Anchar through the Prism of Structuralism

Larissa Bondarchuk, Ohio State University

In this paper, I will discuss the organization of Pushkin’s poem Anchar from the standpoint of structural analysis proposed by Yurii Lotman (1972) and further developed by Roman Jakobson (1981).

Thus I will show the poem consists of two main planes [ploskosti], with each dominating in one text segment: the first one centers around a lonely sinister tree surrounded by the deadly desert. In the second plane [ploskost’] the central figure is a powerful man, whose cruelty has no limits, just like the noxious universe of Anchar.

One of the main criteria Lotman suggests for looking at any literary work is to analyze it only as a unity. He claims that a text is perceived not as a mechanical sum of elements composing it “each of them is observed only in relations with other elements and the structural unity of the entire text’ (1972, 11). Therefore, my analysis focuses on the interrelations between the structural elements of the poem as a unified text and the relations among the elements in it. What Jakobson characterizes as ‘light [svetlye] high tone vowels’ in Blok’s poetry have different attributes in Anchar: those light tones svetlye fonemy correspond to ‘dazzling’, ‘light’ sounds in the aural environment of Pushkin’s work. Onomatopoetic usage of the vowels /ó/ (‘dark’, low-tone vowel), /á/, and /í/ (‘light’, ‘high tone vowel) creates a mood of crying sounds, closely related to the entire tragic tone of Anchar.

I will also show that one peculiarity of a poetic text is its conformity to definite, strictly specific laws for the construction of poetry. As Lotman proposes, one such principle is belletristic repetition. An analysis of the vocabulary of Anchar demonstrates that nouns compose the major part of the poem's vocabulary, thus indicating that the text of the poem is determined by objects involved in description: the desert, the tree (and elements of it, such as leaves, bark, sap), slave, master, etc. Obviously, for the description of action, verbs are necessary. Verbs in imperfective form, as Gasparov points out (1990), are used to describe the static or repeated action background.

I will also show that the problem of plot construction [siuzhetoslozhenie] in prose raised by supporters of structuralism is not the same as plot in poetry: it has a greater degree of generality [obobshchennost’]. The plot is realized as a chain of connections – desert universe of death — dreadful tree — heat and death — a powerful man (sovereign) — a powerless man (slave) — journey to Anchar — the death of the slave — war. The poem starts with a description of Anchar, a symbol of death, and ends with the beginning of a war, which is also a source of death. In other words, one can find a circle in the plot, which structuralists considered a distinctive feature of a poetic work.