Pasternak’s “Zamestitel′nica”

Ivana Vuletic, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This reading of Pasternak’s poem “Zamestitel′nica” in its original 1922 version takes as its point of departure Lotman’s 1968 analysis of the poem. Lotman situates Pasternak’s poem in the context of a certain Romantic tradition, primarily Heine’s poem “Ich stand in dunkeln Traumen” and the Schubert romance based on this text, as well as Lermontov’s “Rasstalis′ my; no tvoj portret … .” Lotman concludes that “Zamestitel′nica” subverts the tradition by substituting the Romantic “I” with a Futurist one in utilizing the poetic device of identifying words with objects.

My reading of “Zamestitel′nica” takes into account one more classic poetic text of Russian Modernism—Blok’s “O doblestjax, o podvigax, o slave” (1908) —and thus recognizes one more layer of complexity of Pasternak’s poem. My basic objection to Lotman’s reading is that, while establishing the Pasternak poem within a larger literary context, it neglects the fact that “Zamestitel′nica” is an integral and meaningful part of the book Sestra moja žizn′: Leto 1917 goda. The special place “Zamestitel′nica” has in this poetic cycle is seen in the present paper in the perspective of the multi-faceted artistic connections between Pasternak’s early poetry and Blok’s oeuvre. My reading pays special attention to the parallels between the position that “O doblestjax, o podvigax, o slave” occupies in the cycle “Vozmezdie” and that of Pasternak’s “Zamestitel′nica” in Sestra moja žizn′.

My reading of Pasternak’s “Zamestitel′nica” discusses the aesthetic ramifications of the poet’s 1957 decision to exclude the second half of the poem in subsequent versions. In doing so Pasternak has effectively destroyed the composition of Sestra moja žizn’, since the central position of “Zamestitel′nica” was warranted, among other reasons, for its uniquely “hybrid” construction. The second half of the poem, its last five stanzas are thus understood in the present paper as a part of the poetic text that imbues Pasternak’s dedication of Sestra moja žizn’ to Lermontov with additional meaning in the book as a whole.

This paper is inspired by the now classic position of Joseph Frank, stated in his The Idea of Spatial Form; he writes, in reference to the poetry of Modernism: “The one difficulty of these poems, which no amount of textual exegesis can wholly overcome, is the internal conflict between the time-logic of language and the space-logic implicit in the modern conception of the nature of poetry” (Frank, 1991: 14). If there should be one important feature of Pasternak’s “Zamestitel′nica” that radically distinguishes it from his Romantic and Symbolist predecessors it certainly is its lack of narrativity and its reflexivity and self-referentiality of language. Unfortunately, scholarship has largely overlooked these founding aesthetic principles of Pasternak’s early poetry.