Evgeny Baratynsky Essay - Critical Essays

Baratynsky, Evgeny


Evgeny Baratynsky 1800-1844

(Full name Evgeny Abramovich Baratynsky. Also transliterated as Boratynsky, Baratinskij, Boratinskij, Baratinskii, and Boratinskii) Russian poet, short story writer, and essayist.

Baratynsky holds an important place among the poets who contributed to the Golden Age of Russian poetry, which reached its height in the 1820s. His style embodies elements of both Classicism and Romanticism and his poetry eloquently treats such themes as disillusionment, the role of the poet, the relationship between man and nature, and the rise of industrialization. He is best known for his sensitive elegies dealing with loss and despair and for the personal, revelatory tone of his love poems.

Biographical Information

Baratynsky was born on his family's estate in the village of Mara, in the Tambov province. In 1808, when Baratynsky was eight years old, his family moved to Moscow, but upon his father's death two years later, Baratynsky's mother moved back to Mara with her children. Baratynsky attended a German boarding school in St. Petersburg for a short period, and then enrolled in the Pages' Corps in 1812. After an incident which involved stealing a gold snuffbox full of money with some schoolmates, he was expelled from the Corps, forbidden by the Emperor of ever serving in the military as anything but a private and sent back to Mara. The humiliation of this harsh punishment was to stick with the young man for the rest of this life. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1818, Baratynsky joined the army as a private. He began writing poetry during this period and became a regular visitor to literary salons and philosophical circles frequented by other St. Petersburg writers. Baratynsky became involved with a group of writers called the Arzamas, which included Aleksandr Turgenev. The group, heavily influenced by French Classicism, played a major role in the development and encouragement of the young poet's versification. Baratynsky was transferred to Finland in 1820 and remained there until 1825. At the end of his term, he married Nastasia Engelhardt, the sister of an army friend, and moved to Moscow, obtaining a government job in the land surveying office. Baratynsky continued to write and publish poetry and contributed to several magazines, including the Moskovskiy Telegraf, Literaturnaya Gazeta, and Evropeets. His friends in Moscow included the writers Alexander Pushkin and P. A. Vyazemsky, and he became associated with the Lyubomudri (Lovers of Wisdom) circle, a group of intellectuals interested in the idealistic philosophy of Friedrich von Schiller. Baratynsky's first collection of poetry, Stikhotvoreniia, (Poems) was published in 1827 to favorable reviews. Yet by the time his second collection of poetry, also titled Stikhotvoreniia, came out in 1835, Baratynsky received harsh criticism from reviewers. General interest in poetry had declined in the late 1830s and Russian writers turned instead to realism. Baratynsky, disillusioned and stung, retired to Muranovo to manage his wife's family estate. He published one more collection of poetry, Sumerki, (Twilight) in 1842, but it received almost no critical attention. Baratynsky died suddenly in Naples in 1844, while on a vacation abroad with his family. He was buried a year later in Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

Major Works

Baratynsky's poetry that was written while he was living in Finland—“Finlyandia,” Piry, and Eda—and published in the Polyarnaya Zvezda magazine brought him his first measure of popular and critical success. In these elegies he depicted the austerely beautiful Finnish landscape and portrayed himself as the isolated poet in exile. Man's relationship to nature and the role of the poet in society continued to be prominent themes in Baratynsky's later poetry as well. His first published collection of poems included many pieces dealing with Baratynsky's disillusionment over man's neglect and alienation from natural beauty as a result of the coming of industrialization. Critics of Baratynsky's poetry, including his friend Pushkin, praised his originality, lyricism, and the keen psychological insight evident in his poetic monologues. He also experimented with language, using neologisms as well as elements of Old Church Slavonic to create a fresher kind of diction. A master of meter, Baratynsky also skillfully manipulated the iambic tetrameter rhythm in his poetry. Almost all of Baratynsky's poetry attests to the conflict he felt between reason and emotion. In his second collection of poetry, he relied heavily on Schiller's philosophical ideas concerning the imagination as a bridge between reason and emotion. This persistent dualism remained a prominent feature of his style and, as he grew more and more discouraged by his critics, especially following the publication of The Gypsy Girl (1831), his poetry grew more disillusioned. Several scholars have pointed out that Baratynsky's reworking of the elegy form in his second collection revitalized the genre as a whole in Russian poetry of the time. His last collection, Sumerki, reveals a more conservative and pessimistic Baratynsky, preoccupied with loss and finality.

