Erotic Ascent in Kuzmin's Poetry

Farida Tcherkassova, Yale University

Maksimilian Voloshin, in the first critical article on Kuzmin (1906), commented that the Eros of his poetry lacks "a tragic face" and asks, "why has he appeared now, here, among us in tragic Russia, with a ray of Hellenic joy in his ringing songs" (1988: 477). Znosko-Borovskij was the first to discern evolution in Kuzmin's portrayal of Eros-Love, which he calls the poet's "main element" (osnovnaja stixija): "In the first half of Kuzmin's creative work, love occupies not only a central position, but one that excludes almost all other themes; in the second half it yields its place to more general ideas and recedes to the background" (1917: 33-34). Znosko-Borovskij sees in the early Kuzmin writing a defense of physical love and attack on asceticism, whereas in his later works (of the 1910s) Kuzmin's ideal was more a spiritual "love for Christ" (1917: 36). Konstantin Mochul'skij, writing in 1922, also noted that for Kuzmin, love "opens our eyes to the beauty of God's world, making us as simple as children. Love is knowledge and intuition" (Mochul'skij 1922: 374).

Vladimir Markov was the first to link the general thematics of Kuzmin's verse to such formal characteristics as the arrangement of collections and metrics. For example, he discerned Dantean influence in the tripartite structure of Kuzmin's first collection Seti, which can therefore be interpreted as embodying the ascent from physical to spiritual planes (or from the real to the symbolic; 1977: 329). Markov is thus able to interpret individual poems as steps on this ladder of ascent, and to view the fourth section of the book, "Aleksandrijskie pesni," as a kind of symphonic conclusion, reiterating all the main themes of the preceding three sections.

Formal analyses of Kuzmin's poetry serve both to support and correct these views of his eroticism. Our analysis concentrates on the image of the "leader" as it is developed throughout Kuzmin's poetic oeuvre, especially in Osennie ozera, Vozhatyj, Nezdeshnie vechera and Paraboly.(1) The poems chosen for analysis, especially the "spiritual songs" of Osennie ozera, demonstrate the close connection between spirituality and eroticism in Kuzmin's poetic vision. The "leader" is in fact an incarnation of Eros, and Kuzmin's understanding of love can be compared to that of Vladimir Solov'ev, who gave new life to the Platonic conception of Eros in works such as "The Drama of Plato's Life" and "The Meaning of Love." In fact, the poem "Lesenka" can be taken as a direct polemic with Solov'ev's philosophy of love.

(1) Klaus Herrer has given an analysis of this image in Seti (1993: 58-59).