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Эпиграмма (“Свои стишки Тощев пиит”)

February 21, 2010
Свои стишки Тощев пиит
Покроем Пушкина кроит,
Но славы громкой не получит,
И я котенка вижу в нем,
Который, право не путем,

На голос лебеда мяучит.

This epigram appeared in Baratynskii’s 1827 book but was not included in his 1835 collection.

Why read it in 2010?  First, I like how it broadens my view of Baratynskii.  It’s nice reading his work in the genres that didn’t give him his reputation as a “poet’s poet.”

Second, there’s something pleasurable about reading epigrams long after the fact.  The point is clear even if we have no idea who Toshchev could be, and I certainly didn’t until I read I. Medvedeva’s notes to the poem, and even she hedges a little.  She has some good reasons to think Toshchev is A. A. Shishkov (1799-1832), known as Shishkov the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle, who is the Shishkov I had heard of.  To wit, his 1824 book of poems made him known to contemporaries as a shameless imitator of Pushkin, as you might guess from his works “Дагестанская узница” and “Ратмир и Светлана.”

Medvedeva points out that this epigram may have been left out in 1835 because of Shishkov’s tragic and recent death, and that’s entirely plausible.  Even if he’d been alive, though, unless he had continued to write blatant imitations of Pushkin and people had continued to notice, I wonder if the epigram would have ceased to be topical by the 1830s.  I should see what Baratynskii did with his other 1820s epigrams.  In general there seems to be something of a dead zone for this kind of poem.  When it’s written it has the zing of злободневность, and if it’s lucky it can one day be read as a timeless example of the genre, but a decade or two after its appearance it just seems horribly out of style.

Then again, the practice of giving the target of the epigram a pseudonym might make the poem last longer (besides avoiding the censors’ restrictions on personal attacks).  A new reader coming to this poem in 1835 might supply a more recent imitator for Toshchev.

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