Alexander ZHOLKOVSKY (USC, Los Angeles)

The term infinitivnoe pis’mo, “infinitive writing” (IW), was coined for verses that contain sufficiently autonomous infinitive verbs.[1] In the ideal case, the infinitives are absolute, i. e. function as impersonal main verbs; e.g.:

 To die: to sleep;
No more: and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache <…>
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream
(Shakespeare, Hamlet)To learn the Transport by the Pain
As Blind Men learn the sun!
To die of thirst — suspecting
That Brooks in Meadows run!To stay the homesick — homesick feet
Upon a foreign shore —
Haunted by native lands, the while —
And blue — beloved air!..
(Emily Dickinson, «To Learn the Transport by the Pain…»)
Грешить бесстыдно, непробудно,
Счет потерять ночам и дням,
И, с головой от хмеля трудной,
Пройти сторонкой в божий храм.

Три раза преклониться долу,
Семь – осенить себя крестом,
Тайком к заплеванному полу
Горячим прикоснуться лбом…
(Alexander Blok, «Greshit’ besstydno, neprobudno…»)

Февраль. Достать чернил и плакать!
Писать о феврале навзрыд,
Пока грохочущая слякоть
Весною черною горит.

Достать пролетку. За шесть гривен,
Чрез благовест, черз клик колес,
Перенестись туда, где ливень
Еще шумней чернил и слез.
(Boris Pasternak, «Fevral’. Dostat’ chernil i plakat’…»)

In less pronounced — more traditional — cases infinitives form long sequences dependent on one and the same word and thus develop a powerful, quasi-independent momentum; e. g.:

… If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings–nor lose the common touch…
(Rudyard Kipling, “If”)Нет, поминутно видеть вас,
Повсюду следовать за вами,
Улыбку уст, движенье глаз
Ловить влюбленными глазами,
Внимать вам долго, понимать
Душой все ваше совершенство,
Пред вами в муках замирать,
Бледнеть и гаснуть… вот блаженство!..
(Alexander Pushkin, «Evgenii Onegin»)

The semantic halo [semanticheskii oreol] (in the sense of Гаспаров1999) of IW is ‘a mental picture of or meditation on a certain other, alternative mode of living.’

The element of ‘meditation’ is usually represented by the governing verbs of imagining, contemplating, hearing, remembering, dreaming of, writing about etc. In terms of genre, this relies on the tradition of philosophical and naturepoetry.

The theme of ‘other, alternative reality’ is often called by name: Odnoi volnoi podniat’sia v zhizn’ inuiu /<…>/ Chuzhoe vmig pochuvstvovat’ svoim; Afanasii Fet). It usually takes the form of either (i) a better, ‘sublime’ version of ‘one’s own’ [svoё], including poetic creativity, or (ii) a ‘debased, alien, somebody else’s’ [chuzhoe], which in modernist times can also be presented as desirable (as in Blok’s «Greshit’…». The generic source of both is the moralistic portrayal of, respectively, positive and character types, as in classical satires, of, say Antiokh Kantemir. The journey or transformation into the “other” often resorts to real or symbolic means of transportation (lad’i [boats], proletki [coaches], avtomobili [cars] etc.).

The theme of ‘life, mode of existence,’ (the word zhizn’ [life] being a favorite in infinitive writing) often develops into the stages of a life-cycle or a typical day in the life of the speaker (or the Other), into motifs of the march of time, dying, falling asleep and/or awakening, returning home, relapsing into childhood. Genre-wise, these are culled from meditative and narrative poetry.

