About the Author

Once again about Childhood, Poetry, and Courage. Answers for Elena Stepanian1
1. (On Humility, Meekness, and Childhood)

If in connection with what I am writing, such things as humility or meekness, then it is more than I could hope for. After all, humility and meekness are the rarest and most mysterious of gifts, and I can only surmise that in the depth of them lies such love of which I could only dream. Poetry is a subject that I, perhaps, know something about and I think that poetry is devoted to poetry first and foremost. Do you remember the early poem of Pushkin "The Toasting Cup" (1816)?

One thing is dearer to my heart
Than the entire wide world;
But to whose health
Will I drink this wine?

Then, after going through various toasts, he ends the poem this way:

The amber cup
Has long been filled
I, in gratitude, raise
This toast to the wine.

Wine raised to toast wine sounds very much like poetry. Saying this, I mean approximately the same thing as Merab Mamardashvili2 when he maintains that the subject of philosophy is philosophy, that is, not what the old (and not very rich) project of "art for art’s sake" had in mind. There, generally speaking, the matter was about professional artistic production, about the creation of "beautiful works". But as Mamardashvili under a "philosophy to which philosophy is dedicated" understood not a scholarly profession but some kind of human experience, thus I, speaking about poetry as the only thing that poetry can communicate, have mind not a connection of words by means of some rules of verification, but also a special state of life, a special, let us say, experience of meaning (this thing is often quite more unfamiliar to professional versifiers than to many other people). Meaning is a dangerous word; I must say right away that this "meaning" is not the opposite of meaninglessness, as in Mandelstam's

In the middle of the Soviet night
I will pray for a blessed meaningless word.

I must try at least a bit to specifity the "specialness" of the experience of meaning. I am not a philosopher and I must believe Mamardashvili when he says that philosophy as a mode of existence relates to the "creation of courage". In regard to the poetic experience of meaning, I would say that it relates to the "allowance for femininity", to the allowance for weakness, complaisance, bliss from which no account, no clarity, etc., are required. It would be ridiculous to try to find out from Mandelstam which "blessed, meaningless word" he precisely had in mind. Perhaps the final stanza of "Faust" (from "The Mystical Chorus") speaks of such a non-contradictory malleable comprehension:

Here is the mystery
Of the entire truth.
The eternal feminine
We are drawn to it.

This "eternal feminine" can be, without much lost, called "eternal infancy". That was how Rilke searched for a poetry that would not trouble the "eternal childhood of things".


1 Elena Stepanian is a well-known journalist writing for the magazine Children's Literature. Because of this fact childhood occupies a central position in her questions. Only Olga Sedakova's answers are given here.

2 Merab Mamardashvili (1930-90) was a Georgian philosopher who lived and worked in Moscow. During the epoch when the only accepted philosophy was the vulgar version of Marxism – historical and dialectical materialism – as it was called in Soviet Russia, Mamardashvili offered a highly original alternative path for the development of intellectual though, a path that was a continuation of the classical philosophy of Descartes and especially of Immanuel Kant on the one hand, and twentieth-century Existentialism and Phenomenology on the other. Very few of Mamardashvili's works were published before perestroika and they were circulated as underground samizdat tape recordings of his lectures. One of his most famous works was Lectures on Proust published posthumously after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sedakova acknowledges the extremely strong influence Mamardashvili's philosophy had on her entire generation.

3 In the middle of the Soviet night
I will pray for a blessed meaningless word –

a quote from Osip Mandelstam's poem "We will meet again in Peterburg..." ("V Peterburge my soidemsia snova...") (1920).
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"Non-Mortal and Mysterious Feelings": On Pushkinʼs Christianity
"In the Vestal Abyss of a Line of Verse": On Meaning in Poetry and Meaning in Doctrine
Mediocrity as a Social Danger
The Light of Life. Some Remarks On the Russian Orthodox Perception
The Art of translation. Some remarks
The Morality of Art, or the Evils of Mediocrity
 Once again about Childhood, Poetry, and Courage. Answers for Elena Stepanian
Hermes. The Invisible Aspect of Classical Literature
A Discourse on Method
Poetry and Anthropology
On the Nature of Tradition
Freedom as Eschatological Reality
Waiting for a Response
Totus Tuus
In Memory of John Paul II
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