, таинственные чувства» («[He is taught to] love and cherish / Immortal and mysterious feelings»).
Pushkin, unlike the sceptics, not only knew this unsocial condition of man, but he also dared to consider it manʼs authentic, native home, his «depth of heart» (and above all, of course, his own [Pushkinʼs] native home, his penates). He undoubtedly looks sceptically at the possibility that such conditions might be available to everyone: as his Mozart says: «тогда б не мог / И мир существовать» («For then / The world itself could not exist»).
The world («the hectic concerns of society») exists as a distraction from harmony, penates and depth of heart. But Pushkin would have been the last person to have wished this world to come to a speedy end. He likes to imagine the continuation of events of everyday life even in his absence – when his grandson «С приятельской беседы возвращаясь, / Веселых и приятных мыслей полон...» («Returning from friendly converstation / Is full of happy and pleasant thoughts...»). His work (I mean of course that of the mature Pushkin) consists in finding amongst these hectic concerns a «humble prose» – that is poetryʼs other form of existence.
Pushkin, moreover, in arguing with the New Age, does not say (as did Dante) that truth is lofty. He simply says, that «elevating lies» are much more dear to him. He thus consents to having the reputation of a «fool» in the eyes of contemporaries, in the eyes of the age (and in his own eyes too, for he s a «child of society»): « Но я любя был глуп и нем» («But loving, I was stupid and dumb»).
Generally speaking, unrequited love, devotion to which the poets of Provence saw as the highest truth, is for Pushkin a «wretched foolishness». The social licence for such behaviour had ended; nevertheless, Pushkin cannot and does not want to give up this «wretched foolishness».
He could have also called foolish his own incapacity for lasting disappointment in the Baratynskian manner – to the end, with no hope of a miraculous revival, an awaking from «cold sleep» («Я думал, сердце позабыло» [«I thought that my heart had forgotten»]). Unlikely revivals of various kinds, as it is well known, form an archeplot in Pushkinʼs works.9
So, Pushkin does not openly refute the sceptical conception of foolishness, he simply corrects it. For example, he demands that a poet – and poetry – should have the right to be foolish: «Как жизнь поэта простодушна» («Naive, like the life of a poet»). By the same token beauty – and beautiful women – do not need «intelligence», that is, ideas.10 This means that sheer presence is more important than the work of intellect.
But the most significant thing is that Pushkin clearly sees the asymmetry of sceptical theory – and reminds us of the other side of foolishness which the sceptic does not even mention. Pushkin reminds us of what might be called the foolishness of negativism or disbelief, or of total criticism; as Pushkin puts it: «the foolishness of disapproval, that is less noticeable than the foolishness of praise».
If we resort to the well-known Gospel advice, we can say that not being as wise as serpents is as foolish as not being as simple as doves. It is foolish because it does not correspond to the way the world is arranged and is doomed to failure. (Pushkinʼs plots often illustrate the Tightness and ultimate good fortune which attend noble simplicity and the failure of calculation and deceit; consider The Shot and, in The Captainʼs Daughter, the way in which the «cunning» Savelich and the naive Grinev relate to Pugachev, who like Pushkinʼs Peter the Great, represents a sort of elemental power, a «divine storm».)
It is foolish to be charmed thoughtlessly – but not to surrender to charm, not to «be delighted and moved» is much more foolish. These two kinds of foolishness can be illustrated by the conversation between Onegin and Lenskii about the Larin sisters: Lenskii is the first to act foolishly, being charmed by Olga; Onegin, who appreciates Tatiana from a distance and remains cold, does the second foolish thing. It is foolish to trust thoughtlessly – but being «subtle», that is, calculating and mistrusting (we can find examples in Pushkinʼs plots), is much more foolish, and, as he puts it, incompatible with a great soul.
