Eduard Bagritsky 1895-1934
(Pseudonym of Eduard Georgievich Dzyubin) Russian poet.
Although not well known or widely translated in the West, Bagritsky was a moderately successful poet of the early Soviet period following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He remains best known for Duma pro Opanasa (Lay of Opanas), a folk epic that describes the experiences of a peasant who becomes implicated in the civil warfare that followed the Bolshevik Party's seizure of power. While Soviet critics have hailed the Lay of Opanas as a masterpiece of Revolutionary Romanticism, Western critics tend to view Bagritsky's career as a passionate but not wholly successful attempt to anchor his Romantic conceptions of nature, freedom, and human potential in the political and social realities of the Soviet era.
Bagritsky was born to a Jewish family in Odessa, a port city in the Ukraine. Although Soviet literary sources describe his background as impoverished, Bagritsky's father was a modestly prosperous tradesman. Bagritsky attended technical school, where he received a diploma in land surveying, a profession that he never practiced. Instead, he began publishing poetry in local periodicals and almanacs, which soon placed him at the forefront of the lively artistic culture of Odessa. Although his early revolutionary activities are not thought to have been extensive, Bagritsky twice joined the Communist Army during the civil war years of 1918-1920, first as a supply manager at the Persian front and then as a political propagandist composing pamphlets and proclamations. He also worked as a staff writer for the satirical magazines Pero v spinu (A Pen in the Back) and Tablochko (Apple). With the steady decline of Odessa as an intellectual and literary mecca after the civil wars, Bagritsky and most of his circle moved permanently to Moscow in 1925. There he was disappointed to find he could not publish without publicly declaring a political affiliation. Consequently, Bagritsky joined the Constructivists, a literary group whose main creed was that all elements of a work should be developed according to the work's central, usually political, theme. Bagritsky's poetry from the Moscow period reflects his growing disillusionment with the outcome of the Revolution. Frequently confined to his home due to chronic asthma, Bagritsky died in 1934.
Bagritsky's major publication, Yugozapad (Southwest), followed upon his relocation to Moscow. This selection from the first decade of his work includes seventeen lyric poems and the Lay of Opanas. An eclectic and metrically varied volume, Southwest bears traces of folk poetry, British Romanticism, French Symbolism, and Russian Acmeism, among other artistic influences. The lyric poems are considered dramatic and sensuous, featuring such typically Romantic characters as minstrels and beggars. The Lay of Opanas adapts the form of a "duma," or folk ballad, and incorporates classical epic qualities. The poem describes the fate of Opanas, a simple Ukrainian peasant who becomes caught up in the struggle among the Red (Communist), White (Czarist), and Green (Agrarian Anarchist) political factions. As a Green soldier, Opanas is forced to shoot Kogan, a Jewish Communist official commissioned to procure wheat from the Ukraine. For this act, Opanas himself is ultimately executed by the Communists. Bagritsky's subsequent publications continued an ambiguous, sometimes critical, exploration of the ideals and ramifications of the Communist Revolution. Poslednyaya noch (The Last Night), published in 1932, contains three narrative poems: "The Last Night," "A Man from the Outskirts," and "The Death of the Pioneer Girl." Pobediteli (The Victors) also appeared in that year. Before his death in 1934, Bagritsky was in the process of completing Fevral (February), an autobiographical narrative poem. His wife, who was a political prisoner from 1937 to 1956, assisted in the publication of the most important posthumous collections of her husband's work: Sobranie sochinenii and Stikhotvoreniya i poemy.
Duma pro Opanasa [Lay of Opanas] (poetry) 1925
Yugozapad [Southwest] (poetry) 1928
Pobediteli [The Victors] (poetry) 1932
Poslednyaya noch [The Last Night] (poetry) 1932
*Sobranie sochinenii. 2 vols. (poetry and prose) 1938
Dnevniki, Pisma, Stikhi (diary, letters, and poetry) 1964
Stikhotvoreniya i poemy (poetry) 1964
*Volume 2 exists only in manuscript form in Bagritsky's archive at the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow.
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SOURCE: "Postsymbolists" in Soviet Poets and Poetry, University of California Press, 1943, pp. 35-97.
[In the following excerpt, Kaun discusses the sources, plot, and stylistic features of the Lay of Opanas, praising Bagritsky's work for its passionate optimism.]
Eduard Bagritsky was a member of the Constructivist Literary Center for some five years, but he bore no consistent allegiance to any school. His output, considerable for the short span of his life, is somewhat eclectic, showing traces of Robert Burns (a few of whose poems he lovingly translated) and other Western Europeans, as well as of a multitude of Russians, from Pushkin through the acmeists and futurists. Such traces, however, may be found in any wellread author, and it is futile to use them as a basis for any specific label. Bagritsky's verses vary in form, from regular meter (with a partiality for the amphibrach) to blank metric and free verse, futuristic broken lines, and arbitrary rhythms. As to subject, it ranges from Tyll Eulenspiegel and the romantic beggars of Burns to contemporary themes, the leading one being civil war episodes. His main work, on which his reputation stands, is Elegy on Opanas, a narrative poem, wherein epic mingles with ballad, and classic passages alternate with national motives from the ancient Lay of Prince Igor and from folk songs. The very name of the elegy, Duma, suggests...
