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Nikolay Gumilyov



"Poems"



 


Nikolay Gumilyov

 

Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov, Gumilyov also spelled Gumilev (b. April 15, 1886, Kronshtadt, Russia—d. Aug. 24, 1921, Petrograd [St. Petersburg]), Russian poet and theorist who founded and led the Acmeist movement in Russian poetry in the years before and after World War I.

The son of a naval surgeon, Gumilyov was educated at the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, where he was influenced by the poet and teacher Innokenty Annensky. Gumilyov’s earliest published volumes of poetry, Put’ konkvistadorov (1905; “The Path of the Conquistadors”), Romanticheskie tsvety (1908; “Romantic Flowers”), and Zemcuga (1910; “Pearls”), marked him as a talented young poet under the influence of the Symbolist movement then dominating Russian poetry. He spent the years 1906–08 in Paris and traveling in northern and eastern Africa, whose exotic locales were to figure prominently in his poetry for the next 10 years. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1908 and the following year became a founding member of Apollon, which became the leading poetry journal in Russia in the years before the war. In 1910 he married the poet Anna Akhmatova, but the couple separated less than a year later and were divorced in 1918.



Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913

 

Gumilyov was an indefatigable literary organizer, and in 1911 he and Sergey Gorodetsky assembled the group known as the Guild of Poets. Among the group’s members were Akhmatova and Osip Mandelshtam, who together with Gumilyov soon formed the nucleus of the emerging Acmeist movement in Russian poetry. Gumilyov’s poetry collection entitled Cuzoe nebo (1912; “Foreign Sky”) established his reputation as a leading Russian poet.

During World War I, Gumilyov fought at the front as a volunteer and in 1917 served as the Provisional Government’s special commissar in Paris after the first Russian Revolution that year. He returned to Russia in 1918 and worked as a creative writing instructor in Petrograd, where he tried unsuccessfully to revive the Acmeist Guild of Poets as an association of writers unaffiliated with the Bolshevik Party. He attained his full artistic stature in the poems published in Kostyor (1918; “The Pyre”), Shatyor (1921; “The Tent”), and Ognennyi stolp (1921; “The Pillar of Fire”). He had never bothered to hide his antipathy toward the Bolshevik government, and in August 1921 he was arrested and shot for counter-revolutionary activities. He was posthumously rehabilitated in the Soviet Union in 1986.

Gumilyov’s lyric poetry ranges over a wide variety of themes. Many of the poems of his middle period are set in Africa or other exotic places and glorify a life of romantic adventure, masculine heroism, and physical courage. The poetry in his last three volumes shows a shifting of concern toward spiritual problems and is characterized by greater stylistic complexity, enhanced philosophical depth, and a more intensely personal element. His poetic style is marked by the use of vivid imagery to convey sights, sounds, and colours to the reader with great clarity and directness. Gumilyov also wrote verse dramas and an important series of literary essays in which he developed the aesthetic canons of the Acmeist movement.


 



Nikolai Gumilev



Nikolai Gumilev during his senior years in gymnasium



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (Russian: Никола́й Степа́нович Гумилёв, April 15 NS 1886 – August 1921) was an influential Russian poet who founded the acmeism movement.


Early life and poems

Nikolai was born in Kronstadt, into the family of Stepan Yakovlevich Gumilev (1836–1920), a naval physician, and Anna Ivanovna L'vova (1854–1942). His childhood nickname was Montigomo the Hawk's Claw. He studied at the gymnasium of Tsarskoe Selo, where the Symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky was his teacher. Later, Gumilev admitted that it was Annensky's influence that turned his mind to writing poetry.

His first publication were verses I ran from cities into the forest (Я в лес бежал из городов) on September 8, 1902. In 1905 he published his first book of lyrics entitled The Way of Conquistadors. It comprised poems on most exotic subjects imaginable, from Lake Chad giraffes to Caracalla's crocodiles. Although Gumilev was proud of the book, most critics found his technique sloppy; later he would refer to that collection as apprentice's work.

