Towards the Prosaics of Poetry: Graf Nulin and Tambovskaja Kaznachejsha

Heather Daly, Brown University

Pushkin's and Lermontov's "transitions" from poetry to prose have been approached from many angles. Some have chosen to view them as natural extensions from Romanticism to Realism on the larger literary scale, despite the fact that these phenomena did not occur simultaneously, and that the time frame of the Romantic period in Russian literature has yet to be defined authoritatively. Others point to more personal motivations at the core of these transitions, such as change in marital status or disenchantment with both lyricism and the reading public. The author of this paper, while not attempting to provide a conclusive answer to the aforementioned questions, aims to show how Pushkin's Graf Nulin and Lermontov's Tambovksaja Kaznachejsha navigate between the bounds of the poetic and the prosaic while remaining within the confines of verse form. Through the use of the privileged ironic narratorial voice both poets attempt to deflate their own lyrical impulse, while simultaneously working to detract the readers attention from the narrative element through associational lyrical digressions and tangents.

This paper also examines how these works inherently challenge Baxtin's subsequent delineation of poetry as monological in nature and prose as dialogical. While Baxtin does identify Pushkin's novel in verse, Evgenij Onegin, as metaparody and therefore, dialogical, in both Graf Nulin and Tambovskaja Kaznachejsha this very (meta)parody/irony is pointed against both the prosaic and the poetic. Despite the fact that the concluding line from Tambovksaja Kaznachejsha's dedication coincides neatly with Baxtin's observation that the language of poetry must immerse itself in the Lethe in order to forget its life in any other, non-poetic, context, this is precisely what both authors explicitly refuse to do. While each of these works clearly stands on its own to be, and has been, examined independently, the author of this paper attempts to demonstrate the inherent connections between the two works as well as the benefits of approaching them in tandem. Although both of these ironic verse tales gesture towards the larger, extra-textual world, literary and otherwise, and therefore may indeed be regarded as parts of a larger dialogue between prose and poetry, they also contain an internal dialogue between the same two elements--which is this paper's primary focus. It is precisely through this dialogue that a middle ground emerges between the "debased" poetic and the "elevated" prosaic. While the heroines (and heroes) of these works are taken down from their poetical pedestals, in the tradition of Byron's Beppo, the prosaic details of life are raised, almost as if to replace them.