Russian Poets on Death and the Dead

Asuta Yamaji

Abstract


The article addresses the image of death as created by Russian poets of the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The author analyses both traditional and innovative elements of this image in works by Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Baratynsky, and Lermontov. Six poems, namely Derzhavin’s On the Death of Prince Meshchersky, Zhukovsky’s The Rural Cemetery, Baratynsky’s The Skull and Death, and Lermontov’s Death (Broken is the Chain of a Young Life) and Death (Caressed by Flourishing Dreams), constitute the objects of this paper. The initial assumption is that the works of Lermontov manifested two tendencies inherent in Russian poetry: a division between body and soul and a keen interest in the processes that occur to each entity after death. There is no description of ‘the other world’ where the soul goes after death in the poems by Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, and Baratynsky. All three authors underline the inevitability of death and its equalising properties. However, while Derzhavin describes the transition from life to death using contrasting descriptions of the two states, Zhukovsky stresses the fruits of toil achieved by previous generations. Baratynsky’s poems place prominent emphasis on the inevitability and regulatory function of death. He offers a very naturalistic description of the posthumous state of a dead body. Death itself is presented as an element indispensable for regulating the universe. The author considers Lermontov’s lack of concern for the equalising properties of death and his attempts to give minute descriptions of various aspects of dying. This poet was fascinated by the transition between life and death. Just like Derzhavin, Lermontov seems to have a special interest in the separation of body and soul. In Lermontov’s early poems, death serves as a background for his pessimistic perception of the world. The variety of manifestations of death gives Russian poetry a philosophical character.


Keywords


18th- and 19th-century Russian poetry; theme of death; G. Derzhavin; V. Zhukovsky; Ye. Baratynsky; M. Lermontov.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2016.4.198

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