Pasternak and Polonskij: Further Notes on Pasternak's Romantic Heritage

Karen Evans-Romaine, Ohio University

Boris Pasternak's Romantic heritage has been a subject of scholarly discussion virtually since the appearance of the first reviews of his poetry in the 1920s. Critics and scholars have noted in particular his indebtedness to the poetry of Afanasij Fet, Mixail Lermontov, Fedor Tjutchev, and of course to Aleksandr Pushkin. Little noted, however, have been his links to lesser poets of Fet's generation: to those poets of the "pure art camp who wrote during the age of the great Realists. A notable exception to this is Konstantin Polivanov's recent study on Pasternak's reception of the poetry of Apollon Majkov in his Sestra moja—zhizn'.

The goal of this paper is to examine subtexts in Pasternak's poetry from another poet of that generation, the late Romantic Jakov Petrovich Polonskij (1819–98). On the one hand, a link between the two poets would seem plausible, since Pasternak delights in his Romantic heritage in such poems as "Pro èti stixi," from Sestra moja—zhizn'. On the other hand, the two poets' temperaments are not entirely congenial: much of Pasternak's work is known for its ecstatic glorification of nature, music, and poetry, while Polonskij's lyric poetry is overwhelmingly pessimistic, permeated with an atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. The tone of expectancy in Polonskij's work, as well as his gypsy strains, made his verse attractive to Aleksandr Blok, as Blok scholarship has shown; yet, as I have discussed in another context elsewhere, much as Pasternak admired and quoted that great Symbolist, his subtexts from their common literary ancestors are often different from Blok's. Thus I intend to show that, despite Polonskij's importance to Blok, Polonskij subtexts in Blok are not reflected in Pasternak's poetry; Pasternak referred to very different Polonskij poems.

My presentation will briefly explore five aspects of Polonskij's presence in Pasternak's poetry. Four of these concern common thematic elements: subtexts from Polonskij's nature poetry, the impact of Polonskij's imagery of candles and windows on those well-documented symbols in Pasternak's work, Polonskij's poetry dedicated to the Caucasus, and Polonskij's role in Pasternak's verse on music and the piano. The fourth involves a technical similarity in their work: namely, their peculiar use of repetition of words and phrases in their verse, discussed by Smirnov as a significant structural element in Pasternak's poem "Metel'" and by others, including Baevskij, with regard to fugue-like musical structure in Pasternak's verse. An examination of Polonskij's presence in Pasternak's poetry should shed further light on the rich nineteenth-century heritage in the work of this great twentieth-century poet.