From 1907 and on, Nikolai Gumilyov traveled extensively in Europe, notably in Italy and France. In 1908 his new collection Romantic Flowers appeared. While in Paris, he published the literary magazine Sirius, but only three issues were produced. On returning to Russia, he edited and contributed to the artistic periodical Apollon. At that period, he fell in love with a non-existent woman Cherubina de Gabriak. It turned out that Cherubina de Gabriak was the literary pseudonym for two people, a disabled schoolteacher and Maximilian Voloshin, and on November 22, 1909 he had a duel with Voloshin over the affair.

Like Flaubert and Rimbaud before him, Gumilyov was fascinated with Africa and travelled there almost each year. He hunted lions in Ethiopia and brought to the Saint Petersburg museum of anthropology and ethnography a large collection of African artifacts. His landmark collection The Tent (1921) collected the best of his poems on African themes.



Nikolai Gumilev, 1908
 



Guild of Poets

In 1910, Gumilyov fell under the spell of the Symbolist poet and philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanov and absorbed his views on poetry at the evenings held by Ivanov in his celebrated "Turreted House". His wife Anna Akhmatova accompanied him to Ivanov's parties as well. Gumilyov and Akhmatova married on April 25. On September 18, 1912, their child Lev was born. He would eventually become an influential and controversial historian.

Dissatisfied with the vague mysticism of Russian Symbolism, then prevalent in the Russian poetry, Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky established the so-called Guild of Poets, which was modeled after medieval guilds of Western Europe. They advocated a view that poetry needs craftsmanship just like architecture needs it. Writing a good poem they compared to building a cathedral. To illustrate their ideals, Gumilyov published two collections, The Pearls in 1910 and the Alien Sky in 1912. It was Osip Mandelstam, however, who produced the movement's most distinctive and durable monument, the collection of poems entitled Stone (1912).

According to the principles of acmeism (as the movement came to be dubbed by art historians), every person, irrespective of his talent, may learn to produce high-quality poems if only he follows the guild's masters, i.e., Gumilev and Gorodetsky. Their own model was Théophile Gautier, and they borrowed much of their basic tenets from the French Parnasse. Such a program, combined with colourful and exotic subject matter of Gumilyov's poems, attracted to the Guild a large number of adolescents. Several major poets, notably Georgy Ivanov and Vladimir Nabokov, passed the school of Gumilyov, albeit informally.


N. Gumilev and A. Blok, 1919


War experience

When World War I started, Gumilyov hastened to Russia and enthusiastically joined a corps of elite cavalry. For his bravery he was invested with two St. George crosses (December 24, 1914 and January 5, 1915). His war poems were assembled in the collection The Quiver (1916). In 1916 he wrote a verse play, Gondla, which was published the following year; set in ninth-century Iceland, torn between its native paganism and Irish Christianity, it is also clearly autobiographical, Gumilyov putting much of himself into the hero Gondla (an Irishman chosen as king but rejected by the jarls, he kills himself to ensure the triumph of Christianity) and basing Gondla's wild bride Lera on Gumilyov's wife Akhmatova. The play was performed in Rostov na Donu in 1920 and, even after the author's execution by the Cheka, in Petrograd in January 1922: "The play, despite its crowd scenes being enacted on a tiny stage, was a major success. Yet when the Petrograd audience called for the author, who was now officially an executed counter-revolutionary traitor, the play was removed from the repertoire and the theatre disbanded." (In February 1934, as they walked along a Moscow street, Osip Mandelstam quoted Gondla's words "I am ready to die" to Akhmatova, and she repeated them in her "Poem without a Hero.")

During the Russian Revolution, Gumilyov served in the Russian expedition corps in Paris. Despite advice to the contrary, he rapidly returned to Petrograd. There he published several new collections, Tabernacle and Bonfire, and finally divorced Akhmatova (August 5, 1918), whom he had left for other woman several years prior to that. The following year he married Anna Nikolaevna Engelhardt, a noblewoman and daughter of a well-known historian.



Nikolai Gumilev, 1920
 

Later poems and death

"Despite the hard experiences of real travels and battles, he remained, to the end of his life, a schoolboy entranced by the Iliad of childhood - the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He never outgrew the influence of Mayne Reid, Alexandre Dumas, père, Jules Verne, Gustave Aimard and others." In 1920 Gumilyov co-founded the All-Russia Union of Writers. Gumilyov made no secret of his anti-communist views. He also crossed himself in public and didn't care to hide his contempt for half-literate Bolsheviks.

