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Death in a major key

September 12, 2010

The next section covers two clusters of motifs: joy and death, more specifically беспечность, веселье, радость (96-101) and время, смерть (101-06). Fridman brings the two together because (or rather, argues that Batiushkov does because) “a philosophy of pleasure quite closed one off in a narrow circle of personal interests. Batiushkov inevitably arrived at the thought of the disappearance of ‘earthly pleasures,’ of death, which would sooner or later overcome the ‘happy man’ enjoying those pleasures” (101-02).

G. R. Derzhavin

The joy motif leads Fridman to address Batiushkov’s reception of Derzhavin, rather carefully. Batiushkov thought highly of Derzhavin; his “Мои пенаты” repeats images from Derzhavin’s “Призывание и явление Плениры”; yet such direct influence is rare, and often the most one can say is that they had similar world views. I would have thought the following sentence would be taboo as overly impressionistic: “Moreover, as Belinskii noted in his day, [Batiushkov’s] lyric poetry was more artistic [более художественная] than Derzhavin’s poetry, although Derzhavin, of course, significantly surpassed Batiushkov in the strength of his talent.” Perhaps anything is all right in a paraphrase of Belinskii (100).

Time has the power to create as well as destroy in Batiushkov (102-03), and even death is handled in a major key (103-06). Death can be a passage to Elysium, an Elysium filled with pleasures much like those on earth; this kind of paradise was less dull than an empty eternity (105). The poet’s treatment of the theme is distinctive: for Derzhavin death was an unadorned bad thing, while for Karamzin and Zhukovskii mystical ideas took the edge off it, and for Batiushkov it was far from terrible even without any mysticism (103) or “sentimental moralism” (106).

See section 3 of chapter 2 of N. V. Fridman’s Поэзия Батюшкова (Moscow, 1971), pp. 96-106.

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