Art and the Creative Process in Gumilev’s Koster

Francoise Rosset, Wheaton College

Gumilev’s Koster, one of his later collections, contains a number of meta-poems devoted to the principle and process of artistic creation. Many but not all of these focus on literary tradition and literary creation. My focus will narrow to three poems, each of which concerns a specific art form—writing, sculpture and painting,—and relate them more broadly to Gumilev’s work and to Acmeism at large.

Conspicuously absent are sustained references to music—perhaps not surprising, as that particular art form was consistently associated with Symbolism. But in Koster, Gumilev often uses musical terms, in particular for several titles. They are, by and large, musical terms traditionally associated with poetry, e.g. the term canzone used to identify poems in Italian poetry, especially Dante and Petrarca. Thus music is appreciated probably not as a discrete art, but as a metaphor for poetry.

The poem about writing is “Roza,” “The Rose.” While ostensibly a love poem, this is really rather a poem about the art of love poetry, specifically about Provençal Troubadour poetry; it is full of direct and indirect references to Jauffré Rudel. “Samofrakijskaja pobeda,” “The Victory of Samothrace,” is about sculpture and is built on a movement to reconstruct and perhaps even animate the statue. “Andrej Rublev,” as expected, is about icon-painting. The theme is all the more intriguing in light of the large-scale rediscovery of Russian icons at the beginning of the 1900’s, but the icon-painter himself represents a specific and specifically Acmeist view of the artist.

These poems undoubtedly reflect Gumilev’s own tastes and experiences, but more importantly, they reflect trends and topics popular at the turn of the century , as well as the Acmeist perception of the creative process.