Critical Reception

Although Baratynsky received praise from critics for his first two collections of poetry, by the time his third and last collection was published, he was already a marginal name in Russian literature. Forgotten almost entirely by the end of his life, Baratynsky and his works were rediscovered at the end of the nineteenth century by the Russian Symbolist poets, and a complete edition of his works was published for the first time in the early twentieth century. Modern criticism of his poetry has focused on Baratynsky's style as well as his ideas. Dora Burton, and Luc Beaudoin have written about Baratynsky's philosophical ideas, with Burton emphasizing his pursuit of a personal poetic vision, and Beaudoin discussing the influence of Schiller's ideas on Baratynsky's The Gypsy Girl. Benjamin Dees and Sarah Pratt have commented extensively on Baratynsky's themes, especially dualism, in his poetry. R. M. Grau, writing about Baratynsky's only completed piece of prose fiction, the short story “Persten” (1832; “The Signet Ring”), calls attention to three different levels of possible interpretation of the tale and suggests that it, too, may be about the artist's attempt to stay true to his personal poetic vision. Susanne Fusso and Howard Stern have explored Baratynsky's response to his critics, whereas J. A. Harvie has focused on Baratynsky's own criticism of science and technology in his poetry. Other critics have examined the interplay between Baratynsky and some of the more luminous figures of the Russian Romantic period, including Pushkin and Turgenev.

Principal Works

Bal [The Ball] (poetry) 1825–28

Eda, Finliandskaia povest', i Piry, opisatel'naia poema (poetry) 1826

Stikhotvoreniia [Poems] (poetry) 1827

Nalozhnitsa [The Concubine; also published as Tsyganka, and The Gypsy Girl] (poetry) 1831

“Persten'” [“The Signet Ring”] (short story) 1832

Stikhotvoreniia [Poems] (poetry) 1835

Sumerki [Twilight; also published as Dusk] (poetry) 1842

Sochineniia [Works] (poetry and prose) 1869

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (poetry and prose) 1894

Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii 2 vols. (poetry, prose, letters) 1936

Stikhotvoreniia: Poèmy, Proza, Pis'ma (poetry, prose, letters) 1951


Benjamin Dees (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: “The Conflict Between Reality and a Higher Realm,” in E. A. Baratynsky, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1972, pp. 74-98.

[In the following excerpt, Dees discusses the development of Baratynsky's poetic style during the 1820s, focusing on his view of nature and treatment of the theme of death as well as the inherent conflict between Romantic content and Classical expression in his poetry.]

The middle and late 1820's were a period of perplexed transition in both Baratynsky's creative development and his personal life. In April, 1825, he was promoted to lieutenant (poruchik) which, insofar as his verse was concerned, deprived him of the image of the...

(The entire section is 9432 words.)

J. A. Harvie (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: “Russia's Doomsday Poet,” in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, April, 1973, pp. 170-81.

[In the following essay, Harvie examines Baratynsky's poems containing his criticism of science, technology, and the emerging capitalist-industrialist society.]

Of Baratynsky's poem “The Last Poet” (“Posledny poet”) Belinsky said that it would have been a masterpiece but for the perverse equation of poetry with ignorance and the blaming of science for the degeneration of society.1 Later apologists for Baratynsky have generally felt constrained to argue that all he really meant was that there was a certain charm about mystery which is...

(The entire section is 5832 words.)

J. A. Harvie (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: “The Eclipse of the Golden Age,” in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, April, 1976, pp. 176-88.

[In the following essay, Harvie compares Baratynsky's poetry written in protest of industrialization with that of English poet William Wordsworth, concluding that Wordsworth was the more didactic in his approach.]

The contemporary crusade against the excesses of science and technology should be viewed, not simply as a reaction to modern social conditions, but also as part of the continuing romantic protest against industrialisation, which goes back at least 200 years. It began with Rousseau in France, soon to be followed by Schiller and Novalis in...

(The entire section is 6004 words.)

