Time, Locus, and Lack of Freedom in Puškin’s Southern Poems

The Romantics in their search for a national identity directed their attention to the Orient. According to Edward Said (Orientalism, 1978) the Romantics were influenced by the idea of a regeneration of Europe by the Orient and by the conflicting idea of the European mission to enlighten the Orient. In agreement with Rousseau’s ideas on the relationship of man and nature, the Romantics defined the Orient as free from modern European social conventions. This definition reflected the affinity of the Romantics for the ideas of rebellion and freedom. Puškin’s view on oriental naivete and “wildness” was different than traditional views of the Romantics . Puškin in his Southern Poems already reinterpreted the romantic notion of the Orient/South as a locus of freedom and unrestrained passion, and concluded that ideal freedom is unachievable.

My research is focused on: 1) Puškin’s view on locus in its relationship with time and with lack of freedom, and 2) the poetic devices he employed to express his attitude toward the Orient/South. Drawing a picture of the South, Puškin creates a system of the confined spaces (in The Gypsies—a tabor; in The Prisoner of Caucasus—a village, surrounded by mountains and separated from the world by a river; in The Fountain of Baxčisaraj—a harem, a xan’s palace, a fish pool, etc.) and expresses a strong sense of containment. The South appears in these poems as a place where creative and individual freedom is incarcerated. Incorporating Mixail Baxtin’s theory of “chronotope” (“Formy vremeni i xronotopa v romane,” Literaturno-kritičeskie stat′i. 1986) I conclude that Puškin in his Southern Poems enunciates the idea that a lack of freedom is a part of life and it is everlasting. It is essential that Puškin’s Southern Poems are “anti-chronotopean.” Time and locus are in discord. I propose that the locus and space in the Southern Poems became the exponents of Puškin’s view on the Orient and confinement. No matter what time or epoch, Puškin sees the South as a dungeon. I believe that this point of view on Puškin’s Southern Poems allows better and deeper reading of his poetry of that period, and it opens a new way to perceive his later works.