The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

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Andrei Voznesensky’s “Foggy Street” is a thirty-line rhymed poem reflecting the poet’s concern with loss of identity and his fascination with ambiguity. In “Foggy Street” time, space, and identity have blurred to the point of disintegration, but the poet’s treatment is occasionally light and humorous so that the overall effect is paradoxical.

In the opening lines, Voznesensky establishes the atmosphere, a foggy street on which the only discernible figures are police officers. The fog, both literal and figurative, so disorients the narrator that he is unable to determine even the period he is living in: “What century is it? What era? I forget.” The poet’s attempts to describe this oblique world take up the body of the poem. The poetic landscape, presented through a mosaic of images and comparisons, is by turns nightmarish and amusing, romantic and absurd.

The second stanza introduces images of general disintegration: “everything is crumbling,” and “nothing’s intact.” The people whom the poet encounters are undifferentiated, but at the same time unconnected. This series of vague but unsettling images breaks off to be replaced by a more precise and less unpleasant one of the poet “flounder[ing] in cotton wool.” Although the poet continues to stumble through the fog and his vision remains blurred, the language with which he describes the scene in the third stanza becomes more concrete; he begins to pick out a few details, and a specific although unidentified voice calls out a mild warning, “Your hat check, sir?/ Mustn’t walk off with the wrong head, you know.” Perhaps the poet is merely talking to himself, reminding himself not to panic—to keep his head—and to remember who he is: a poet.

It is his skill with language that he must use to find his way in this world, and in the next stanza, he attempts to define his situation by introducing a romantic simile, but he soon loses heart. By the third line the diction has grown melodramatic, “widowed by your love’s eclipse,” and the stanza ends without completing the idea. Subsequent attempts to match name to person, word to reality, fail as well. In the fifth stanza Venus turns out to be a street vendor; friend is indistinguishable from foe; and in the sixth stanza, the poet mistakes a strange man for his lover. By the penultimate stanza, the poet’s perseverance has taken him so deeply into the fog that he can no longer see; his fears return, and he calls out in vain, for “One’s voice won’t carry in this heavy air.” Again, the poet does not complete his thought, and in the closing line the reader is left with the impression of a world that glistens all the more for having been obscured.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481

Voznesensky is a highly innovative poet whose verse eschews classical metric patterns and who often startles the reader with abrupt shifts and unusual rhymes and juxtapositions. “Foggy Street” typifies Voznesensky’s early style, combining traditional alternating rhyme with a metric pattern suggesting, but not corresponding to, classical Greek forms.

The form of the poem is cleverly matched to its content; just as figures emerge, but dissolve or fragment before they can be clearly identified, the poem’s structure varies slightly from stanza to stanza, so that a pattern appears to form, only to disappear as the reader moves further into the verse. The theme of fragmented self is reinforced by a structural sense of fragmentation developed through frequent use of dashes, ellipses, and caesuras or internal pauses, such as those created by the question marks in the final line of the first stanza.

Indentation of the second line in most stanzas, followed by a very short third line, contributes to the sense of disjuncture, as do sudden shifts in register and tonality. Consider, for example, the third stanza, which begins “Noses. Parking lights. Badges.” This line, with its staccato beats, contrasts with the smoother rhythms of the previous verses. The playfulness of the combination of images lightens the tone, as does the shift in voice as the poem seems suddenly to address the poet in the stanza’s closing lines.

Voznesensky plays with voice throughout the poem. The more traditional voice narrates with standard convention as it attempts to identify through simile and metaphor, as in the second and fourth stanzas. A less formal and seemingly more authentic voice inserts itself, taking control in stanzas 5 and 6. This second voice, perhaps representing the poet’s interior monologue, is more conversational than the first, and it is the voice with which the poet is able to designate individual people and discrete objects, but his identifications are always wrong. In the end, the second voice seems no more successful than the first.

In 1963 Voznesensky’s experimental style was denounced by Nikita S. Khrushchev, then premier of the Soviet Union. Yet, despite his inventiveness, Voznesensky is not rebelling against tradition. The allusions in “Foggy Street” connect the poem with both Russian tradition and the classical culture from which much Russian poetry is derived. The questions that end the first stanza are a reference to the famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, and in the original Russian version, Baba Yaga, a witch in Slavic folklore, makes an appearance. Baba Yaga is changed in the English translation to “Iago,” the villain of William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice (1604), a change that preserves the sense of connection to literary tradition. Similarly, the appearance of Venus, goddess of love, in the fifth stanza reflects the influence of ancient Greek and Latin mythology. Even the situation in which the poet is immersed suggests Homer, the poet of ancient Greece.