Another Life as Immortality: Trifonov’s Allusions to Pasternak

This paper analyzes Trifonov’s allusions in the finale of Another Life (1975) to Pasternak’s poem “The Wind” (1953), the eighth poem in the collection “The Poems of Jurij Živago,” which constitutes the final part of his novel Doktor Živago (1957). The purpose of this analysis is an argument against a commonly held view that Trifonov’s contribution to Russian culture lies in either psychological or social criticism of Stalinism and post-Stalinist Russian society. I suggest instead that Trifonov played a considerably more important role in Russian culture by participating in the traditional dialogue between the atheist and religious mentalities and taking sides with those Russian thinkers that rejected atheism and supported Christianity. Specifically, I suggest that the finale of Trifonov’s novella conveys the idea of immortality that is expressed in Pasternak’s poem and in his novel.

There are many thematic, structural, compositional, and lexical similarities between “The Wind” and the finale of Another Life. Pasternak’s poem and the finale of Trifonov’s novella depict the same situation: a deceased hero meets after his death with his mournful beloved. The miracle of meeting after death is treated as something not requiring explanation in Pasternak’s text: “I have died, but you are still among the living” “Ja končilsja, a ty živa”). Trifonov introduces the first meeting of the hero with his widow in the traditional form of the dream. The symbolical meaning of this dream has been interpreted in different ways. Reinhard Baumgard and Carolina De Maegd-Soep emphasize the psychological aspect of the dream (De Maegd-Soep 1990:140; Baumgard 1976). David Gillespie focuses on the dream’s social meaning and implies that Trifonov is attacking the falsity of official Soviet ideology through the dream’s symbolism (Gillespie 1992:95). Natalia Ivanova interprets the dream on a philosophical level (Ivanova 1984:208).

My contention is that the protagonist’s widow, Ol′ga, adopts a new attitude toward life, which allows her to accept the tragedy of the death of her husband, Sergej, peacefully, all because she finds religious faith in immortality. Her “jump,” as Ivanova terms it, from the deadness and darkness of materialism to the light of religious faith is expressed by Trifonov’s strikingly different approaches to the same metaphors and symbols in the two parts of the novella’s finale.

In the first part of the finale which describes Ol′ga’s dream, her meeting with Sergej takes place in a forest somewhere outside Moscow. The forest is dark and frightening. Ol′ga and Sergej are desperately trying to find their way toward the light. In the second part of the finale, we learn that Ol′ga often goes for a stroll to a pine forest outside Moscow, near the village of Spasskoe-Lykovo. The two parts of the finale are set in the same surroundings: a coniferous forest outside Moscow. However, the moods in which the forest is described differ drastically. In the first part of the finale the forest is a dark green, grim, oppressively humid fir thicket. These elements create an atmosphere of oppression and fear. In the second part, it is a bright green pine forest, growing in an open space; it is depicted in a calm, peaceful, and easy tone.

I argue that the transformation of the fearful uneasiness in the first part of the finale into the enlightened tranquility of the second results from the heroine’s spiritual regeneration. Although the world around her remains physically the same, she sees it in a different manner. The motifs of deepening darkness, fear of loneliness, and the anxiety of suffocation associate the fir forest in her dream with death. In the dream, Ol′ga and Sergej are desperately trying to get out of the fearful darkness of death and reach “the brightness ahead,” “another life” (Trifonov II: 358). They are hindered by many obstructions: a thicket of conifers, numerous gullies and ravines, an endless fence, and a bog (Trifonov II: 358-59). In the epilogue that describes Ol′ga’s new life, the obstructions disappear, and she sees clearly what was hidden from her sight earlier. The metaphorical use of the sentence “… High on a hilltop over the river and above the pines floated the bell tower of the old Spasskoe-Lykovo church, visible from far away on every side,” allows Trifonov to connect the concept of immortality with its natural source, Christianity.

Pasternak’s poem also consists of two contrasting parts. The tone of the poem changes from unease and sadness in the first part to a calming one of the second. According to Aleksandr Zholkovsky, this poem is a monologue of a deceased lyrical hero who associates himself with the wind that transports his lullaby to his mournful beloved (Zholkovsky 1983:249).

The two parts of the finale in Trifonov’s novella are connected by a transitional paragraph, set off in the text with two spaces before and after it. In this paragraph, Trifonov tells how Ol′ga is resurrected from the deadness of her existence into a new, enlightened life: “The alarm clock rang at seven, wrenching her out of clinging, enervating oblivion. So it continued for many days, each one like the other, although at times it was sunny, at times it rained or snowed. One day, though, she woke up before the alarm. She walked barefoot over to the window, pulled back the draperies and looked out toward the park: there, above the treetops, above the jagged horizon of roofs and chimneys, the red globe of the sun was sliding up into the faintly glowing sky. She opened the sliding window. The wind blowing from across the park caressed her tired skin, and her breasts tautened with the cold. Through her bare feet she felt the floor quiver from some vague, subterranean rumble.” (Another Life 184. Emphasis added.)

The significance of something that happened “one day” is emphasized through the break in the monotonous recurrence of the identical mornings. The contrast between one day and the monotony of the others is created not only by the use of the contrasting conjunction “no” (“though” in translation), but also through the unexpected change in verbal aspect. The imperfective verbs denoting a chain of uniform actions are suddenly succeeded by perfective verbs that stress the uniqueness of that particular event. Before, during the period of “clinging oblivion,” Ol′ga paid no attention to the park, or sun, or rain, or snow. Today she looks at the park and watches the sunrise.

The transitional paragraph, “one day,” describes a certain event that changed Ol′ga. Evidence of this lies in the wind’s caress: “The wind blowing from across the park caressed her tired skin, and her breasts tautened with the cold” (Another Life 184). Pasternak’s trope, a personification “veter” is employed by Trifonov here as a metonymic citation; that is, as a reference to this particular poem and an allusion to the entire text of Pasternak’s novel of which this poem is a part. Both the two parts of the finale of Trifonov’s story and the poem by Pasternak describe the same landscape—a coniferous forest outside Moscow—using identical lexical items. The two texts are also united by images of an expanse of open water, a river in Another Life and a sea in “The Wind.” Two words that are used to expand the boundaries of the landscape and give an impression of the unlimited space (dal′ and izdaleka) have a common root and also connect the two texts. In the transitional paragraph “one day,” Trifonov, like Pasternak, employs a natural “metonymically-metaphorical mediator between the deceased … and the woman who mourns for him”—the wind (Zholkovsky 1983:249).

In the poem, the “I,” the lyrical hero, overcomes death through his “inseparateness from the world” in space and through “continuation of life” in time (Zholkovsky 1983:246). Similarly, Trifonov’s hero strives for the same expansion of the boundaries of his “I” in space and time when he explains his obsession with parapsychology and history to his widow, something she recalls just before her meaningful dream. He hopes that parapsychology will help him to transcend the spatial boundaries of the human mind. “Parapsychology is a visionary attempt to get inside another person’s mind, to surrender oneself to another person” (Another Life 180). He believes that history is a means to overcome the temporal limits of human mind. “History is a magic mirror in which one might foretell the future” (Another Life 180). He needs both, parapsychology and history, for one sole purpose—to expand his inner self and reach what is beyond man’s material existence. In both texts, the hero finally overcomes his limitations, his death, through immortality.