Structurally, IW oscillates between two extremes. One calls for long, but syntactically transparent chains of infinitives, overwhelming the reader with their sheer numerical strength (e. g. in Blok’s “Greshit’…”). The other is a subtler demonstration of power – through subordination to one or very few infinitives of an elaborate syntactic structure, e. g.:

Не окончив завязавшегося разговора,
Притушив недокуренную папиросу,
Оставив недопитым стакан чаю
И блюдечко с вареньем, где купаются осы,
Ни с кем не попрощавшись, незамеченным
Встать и уйти со стеклянной веранды,
Шурша первыми опавшими листьями,
Мимо цветников, где кружат бражники,
В поле, опыленное лиловой грозой,
Исступленно зовущее воплем сверчков,
С перебоями перепелиных высвистов,
Спокойных, как колотушка ночного сторожа,
Туда, где узкой золотой полоской
Отмечено слиянье земли и неба,
И раствориться в сумерках, не услышав
Кем-то без сожаленья вскользь
Оброненное: “Его уже больше нет…”
(Mikhail Zenkevich , «V sumerkakh»)

In Russian poetry IW goes back to the 18th century, and it has experienced a powerful surge, in particular in its absolute variety, during the Silver Age, starting around 1900 and becoming quite widespread by 1911. Kuzmin participated in this blossoming of IW: he wrote a dozen infinitive poems, whose overview I’ll have to omit completely,[2] focusing on one: «Sladko umeret’…» (1905; publ. 1906): [3]

Сладко умереть
на поле битвы
при свисте стрел и копий,
когда звучит труба
и солнце светит,
в полдень,
умирая для славы отчизны
и слыша вокруг:
“Прощай, герой!”
Сладко умереть
маститым старцем
в том же доме,
на той же кровати,
где родились и умерли деды,
окруженным детьми,
ставшими уже мужами,
и слыша вокруг:
“Прощай, отец!”
Но еще слаще,
еще мудрее,
истративши все именье,
продавши последнюю мельницу
для той,
которую завтра забыл бы,
после веселой прогулки
в уже проданный дом,
и, прочитав рассказ Апулея
в сто первый раз,
в теплой душистой ванне,
не слыша никаких прощаний,
открыть себе жилы;
и чтоб в длинное окно у потолка
пахло левкоями,
светила заря,
и вдалеке были слышны флейты.
Sweet is it to die
to the whistle of arrows and lances
on the field of battle,
when the trumpet sounds
and the sun stands high,
at noon,
dying for the glory of the fatherland
and hearing on every side:
“Hero, farewell!”
Sweet is it to die
a venerable elder
in the very house,
on the very bed
where your forefathers were born and died,
surrounded by your children,
themselves now men,
and hearing on every side:
“Father, farewell!”
But it is sweeter yet,
yet wiser,
having squandered all your wealth,
having sold your last mill
for the sake of her
whom you would have forgotten tomorrow,
to return
from a pleasant stroll
to the house you no longer own,
to eat a leisurely supper,
and, having read the tale of Apuleius through
for the hundred and first time,
to lie in a warm, fragrant bath,
and without hearing a single farewell
to open your veins,
while through the long ceiling window
the scent of stock comes drifting in,
the sunset glitters
and the sound of flutes comes floating from afar.

This poem is annotated in much detail in Панова2006, 1: 266-270, and what follows relies on her analysis without futher references.

“Sladko umeret’…” (abbreviated below as SU) is the fourth poem of the Alexandrian Songs’cycle «Wisdom» (hence the word mudree [wiser] in line 20). Among its obvious pre-texts are Horace’s Ode III, 2 (with its famous line: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori [Sweet it is and honorable to die for one’s native land]), and Apollon Maikov’s drama «Three Deaths» [Tri smerti] about Nero’s execution of Seneca, Lucanus, and Lucius via their voluntary-obligatory suicides, with a focus on the three ways of accepting this kind of death. But the tripartite design of Kuzmin’s poem is his own: the first, heroic episode is based on Horace; the second, on the archetypal death of a family patriarch; while the third combines elements of two deaths in Maikov’s play: Seneca there opens his veins, while Lucius plans a supper [uzhin] with wine, a woman and poison.

A common source for both Maikov and Kuzmin were of course books XV, 60-64, and XVI, 18-19, of the Annals of Tacitus, detailing the suicides of Seneca and Petronius at Nero’s orders. Several details may have been selected by Kuzmin from Tacitus and recombined to serve his purposes. One refers to Petronius, who was a hedonist but not known, unlike some others, for wasting his possessions recklessly on pleasure. Another is the extremely prolonged dying of Seneca: first he cut his wrists, but the old man’s blood was slow in leaving his body; then he had the veins on his legs cut — to no avail; after which he took poison, which wasn’t enough; so he was led into a hot bath and there he finally did die. Petronius, on the contrary, deliberately now opened his wounds, now had them bandaged and thus prolonged his dying while dining and conducting literary conversations and recitation of light verse with his friends.