On August 3, 1921 he was arrested by Cheka on allegation of participation in monarchist conspiracy. Most literary historians agree that it was not a Cheka fabrication, and Gumilyov was a likely conspirator. On August 24 Petrograd Cheka decreed execution of all 61 participants of the Tagantsev Conspiracy, including Nikolai Gumilev. The exact dates and locations of their execution and burial are still unknown.


 


 Gumilyov. Foto Petrograd Cheka, August 24,1921
 

According to Rayfield's book 'Stalin and his Hangmen', the murder of Gumilev grew out of the consequences of the Kronstadt Rebellion. The sailors of Kronstadt, in Petrograd, had protested against the new Bolshevik state in 1921. Rayfield asserts that the Cheka blamed the intellectuals of the city. A Chekist named Iakov Agranov came up with a plan to attack them. He tricked a local professor into performing dissident acts, then arrested the professor and forced him to name 300 'conspirators'. Agranov told him none of the named people would be killed. However, 100 were killed, and Gumilev was one of these. After appeals from Gorky and others, Lenin agreed to pardon a small number of the condemned, but the Cheka officer in charge carried out the execution order so quickly that the pardon came too late.

Hayward, in an introduction to a book of Akhmatova's poetry, writes that the execution placed a stigma on Anna and her son with Nikolai, Lev. Lev's arrest in the purges and terrors of the 30s were based simply on his being his father's son.

Gumilyov's direct influence on Russian poetry was short lived. The sentiment is best expressed by Nabokov, who once remarked that Gumilyov is the poet for adolescents, just like Korney Chukovsky is the poet for children. His most durable verse, written in mystical strain, appeared in the collection The Pillar of Fire (1921).

Although "banned in the Soviet times, Gumilyov was loved for his adolescent longing for travel and giraffes and hippos, for his dreams of a fifteen-year-old captain" and was "a favorite poet among geologists, archaeologists and paleontologists." His "The Tram That Lost Its Way" is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

When Mikhail Sinelnikov was asked to study the archives of the late Mikhail Zenkevich, the last of the Acmeists - his teacher - he "found piles of secreted verse, an unpublished novel, manuscripts which Pasternak brought to the old master to be critiqued, the poems and letters of his friends. According to Sinelnikov, "at the bottom of a wide box lay a copy of Izvestia Petrosovieta with a list of people executed in connection with the Tagantsev case. The type was barely legible, more like wisps of old wool. Some names, those of Zenkevich's acquaintances, were ticked off. Gumilyov's name was underlined in red."

 

 

 


Nikolai Gumilev.
Portrait by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, 1909
 

 
 



POEMS

 

 
 

Today, I see, your glance is especially sad
And your arms, embracing your knees, especially thin.
Listen: far, far away on the Lake of Chad
Wanders a gentle giraffe.

He is endowed with slender grace and bliss,
And his hide adorned with a magical design
Which the moonlight alone, shattering and rocking
On the wide wet of the lake, dares to rival.

From afar he resembles the colored sails of a ship,
And his gait is smooth as the joyful flight of a bird.
I know that the earth will witness many wonders,
When, at sunset, he hides in a marble grotto.

I could tell merry tales of mysterious lands
Of a black maiden, a young chief's passion,
But you have too long inhaled the heavy mist,
You will believe in nothing but the rain.

And how can I tell you about a tropical garden,
Slender palms, the scent of inconceivable herbs...
Are you crying? Listen...Far off on the Lake of Chad
Wanders a gentle giraffe.

 

 
 


N. Vojtinska.
Nikolai Gumilev, 1909


 

 
 

In olden days, when above the new world
God inclined his face, then
The sun was halted with a word,
A word could destroy citites.

And the eagle would not flap its wings,
The terrified stars would cling to the moon,
If, like a pink flame,
The word floated in the heavens.

And for lowly life there were numbers,
Like domestic, yoked cattle,
Because an intelligent number expresses
Every shade of meaning.

