November 01, 2003

We Once Had a Poet Called Tyutchev

Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev was endowed with genius and good luck: a great Russian poet, he was not killed in a duel or in the Caucasus (under the mountaineers’ bullets, as they said in those days). Nor did he rot in Siberia, but instead lived until he was 70 and died in his own bed. Since that happened in 1873, people seldom think of him as belonging to Pushkin’s epoch, though the two are near contemporaries: Tyutchev was born in 1803, only four years after Pushkin. Today a mention of the Golden Age of Russian poetry brings to mind the names of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev, Fet, and Baratynsky. Only the first two have, to a certain extent, overcome the language barrier. Tyutchev would, undoubtedly, have been surprised to learn that his lyrics are considered by many to be the best ever written in Russian, that a few of his lines have become proverbial (in fact, quoted to death), and that hundreds of articles and numerous books have been written about the slim volume of his nature, love, and political poems.

Of all Tyutchev’s aphoristic statements, the one about the unfathomability of Russia is especially well known. It runs so (all the translations are mine):


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