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Anna Klis Written for Professor Evtuhov‟s “History of Russia II” 29 April 2010
“For in the Word there is a literal sense and there is a spiritual sense. The literal sense insists on such things as are in the world, but the spiritual sense of such things as are in heaven; and since the union of heaven with the world is effected by correspondences, therefore a Word was provided with which everything down to the minutest detail has its correspondence.” – Emanuel Swedenborg1
Literature and history crawl together. The newest works reflect their contemporaneous political trends, while the oldest texts preserve knowledge on the past. Literary movements demonstrate the intersection of these two fields, when a style of writing is actually accepted to describe a particular stretch of history. Symbolism, as a literary device, has been around for thousands of years: from ancient myths and biblical stories to modern prose and poetry. The Symbolist movement, however, is largely defined by a time period stretching from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, originating in France and spreading across Europe.2 As it trickled into and bloomed throughout Russia and Poland, the movement focused on aspects more “decadent” and more religious. It worked its way through the prose, poetry, music, and graphic art of the time. Two particularly interesting Symbolist authors to compare are Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok of Russia and Tadeusz Miciński of Poland. While Blok was certainly better known than Miciński, both shared a raw point of view, though Blok‟s is a bit darker and
Balakian, Anna Elizabeth. 1977. The symbolist movement: a critical appraisal. New York: New York University Press, p. 14 2 Ibid, p. viii
it occurred through symbols. and he believed that man‟s body contains a spirit. 4 Balakian. Philadelphia: J. the Symbolist movement began with particular focus on using symbols to communicate God. p. periods and civilizations. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)6 was influential in his own time.com/EBchecked/topic/576681/Emanuel-Swedenborg. He focused on man‟s relation to God. 3 5 Peterson. phenomena in the physical world that had a dual meaning.britannica.org/stable/468631. knowledgeable of the spiritual realm. New Literary History 1. http://www. 4. 1993. http://www.more mystical than Miciński‟s. 2 What is Symbolism? “Symbolism in the sense of a use of symbols in literature is clearly omnipresent in literature of many styles.jstor. be it the stained-glass window of a Church or the markings on a map. Benjamins Pub. while the body is knowledgeable of the natural. Symbols are all-pervasive in medieval literature and even the classics of realism – Tolstoy and Flaubert. p.4 while in Russia the span overlaps and reaches to 1910. 1 6 Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Amsterdam. Rene. one 3 Wellek. earthly realm. . Symbolism is found in parables and fables which tell simple stories in order to explain lessons that are harder to grasp. The term and concept of symbolism in literary history. A history of Russian symbolism.5 Though he lived much earlier than the actual Symbolist movement. often prominently. p. However. keyword: Emanuel Swedenborg. Co. the public.e. 1970.”3 As a literary device. His contribution to Symbolism is in his definition of communication between God and man as “not [a] direct communication. Ronald E. A Symposium on Periods) (Winter): 249-70. Balzac and Dickens – use symbols. and his ideas were carried into the age of symbolism. i. as a creature made in the image of God. The exact time period of the movement varies: in France the period ascribed to Symbolism is between 1885 and 1895. Both serve as excellent examples of the Symbolist movement in Eastern Europe. There are symbols in artwork everywhere. and other authors. symbolism is self-referential: the use of certain words and images to stand in for others. (2.
Balakian presents a few poems by Russian symbolists. keyword: Romanticism.” (First line: “Moi mily mag. 6 12 Ibid.britannica. p.”7 His school of thought survived through the Church of the New Jerusalem.com/EBchecked/topic/508675/Romanticism. in the Russian language. and some Symbolists are indeed described as “Neo-romantics. 13 Britannica Online Encyclopedia. especially at the start of the movement. the two overlap slightly at the fin du siècle. 113. keyword: New Church. The direct forerunner of Symbolism is Romanticism. p. Later symbolism was much more fluid.”11 In fact. p.10 Symbolism went further into “rejection of the world and revolt against the accepted ways of writing. Swedenborg‟s so-called symbolism was limited to allegory. still others by altering conventions of language and turning to tricks of alliteration. http://www.recognizable to the earthly perception of many. 9 his “symbols” were given strict definitions derived from the Bible. 9 . moya Mariya”) 13 Ibid. some rebelling against known literature by darkening the mood of their works. including one by Valery Bryusov in which every word begins with the letter “m” and many of the words contain a sound of “y. and the familiar antithesis implied by the early critics and poets of the symbolist movement in the expression „symbolist and decadent. http://www.” While Romanticism functioned as a passionate rejection of the order and idealization of the Enlightenment period. p. However.12 Three of the better known Symbolist techniques are “verbal mystification.8 an agglomeration of Swedenborgian societies dedicated to this type of communication with the divine. 11 Balakian. Symbolism extended the tenets of Romanticism to another plane of vision. the analogy between poetry and music. and in fact. and focused less on attaining communication with God as on conveying understanding of the human condition in nature and spirit.com/EBchecked/topic/411265/New-Church/411265main/Article#toc=toc9055450.‟”13 7 8 Balakian. the literary values of the Symbolists varied greatly. 9 Balakian. and consonance. assonance. p.britannica. the other to his spiritual ones. 14 10 Britannica Online Encyclopedia. others by heaping in depictions of the natural world.
