Evgeny Baratynsky Critical Essays


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.