Maikov’s play was written in 1852, titled at first Vybor smerti [The choice of death], staged in 1854 and published in 1857, and thus it most likely remained uninfluenced by Pushkin’s unfinished Povest’ iz rimskoi zhizni [A tale from Roman life], focused on Petronius’ death and his contemplation of preferable modes of dying (in a draft, he chooses “a warm bath”), including Horace’s “sweet death” in battle. Pushkin wrote it in 1833-1835 and it was posthumously published (by P. V. Annenkov) in 1855 – without, however, the crucial line from Horace’s Ode III, 2, translated by Pushkin (as Krasno i sladostno paden’e za otchiznu), included and then crossed out in the manuscript. Nor did that line appear in the Pushkin collections throughot the 1900s, i. e. by the time of SU’s writing. Thus Kuzmin could not have borrowed the juxtaposition (absent in Maikov) of a sweet death in battle with a suicidal one and has independently reinvented it very much along Pushkin’s lines (Pushkin’s Petronius discusses also the other famous Horatian ode, II, 7 – about running away from battle.)

The theme of death, in particular its acceptance by the speaker in a sort of death wish, is one of those often treated in infinitive poetry, with its focus on the life-and-death cycle.[4] A more or less clear Russian pre-text in that respect is Mikhail Lermontov’s“Vykhozhu odin ia na dorogu…”:

Я б хотел забыться и заснуть!

Но не тем холодным сном могилы 
Я б желал навеки так заснуть,
Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы,
Чтоб дыша вздымалась тихо грудь;

Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,
Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,
Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея
Темный дуб склонялся и шумел.

Athough not rich in infinitives, which appear in it only briefly, this poem ended up influencing much Russian IW, e. g. Konstantin Fofanov’s “Khotel by ia usnut’ pod svezheiu siren’iu…”:

Хотел бы я уснуть под свежею сиренью
Под рокот соловья весеннею порой,
Когда всю ночь заря лобзается с зарей
И сумрак озарен оранжевою тенью…Хотел бы я уснуть, измученный борьбой,
Исчерпавший всю жизнь до горького осадка.
Как роковой бокал… уснуть, забыться сладко
Под шум весенних гроз и жизни молодой…

Хотел бы я уснуть без жалобы и муки
И потонуть в лучах негаснущего дня,
Рассыпаться теплом лазурного огня,
Разлиться в аромат, в ласкающие звуки…Хотел бы я уснуть – и возродиться вновь
Во взорах ласковых, в привете уст румяных
Для жизни молодой, для грез обетованных,
Весь счастье и восторг, весь трепет и любовь.

Kuzmin’s poem echoes Fofanov’s quite clearly in the finale beginning with i chtob(about which more presently), while its own last stanza features a sladkii golos.

In a more general sense, Kuzmin’s poem belongs to the infinitive tradition of Hamlet’s pondering of the alternatives of life full of hardship and suicidal trip into into the unknown.[5] The choice is usually either between various modes of living or between life and death, but Kuzmin innovatively paints the picture of a deliberate and unforced suicide. Indeed, in Maikov’s play, the suicides are imposed on the three protagonists from above; in Lermontov’s poem, there is a distinct death wish and a detailed scripting of the desirable manner of dying and being dead, but not via suicide. In SU, on the other hand, suicide is portrayed as the best way of dying, preferable to the two previously discussed ones, honorable, but due to external causes – a violent military combat and a peaceful end to the natural course of human life, while the third, suicidal, magically combines peace and violence (to oneself) and above all is hedonistic and voluntary.[6]

As for hedonism, it is strikingly emblematized by the poem’s catchy and paradoxical first line as well as its overall compositional design. That design coincides with its syntactic – infinitive — structure: the anaphoric sladko — sladko – (eshche) slashche, governing the poem’s infinitives: umeret’ – umeret’ — pouzhinat’ — otkryt’ (sebe zhily). The phrase sladko(sladostno) + Infinitive is based on Horace’s Dulce est… and the entire Russian tradition of deploying such formulae, which it implicitly references. Cf. AlekseiKhomiakov’s “Zhelanie”:

<…> Как сладко было бы в природе
То жизнь и радость разливать,
То в громах, вихрях, непогоде
Пространство неба обтекать!

and Aleksandr Blok’s “Iskusstvo – nosha na plechakh…”

<…> Как сладостно предаться лени,
Почувствовать, как в жилах кровь
Переливается певуче,
Бросающую в жар любовь
Поймать за тучкою летучей
И грезить, будто жизнь сама
Встает во всем шампанском блеске…

But SU’s sequence sladko – sladko – slashche is not merely a formal gradation, expectable in a well-constructed poem. The sweetness of the perfect heroic and then patriarchal deaths is a metaphorical and moral one, whereas the experiences associated with the chosen suicide, introduced by the adjective’s comparative degree, are physical, material, they appeal to all five senses, including taste proper (the dining, pouzhinat’, singled out for infinitive treatment) and reify, as it were, the generic cliché. In contrast, Lermontov’s speaker wishes to retain only one sense, hearing.

The leitmotif phrase sladko umeret’ is emblematic in the strict sense: brief (just two words) and striking (oxymoronic in a decadent way). Borrowed as it is from Horace:

et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo,
Sweet is it and honorable to die for one’s native land.
Death hunts down even the man who runs away
and does not spare the back
or the hamstringsa of young cowards.

its emotional impact is much enhanced, compared. In Horace, (i) the two words are a whole line apart; (ii) dulce is deprived of part of its sensuality thanks to the coupling, strengthened by alliteration, with the more official decorum; (iii) the verb mori, ”to die,” is preceded by pro patria, “for the fatherland,” which lends it a civic aura.[7]

Another possible naturalization – and enhancement — of the boldly proclaimed sweetness of death in battle, relies psychologically on the very paradox of dying at the height of a heated battle, which lends its passion to the experience. Intertextually, this time it is Pushkin who gives a hand. Whereas Horace’s arguments in III, 2, are rather prosaic (running away may be as risky as fighting), Kuzmin stresses the excitement (the whistle of arrows and lance, sun blazing, etc.), which tap Pushkin’s lines about intoxication with battle and mortal danger in Pir vo vremia chumy:

…Есть упоение в бою,
И бездны мрачной на краю<…>
Все, все, что гибелью грозит,
Для сердца смертного таит
Неизъяснимы наслажденья

which among other relevant parallels features the root for “sweetness”: naslazhdenia, “delights, delectations.”

In proceeding from sladko to slashche the poem follows two patterns frequent in IW: choice and gradation. These are often instanced by the generic sequence khorosho – luchshe (dostoinei, ne luchshe l’?), as in Vladimir Benediktov’s “Zachem”:

Зачеммечтам напрасным предаваться?
Не лучше ли рассудку место дать?
О, да!к чему прекрасным увлекаться,
Когда – увы! – нельзя им обладать?

and Blok’s “Mai zhestokii s belymi nochami…”:

<…> Хорошо в лугу широком кругом
В хороводе пламенном пройти,
Пить вино, смеяться с милым другом
И венки узорные плести,
Раздарить цветы чужим подругам,
Страстью, грустью, счастьем изойти,-
Но достойней за тяжелым плугом
В свежих росах поутру идти!

Sometimes the score is more even, harking back to Hamlet’s agonizing over priorities, e. g. in Nikoilai Nikitin’s “S. V. Chistiakovoi”:

Что лучше: раньше умереть
Или страдать и сокрушаться,
Глядеть на зло, и зло терпеть,
И веровать, и сомневаться?Утраты, нужды испытать,
Прочесть весь свиток жизни горькой,
Чтоб у дверей могилы только
Их смысл таинственный понять?

