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War and warriors in Batiushkov

February 13, 2011

D. V. Dashkov

Fridman’s section on Batiushkov’s poems on military subjects is a catalogue of individual themes and poems, touching on several features that distinguish his poems from other Russian poems about the same wars. At its center is a long discussion of К Дашкову (1813), written after Moscow is burned and Batiushkov visits it three times, and while he is waiting for his service under General Bakhmetev to begin. It contains the idea that it is ethically wrong to write poetry on personal, lyric themes during a moment of national crisis. Plekhanov compares this thought to Chernyshevskii and his fellow radical critics, seeing them and Batiushkov as giving up their personal aesthetic needs in the name of a common social cause. The poem discusses war in terms of revenge, in a way that was very real to contemporaries, who spoke of Russians taking Paris as revenge for the French taking Moscow. Its genre is difficult to classify: formally an epistle to Dashkov, Batiushkov grouped it with his elegies (162-71).

Briefly discussed are Воспоминание (1807-09), on Batiushkov being wounded in 1807, and Тень друга (1814), on his friend Petin, killed in the war. The theme of death on the battlefield sneaks into a translation of a love lyric by Parny, Мщение (1815); in the original the protagonist is not a soldier (160). К Никите (1817) and Переход через Рейн (1816-17) treat the веселье of soldiers during wartime (160-61), while on the other hand Н. И. Гнедичу (1807) includes lines on the suffering caused by war, a theme rare in Batiushkov’s military poems, though it is frequent in his letters (161-62).

Analyzing Пленный (1814), Fridman follows Pushkin’s marginal notes and a few words of Belinskii’s criticism, finding individual lines and stanzas excellent but the whole poem flawed, since the main character is supposed to be a Russian Cossack but “sings like a troubadour, in the style of Parny, in the couplets of a French романс” (Pushkin, qtd. on 173). The poem is about a captive of the French who misses the Russian winter, following a story about L. V. Davydov saying to one of his captors “rendez-moi mes frimas”; Fridman is very insistent that the poem also comes from similar feelings from the biographical Batiushkov. He quotes a letter where Batiushkov expresses a similar quasi-paradoxical homesickness, but Batiushkov paraphrases the story about Davydov in that very letter, which seems if anything to undermine Fridman’s point (171-73).

Переход русских войск через Неман 1 января 1813 г. (1813?) is part of a long poem that may or may not have been written, interesting for its use of realistic detail about war, uncommon in poems about the war at that time (173-74).

Переход через Рейн was considered an important poem by Batiushkov himself and admired by many of his contemporaries, including Dmitriev and Pushkin. It defies genre classification, filled as Batiushkov says he personally was with “a thousand thoughts,” and it includes a passage on all the armies that crossed the Rhine in history. It concerns a crossing Batiushkov took part in, when the Russian army entered France (174-76).

See section 2 of chapter 3 of N. V. Fridman’s Поэзия Батюшкова (Moscow, 1971), pp. 160-76.

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