white. a device used by critics to liken the tone. like mirrors).14 The analogy between poetry and music was. it raised the level of poetic craftsmanship. the distinction blurred more as composers hoped to use synaesthesia (a fusing of the senses) and combine colors and music in spectacular shows of feeling. . citing Mirsky. the Symbolists were. blue for imagination. etc.Verbal mystification is the use of imagery to convey the meaning of the literary piece. With so many techniques and writing styles. and fusion symbols (mixes of the abstract and the concrete. in fact. Later. and structure of a poem to similar moods. 3 Symbolism in Russia “Russian symbolism… was at once an aesthetic and mystical movement.”17 14 15 Balakian. The most common types of symbols used were natural symbols (birds were especially popular).” 16 Thus. nevertheless. decadence was a feature of many Symbolist works. united across countries as those who “attempted to convey a supernatural experience in the language of visible things. blue quickly took on clear-cut correspondences doubling for emotions: red for anger. Many of the Russian Symbolists embraced a worldview of death and despair and the creation of meaning from art. 104 Ibid. notes. the movement spread throughout Europe and even to America. 1. 108 16 Ibid. p. at first. and therefore almost every word is a symbol and is used not for its common purpose but for the association which it evokes of a reality beyond the senses. and it was united by a mystical attitude towards the world. which is expressed in the very name of symbolism. though not all (in fact. grey for melancholy. p. some argue the term “Symbolist” is merely a moniker applied to contemporaneous authors. mythical symbols (Greek and Roman gods and goddesses). 4 17 Peterson.”15 Finally. as writers flocked to its origin in Paris and then brought the ideas home with them. p. some Symbolists reviled the very notion). words. “Symphonies in grey. p. and cadences in music.
events referred to from class notes.” that is. the Silver Age of Russian culture began with this new movement. Symbolism began to put down roots. who acceded to power after his father‟s death in 1894.The turn of the century came under Tsar Nicholas II. spurred other writers to take notice of this new style. Andrey Bely. p. p. Western in origin. Zinaida Hippius.” including Aleksandr Blok. with its clean empirics and forwardly motivation. and Nationality. In this climate of conservatism and even terror. embarked on their careers in a substantial way after the turn of the century. As with the other European Symbolists. the Russian Symbolists also favored individualism to a certain extent. the Russian Symbolists are generally split into two waves: “The most traditional grouping of Russian Symbolists is by generations or “waves. Both Alexander III (the father of Nicholas II) and Nicholas II enacted policies that affirmed “Orthodoxy. 3 20 Ibid. The actual literary movement was instigated by Dmitry Merezhkovsky‟s essay “On the Reasons for the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature” (1893).” … The first Symbolists who began to publish before the end of the nineteenth century are generally known as the “older generation” or “first wave.”21 18 19 Knowledge of the period learned in this class. this essay. p. Peterson. Dmitry Merezhkovsky. and others. Not a Symbolist himself. In a way.19 His notions of mysticism were later found in many of the Russian Symbolists‟ works. but decidedly shaped by Russian authors and thinkers.20 making them difficult to group according to literary characteristic. 8-9 . Autocracy.”18 all but reversing the liberal reforms of Alexander II (the father of Alexander III). as well as the steady creation of salons in Russia. Vladimir Solovyov was a Russian philosopher that influenced the movement‟s shape in Russia. Fyodor Sologub. The chief representatives of the “second wave. in the academic literature regarding them. Thus. and Vyacheslav Ivanov. Its abstract passions and mysticism served a direct contrast to the previously growing movement of Positivism. Valery Bryusov. Though the authors varied greatly from each other. 6 21 Ibid. Konstantin Balmont.
