Mikhail Svetlov "Grenada": "Turning the imperialistic war into civil war"

Elena Mikhailik, University of New South Wales

In this paper we would like to discuss some aspects of the literary genealogy of Mikhail Svetlov's "Grenada." This subject has been touched on by Michael Wachtel, Mixail Gasparov and Mikhail Zolotonosov; however, we think that further study of the poem's metric aureole and motif structure can yield more conclusive results.

In his article "'The Black Shawl' and its metric aureole," Michael Wachtel showed that amphibrachic tetrameter with strictly masculine rhymes, first introduced by Zhukovskij to translate ballades by Uhland and Goethe, had been immediately appropriated by Pushkin; and that it was Pushkin's ballade that has ever since dominated the aureole of the meter both thematically and lexically. Wachtel also demonstrated that "despite its civic pathos Svetlov's poem is clearly linked to Pushkin's ballade." The same conclusion appears in Mixail Gasparov's "Meter and meaning."

However, there are some aspects that do not allow us to accept "The Black Shawl" as the main formative influence on "Grenada."

a) The poem contains two major divergences from the conventional Pushkin-based plot. Unlike most "Black Shawl" derivatives, "Grenada" ends not with the death of the "exotic" heroine, but with the death of a hero. And it is the hero who in a sense commits a betrayal, for in dying he abandons both his dream and his song. These divergences seem very important because the semantic aureole of amphibrachic tetrameter had been proven to be very powerful—the tradition of the "amphibrachic plot" had even forced young Lermontov to change the fabula of Schiller's "Diver."

b) There is also a major graphical divergence. Visually, Svetlov's poem is organized not into amphibrachic tetrameter couplets, but into amphibrachic dimeter double quatrains. This change in inexplicable within the context of the poem itself, and the audience has consistently treated "Grenada" as amphibrachic tetrameter (for example, in the Modern Folklore and Colloquial Music collection "Grenada" is quoted as an example of an amphibrachic tetrameter). This permits us to suggest that Svetlov was also reacting to some source other than the "Black Shawl" and its immediate derivatives—and that that source was organized into quatrains, rather then couplets.

In his article "O huello, or the secret meaning of a regimental serenade" Mixail Zolotonosov claimed that the "matrix" of Svetlov's poem was the cheerfully homosexual "Song of law students" and that "Grenada" was build on a cyphered opposition of vulva and anus. Leaving aside some interesting erotic associations found by Zolotonosov, we'd like to say that it is highly unlikely that in 1926 Svetlov was familiar with the "Song of law students."

However, looking for a secondary source in popular, rather than high culture seemed a fruitful idea. In a soldier's songbook of a WW1 soldier Maksim Kruglov we found a song beginning "Proshchaite, rodnye, proshchaite, druz'ja, proshchai, dorogaja nevesta moja." Such closeness cannot be a coincidence.

We are going to discuss possible relationship between Svetlov's "Grenada" and this new source. We shall try to demonstrate that Svetlov's reliance on the Pushkinian motifs noted by Wachtel stems to a large extent from his attempt to overcome the unideological irony of the "soldier's song" and to "turn Imperialistic war into the Civil War." In doing so Svetlov both relied on and once again reaffirmed the romantic aureole of the meter.