Kissing Gippius: The Love Poetry of Zinaida Gippius

Barbara A. Brown, University of Oregon

The poetry of Zinaida Gippius is replete with gender sidestepping through grammatical and lexical manipulation. This manipulation testifies to Gippius's first-rate poetry as well as to the poetic fashions of the day 1880-1930. Although Temira Pachmuss has provided the academic community with invaluable scholarship on Gippius, I seek to expand the discussion from Gippius's spiritual poems to her love poetry. Drawing from Jenifer Presto's article "The Androgynous Gaze of Zinaida Gippius" and from her dissertation The Fashioning of Zinaida Gippius, as well as Olga Matich's article "Dialectics of Cultural Return: Zinaida Gippius's Personal Myth," I will address the issues of "cross-dressing" and "cross-voicing" the speakers of Gippius's love poetry. Specifically, if it can be said that Gippius "cross-voices" the speakers of her spiritual poems by employing masculine or neuter nouns, then it can be said that Gippius "cross-voices" the speakers in her love lyrics. For example, in the poem "Poceluj" (The Kiss), Gippius posits her speaker in a masculine role. This speaker addresses his object of desire, Agnes, as a cross-dressing female dandy playing the role of the male lover. The conclusion of this cross-dressing experiment provides a window into one of Gippius's most successfully written love poems, along with the opportunity to witness an example of her fear of physical intimacy.

Gippius's renowned identification with the cultural figure of the dandy goes far beyond her eccentric fashion sense and appropriation of male attire. As documented in her poetry, Gippius often employed grammatical and lexical methods of gender-bending poetics. Further, her literary criticism was mainly written in a male persona and had the sarcastic tone worthy of a dandy. Although this was a literary fashion of the day, it brings to mind the Pushkinian dandy that was prevalent in Gippius's personal myth. Moreover, entries in her diary "Contes d'amour" discuss her fascination with homosexuality, heterosexuality, masculinity and femininity. These personal journal entries provide a fresh perspective on her emotional and physical experiences with love.

"Poceluj" (The Kiss) offers an erotic examination of sexual indeterminacy. Throughout the poem, the speaker (the masked female dandy) tantillizes the desired object (Agnes) with the possibility of a kiss. However, the language of the poem is consistent with the disdain the dandy has for women. Thus with the mixture of sexual inference and disdain for women, we percieve a very sexually ambivalent speaker and poem. The speaker identifies himself as masculine ("Ja sam") at the end of the first stanza, and refuses to satisfy his female addressee's desire to see the kiss completed. Instead, the speaker teases Agnes and uses his power over her to either grant her wish and kiss her, or deny her the kiss. He taunts her throughout the poem as a woman might tease a man, displaying scorn at times for the object of his affections. At the end, the speaker kisses only the edge of Agnes's lips, leaving the possibility of fulfillment open-ended and frustrated. Since Gippius leaves the kiss unconsummated, which is inconsistent with the masculine emphasis on consummation, we can assume that this poem includes several textual clues that point to a lesbian love lyric in which the speaker is cross-dressed as a dandy.

Thus, Gippius relies on her manipulation of Russian grammar and poetic innovation to create a poem that contributes overall to her gender-bending lifestyle. I contend that as Gippius uses metaphors of earth, body and prison to poetically describe her speaker's circumstances in her spiritual poetry, she is able to go a step further in her love poetry by cross-dressing her speakers in the style of the dandy.