Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539

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Written during the “Russian thaw,” the period following the death in 1953 of the brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, “Foggy Street” invites a political interpretation. Voznesensky himself has referred to the Stalin years as “a fog,” and the positive image of clarity and brilliance on which the poem ends seems an apt description of the flowering of Russian culture in the latter part of the 1950’s. However, interpreting the poem simply as a commentary on life in the Soviet Union during Stalinism is too narrow a reading to encompass the entire poem. Like the others with which it was originally published, “Foggy Street” takes the human condition as its subject. The poet who walks down Voznesensky’s “foggy street” could be walking down any street at any point in time. As the title of his first collection, Mozaika (“mosaic”), indicates, Voznesensky intends his poems to be read in groups, and the meaning of an individual poem contributes to the meaning of the collection; the pattern that emerges, in turn, informs the meaning of each separate piece. To understand “Foggy Street” more fully, it is useful to examine the worldview reflected in the larger body of the poet’s work.

Voznesensky believes that humans are part of a universal life force and that human nature is essentially good; however, society and technology have distanced humans from their connection with the natural world, and it is this distancing that permits evil to thrive. He holds technology responsible for the sort of fragmentation and disorientation described in “Foggy Street.” Technology alienates through categorization, specialization, and mechanization. Instead of increasing knowledge of the world, science distorts it, producing chaos and confusion.

Negotiating his way through this world of contradiction is the task of the poet in “Foggy Street.” The magnificent irony at the heart of the poem is that to succeed he must fail; in an unstable universe, any sense of permanent stability is false. Yet by articulating the paradoxical nature of reality, the poet can achieve equilibrium. With its fragmented lines, separate voices, unique juxtapositions, and irregular rhythms, the poem balances contradictory impulses, allowing them to coexist. The police who “bob up like corks” in the second line are simultaneously sinister and innocuous. Similarly, the “unsoldered” figures of the following stanza suggest opposing images, one in keeping with the nightmarish scene, the other reminiscent of the dreamily floating figures in the paintings of Marc Chagall, a Russian artist greatly admired by Voznesensky. The poet’s inability to distinguish friends from enemies and male from female compromise his ability to survive and procreate, yet these failings are rendered in a humorous tone that undercuts their seriousness. Abrupt shifts in tone and voice and other stylistic innovations that startle the reader are an essential part of the balancing act in a constantly changing world.

The ultimate paradox is that the very fog that prevents the poet from seeing or being heard generates a highly visual and delightfully resonant poem, a point that the poet realizes, perhaps, in the closing line, “When the fog lifts, how brilliant it is, how rare!” This line is itself ambiguous, however, for the term “when” does not assure that the fog has lifted, only that on rare occasions it does.

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Analysis