Kuzmin’s gradation sladko – sladko – slashche seems to be unique, but there is an interesting instance of slashche capping a series of contemplated options, all of them desirable, in Anton Del’vig’s jocular and hedonistic “Fani. A Horatian [!] Ode” (Дельвиг 1986: 123):

Мне ль под оковами Гимена
Все видеть то же и одно?
Мое блаженство – перемена,
Я дев меняю, как вино <…>.

Чем с девой робкой и стыдливой
Случайно быть наедине,
Дрожать и миг любви счастливой
Ловить в ее притворном сне –

Не слаще ли прелестной Фани
Послушным быть учеником,
Платить любви беспечно дани
И оживлять восторги сном?

The curve linking the three occurrences of the anaphoric sladko/slashche is shaped by the so called recoil pattern: (i) violence and emotion — (ii) no emotion or violence – (iii) protracted emotion crowned by (self-inflicted) violence. The absence of verbally expressed emotion in the second episode is in accord with the naturalness of death due to old age and a concomittant diminution of sensuality. One other aspect of the three-part sequence is that all three scenes are strictly all-male (with only a fleeting and dismissive mention of a woman in the third), — probably reflecting Kuzmin’s gay orientation.[8]

The poem’s infinitive series is not absolute, nor is it very long per se. But its three installments cover the entire poem – due to an elaborate use of subordinate clauses and nominative, adverbial, participial and gerund constructions (roughly one per line). The poem clearly belongs to the second of the two syntactical types mentioned earlier (Zenkevich’s “V Sumerkakh,” not Blok’s“Greshit’…”).[9]

In the overall structural balance of the poem, its infinitive backbone helps hold together the text that is unrhymed and unmetered – an early example of free verse – providing a measure of order. This is a role often played by IW writing,[10] but more often than not by its other type, the one regularly punctuated by numerous parallel infinitives. In this case, the patterning is much more subtle. Naturalization comes from (i) the poem’s classical — Greek – frame of reference, which helps dispense with rhyme and syllabo-tonic meter; (ii) the anaphoras cum infinitives; and, additionally and overwhelmingly, (iii) the pronounced similarity of the syntactic structures of the segments governed by infinitives.

The poem’s 37 lines are organized into three sections governed by the sladko/slashche + Infinitive (9 +9 +19), with the third further subdivided into two — thanks to a fourth infinitive.The near perfect symmetry of these divisions, with a clear doubling in the third instance, is announced in its beginning by the reduplication of anaphoric phrases (eshche slashche, eshche mudree).

Symmetries, serving as basis for development, are all-pervasive. In every segment, there are 9 (and once 10) lines (= phrases/clauses) specifying the circumstances of the considered death: time, place, movements, people present/absent, sounds/speeches heard. On two occasions the same direct speech – Proshchai…! — concludes the segment, while the third time around its absence is pointedly indicated (ne slysha nikakikh proshchanii).

The differences are all the more conspicuous. To begin with, there is the gradual narrowing of the publicness of the death: maximum in the first case (na pole bitvy… dlia slavy otchizny) – medium in the second (in the bosom of the family) – minimal in the third (alone). At the very end, however, there is an additional twist: by opening his veins in the vicinity of the windowrereading Apuleius and mentioning the sounds of flutes and scent of flowers the lonely suicide opens himself up to the wide world of nature and culture.

Also relevant in this connection is the temporal unfolding of the poem. The first scene captures one glorious moment, hopefully one to reverberate through time as “glory.” The second offers a multilayered chronology of the extended family’s life: the death comes to the man late in his life, and the many generations of the clan are invoked, both dead and alive, iconized by the superposition of a jumble of subordinate clauses and nominative, participial and gerund constructions. The third sequence again, like the first, focuses on one short episode in the life of the protagonist, but lavishly protracts its description, including, like the second, a complex chronology of these last days’ events (note the many perfective gerunds and participles, as well as the word posle) and even a glimpse into tomorrow (kotoruiu zavtra zabyl by) and the moments immediately following the opening of veins (i chtob…). In this way the last moment is effectively made to linger, as per Horace’s carpe diem or Goethe’s Faustian motto, comprising as many other events and sensations as possible.