Dora Burton (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “The Poet of Thought in ‘Vse mysl’ da mysl’!…’: Truth in Boratynskij's Poetry,” in Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, Vol. 35, No. 1, 1981, pp. 31-42.

[In the following essay, Burton explores Baratynsky's expression of the pain and emotional exposure caused by trying to remain true to his poetic vision, focusing on the poem “Vse mysl’ da mysl’!…”]

In Boratynskij's early and well-known poem “Bogdanovicu” (“To Bogdanovic,” 1824) the poet, at the zenith of his fame, enthusiastically announces his readiness to sacrifice the beauty of his verse for truth: “V zamenu krasoty, daju stixam moim / Ja silu...

(The entire section is 4790 words.)

R. M. Grau (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: “‘Persten’: Baratynskii's Fantastic Tale,” in Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol. 26, No. 4, December, 1984, pp. 296-306.

[In the following essay, Grau analyzes “Persten,” Baratynsky's only completed work of prose fiction, and suggests three different ways of interpreting the tale: as a fashionable tale of the fantastic, as a parody of the fantastic genre, or as a depiction of an artist searching for his place in society.]

In the fall of 1831 the poet Evgenii Baratynskii wrote to Ivan Kireevskii, promising to send him, among other things, a short story in prose for his journal Evropeets: “It is all mediocre, but it will do for a...

(The entire section is 4572 words.)

Sarah Pratt (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: “Mystic Transformations,” in Russian Metaphysical Romanticism: The Poetry of Tiutchev and Boratynskii, Stanford University Press, 1984, pp. 174-83.

[In the following excerpt, Pratt presents a detailed analysis of Boratynsky's “The Last Death,” exploring its themes, structure, and philosophical underpinnings.]

… Three types of poetic material contribute to the underlying substance of [“The Last Death”]: a mystical visionary aspect, an archaic or biblical aspect, and a personal conversational aspect. All these are held together by a framework based on the imagery of time and vision. The framework itself breaks down into a series of two-stanza...

(The entire section is 3621 words.)

Luc Beaudoin (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: “Character Associations and the Romantic Absolute in E. A. Baratynskii's ‘The Gypsy Girl,’” in Canadian American Slavic Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3-4, Fall-Winter 1995, pp. 257-70.

[In the following essay, Beaudoin discusses The Gypsy Girl as a reflection and embodiment of Boratynsky's interest in Friedrich von Schelling's concept of the Absolute and of the poet as an “inspired seer.”]

D'autre part, la civilisation que, grâce à leur action, réalisera la Russie, incarnera le rêve de nos jeunes philosophes, réalisera l'union de la poésie et la vie. Nous connaissons le rôle éminent que la conception romantique...

(The entire section is 5597 words.)

Susanne Fusso and Howard Stern (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: “‘The Feasts of Ill Intention’: Baratynskii and the Critics,” in Freedom and Responsibility in Russian Literature: Essays in Honor of Robert Louis Jackson, edited by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen and Gary Saul Morson, Northwestern University Press, 1995, pp. 29-37.

[In the following essay, Fusso and Stern explore Baratynsky's attitude toward his critics and the way in which he used his anger at their attacks as a stimulus to continue writing poetry.]

“Even in the grave?”
“Even under the coffin lid.”
“I cannot sing!”
“Well, sing about that!”

—Marina Tsvetaeva, 1928

[“Tak i v grobu?”
—“I pod doskoi.”...

(The entire section is 4667 words.)

Further Reading


Barratt, Glynn. “A Note on the Development of Baratynsky's Elegiac Verse.” Slavonic and East European Review 66, No. 2 (April 1977): 172-84.

Evaluates Baratynsky's elegies, noting that after 1835 he removed himself as the narrator in his poems, creating a new kind of elegy in his collection Dusk.

Nilsson, Nils Åke. “‘In Vain’—‘Perhaps’. The Russian Romantic Poets and Fate.” Scando-Slavica 25 (1979): 71-82.

Discusses common themes in the poetry of Baratynsky, Gogol, and Pushkin.

Nilsson, Nils Åke. “Baratynskij's Elegiac Code.” In Russian Romanticism: Studies...

(The entire section is 384 words.)