Continuing on the thread of symbolism. Like Bryusov, I first heard of Andrei Bely (pronounced ‘Biely’) when I read of his book Petersburg. The notoriously disdainful Nabokov listed it as one of his favourite novels:
“My greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose are, in this order: Joyce’s Ulysses; Kafka’s Transformation; Biely’s Petersburg; and the first half of Proust’s fairy tale In Search of Lost Time.”
I still haven’t gotten round to reading it. It’ll probably have to wait for War and Peace to be done (which could take a while). Bely was also, however, a notable poet (there’s an Andrei Bely prize in poetry). His style was primarily symbolist; the significance of which is best explained by the man himself: “When I say ‘I’, I create a sound symbol. I assert this symbol as something existing. And only at that moment do I create myself.”
A prominent literary theorist as well, Bely attached great importance to phonetics, to the rhythm of words. This, granted, is nothing new: Tolstoy himself, perhaps unconsciously, paid close attention to such details, creating unbelievably intense passages. An example:
Kápli kápali. Shyól tíkhii góvor. Lóshadi zarzháli i podrális. Khrapél któ-to.
Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored.
Bely, from the little I’ve read of him, develops this style far more consciously than The Count: making translation that much more challenging (I really wish my pace of learning Russian was quicker). Pure form apart, he’s a poet of formidable ability, most of which is still visible in translation. In today’s poem, for example, two impressions stand out: an almost comic sense of absurdism, and a brilliant evocation of light and colour (I suspect he had some form of Synesthesia)
The first of this week’s poems is:
On The Mountains
Wedding wreaths crown the mountains.
I’m ecstatic… I’m young.
And all over my mountains
Such a pure chill is hung.
And behold - to my rock
Came a gray-haired hunchback, shuffling-stumbling
And the gift that he brought
Was pineapples from an underground dungeon
O he danced - wearing bright crimson-red
Praised the sky’s azure glow.
He swept up with his beard Whirlwinds of silver-blizzarding snow.
With a cry
Deep as gravel
He threw into the sky
And then arching a line,
Lighting up its environs,
The pineapple fell - brilliant with shine
Through the unknown
Radiating a glow
As if dew of gold ducats were falling…
They agreed down below:
'It's a disk of pure flame - a sun shining.'
Golden fountains of fire,
or else heavenly dew
Dew like crystal and red as a pyre,
Down and bathed the rocks too.
Then I poured out some wine in a glass,
Sneaked aside for a moment,
And I drenched the hunchback
with a light, foamy torrent.