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В темноте, на треножнике ярком

March 18, 2010
В темноте, на треножнике ярком
Мать варила черешни вдали…
Мы с тобой отворили калитку

И по темной аллее пошли.

Шли мы розно.  Прохлада ночная
Широко между нами плыла.
Я боялся, чтоб в помысле смелом

Ты меня упрекнуть не могла.

Как-то странно мы оба молчали
И странней сторонилися прочь…
Говорила за нас и дышала

Нам в лицо благовонная ночь.

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I may have said before that I find it hard to talk about Fet poems, which seem at once so obvious that they require no explanation and too mysterious to say anything certain about.  But here goes.

Formally the poem is in anapestic trimeter with the rhyme scheme XaXa XbXb XcXc, except that the last pair of Xs is close to a perfect rhyme (молчали/дышала).  The fully unrhymed lines 1, 3, 5, and 7 are rather unusual, and once that pattern is established the near-rhyme of дышала in line 11 is surprising. This late surprise is perhaps swallowed up, perhaps emphasized by the enjambement from line 11 to line 12 (дышала/ Нам в лицо).

Semantically the poem invites three questions:

1. What is going on emotionally between the poet and the addressee, and why are they walking so far apart from each other?

2. How does nature/the weather/the night reflect (or determine) this emotional plot?

3. What does the image in lines 1-2 have to do with the situation in lines 3-12?  Does it do more than narrow down the time and place the poem is set in?

Let’s start with the weather and time of day.  We know it’s dark (ll. 1, 4) and that it’s nighttime (ll. 5, 12). It apparently isn’t raining.  It’s probably either early summer or late summer/early fall: it’s a time of year when there can be cool nights that aren’t outright cold, when there are enough plants growing and blooming that the breeze can have a pleasant scent (unless the night is благовонная only because of the woman boiling fruit in the distance), when there are ripe sweet cherries to cook, and when a woman might choose to cook them outside.

As the last two clauses suggest, I think the woman boiling sweet cherries in her three-legged pot is in the poem largely as an efficient, indirect way of setting the scene.  Her presence also suggests the poem takes place in a rural area.  Perhaps she is in a peasant village visible from an аллея on the grounds of a manor? She could, I suppose, also be a serf who cooks for the noble family at the main house, and be standing outside it, but since she is identified as мать, I am inclined to assume the fruit is for her own children.  So I can only give my question (3) a rather limited answer: she is there to help us identify time and place and perhaps for her cherries to anticipate the word благовонная in the last line.

Now we come to the poet and addressee.  Except for lines 7-8, they are symmetrical: everywhere we have мы, мы, между нами, мы, за нас, нам.  It is not that he speaks and she is silent, or that he comes close and she draws away; both are silent, both physically distant.  Only once do we have a hint of asymmetry, when he fears that she might be able to reproach him for being too forward in his thoughts and plans. Anything sexual is buried under layers: the already euphemistic помысл смелый is the object of a verb that depends on another verb that depends on yet a third.

I wonder if a contemporary of Fet’s could read a more specific scenario into “Мы с тобой отворили калитку/ И по темной аллее пошли” than I can.  It seems most likely that the man and the woman were already at a provincial gentry home, which they have left to stroll around its grounds.  Are they both guests at some ball or other gathering that goes unmentioned?  Is one of them the guest of the other? Do they both live there?

In the end I think I have to throw up my hands at questions (1) and (2) also, and to say that the emotional interaction and the exact kind of night described in the poem each explain the other, but in a way not very susceptible to prose paraphrase.

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