an extreme form of positivism preceding the Silver Age. THE PROPHETIC BIRD24 On waters. One of Russia‟s most well-known Symbolists is Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921). Decadent poems echoed a “withdrawn manner. Block published his first poems. p. p. 115 Peterson. cold and smooth.. . Unable to lift the smashed wings’ couple. And bloody set of executions. though often criticized at the time. drew distinct parallels with the general atmosphere in Russia at the time. the consciousness of the role of the artist. And caught with fear. 22 23 Balakian.” while the second wave turned toward mysticism. the concern with the mystery of life.”22 In fact. the imminence of death in man‟s daily existence… but. this “decadence” appears to be offer a solution to the nihilist movement. the futility of free will. with it all.. and hunger and the flames. It sings and prophesies for land.The first wave began with a loose focus on “decadence. Taken from Poemhunter. Dressed with the sunset so purple. The decadent spirit.. the permanence of man through the emission of a thought.com (http://poemhunter.” 23 His poems are certainly mystical..com/poem/gamajunthe-prophetic-bird/).. twining Orthodox religious ideas and folkloric beliefs and struggling for a higher meaning. the comfort of the arts as the only means of demolishing chance. The charge of Tartars’ hordes it claims. in an anthology addressed to “The Beautiful Lady. crime’s intrusion. In 1903. The fair face flames as one of lovers’. But sound with prophetic truth The lips that the bloody foam covers!. as seen in the poem below: GAMAJUN. Earthquake. spread without end. 53 24 Poem by Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok. The death of justice..
but a testament to the power of Blok‟s words. and Russia from the agreements in 1772. 28 In this century. a fair time after the Symbolist movement. Warszawa: Wiedza. though Polish nationality and Messianism found supporters throughout. a miraculous.org/articles/g/gamayun. and 1795. Rebellions were frequent. the bird pronounces destruction. Mallarme” (published in 1887). as the title says. 27 Translated by author of this paper.html.pantheon. alliance with Napoleon. was against the very nature of artistic creation. The critic Teodor de Wyzewa. było sprzeczne z samą istotą twórczości artystycznej. Wojeński. “thought that “symbol” was only a pretext and explained Mallarme's poetry 25 26 Encyclopedia Mythica.” 27 At the turn of the century. by wobec opisywanej rzeczywistości zajmował postawę wyłącznie ideową (pozytywizm) lub badawczą (realizm i naturalizm). the Gamajun is. Yet in spite of a flaming face.” fall 2009. Historia literatury polskiej. especially the class “History of Eastern Central Europe I. keyword: Gamayun. 4 Symbolism in Poland “Żądanie od artysty. including the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794. 209. http://www. with Professor Andrzej Kaminski . Teofil. that while writing about reality he take a stand only on ideas (positivism) or experiments (realism and naturalism). the bird portends of violent events. Symbolism came to Poland through the avenue of literary criticism. Similarly as in Russia. in his essay “Le Symbolisme de M.Firstly. Russia‟s policies toward Poland were actually quite lax. 1946. and yet it is not aloof from them – it appears that Blok‟s harbinger feels the pain (or at least shame) of what must arrive. p. The poem was later arranged into a musical piece by composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich in 1967. In the poem. prophetic bird of Russian creation legend. 1793. and the January Uprising of 1863 to 1864. 28 Knowledge summarized from previous education.25 Its mystical associations dominate the poem and fuse with the grand landscape of water and purple sunset presented. Austria. Poland was still partitioned among the three empires of Prussia. the November Uprising of 1830 to 1831.”26 “Demanding from an artist.
