Eduard Bagritsky Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.