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Contradictions attract

June 11, 2013
Я любил в тебе слиянье
Качеств противоположных:
Глаз правдивых обаянье

И обман улыбок ложных;

Кротость девочки-подростка,
Целомудренные грезы –
И бичующие жестко

Обличенья и угрозы;

Сострадательную нежность
Над поруганной рабыней –
И внезапную мятежность

Перед признанной святыней.

7 апреля 1895

This poem by Fedor Sologub caught my eye when it came through on the Русская поэзия RSS feed. If Akhmatova’s “real twentieth century, not the calendar one” started after 1913, here I’ve been acting as if the real nineteenth century ended around 1890 and leaving out the early modernists – time to correct that.

It’s straightforward enough, with lines 3-12 expanding on the contradictory qualities promised in 1-2; the second quality in each pair is not necessarily something we’d expect the speaker to like. The first half of each pair is a traditionally feminine virtue, but the second halves get farther and farther away from stereotypical womanliness: lying smiles’ deception–>harshly lashing exposures and threats–>sudden mutiny before what’s recognized as sacred. I love the last rhyme of поруганной рабыней and признанной святыней – which fights the logic of repeated contrasts to be recognized as not exactly a pair of opposites.

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