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Ангел

February 9, 2010
В дверях эдема ангел нежный
Главой поникшею сиял,
А демон, мрачный и мятежный,

Над адской бездною летал.

Дух отрицанья, дух сомненья
На духа чистого взирал
И жар невольный умиленья

Впервые смутно познавал.

«Прости, — он рек, — тебя я видел,
И ты недаром мне сиял:
Не все я в небе ненавидел,
Не все я в мире презирал».

1827

Iambic tetrameter, AbAb – the most standard-sounding nineteenth-century combination (especially the first half of the nineteenth century).  Not just AbAb, though, but AbAbCbCbDbDb: the even lines all have the same (grammatical, verbal) rhyme, and the word сиял even occurs twice, unchanged, in that series.  In fact it’s grammatical rhymes throughout.  These are not so unusual in 1820s Pushkin, but having only grammatical rhymes in a poem does seem stylistically marked.  In the same period cf. трескучий/тучи in “Какая ночь! Мороз трескучий,” with a йотированная рифма of an adjective and a noun, or ключа/журча in “Три ключа,” which is phonetically an exact rhyme but isn’t grammatical (though the other three rhymes in that short poem are).  Is such use of grammatical rhyme a slightly archaizing feature, or does it go with poems that have eternal/religious/philosophical themes?  (M. L. Gasparov no doubt has something on this.)

Though the poem is called “Angel,” it’s more about the demon, even before he gets to speak for a stanza.  On first reading it seemed that purity and goodness were the angel’s only features, but on second reading its глава поникшая stood out – is it the angel’s submissiveness and humility (or its very silence) that causes the demon to feel умиленье?

How much should we read into the change from в небе to в мире in the last two lines?  In this context ненавидел and презирал seem to be synonyms, changed only to allow rhyme and relieve monotony (though of course it makes more sense to hate things in heaven – the demon’s equals – and to despise things on earth – his inferiors – than the other way around).  Heaven and earth are on the surface opposites.  Do they nevertheless function as synonyms?  In this single encounter, does the demon see the angel both in heaven and on earth (в дверях эдема)?  Would the poem be any different if we had only в мире or only в небе?

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