It is foolish to take thoughtlessly – but to decline thoughtlessly is much more foolish. The question of taste, that is, of selecting and forming a hierarchy, is one of the most important things for Pushkin and he formulates it as a question of intelligence and the «consideration of ideas», not of vague preferences. This is an original approach not only in terms of the conventions of his times, but also of ours. After all, we may call a person who admires Ilia Glazunov «lacking in the taste», but would not say the same of someone who can find nothing exceptional in Leonardoʼs works. And if we deny Zoilos something, it would be kindness or decency but not cleverness, as Pushkin put it in his epigram on the detractor: «Затейник зол, с улыбкой скажет Глупость, / Невежда глуп, зевая, скажет Ум («The schemer is evil, says Foolishness with a smile. / The ignoramus is foolish, says Cleverness with a yawn»).
We find an interesting example of Pushkinʼs «non-polemical» disproof of scepticism in the following extract from «Table Talk»:
A man by his nature is inclined rather to judge than to praise (says Machiavelli, that great connoisseur of the nature of men). Foolishness of judgement is not so noticeable, as foolish praise; a fool sees nothing of value in Shakespeareʼs works, and this is put down to his fastidiousness or eccentricity etc. The same fool is delighted by Ducray-Dumenilʼs novel or Polevoiʼs history and people look at him with contempt, though to a thinking man his foolishness was much more obvious in the first case. (My italics)
Let us note: not to a kind-hearted man, but to a thinking man! It would seem that Pushkin develops Machiavelliʼs sceptical viewpoint only to end by attacking «that great connoisseur of the nature of men». And the weapon he uses to strike scepticism is thought, that is, that on which it most prides itself! Thought that knows only one thing about man – his impotence – is superficial and incomplete thought. Full thought knows something else: «Они дают мне знать сердечну глубь / В могуществе и немощах его» («They let me know the depth of heart / In its strength and infirmities»).
Scepticism, in this case, anthropological scepticism – looks like a half-thought, that is, foolishness. It has never discovered anything about the «power» of the heart. To conceive intelligence as merely a critical and negative principle is shown to be insufficiently intelligent, unthought through! And as for knowledge of human nature Pushkin, as usual, by chance and in passing conveys his own knowledge to us (disguised as stylized anthology): «Должно бессмертных молить, да сподобят нас чистой душою / Правду блюсти: ведь оно ж и легче» («One should pray to the immortals that they should help us with a pure soul / To perceive the truth: for that way is easier»). It is easier, because it is much closer to nature. But nevertheless: in order «to be helped» to get so close to nature, «one should pray».
That is why Pushkin considers evil and vice foolish, for this is all they have and all that they consist of. The most obvious examples are in Pushkinʼs fairy-tales: the greedy old woman in The Tale about a Fisherman and a Fish, the stingy priest in Balda. It is foolish and short-sighted to behave in this way. It is the mark of foolishness to feel that one is master of a situation, both now and in the future. I decide, I judge, I control the course of events. Foolishness does not understand where the sphere with which one may legitimately have dealings ends, and where the irrational, with which no one can argue, starts. (Pushkin, who called himself «a tired slave» well understands it: «If there is nothing to do, there is nothing to talk about».)
Dante, in saying that souls which are placed in hell, have lost il ben dellʼintelleto, did not contradict his time. He was simply following Thomas Aquinas and the whole traditional understanding of «folly» (foolishness), antique and Biblical, which preceded him. And when Pushkin presents the foolish and the blind in terms similar to those of the Bible – as intelligence at once utilitarian («не подвижуся без зла») [«I cannot move without evil»]) and cynical («рече безумен в сердце своем: несть Бог» [«The fool has said in his heart, There is no God»]) – he is running counter to the ideological mainstream of his times. In so doing, he is probably relying only on his own experience of autonomy, of solitary communion with himself: «Дабы стеречь ваш огнь уединенный, / Беседуя с самим собою» («Seeking to preserve your solitary fire, / Conversing with myself») about those «mysterious non-mortal feelings». Clearly, Pushkin had no Aquinas to follow. His spiritual knowledge had been formed experimentally; he experimented on himself:11 «Они меня любить, лелеять учат / Не смертные, таинственные чувства...» («They teach me to love and foster / Mysterious non-mortal feelings...»).
