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Не подражай: своеобразен гений

February 1, 2010
Не подражай: своеобразен гений
И собственным величием велик;
Доратов ли, Шекспиров ли двойник,
Досаден ты: не любят повторений.
С Израилем певцу один закон:
Да не творит себе кумира он!
Когда тебя, Мицкевич вдохновенный,
Я застаю у Байроновых ног,
Я думаю: поклонник униженный!
Восстань, восстань и вспомни: сам ты бог!

1828

Iambic pentameter, AbbAccDeDe.  Published in 1829 in Северные цветы along with other poems, including “Мой дар убог.”  Written in reaction to Mickiewicz’s Konrad Wallenrod (published 1828).

Доратов ли, Шекспиров ли двойник – how did that sound in 1828?  To my Anglophone, 21st-century ear, Shakespeare is still a standard choice for a poet one could imitate; Byron is well-known but a much smaller figure than he was in Baratynskii’s day; and the other “imitatable” writer is fairly obscure.   I gather the reference is to Claude Joseph Dorat (1734-1780), a.k.a. Chevalier Dorat; at any rate his French Wikipedia entry notes (as of today) that several poets followed in his footsteps and were called the “Dorat school.”

I gather that the theory of imitation was debated among Classicists (see Cooper on Merzliakov in this connection), and I assume the wholesale rejection of imitation is a widespread Romantic idea.

Do the first six lines set the stage for the criticism of Mickiewicz in lines 7-10, or is the example of Mickiewicz an excuse to make the general point of lines 1-6?  How much do we see of Baratynskii’s anxiety over whether, whom, and to what degree he himself is guilty of imitating?

The central couplet sounded very strong and very straightforward when I first read it: poets and Israel have the same law, not to make an idol for themselves.  Creating an idol, it immediately seemed, was a vivid equivalent of literary imitation.  But is it?  As I understand it, the people of Israel were forbidden to make graven images because such images were false in contrast to the one true God.  In this scenario there are three positions: God, the Israelites, the false idol.  On the other metaphorical level, does the poet-addressee occupy both the position of the Israelites and of God (as the last line of Baratynskii’s poem suggests), while the imitated poet is the idol?  The lesson, then, is God:idol::Mickiewicz:Byron, and also that Israel:God::Mickiewicz:Mickiewicz.

That couplet also emphasizes in retrospect that “не подражай” is in form a commandment like “не убий.”

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