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!
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:
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.
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.
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.