Here we have to reject the widespread contemporary understanding of «чувство» as emotion, as something alien to the intellect and merely psychological. In Pushkinʼs use in this case as in many others (for instance that of «клевета» mentioned above – accusation, but not lie) the Church-Slavonic and Old-Slavonic meanings are still alive. «Чувство» is the general ability «to perceive» («чуять»), and is both intellectual and emotional; it is an openness. Here are some Biblical examples of the same meaning: «Благочестие же в Бога, начало чувства; безумнии же досады суще желатилие, возненавидеша чувство; устне мудрых связуются чувством: сердца же безумных не тверда» (Proverbs, I, 7; 22 and XV, 7): «The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge; The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so». This «чувство» also has its opposite in «нечувствие», stone-like insensitivity: loss of all receptiveness, irresponsibility.12
Pushkinʼs understanding of «intelligence» or «prudence» as correct and pure «чувство» is remarkably close to the ascetic school (sophrosyne: also translatable as «chastity»). However, this rapprochement may not seem so strange if we are aware that experts on asceticism, for example A. Geronimus, consider it close to «art», or «spiritual art»: right-thinking or awareness, or, in other words, «чувство» – a straightforward, living, pure relationship with its object, «Расположение души... к быстрому соображению понятий...» («A disposition of the soul... towards a quick grasp of concepts...»).13 For Pushkin the know-all and the fool are unfeeling, that is, closed, resisting any relationship, ignorant of inspiration and intelligence (which, as it had been rightly noted, «До слуха чуткого коснется» [«Would touch the keen ear»]). The change of objects plains Pushkinʼs famous «proteanism» (or «polystylism»); that is, it is foolish and insensitive to address a miller in the same way as one would address oneʼs friend – Prince Viazemskii for example.
Any declaration in Pushkinʼs world is unfeeling, that is, foolish. So is any final conclusion. For example, let us replace «non-mortal feelings» in our quotation with «immortal feelings»: it now sounds much more foolish. Why? The labour of naming and comprehension has gone, as has the objection to oneʼs self or something else. The speaker seems to be looking closely at what is in front of him: mortal? No, non-mortal. The same movement – returning to something that has been said before and responding to it – can be heard in the assertion: «Нет, весь я не умру» («Я скоро весь умру») («No, all of me will not die») («Soon all of me will die»). This broadens the time of the statement; in its meaning it begins to feel less like an aphorism, at once instant and eternal, than a remark made in conversation with oneʼs self, in a dialogue between the present and the past. The summarizing nature of utterance in Pushkinʼs works is always weak: we can never say whether we are confronting a universal judgement or a particular opinion: «На свете счастья нет, но есть покой и воля» («In the world there is no happiness, but there is repose and freedom».) (Compare in Oneginʼs letter: «Я думал: воля и покой / Замена счастью. Боже мой, / Как я ошибся, как наказан!») [«I thought freedom and repose / A fair exchange for happiness, my God! / What a mistake to make, what a punishment!»]). Again, compare to this the (doubtless widespread) conceit characteristic of similar statements of other poets: «Есть в близости людей заветная черта»; «Есть бытие, но именем каким...» («There is something hidden and precious in human intimacy»; / «Being exists, but by what name ...?»).
In the depth of Pushkinʼs «mysterious feelings» (which he never names and never describes) and his knowledge of «сердечная глубина» («the depth of the heart») we can discern a respect for freedom. No other poet has envisaged with such equanimity a world in which he is no longer present. There is no melancholy, no wish to return once more (as with Lermontov); only the hope that he will be remembered:
Но пусть мой внук (...)
И обо мне вспомянет;
Скажи: есть память обо мне;
Укажет будущий невежда
На мой прославленный портрет...
(But let my grandson ...
You say that I am remembered;
Some future ignoramus
Pointing a finger at my celebrated portrait.)
Examples of this, probably the most unique of Pushkinʼs motifs – homage to a world from which he has already departed – can be quoted again and again. Pushkin leaves the world free of himself. He also leaves love free of himself: «Как дай вам Бог любимой быть другим» («As, God grant, you may be loved by another»).
In his writing, antididactic and elusive, Pushkin leaves us «free of himself». He leaves his own words free of himself, the composition and the subject of his works and their «moral». Or rather he does not leave: he grants freedom to everything that has not possessed it before. Pushkin is the author of a unique theodicy: «За что на Бога мне роптать, / Когда хоть одному творенью / Я мог свободу даровать!» («Why should I murmur against God / When I can grant freedom / To even one of his creations!») This is almost a declaration. But the substance itself, the verbal and rhythmical flesh of his (mature) works does itself represent this «gift of freedom».
