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The Poets

March 20, 2014

To GG



The Evening Sun

The evening sun has cast his cope
Upon the maple’s fragile frame
Outside my window, in my scope,
And all is calm and tame.

I wish with all my heart, I swear,
That we could share this lovely sight …
But I’m alone, and you’re not here,
And twilight fades to night.

-jwm


March 03, 2014

Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev - Day and Night



I find it laborious, yet exciting, how a particular course of study will open up subcategories of study, which in turn open up other subcategories that relate to the previous ones (and this can go on and on). I say ‘exciting’ because learning about new things, especially those that pertain to what one is particularly passionate about, is just that … exciting. This is how I ultimately came to know of the one of the most incredible writers of Russian poetry.

I was engaged in a study of French Symbolism years ago, and the path that that study took me down lead me to the first Russian poet I came to actively read, Alexander Blok. I loved his style immediately, and his theological bent and the way he beautifully employed abstract imagery. After having studied him for a time I was led to another poet, a poet who heavily influenced Blok, and one who I consider a favorite … Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev.

Tyutchev was more of a literary genius than a poet, but when he wrote poetry he poured his entire creative prowess into it. The first poem that I read of his, translated by the incredible mind of Vladimir Nabokov, was Glum is the Sky. I was indelibly hooked, and to this day consider Tyutchev to be one of the best writers of poetry that I have ever come across. Please, check him out ...



 Day and Night

The spirit world we may not see,
That nameless gulf, is shrouded over
And hidden by a golden cover;
Thus do the gods on high decree.
Day-this most splendid shroud is thee,
Day-for us mortals, animation,
The ailing soul's alleviation,
That men and gods delight to see.

But let day fade and night commence;
The blessed veil is torn, revealing
The fateful world it was concealing,
And hurled incontinently hence...
The gulf lies naked to the sight
With its black horrors of perdition,
'Twixt them and us lies no partition:
And that is why we fear the night!



  
Of the Poem (A Quick Overview): 

Tyutchev’s poem consists of two eight-lined stanzas called octets. The meter he employs, as was very popular in the Russian poetry of his time, is iambic tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables or four metric feet per line). His rhyme scheme is very interesting, and certainly contributes to the harmonious cadence of the read- please, allow me to explain.

First, it’s important to understand that, although Tyutchev divides his poem into two stanzas called octets, these individual stanzas are each essentially a composite of two quatrains- specifically, Italian quatrains.

An Italian quatrain is a stanza that consists of four lines with an enveloped rhyming pattern, whose rhythmic scheme looks like this: abba; or, to give it visuality:

x x x x x x x a
x x x x x x x b
x x x x x x x b
x x x x x x x a

So if we take the first four lines of Tyutchev’s poem, in both the original and Nabokov's translation, we are able to see clearly that he was working with quatrains while constructing his poem, and specifically the type of quatrain we call Italian. Take a look:

На мир таинственный духов,
Над этой бездной безымянной,
Покров наброшен златотканный
Высокой волею богов.

The spirit world we may not see,
That nameless gulf, is shrouded over
And hidden by a golden cover;
Thus do the gods on high decree.

Before we continue, it will be interesting to note that Nabokov’s translation of Tyutchev’s Day and Night remains faithful not only to the poem’s overall structure, meter and rhyme schematic, but also to the imagery Tyutchev employed line by line. I’ve come to learn that Nabokov’s translation preserves beautifully the poetic element Tyutchev intended.

Now, it is evident that Tyutchev invested a great deal of energy in the ordering of his poem, from the quatrains that make up the poem’s internal structure, to the iambic tetrameters that contribute to the poem’s metric regularity- indeed, even the way Tyutchev employs the contrast between ‘day’ and ‘night’ (devoting the first stanza to the former, and the second to the latter) seems anything but unintentional. It is for this reason that I find it curious that he would choose to switch things up by employing rhyming patterns between the two stanzas that differ. But I believe there’s an answer for this. First, let us see what those patterns look like.

The first stanza follows what can be described as a very uniform, very orderly rhyme scheme whose euphony is almost musical- it looks like this: abbaacca.

x x x x x x x a
x x x x x x x b
x x x x x x x b
x x x x x x x a
x x x x x x x a
x x x x x x x c
x x x x x x x c
x x x x x x x a

The second stanza, although orderly and uniform, seems less so than the first; here is how that one looks: deedfggf.

x x x x x x x d
x x x x x x x e
x x x x x x x e
x x x x x x x d
x x x x x x x f
x x x x x x x g
x x x x x x x g
x x x x x x x f

There is an internal harmony to the first stanza that reflects Tyutchev’s praise of the sun, a harmony he achieves by linking the two quatrains of that stanza together with a rhythmic pattern that weaves itself through lines 1, 4, 5, and 8 (abba acca). With the second stanza there is a discordance that reflects his aversion of the night- again, a discordance achieved by dissolving the rhythmic link between the two quatrains that constitute that stanza (deed fggf). I’m thoroughly persuaded that Tyutchev was fully aware of this delineation, and intentionally allowed the musical rhythm of the second stanza to fall into dissonance in order to depict daylight’s descent into night’s grim chaos … incredibly genius, if you ask me .

And this is what Tyutchev does with this poem, sets up countless contrasts throughout. Even down to the poem’s title, Tyutchev establishes his intentions for contrast. For example, in the Russian language, as in most Slavic and Germanic languages, the word for day (день, den) is masculine, while the word for night (ночь, noch) is feminine. Surely in everyday language the distinction is hardly worth noting, but when in the hands of a poet you can be certain that their gender and their use become significant … and so, after realizing that the first stanza of his poem dedicates itself to the illumination and joys of the sun, and the second to the horrors of the night, it becomes very clear that a masculinity dominates the first stanza, and a femininity the second.

It is with a myriad of techniques and devices like this that Tyutchev sets up the foundation for a poem whose meaning is beautifully illustrated and piercing: that we delight in daylight because it masks an enormous, vacuous blackness whose void and brooding presence strikes fear in our hearts … the night sky.

Conclusion (A Note of Curiosity):

Just a thought before we close.

The phrase from the first line of the first stanza мир таинственный духов refers to ‘the spirit world’. Some translations render ‘mysterious world of spirits’. Either way, the reference is to the spirit realm, a realm we mortals reach after our passage through death. I find it interesting that it is the spirit world, which in this poem is represented by the night sky, that daylight shrouds from us. And I find it equally interesting that the poem concludes that the reason we fear the night is because it represents that mysterious realm.

Is it possible that it isn’t the spirit world (or night) per se that we fear, but rather the dismantling of the shroud that cloaks it from our perceptions? And is not this ‘dismantling’ that event which we humans refer to as death? If this is true, that would mean that not only does Tyutchev use his poem to contrast day against night, and to have us recognize our inherent fear of night’s intimidating enormity, but that would also mean that he intended another meaning, one that would have us recognize our fear of death when it approaches, as well as our fear of that mysterious and nameless and unknown realm.

I would love, love to know your opinion of Tyutchev and your interpretation of his poem.

As of April 9th, 2010