Nekrasov and Tsvetaeva’s The Ratcatcher

Erik McDonald, University of Wisconsin

Various scholars have discussed Tsvetaeva’s “lyrical satire” The Ratcatcher in relation to the story of Kitezh, Griboedov’s Woe from Wit, Blok’s The Twelve, and Maiakovskii’s cycle I, as well as other versions of the Pied Piper story (Bott; Ciepiela; Etkind). However, the links between The Ratcatcher and a generically closer Russian work, Nekrasov’s verse satire Who Can Be Happy in Russia?, have not been fully explored (see, however, Livingstone's introduction in Tsvetaeva). Connections between Tsvetaeva and Nekrasov should not surprise us: Tsvetaeva once listed Derzhavin and Nekrasov as her favorite (past) Russian poets in a survey, and her high opinion of him is reaffirmed several times in her letters.

If the targets of Tsvetaeva’s and Nekrasov’s satires differ, their methods overlap considerably. On the formal level, Tsvetaeva shares with many other Modernist authors of polymetrical poemy a debt to Nekrasov (Rudnev). The many distinct voices in The Ratcatcher, including the Piper’s songs, make its structure resemble “A Feast for the Whole Village,” the last chapter of Nekrasov’s poem. Tsvetaeva’s satirist-narrator also adopts a rhetorical pose similar to that of Nekrasov’s in the chapter “The Last One”: by unambiguously attacking the initial object of the satire (the bourgeois Hameliners; the tyrannical landowner), the satirist assumes an unassailable position for later attacks on potential allies (the rat-revolutionaries and even the poet-piper; the peasants who choose to play at serfdom after the emancipation). The two poets succeed through similar means in forcing the reader to move from looking critically outward to looking critically inward. Whether bourgeois, revolutionary, or artist, whether pomeshchik or peasant, no reader can feel comfortable with these satires, however one-directional they may seem at first.

With the exception of the Symbolists (especially Merezhkovskii, Briusov, Blok, and Belyi), the influence Nekrasov had on Russian Modernist poets has received little attention. Although Tsvetaeva, the author of Sidestreets and “Readers of Newspapers,” seems too “difficult” and too individualistic to owe anything to Nekrasov, Tsvetaeva the verse satirist admired and owed much to her predecessor.

Bott, Marie-Luise. “Studien zu Marina Cvetaevas Poem ‘Krysolov’: Rattenfänger- und Kitež-Sage.” Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 3 (1981): 87-112.

Ciepiela, Catherine. “Leading the Revolution: Tsvetaeva’s ‘The Pied Piper’ and Blok’s ‘The Twelve.’” Marina Tsvetaeva: One Hundred Years: Papers from the Centenary Symposium, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1992. Ed. Viktoria Shweitzer, Jane A. Taubman, Peter Scotto and Tatyana Babyonyshev. Oakland, CA: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1994. 111-130.

Etkind, E. “Fleitist i krysy (Poema Mariny Tsvetaevoi ‘Krysolov’ v kontekste nemetskoi narodnoi legendy i ee literaturnykh obrabotok).” Marina Tsvetaeva: 1892-1992. Ed. S. El'nitskaia and E. Etkind. Norvichskie simpoziumy po russkoi literature i kul'ture 2. Northfield, VT: Russkaia shkola Norvichskogo universiteta, 1992. 118-153.

Rudnev, P. A. “Iz istorii metricheskogo repertuara russkikh poetov XIX – nachala XX v.: Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrasov, Tiutchev, Fet, Briusov, Blok.” Teoriia stikha. Ed. V. M. Zhirmunskii, D. S. Likhachev and V. E. Kholshevnikov. Leningrad: Nauka, 1968. 107-144.

Tsvetaeva, Marina. The Ratcatcher: A Lyrical Satire. Trans. Angela Livingstone. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2000.