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В толпе

March 1, 2010

Памяти Ф. М. Достоевского

Не презирай толпы: пускай она порою
Пуста и низменна, бездушна и слепа,
Но есть мгновения, когда перед тобою
Не жалкая раба с продажною душою, —

А божество-толпа, титан-толпа!..

Ты к ней несправедлив: в часы ее страданий
Не шел ты к ней страдать…  Певец ее и сын,
Ты убегал ее проклятий и рыданий,

Ты издали любил, ты чувствовал один!..

Приди же слиться с ней: не упускай мгновенья,
Когда болезненно-отзывчива она,
Когда от пошлых дел и пошлого забвенья

Утратой тягостной она пробуждена.

Не презирай толпы: пускай она бывает
Пошла и низменна, бездушна и слепа,
Но изучи ее, когда она страдает,
И ты поймешь, гордец, как велика толпа.

1881

Mostly in alexandrines.  Note the delaying tactic in line 4 (an additional rhyme, AbAAb instead of the expected AbAb) followed by the hurrying in line 5 (which begins as a regular line of iambic hexameter with medial caesura, but ends a foot early).  According to F. I. Shushkovskaia, the poem was first published in 1887 minus the title, dedication, and final stanza.

Semen Nadson

The poem marries the Romantic, early nineteenth-century idea of “the mob,” толпа, with an 1870s-era understanding of “the people,” народ.  Lines 6-7 use a feminine pronoun four times to refer back to толпа, but they seem to demand an understanding of the term as equivalent to the absent word народ: if I’m not mistaken, there’s an allusion to the Populist хождение в народ, and the concepts of певец народа and сын народа are more familiar and comprehensible than певец толпы and сын толпы.

How do we make sense of the addressee, the dedication, and the утрата тягостная?

The “ты” of the poem is the bard and the son of the толпа, but loved the mob from afar instead of going to share in its suffering.  He is instructed by the poet not to scorn the crowd, but to become one with it, especially now when a terrible loss has awakened it and brought out the best in it.

This addressee, then, is a writer, and a writer who favors a particular theme and comes from a particular background.  He is probably not Dostoevskii: the poem is dedicated to the writer’s memory, not to him; the imperatives suggest the possibility of future action by a living person; Dostoevskii was at least nominally a nobleman, not “of the people” in the usual sense; and who would need the admonition “Но изучи ее, когда она страдает” less than he would?

Fedor Dostoevskii

Dostoevskii probably comes in with the утрата тягостная in line 13.  Another poem of 1881 that talked about a loss suffered by “the mob” might refer instead to the assassination of Alexander II, but given the dedication here, the reference is probably to the writer’s death, just over a month before the emperor’s.

The poet would then, through the dedication, be appealing to Dostoevskii’s authority as he urges some addressee to study the people’s suffering and to remember they are capable of greatness even if they are often petty.

I’m not sure I’m satisfied with this reading – the addressee seems a little too specific.  Maybe in the context of the 1880s, it would be easy to identify this ты with a particular writer or with an entire type of mildly hypocritical populist poet. Or perhaps I’m overlooking something that should be obvious even now.

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