The graying Patriarch, who bent
Good and evil to his will,
Dared not make use of sound, but drew
A number in the sand with his cane.

But we have forgotten the word alone
Is numinous among earthly struggles,
And in the Gospel According to John
It is said that the word is God.

We have chosen to limit it
To the meager limits of nature,
And, like bees in a deserted hive,
Dead words smell bad.

 

 
 


 

 
 

In olden days, when above the new world
God inclined his face, then
The sun was halted with a word,
A word could destroy citites.

And the eagle would not flap its wings,
The terrified stars would cling to the moon,
If, like a pink flame,
The word floated in the heavens.

And for lowly life there were numbers,
Like domestic, yoked cattle,
Because an intelligent number expresses
Every shade of meaning.

The graying Patriarch, who bent
Good and evil to his will,
Dared not make use of sound, but drew
A number in the sand with his cane.

But we have forgotten the word alone
Is numinous among earthly struggles,
And in the Gospel According to John
It is said that the word is God.

We have chosen to limit it
To the meager limits of nature,
And, like bees in a deserted hive,
Dead words smell bad.

 

 
 


M. Farmakovski.
Nikolai Gumilev, 1908



 

 
 

The Right Way

Birth of the word is by agony molded,
Through earthly life it is quietly going,
It is a stranger, which drinks from the golden
Pitcher the drops of the savages' mourning.

Go to Nature! The Nature is hostile,
All here is frightening, all is in fullness,
There are the trumpets here, singing the docile
Psalms to the Lord, apathetic and useless.

Death? But before you must weight with exactness,
This tale of poets, and be very clever -
You won't be sorry for light and life's greatness
But - for a thought which is reigning forever.

There is the way that is high and severe:
Bitterly cry with the winds, wild and bitter,
Live with the beggars in dens of a bear,
Frame the dark dreams in a mold of the meter.

 

 
 


Nikolai Gumilev, 1908
 

 
 

Only Serpents
 

Only serpents let their skin be fallen
And a soul -- all grown up and old.
We, alas, change an eternal soul,
Leaving body in eternal hold.

Oh, remembrance, power, she-giant,
You direct a horse-life with a bridle,
You will tell me all these men about,
Who had had my body before I'd.

The first one was ugly, thin and tragic,
Loving darkness of the garden lane,
Falling Leaf, the child of gloomy magic,
Whose one word could fully stop the rain.

Second one -- he liked the wind from South,
Every noise for him was strings' accord,
He believed that life is just his spouse,
And the rag under his feet -- the world.

I don't like him: in his mind, he's roused,
To the crowns of the King and God,
He had hanged on entrance to my house
The signboard with a script "The Bard."

I do like the favorite of freedom,
Him, who used to sail in sea and shoot:
What a song he heard in water's kingdom,
What a cloud followed his routes!

I'm a builder, which is working smartly
O'er the temple, arising in a haze,
Seek for fame for my beloved country
As in Heavens, so on the earth.

Heart is scorched by non-extinguished fire,
Till the day, in which, as made of light,
Walls of New Jerusalem will spire
On the fields of my beloved land.

Then the queer wind will start to blow,
And the awful light will pour on us,
It's the Milky Way -- begins to grow
As a garden of the dazzling stars.

And the tiered stranger will appear,
Hiding face, but I will catch his dream,
Looking at a lion, going near,
And an eagle, flying straight to him.

I will scream, but who will hear my groan,
Who will save my soul from a crash?
Only snakes could let their skin be fallen,
People lose the soul -- not the flesh.

 

 
 


Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov, 1907



 

 
 

The Conquistador
 

Conquistador, set in the iron armor,
I gaily follow the outgoing star,
I go over precipices, harbors
And rest in joyful groves, so far.

Oh, how wild and starless heaven's shelter!
The haze is growing, but, silent, I must wait.
Conquistador, in iron armor set,
I'll find my love, find it sooner or later.

And if the stars are void of midday words,
I shall myself create them for the worlds,
And warmly charm them by the songs of battles.

I am a brother to the gulfs and storms,
But I will plait into my uniforms
A lily -- the blue star of flourishing valleys.

