Belinskii wrote that Чернец (1825), subtitled Киевская повесть, was to the 1820s what Karamzin’s Бедная Лиза was to the 1790s and early 1800s: each expanded the size of the reading public, was quickly very popular, and quickly faded (see his review of Kozlov’s 1840 collected works).
Ivan Ivanovich Kozlov (1779-1840) lost the use of his legs and went blind in the early 1820s, a circumstance which caused him to take up poetry seriously and affected its reception. A preface to Чернец apparently written by Zhukovskii claimed that Kozlov’s “misfortune… took away the best things in life, but gave him poetry” (see Nemzer and Peskov’s notes), and the poet alluded to his blindness in the dedication of the poema:
Не зреть мне дня с зарями золотыми,
Ни роз весны, ни сердцу милых лиц!
И в цвете лет уж я между живыми
Тень хладная бесчувственных гробниц.
These lines follow a comparison of the poet to the monk-protagonist of his poem: both have given up on happiness on earth and are reduced to hoping for better in the afterlife. This dedication of 34 lines is to the poet’s wife. I would have expected that to be a cliché, but I can’t think of another well-known Russian poema dedicated by a poet to his wife (or, for that matter, to her husband). Sisters, male friends, other poets, yes, but are there any to spouses that I’m overlooking?
Kozlov’s debt to Byron, and of Чернец to Byron’s The Giaour (1813), was widely noted at the time and afterward. Antonia Glasse writes that Kozlov was one of the first Russian poets “to come under the influence of Byron and to translate him into Russian”; she also remarks that Kozlov’s poetry is “at times naive in its acceptance of romantic themes” (see her entry on the poet in Terras’s Handbook of Russian Literature). Since many of the most-read Russian poets who wrote after Sentimentalism but before Realism had a rather sophisticated attitude toward Romanticism (I am thinking here of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Baratynskii), it is in some ways interesting to see a Romantic poem in a relatively pure form.
I’m learning that an entire poema is too much for one post, so I’ll wait for the next post to talk about the body of the poem. For now here is a link to the full text of the poema (it seems to have a few typos/scanning errors but is quite readable).