Several new developments distinguish the last section: the expectations set up by the first two are effectively broken. Some of these twists have been already noted. Yet another has to do with the semantic and syntactic dynamics of the way the infinitives are deployed relative to their dependents. The first two times an unambiguous umeret’ is at the beginning of the segment. The third time the verb is not only not deadly but pointedly life-affirming (pouzhinat’, the supper borrowed from Maikov’s Lucius) and placed at the end of the string of its qualifiers, thus maximizing the suspense (before proving the expectation wrong). The fourth and last infinitive is both quite chillingly specific and yet somewhat open-ended (otkryt’… zhily, borrowed from Maikov’s Seneca, as well as Tacitus’ Seneca and Petronius, about whom presently) and placed in the middle of the segment — so that death can be perceived as deferred and life as still lingering, as the smells and sounds invade the scene.

Yet, on a subtler level, death may be implied to have happened right at the semi-colon after zhily. There are two almost unnoticeable grammatical twists as that boundary is crossed. One is the disappearance of the subject, albeit already grammatically impersonal throughout the poem due to infinitiveness, yet one that has been quite clearly functioning until now as the active agent in all the verbal forms, infinitive or otherwise. But the verbs pakhlo, svetila and byli slyshny may or may not imply a perceiver. The stated wish “that it should be so” (i chtob) shows the speaker’s insistent, somewhat childish, desire, but does not guarantee the subject’s staying alive and alert; and in any event, these smells and sounds will persist after he stops perceiving.[11]

An additional break signal is the deliberate mishandling of the i chtob clause, borrowed from Lermontov’s “Vykhozhu…” In that poem, it is explicitly governed by the main clause: Ia b zhelal naveki tak zasnut’,/ ChtobKuzmin not only drops this marked connection, but in fact creates a syntactic rupture (an anacoluthon): his i chtob is supposed to be governed by eshche slashche, eshche mudree, which is ungrammatical. As a result, the wish sounds both more pronounced and less assured of fulfillment. On the other hand, here as elsewhere in the poem there is room for ambiguity; after all, in Lermontov’s model, the speaker somehow assumes he will keep listening even in death (Pro liubov’ mne sladkii golos pel).

All these subtle differences, gradations, and reversals stand out against the very stable background provided by the manyrecurring patterns, including one not yet mentioned. The poem, along with other Alexandrian Songs is precisely a song, which also helps naturalize all those symmetries and the text’s extreme semantic and even lexical and repetitiveness. Indeed, almost every word recurs, sometimes tautologically. Note the lexical chains:

Сладко – сладко – слаще; умереть – умирая – умереть — умерли; светит — светила; для славы – для то, которую; слыша – слыша – не слыша – слышны; вокруг – окруженным – вокруг; Прощай — Прощай – никаких прощаний; в том же – на той же – вернувшись – в сто первый раз; доме – дом; еще – еще; продавши – проданный;

and the semantic ones:

умереть – открыть жилы; на поле — в доме – на кровати – в ванне; при свисте – когда звучит — для славы — слыша; труба – флейты; солнце – полдень – завтра — заря; родились – умерли; отчизны — старцем – деды – детьми – мужами – отец; истративши – продавши; забыл бы – и чтоб; все именье – последнюю мельницу – никаких прощаний; душистой – пахло; длинное – вдалеке...[12]

There are also numerous echoes in SU of other Alexandrian songs, for the cycle as a whole revolves around a cluster of common motifs (hedonism, lost estates and mills, strolls, music, reading, smert’ bez sozhalen’ia o zhizni etc.).

The principle of redundant, as it were, repetition is laid bare in the give-away line about rereading Apuleus for the hundred and first time.[13] The point of mentioning the endless rereading of a text – and a classic too, in every sense of the word, — is, in addition to the obvious broadening of the poem’s chronological, spatial and cultural horizons in the finale, the insistence on the value of repeatable and thus core, basic, fundamental, eternal values.

As a metapoetic statement it also stresses Kuzmin’s penchant for using stylized literary conventions as a canvas on which to embroider his innovative patterns. This rereading of Apuleus is the one and only reference to literature in the entire text of SU, and comews up at the moment that is to poignantly put an end to all reading, signalling as it does a deliberately chosen death. Of course, dying with a book in hand is a literary stereotype; for instance, at the end of Goethe’s Sorrows of the Young Werther, lying open next to the body of the suicide protagonist is found a copy of Lessing’s Emilia Galotti (also ending in what amounts to suicide).