 

 
 


Nikolai Gumilev, 1908


 

 
 

Dreams
 

By the hut, left by people and heaven,
Where the fence's black remnants are steeping,
The ragged beggar and black old raven,
Were discussing the dreams of the sleeping.

The old bird, with commotion's moans,
Was repeating in hot indecision,
That he had on the tower's stones
The unusual, fabulous visions;

That in flight, full of valor and air,
He, who lost their usual sadness,
Was a swan, snow white, sweet and fair,
And the beggar - a prince of the greatness!

The ugly pauper was helplessly wailing.
Heavy night was descending and reigning.
The old woman, while passing the dwelling,
Was unceasingly crossing and praying.

 

 
 


Nikolai Gumilev, 1914

 

 
 

Don Juan
 

My own dream is lofty, simple thing:
To seize the oar, put feet into the stirrups,
And to deceive the time, that slow tries to stir us,
By kissing lips, forever new and pink;

When getting old, to keep the law of Christ,
Cast down looks, put on sackcloth and ashes,
Put on the chest, as heavy obligations,
The iron Cross, that He died on for us.

And only when, amidst the orgy's madness,
I get my senses - a sleepwalker aimless,
Just frightened in the silence of his ways -

Then I recall: the worst of many others -
I had no children from a woman in my years
And never called a man a brother.

 

 
 


Nikolai Gumilev, 1914


 

 
 

Beatrice

Muses, enough, cease your sobbing,
Pour out your grief into singing,
Sing about Dante soul-stirring,
Or play the flute, play with feeling.

Move on, annoying faun deities,
Music is dead in your screaming!
Haven’t you learned only lately
Beatrice exited Eden.

All white and strange Rose is lurking
In quiet chill of the evening …
What’s this? Additional warning?
Or is this plea for forgiving?

There lived a flustered artist
Used to the worldly deceptions –
Sinner, seducer... impious,
Beatrice was the exception.

Poet’s reclusive affection
Turned into luminous currents,
Turned into torrents of passion,
Tugging away at his hearstrings.

Muses, in this splendid sonnet
Render the riddle to setting,
Sing about Dante, be certain,
Gabriel Dante Rossetti.

 

 
 

 

 
 

The Clever Demon
 

My old good friend, my faithful Demon,
Had sung the little song to me:
All night of hell the sailor sailed on,
But drowned by the morn in sea.

Around him waves stood like domes,
They fell and loomed again above,
And before him, whiter than foam,
Was flying his unrivaled love.

He heard the call, while he was flitting,
"I'll not deceive you, trust in me."
Remember, -- said this Demon, witty, --
He drowned at the morn in sea.

 

 
 


Nikolai Gumilev, 1915

 

 
 

The Descendents Of Cain
 

He did not lie - the ghost, so sad and thoughtful,
That from a star took his name by a chance,
When he had said, "Don't fear the Lord, to us,
"Just try the fruit and be like Him immortal.

All routs for youths were opened in glow,
And all forbidden works - for older ones,
And amber fruits -- for gaily girls, at once,
And the rhinoceros forever white as snow.

But why we lean, bereft of any strength,
And feel that someone has forgot all us at length,
And grasp the dread of the old lure, if only

By an easy hand of someone, by a chance,
Two little sticks (flag's poles, leaves of grass)
Will be united in the cross infirmly?

 

 
 


Nikolai Gumilev, 1916


 

 
 

The Word
 

In the days when the God eternal
Was declining face to the new world,
By the Word they stopped the sun's inferno,
And destroyed the towns by the Word.

And an eagle was falling at the ground,
Stars were backing to the moon in fright,
If, as made from orange flames a cloud,
Word was sailing in the heaven's height.

Figures were involved in low action,
As the tamed, domesticated herd,
Just because all set of comprehension
From the clever figure could be learned.

The white-bearded patriarch, wish found
Good and evil by his own hands,
Deciding not to use the sacred sound,
Drew a figure by a cane in sands.

Did we not forget in troubles own:
Only Word is blessing in the world?
In the Gospel, sent to us by John,
Is the saying, that the Word is God.

We designed for it the limits, gladly -
The scant limits of the life and thoughts,
And like bees in empty hives smell badly -
Badly smell the dead forever words.

 

 

 
     
         
 

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