Sunday, July 14, 2013

"A Quarter Century Has Passed..."

Why did Georgy Ivanov emigrate from Russia? I don't know. It seems that he longed for Russia. The lines below are good lines, but do they add up to something that a non-Russian reader of today would consider an exemplary poem? Is this poem too self-absorbed and insular, lacking a universal significance or appeal? 

This poem freaking works. For two reasons. 

We don't have to worry about self-absorption and insularity because we, through some odd magic, become this poet. The experience of these lines is now our experience. It's like how you can become totally identified with the experience of a black-and-white foreign film from the 1950s. In that case, the director conjures a world of subtle materials that act on the viewer with a magnetic sympathy. In the present case, the poet Ivanov creates an environment of compelling psychological impressions that we fall into and, for a few moments, make our own. That might sound like how any poem functions. Maybe so, but Ivanov's is not any poem. It impresses us with its unusual complexion of written art.

Further, we are granted access to something universal: a quarter century, stars, cities, blissful South, murmur of waves, golden wine. All these have a symbolic power beyond the local, visceral effect that could be found in lesser poems. Somehow Ivanov -- because he's Russian? -- manages to charge those terms with a kind of mystical, extra-sensory glow. They briefly lodge in our third eye and take our breath.

Ivanov said he would return to Russia after death as his poems. I don't think he necessarily meant his poems would be published there posthumously. I think he meant his spirit would float there one day in the form of poems. A ghost made of words on the wind. A ghost and its old companion uncovering the light of a Silver Age star sunken into nostalgia.

A Quarter Century Has Passed... -- Georgy Ivanov

A quarter century has passed abroad
and hope has become a joke.
The radiant starscape above Nice
is permanently my native sky.

The stillness of the blissful South,
the murmur of waves, the golden wine...

But a Petersburg blizzard is singing
in the snow-plastered window,
that the prophecy of a dead friend

will surely come to pass.

"We shall meet again in Petersburg,
as though we had buried the sun there." - O Mandelshtam


Georgy Ivanov (1894 - 1958)

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