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SOURCE: "Poets of Today," in The Poets of Russia 1890-1930, Harvard University Press, 1960, pp. 316-42.
[Poggioli was an Italian-born American critic and translator. Much of his critical writing is concerned with Russian literature, including The Poets of Russia: 1890-1930, which is one of the most important examinations of this literary era. In the following excerpt, he discusses Bagritsky's work, particularly the Lay of Opanas, as a politically compromised expression of Romantic escapism.]
[Bagritsky's] early collection Southwest (1928) looks almost like the work of a jejune Pasternak. Like Sel'vinskij, he adopted the verse-tale form and produced the best work of...
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SOURCE: "The Poets," in Russian Literature under Lenin and Stalin 1917-1953, University of Oklahoma Press, 1971, pp. 178-97.
[A Russian-born educator, Struve is internationally known for his critical studies of Slavic literature. In the following excerpt, he provides a brief overview of Bagritsky's works, focusing on the Lay of Opanas.]
[Bagritsky's] first volume of poetry, Yugozapad (SouthWest, 1928), in some points resembled Tikhonov's early romantic realism. It was possible to trace in it the same influences—of Gumilyov and the Acmeists, of the English ballads (which he translated), and of Kipling. One of his favorite heroes seems to have been Tyll Eulenspiegel. A decided romantic who looked at the Revolution from outside, Bagritsky saw it as something strange and alien but recognized its elemental, sweeping force. In one of his best lyric poems, in which one feels the winds of the Revolution blowing about, he speaks of "strange constellations rising above us," of "strange banners unfurling over us," and likens himself to "a rusty oak leaf" bound to follow in the wake of these strange banners. In some of his poems, however, he tried to draw closer to the Revolution and to portray it other than subjectively. Such is his famous Duma pro Opanasa (The Lay About Opanas), which for a long time was regarded by Soviet critics as one of the masterpieces of Soviet poetry. It is a long poem, in...
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SOURCE: "Bagritsky's 'February'," in Lot's Wife and the Venus ofMilo: Conflicting Attitudes to the Cultural Heritage in Modern Russia, Cambridge University Press, 1978, pp. 77-97.
[In the following excerpt, which was originally published as a section of the chapter "The Secret of Art: Two Soviet Myths" in Lot's Wife and the Venus of Milo, Thomson argues that Bagritsky's autobiographical "February," his final work, expresses a surprisingly ambivalent attitude toward the pre-Revolutionary past.]
In the early part of his career Bagritsky was known as an ardent advocate of the continuity of poetic culture, with a reputation for a detailed knowledge of even the most recondite and unfashionable poets of the preceding epoch. In his later years, however, partly as a consequence of his hardening political attitudes, he seems to have moved towards a total repudiation of the past. His last poem, 'February,' presents a strange synthesis of these contradictory impulses.
The first indication of Bagritsky's changing attitude to the past occurs in his poem 'Cigarette Packet' ('Papirosnyy korobok', 1927). The poet has been chain-smoking late into the night, and as he sinks into an uneasy sleep, a picture of the Decembrist poet Ryleyev on a cigarette-packet catches his eye. Gradually this casual impression turns into a monstrous nightmare, which spawns the figures of the other Decembrists....
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Kowalski, Luba Halat. "Eduard Bagritsky: A Selected Bibliography." Russian Literature Quarterly 8 (Winter 1973-1974): 540-42.
Brief selected bibliography divided into five sections: Main Editions (annotated), Articles by Bagritsky, Biographical Sources, Criticism and Memoirs, and Sources in English.
Kuprianova, Nina. "Eduard Bagritsky [1895-1934]: On the 80th Anniversary of the Poet's Birth." Soviet Literature No. 12 (333): 146-48.
Anniversary sketch charts the development of Bagritsky's verse in relation to the poet's life.
Cukierman, Walenty. "The Odessan Myth and Idiom in Some Early Works of Odessa Writers." Canadian-American Slavic Studies [Revue Canadienne-Americaine D'Etudes Slaves] 14, No. 1 (Spring 1980): 36-51.
Describing the Ukrainian city as colorful, anarchic, and linguistically idiosyncratic, Cukierman discusses Odessa's influence on Bagritsky and contemporary writers.
Rosslyn, Wendy. "The Path to Paradise: Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Eduard Bagritsky." The Modern Language Review 71, No. 1 (January 1976): 97-105.
Discussion of Bagritsky's use of imagery that quotes extensively in Russian characters.
—. "Bagritskii's Duma pro Opanasa: The Poem and Its...
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