The great suicides of antiquity, Socrates, Seneca, and Petronius all die continuing their dialogues with disciples or dictating to them. But Kuzmin’s speaker insists on dying alone. Moreover, he does not claim to be a great teacher or even necessarily to be living in ancient times; he is a modern everyman in Alexandrian disguise, thus instead of dictating — he just reads.


Works Cited

Гаспаров М. Л. Метр и смысл. Об одном из механизмов культурной памяти. М.: РГГУ, 1999.

Дельвиг А.А. Сочинения. Сост. и подг. В. Э. Вацуро. Л.: Художественная литература, 1986.

Жирмунский В. М.. Композиция лирических стихотворений. Л.: Советский писатель, 1975.

Жолковский А. К. “Бродский и инфинитивное письмо. Материалы к теме ”. Новое литературное обозрение 45 (2000): 187-98.

Жолковский А. К. “Совершитель Гаспаров ”. Новое литературное обозрение 77 (2006): 39-44.

Жолковский А. К. Избранные статьи о русской поэзии : Инварианты, структуры, стратегии, интертексты. М.: РГГУ, 2005.

Жолковский А. К.. “Из записок об инфинитивной поэзии : проблемы описания и образцы комментариев”. Язык как материя смысла: Сборник статей к 90-летию академика Н. Ю. Шведовой. Сост. М. В. Ляпон. М.: Азбуковник, 2007: 476-87.

Золотова Г. А. “О композиции текста”. Она же и др. Коммуникативная грамматика русского языка. М.: МГУ, 1998: 440-69.

Ковтунова И.И. Поэтический синтаксис. М.: Наука, 1986.

Кузмин М. Стихотворения. Сосот. и подг. Н. А. Богомолов. СПб: Академический прпоект, 1996.

Майков А. Н. “Три смерти. Лирическая драма”. Он же. Избранные произведения. Сост. Л. С. Гейро. Л.: Советский писатель, 1977: 443-60 (annot.: 841-46).

Панова Л. Г. Русский Египет. Александрийская поэтика Михаила Кузмина. В 2-х тт. М.: Водолей Publishers and Прогресс-Плеяда, 2006.

Панова, Лада. “Александрийские песни Михаила Кузмина: гомоэротический сценарий”. Nähe schaffen, Abstand halten. Zur Geschichte von Intimität und Nähe in der russischen Kultur. Hrsg. Nadežda Grigor’eva et al.. Wien-München: Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, Sonderband 62 (2005): 203-25.

Панченко О. Н. “Номинативные и инфинитивные ряды в строе стихотворения”. Очерки истории русской поэзии ХХ века. Грамматические категории. Синтаксис текст.Ред. Е. В. Красильникова. М.: Наука, 1993. 81-100.

Шенгели Георгий. Иноходец. Собрание стихов. Византийская повесть «Повар базилевса». Литературные статьи. Воспоминания. Сост. и подг. Вадим Перельмуттер. М.: Совпадение, 1997.

Kuzmin, Mikhail. Selected writings. Transl. Michael A. Green and Sytanislav A. Shvabrin. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP.

West, David Horace Odes III. Dulce Periculum. Oxford: UP, 2002.


[1] On IW see Жолковский 2000, 2002, 2007; for cognate studies see Ковтунова 1986, Панченко 1993, Золотова 1998.

[2] For detailed annotations of Kuzmin’s infinitive poems see Жолковский 2007.

[3] See Kuzmin 1996: 123-24, 2005: 54-55. The English version has been slightly emended here to make it correspond to the original line by line.

