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Russian literature


 


Vyacheslav Ivanov




Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (Russian: Вячеслав Иванович Иванов) (February 16 (28), 1866–July 16, 1949) was a Russian poet and playwright associated with the movement of Russian Symbolism. He was also a philosopher, translator, and literary critic.

 

Early life
Born in Moscow, Ivanov graduated from the First Moscow Gymnasium with a gold medal and entered the Moscow University where he studied history and philosophy under Sir Paul Vinogradoff. In 1886 he moved to the Berlin University to study Roman law and economics under Theodor Mommsen. During his stay in Germany, he absorbed the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche and German Romantics, notably Novalis and Friedrich Hölderlin.

In 1893 Ivanov met Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal, a poet and translator. Having both received an Orthodox ecclesiastical divorce, they married 5 years later, first settling in Athens, then moving to Geneva, and making pilgrimages to Egypt and Palestine. During that period, Ivanov frequently visited Italy, where he studied the Renaissance art. The rugged nature of Lombardy and the Alps became the subject of his first sonnets, which were heavily influenced by the medieval poetry of Catholic mystics.

Poet and Classicist
At the turn of the 20th century, Ivanov elaborated his views on the spiritual mission of Rome and the Ancient Greek cult of Dionysus. He summed up his Dionysian ideas in the treatise The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God (1904), which traces the roots of literary art in general and the art of tragedy in particular to ancient Dionysian mysteries.




Somov's frontispiece for Ivanov's book Cor Ardens (1907)


Ivanov's first collection, Lodestars, was published in 1903. It contained many of his pieces written a decade earlier and was praised by the leading critics as a new chapter in the Russian Symbolism. The poems were compared to Milton's and Trediakovsky's on account of their detached, calculated archaism.

In 1905 Ivanov made his triumphant return to St Petersburg, where he was much lionized as a foreign curiosity. A turreted house where he and Zinovieva-Annibal settled became the most fashionable literary salon of the era, and was frequented by poets (Alexander Blok), philosophers (Nikolai Berdyayev), artists (Konstantin Somov), and dramatists (Vsevolod Meyerhold). The latter staged Calderon's Adoration of the Cross in Ivanov's house. The poet exerted a formative influence on the Russian Symbolist movement, whose main tenets were formulated in the turreted house.

According to James H. Billington,

"Viacheslav the Magnificent" was the crown prince and chef de salon of the new society, which met in his seventh floor apartment "The Tower," overlooking the gardens of the Tauride Palace in St. Peterburg. Walls and partitions were torn down to accommodate the increasing numbers of talented and disputatious people who flocked to the Wednesday soirees, which were rarely in full swing until after supper had been served at 2 A.M.

Beyond widowhood
His wife's death in 1907 was a great blow to Ivanov. Thereafter the dazzling Byzantine texture of his poetry wore thin, as he insensibly slipped into theosophy and mysticism. The poet even claimed to have had a vision of his late wife ordering him to marry the daughter by her first marriage. Indeed, he married this stepdaughter in 1910; their son Dmitry was born 2 years later.

Anna Akhmatova
According to an autobiographical sketch written by Anna Akhmatova, Ivanov first met her in 1910. At the time, Akhmatova was still married to Nikolai Gumilev, who first brought her to the turreted house. There, Akhmatova read some of her verse aloud to Ivanov, who ironically quipped, "What truly heavy romanticism. A short time later, Gumilev left his wife for a big game hunting holiday in Ethiopia. In the aftermath, Ivanov tried very hard to persuade Akhmatova to leave her immature husband, saying, "You'll make him a man if you do." Moreover, Akhmatova indignantly recalled that Ivanov would often weep as she recited her verse at the turreted house, but would later, "vehemently criticize," the same poems at literary salons. Akhmatova would never forgive him for this. Her ultimate evaluation of her former patron was as follows, "Vyacheslav was neither grand nor magnificent (he thought this up himself) but a 'catcher of men.'"

Translator and scholar
Upon their return from an Italian voyage (1912-13), Ivanov made the acquaintances of art critic Mikhail Gershenzon, philosopher Sergei Bulgakov, and composer Alexander Scriabin. He elaborated many of his Symbolist theories in a series of articles, which were finally revised and reissued as Simbolismo in 1936. At that time, he relinquished poetry in favour of translating the works of Sappho, Alcaeus, Eschylus, and Petrarch into the Russian language.

After 1917
In the abysmal years following the October Revolution, Ivanov concentrated on his scholarly work and completed a treatise on Dionysus and Early Dionysianism (1921), which earned him a Ph.D. degree in philology. The new Communist government didn't allow him to travel outside the Soviet Union until 1924.

 

Blok has Died

A collapsed door in the deaf wall,
And the heaps of overturned stones,
And piled upon them scrap metal,
And the depths that unfurl below.
And white ashes fanned by the wind –
That's all: God's voice, “The dead will rise.”

Vyacheslav Ivanov. 10 August 1921


 

Emigration
From Azerbaijan he proceeded to Italy, where he settled in Rome. In Rome, Ivanov found employmen as professor of Old Church Slavonic at the Russicum. Ivanov was received into the Russian Catholic Church in 1937. In an interview for the Russicum's newspaper, Ivanov argued that, prior to their Great Schism, Latin and Byzantine Christianity were "two principles that mutually complement each other." He climaxed with the words, "The Church must permeate all branches of life: social issues, art, culture, and just everything... The Roman Church corresponds to such criteria and by joining this Church I become truly Orthodox." His last collections of verse were the Roman Sonnets (1924) and the Roman Diary (1944). Many other poems appeared posthumously.


Ivanov died in Rome in 1949 and was interred at the Cimitero Acattolico, not far from the graves of Karl Briullov and Alexander Ivanov.
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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