To grant freedom to others (or another), one needs to possess a surplus of it. This surplus in Pushkinʼs case is provided by health, flexibility and swiftness of both mind and feeling. Pushkin is the least passionate of Russian poets – «passionate» in the ancient sense of the word. He is not dominated by the inertia of one sensation, one mood, style or idea – he passes over them quickly, as if walking on water – without sinking. In comparison other Russian authors seem obsessed, each by something of his own: some by melancholy, some by irritability, some by a dream and others by disappointment. They are prisoners of their own style and Pushkin manages to slip away from all of his styles.
Many works of literature (Pasternak thought all of them) apart from their immediate plot or subject subtly expound another simultaneously which is in fact the main theme: «the science of poetry». Pushkin undoubtedly supposed that he was creating some rules for Russian literature and providing examplars. Possibly he was the only person who was capable of following them.
Mediaeval Latin studies of poetry were frequently called Ars Amandi (The Art of Love) rather than Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry). Pushkinʼs «science of poetry» could be called «the science of respecting freedom». And even if no Russian poet has as yet managed to practise that science as consummately as its originator, the «law of liberty» has remained undisputed and cherished by everyone who has written in Russian since Pushkin. His descendants have made some improvements to this law: Blok spoke of «covert (тайный) liberty» (where «тайный» implies both «covered» and «mysterious»); Maria Petrovikh in her «Testament» wrote about the «silence» of liberty – exactly in the spirit of Pushkin:
Не шум газетной оды,
Лишь тишина свободы
Прославит наши дни.
(No loud newspaper doggerel
No journalistic prattle,
Only the silence of freedom
Will grant our days their glory.)
It is Mandelshtam who understands this mysterious covert liberty in its entirety – Pushkinʼs non-mortal feeling – as the special gift of Russia, its religious gift, which is valuable as the constructive and historic gift from the West:14 «To that place, where everything appears as a necessity, where each stone is covered up by the patina of time and slumbers, immured in a vault, Chaadaev brought moral freedom, the gift of the Russian land, the best flower that it has ever grown» («Петр Чаадаев», 1914).
|Trans. by Robert Reid and Joe Andrew|
|1 This line, from Pushkinʼs «Еще одной высокой важной песни» is a free translation of a phrase from Southeyʼs Hymn to the Penates: «strang unworldly feelings».|
2 Indeed, its future until the end of times: «И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире / Жив будет хоть один пиит» («And I will be famous / As long as any poet lives beneath the moon»). This and subsequent translations in this chapter are by Robert Reid. Pushkin, probably, could never imagine the world without a single poet. But neither could Horace have imagined, when defining the extent of his own of immortality, that the Roman pontifex would one day not «ascend the Capitol accompanied by a silent maiden»: «Crescam laude recens dum Capitolium / Scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex» (Horace, Carmina, III, 30).
3 For Pushkin, both the abuser of art – «the barbarian-artist» – and Salieri’s «righteous anger» at the blind violin player, expressed by the same image, are equally ugly. Compare: «Художник-варвар кистью сонной / Картину гения чернит» («The barbarian-artist with somnolent [another synonym for «unwise» – «the cold dream»] brush / Blackens the work of a genius») and «Мне не смешно, когда маляр презренный / Мне пачкает Мадонны Рафаэля» («I am not amused when a contemptible house-painter / Bedaubs Raphaelʼs Madonna».
4 Cf. Baratynskii’s epigram on Bulgarin:
Поверьте мне, Фиглярин-моралист
Нам говорит преумиленным слогом:
«Не должно красть: кто на руку нечист,
Перед людьми грешит и перед Богом;
Не надобно в суде кривить душой,
Нехорошо живиться клеветой,
Временщику подслуживаться низко;
Честь, братцы, честь дороже нам всего!»
Ну что ж? Бог с ним! Все это к правде близко,
А кажется, и ново для него.