[4] Remarkably, there are infinitive sequences in Maikov’s drama, e. g.:

Вот так и мы – Лукан, Сенека,/ Слуга покорный ваш – умрет/‹…›/ Иной появится певец,/ Другие будут жить и вздорить,/ Страдатьлюбить, о том же спорить,/ О чем и мы с тобой, мудрец!../ Но пусть по смерти жить мы будем!/ (Тебе готов я уступить!)/ А все себя мы не принудим/Без сожаленья кончить жить!/ ‹…›/ Что мнев их жизни без волнений?/ Мирами, что ли управлять?/В них декорации менять,/ И, вместо всяких развлечений,/ Людьми, как шашками, играть,/ И, как актерами плохими,/ Отнюдь не увлекаться ими,/ Ни скучной пьесой!.. Нет! клянусь,/ Я в боги вовсе не гожусь (Майков 1977: 448).

[5] On the role of Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be…” in the history of Russian IW see Жолковский 2000.

[6] To be sure, the mention of financial ruin (the loss of the house and mills recurs in several of the Alexandrian Songs)may be interpreted as a reason for suicide, thus diluting the stark willfulness of the decision.

[7] Even so, already Horace’s sweet dying was defiantly original.

“[S]cholars have objected to the sweetness. Honourable, yes. Sweet, no. There is no parallel in previous literature for such an assertion. But Tyrtaeus does say thta it is kalon, beautiful, goodly, noble, for a good man to fall in the front ranks while fighting for his native land <…>, and in Virgil’s account of the fall of Troy <…> it rushes into Aeneas’ mind, succurrit, that it is a a beautiful thing to die in arms, pulchrumque mori succurrit in armis <…> Admittedly Horace’s sentiment is a romantic view of war, which would not survive much close fighting” (West 2002: 25-26).

[8] Cf. Панова 2005.

[9] On the contrary, Georgii Shegeli’s 1925 parody of SU, written on the occasion of Maks Voloshin’s birthday, follows the other pattern and numbers 9 infinitives:

Как хорошо/ На мальпосте старинном/ Поехать в город/ И выпить у Юры/ Бузы густейшей,/ А потом у фонтана/ Поесть чебуреков,/ Монумент созерцая,/ Который вот-вот уронит/ Бетонную глыбу/ На пальцы ног./ Как хорошо/ Получить по почте/ Гонорар заслуженный/ Из Мосполиграфа/, Уплатить портомое/ И выкупить, наконец,/ Парадную тогу,/ Сиречь штаны./ Но еще лучше,/ Поужинав в Нарпите/ Вчерашней кефалью/ В машинном масле,/ Вернуться домой,/ В комнату, на которую/ Есть уже 37 претендентов,/ И прочитав в сто первый раз «Протопопа Аввакума»,/ Сесть во гробе/ И вскрыть вены,/ И чтобы в щель/ Светила заря,/ Виднелась очередь/ И слышался голос Наташи/ И поступь Макса,/ Сторожащего посев у веранды. (Шенгели 1997: 275-76).

[10] On the various strategies of “disciplining” the free verse see Жирмунский 1975: 527-535.

[11] A telling case of accepting an unambiguous death amidst the world and life that go on is Bunin’s “<Bez menia>”:

Настанет день — исчезну я,/ А в этой комнате пустой / Все то же будет: стол, скамья / Да образ, древний и простой.// И так же будет залетать/ Цветная бабочка в шелку./ Порхать, шуршать и трепетать/ По голубому потолку.// И так же будет неба дно/ Смотреть в открытое окно,/ И море ровной синевой/ Манить в простор пустынный свой.

On this poem see Жолковский 2006.

[12] In fact, Lermontov’s poem, which has been set to music by numerous composers, including anonymous folk ones, thus proving its song-like nature, also exhibits a wealth of repetitions:

один – пустыня; дорогу – путь; туман – холодным; блестит — сияньи; ночь – ночь; тиха – тихо; внемлет – говорит – слух – голос – шумел; звезда – звездою; небесах – земля; спит – заснуть – сном – заснуть – дремали; голубом – зеленея; так – так — не тем – так; жду – не жду; жалею — не жаль; жизни – жизни; ничего – ничуть — всю ночь – весь день; я ищу – я б хотел – я б желал; навеки – вечно; в груди – грудь; чтоб – чтоб – чтоб – чтоб; вздымалась – склонялся; лелея – сладкий – любовь.

[13] Later in life, Kuzmin was to translate his favorite Golden Ass into Russian.