Vladislav Xodasevič’s Putem zerna and the Russian Modernist Poetic Cycle

Sarah Clovis, Princeton University

In this paper I will propose two primary models for early twentieth-century poetic cycles: a “narrative” cycle, such as Pasternak’s “Sestra moja žizn′”, which, through a largely chronological, linear linkage of discrete poems, relates key events from the poet’s life; and a Blokian “lyric” cycle, which relies on repeating motifs and symbols to provide structural unity.

Within this framework my paper will consider the structural and poetic principles underlying and distinguishing the first (1920) and final (1927) editions of Xodasevič’s third book of poetry, Putem zerna. Xodasevič significantly revised this collection, adding and deleting poems as well as altering the order of key poems. I will trace the “lyric” and “narrative” elements of each edition—a task particularly fit to Putem zerna, which incorporates both short lyric poems and blank verse narratives—in an attempt to show an overall move from a primarily “lyric” cycle to a more “narrative” one.

For the sake of brevity, I will concentrate on Xodasevič’s choice of opening poems—“Ručej” in the 1920 edition, and the title poem “Putem zerna” in the final 1927 collection. Paired with the final poem of both editions, “Xleby”, each poem forms a distinctive frame that sets the basic parameters for the narrative and lyric principles at work. I will then look at the placement of the blank verse narratives within the cycle and the effect of the different frames on their structural role in the cycle.