lyric audacity

‘Where did this fat, good-natured officer…get such astounding lyric audacity, the mark of a great poet?’ wrote Leo Tolstoy of Afanasy Fet.


[Afanasy Fet’s] poetic credo he summed up in a few words: ‘Anyone who cannot throw himself head-first from the seventh storey with the unshakable belief that he will be borne up on the air is no poet.’ The fixing of a moment in eternity (‘I look straight from time into eternity’)—the fixing in perpetual stillness of an accidental, transient, elusive moment of the soul, of some everyday detail—is the characteristic texture of his poetry:

     This leaf that has withered and fallen
     Burns with eternal gold in song.


Lyric audacity is the key to the musicality in Fet’s poetry. Not the communication of meaning, but the inculcation of a mood. Feeling abolishes logic. Fet wrote: ‘Poetry and music are not just related, they are inseparable. All enduring works of poetry, from the Old Testament to Goethe to Pushkin, are essentially musical—songs, harmony--, also truth. I have always been drawn away from the explicit sphere of words to the indeterminate sphere of music, and have gone as far as my strength allowed.’ Tchaikovsky wrote of Fet: ‘I think his poetry is marvellous…At his best, Fet oversteps the bounds of poetry and strides boldly into our terrain. Fet often reminds me of Beethoven.’


Each poem has its own melody, its rhythmic profile, which is repeated in no other. ‘Seeking to re-create the harmony of truth, the poetic spirit automatically hits on the appropriate musical structure…No musical mood, no work of art’, wrote Fet.

—“The Poetry of Afanasy Fet” by Yevgeny Vinokurov, an essay, which formed the introduction to a Russian edition of Afanasy Fet’s selected poems (1976), translated by Maxwell Shorter.

Afanasy Fet: I have come to you to greet you, selected poems translated by James Greene. Introduction by Harold Gifford and an essay by Yevgeny Vinokurov (Angel Press, 1982).

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