Acmeism, Adamism and Neo-Primitivism

Acmeism is one of the canonical poetic movements of Russian literature. That name, and whether it has any real meaning, continues to be debated, but the other name Adamism lost currency early on. I propose to revisit that name once again, and to discuss the meaning of Adamism for Acmeism, with particular but not exclusive focus on Gumilev’s work, and his avowed interest in painting.

“Adamism” is given two main meanings. One is related to the famous formulation “mužestvennyj vzgljad na žizn′,” and evokes images of courage as well as a certain odor of machismo. Indeed, courage informs much of Acmeism—not to mention the poets’ lives. My paper will briefly discuss the varieties of courage in the poetic oeuvre of the movement.

However, the bulk of my paper concerns another meaning evoked by Adamism, one that I find crucial to Acmeism. I am interested in “vzgljad Adama,” not with Adam as first man/male, but with Adam as first human. I will discuss how some Acmeists sought to recapture in poetry “what Adam saw on the day of creation,” and their concomittant fascination with pre-history and mythic “primitive” worlds. This particular discussion will bring me to compare their work to their contemporaries in the art world, especially the Neo-Primitivists and three painters favored by Gumilev: Gauguin, Rerix and Gončarova.