“Govoriu nikomu, tak, v zakat…”: Implicit Poetic Dialogue in the Works of Vladislav Khodasevich and Sophia Parnok

Maria Y. Khotimsky, Harvard University

The names of Vladislav Khodasevich and Sophia Parnok rarely appear together in scholarly works. Literary loneliness, in part created by the poet himself, is central to the study of Khodasevich’ oeuvre: researchers emphasize the poet’s dissimilarities with his contemporaries (Malmstad, Bogomolov). Parnok’s poetry is usually explored in the context of Gender studies (Burgin, Forrester). Perhaps, only Sophia Poliakova describes the verse of Khodasevich as “the only parallel to Parnok’s poetry” (Poliakova).

In the current reading, I propose to take a further investigation of parallels in Parnok’s and Khodasevich’ life, poetry, and critical views, as well as to demonstrate how the conflict of aesthetic positions and developing poetic systems of these authors opens new ways of understanding the changes in Russian literature of the early twentieth century.

Cultural loneliness, escape of religious background, together with genuine admiration for literary tradition, led both poets to accept classical Russian literature as their principal value source. As a result, the poets were consonant in their judgments (or misjudgments) of the modernist poetry. However, closer look at Parnok’s and Khodasevich’ poetic dialogue undermines the “archaist” attitudes typical to their critical statements: what had once seemed unacceptable in the works of contemporaries was subtly introduced to the poetic systems based on the “classical” tradition.

The tension of aesthetic views and mature poetics evident in the works of both authors results in a search for understanding. In this search, Khodasevich appears to be a hidden addressee of several Parnok’s later poems, and Parnok’s poetic experiments, in turn, echo some of characteristic traits of Khodasevich’ later lyrics. The artistic dialogue so typical for early essays and correspondence of Khodasevich and Parnok is further developed in the correlation of paradoxical poetic worlds that are sensitive to the post-symbolist poetics, yet, faithful to the chosen aesthetic and axiological position.

Seen in a broader context, later works of Vladislav Khodasevich and Sophia Parnok may be read as a curious example of a resent to cultural revolution, with the conscious rejection of modernity and, perhaps, subconscious yielding to the new cultural paradigm.

Methodologically, the paper relies on the articles of J. Malmstad and N. Bogomolov in the discussion of Khodasevich’ poetics, and draws on the works of S. Averintsev, S. Broitman, and A. Zholkovsky, and others in the field of post-symbolist lyrics.

Bogomolov. “Vladislav Khodasevich I Boris Pasternak.” Russkaiia Literatura Pervoi Treti XX veka. Portrety. Problemy. Razyskaniia. Tomsk, 1999, 392-406.
Burgin Diane L. “Sophia Parnok and the Writing of a Lesbian Poet's Life.” Slavic Review 51.2, 214-231.
Forrester Sibelan. “Reading for a Self: Self-Definition and Female Ancestry in Three Russian Poems.” The Russian Review, vol. 55, January 1996, 21-36.
Malmstad John. “Po Povodu Odnogo “Ne-nekrologa”: Khodasevich o Mayakovskom.” Sed’mye Tynianovskie Chteniia: Materialy Dlia Obsuzhdeniia. Riga; M., 1995-1996, 189-199.
Poliakova Sophia. “Poeziia Sophii Parnok.” Sophia Parnok. Sobranie Stikhotvorenii. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1979, 7-106.