(Believe me, Foolgarin the moralist
Tells us in tones most touching:
«Do not steal; he who is dishonest
Sins before God and others;
Nor go against your conscience when at law
And it is wrong to prosper by false witness
And it is base to flatter placemen;
Honour, good friends, we prize above all else!»
So what? Good for him! It is all pretty near the truth
Maybe it is new to him, though.)
5 When we hear stories about an artist’s repentance and conversation we have to admit that there is something rather sad about them, and thus they do not seem very instructive, at least in a serious way. The appeal to the salvation of one’s self is usually feverish and panicked, and it always reveals the shadow of a major downfall of some kind. These stories are sad, because the place of the artist as someone authoritative, speaking neither about himself nor voicing his personal opinions, is taken by obliviousness to self. Whereas what is audible here I the voice of the naked «I», the voice of a not very elevating fear and concern for the self. Thank God, this is not so in Pushkin’s case. And if we think about what Christian art is – that is, not merely art on Christian themes – it is, first and foremost, an art that gives of itself. I hope that I will not be understood as denying the value of repentance or humility. It is simply that their artistic representations are probably not very close to everyday reality.
6 From a manuscript of 1827-8, quoted by B. Modzalevskii, Pis’ma Pushkina, I, Academia, St. Peterburg, 1926, p. 314.
7 «To investigate the religious spirit of Pushkin’s poetry in all its depth and true originality would require an aesthetic analysis of his poetry and, moreover, a «formal» one, inasmuch as it would concern itself with poetical form; however it would go far beyond what is normally termed «formal criticism».» See S.L. Frank, Etiudy o Pushkine, YMCA Press, 1987, p.10.
8 «Political views» in the sense of Pushkin’s conservatism, acceptance of the state system, censorship etc. There is in him a sympathy with the Hobbesian outlook: human imperfection means that a controlling power must participate in the creation of community.
9 See R.Jakobson, «The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology» in Selected Writing, (On Verse: Its Masters and Explorers), The Hague, Paris-New York, 1979, pp. 237-80; also O.Sedakova, «Mednyi vsadnik: kompozitsiia konflikta», Rossiia, VII, 1991, pp. 39-55.
10 In the same way John Keats peaks of the equation between truth and beaty as a liberation from «thought»: «Thou, silent form! Dost tease us out of thought / As doth eternity. Cold Pastoral!» (Ode on a Grecian Urn).
11 «Благочестие же в Бога, начало чувства; безумнии же досады сущее желатилие, возненавидеша чувство; устне мудрых связуются чувством: сердца же безумных не тверда» (Притч., 1, 7; 2; 15, 7). Such a feeling is the opposite of being unfeeling, as cold as stone: the loss of any perception, being besige oneself.
12 V.A. Geronimus rightly perceives a sentimentalist origin in Pushkin’s use of «feeling». However, this does not invalidate my «Slavonic» interpretation. It is common for Puskin to have a double source of meaning – French and Slavonic (or demotic Russian). This is the case with the word «печаль» (grief) of which I have written elsewhere. (Reference is to a discussion between the author and the Puskin specialist V.A. Geronimus.)
13 Pushkin’s favorite ephitets are alive and pure. They represent the best he can say about anything that exists. Too many people think that these two things are incompatible and opposed. But separate and in opposition they are of no interest at all!
14 Prot. A. Geronimus, «Isikhatskoe bogoslovie: poeziia I poetika», in Problemy asketiki I mistiki pravoslaviia, Didik, Moscow, 1995, pp. 151-76. There is good reason to see Pushkin less as representing Russian genius, than as transcending the spirit of that genius. In foreign studies of Pushkin remarks about the uniqueness of his writing in Russian literature are widespread: he is considered «the most un-Russian of all Russian writers». The grace of Pushkin’s genius can seem alien to Russia, to «Russian inertia» the heaviness, bravery and sentimentality of «the mysterious Russian soul» if we do not also keep in mind the previous centuries of our culture, the early architecture and icon painting, the ancient Russian language in which vulgarity meant «all things bad», sin meant «to commit vulgarity» and elegant meant «excellent».
| ||"Non-Mortal and Mysterious Feelings": On Pushkinʼs Christianity|