1970.”33 Another particularly interesting figure in the Polish Symbolist movement was the PanSlavist Tadeusz Miciński (1873-1918). born in Łódz.”29 However. a Polish city under the control of the Russian Empire. carved in the mountains. Rene. 1 (2009): 80-90. Daniel. Realism and Young Poland. The term and concept of symbolism in literary history. 5. playwright. the author can only dream of what a fantastic spectacle this would be. painter. An Anthology.31 Particularly notable was Stanisław Wyspiański. “Polish literature from 1864 to 1918. 5 34 Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 209.” Sarmatian Review(01): 1359. keyword: Tadeusz Micinski.30 Symbolism was integrated into a larger literary movement – that of Młoda Polska (Young Poland) – which rebelled against Realism and Positivism. Symbolism in Poland was more focused on rejuvenation and capturing a modern Polish spirit. He was especially interested in new methods of staging plays.jhu. http://www. 33 Gerould. "The Symbolist Legacy. as it allowed for more creativity than the positivist movement prior. the movement appeared to begin from a contemplation of the under-success of the Russian literary world. no. 32 Having personally seen the Wawel a number of times. The movement was extremely popular in the world of theatre. and visionary of the Young Poland Movement. Notably.com/EBchecked/topic/380171/Tadeusz-Micinski.edu/ (accessed April 13.britannica. George. http://muse. p. all the characters in the play are animated art works found in the castle (from the Bible or Homer) who have stepped out of their tapestries or off their pedestals. 2010).34 Like Blok. but some of his more interesting ideas were in the realm of theatre. p. p. under the azure sky and among the 29 30 Wellek. He describes the mountains as “an amphitheatre of the dead and living. “Wyspiański conceived of his Acropolis as being played within the Royal Castle Wawel in Cracow32.purely by its analogy to music. He dearly desired to stage plays such as the Sanskrit drama Shakuntala in the Tatras mountains. in areas suggestive of the scene as opposed to building sets. 2008. . 31 Gasyna. Wojeński." PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 31. a poet. Miciński wrote a great number of poems. while in Russia.
The stars have passed judgement on me: . Ja budowniczy nadgwiezdnych miast szydzę z rozpaczy gasnących gwiazd. forever is error.38 in the original Polish and translated into English: ANANKE39 Gwiazdy wydały nade mną sąd: .You builder of towers higher than the stars . with Zeus as the father. 4. . .deep forests. 35 36 Gerould. 38 Ananke is the Greek goddess of fate. 37 Wellek. 4 Ibid.gda. mojej wolności dowodem błąd.wieczną jest ciemność. She is the mother of the Moirae (the three Fates). .stlisz się jak lont. 39 Poem by Tadeusz Miciński.Ty budowniku nadgwiezdnych wież . Poszumy płaczą mogilnych drzew.będziesz się tułał. wiecznym jest błąd. lecz w barce życia płynie mój śpiew. .pl/~literat/micinski/022.in the midst of fire you will freeze .htm). there will be revealed the mysteries of life on earth. p.”35 the perfect place to examine the inherent symbolist characteristics of the theatre. and in fact looked on religion as a great source of drama and tension. Miciński also delved into science-fiction in Nietota: Secret Book of the Tatras Mountains (1910) and Father Faust (1913). the East and West) “on the basis of gnosticism and esoteric philosophy. Translated by the paper‟s author. Taken from the online database of the University of Gdańsk (http://univ. like a wild beast.you will wander.wśród ognia zmarzniesz . jak dziki zwierz.forever is darkness. The author greatly enjoyed Greek myths as a child. Miciński believed that the theatre could unite Poland and Russia (and more broadly.37 Below is his poem. .you will burn like a fuse. and therefore cannot cite a specific source of her knowledge.zapadnie każdy pod tobą ląd .beneath you will fall every land . originator of the universe alongside Chronos.”36 This demonstrates that Miciński valued religion less than Blok. serce me dźwiga w głębinach ląd. Ananke. A gwiazdom odparł królewski duch: wam przeznaczono okrężny ruch.
This poem is striking in its confidence. Translated by the paper‟s author. The speaker directly addresses the stars. Miciński mixes the abstract and the concrete to great effect. . though. but in the barge of life flows my song. pościnał mi mróz moje tulipany. 40 Poem by Tadeusz Miciński. lecz jej nic nie zgłuszy słyszę dziwny śpiew w czarnym zamku duszy.pl/~literat/micinski/035. my heart heaves me into the deepest lands. The rustling of the grabbing trees cries.htm). Leży u mych stóp konająca mewa patrzą na jej trup zamyślone drzewa. Next is his poem “Nokturn” (or “Nocturne”) presented in original and translated format: NOKTURN40 Las płaczących brzóz śniegiem osypany. but their quality of being “higher than the stars” stretches them into infinity. Most interesting. This “kingly ghost” fights the nihilism that would cause him to wander and fall. is that the poem is not lacking for mysticism. Śniegiem zmywam krew. Taken from the online database of the University of Gdańsk (http://univ. and refuses to accept the condemnation and meaninglessness that is thrust upon him.To the stars replied a kingly ghost: Your fate is to move in orbit.gda. I the builder of cities higher than the stars scoff at the grief of the dimming stars. error is my freedom’s proof. it does not deny the presence of something greater. speaking of “towers higher than the stars” where towers are certainly tangible. which are most likely a symbol for Fate or God himself. and in fact calls that presence into further communication.
gloomy. This poem is much darker than the previously discussed “Ananke. “Gamajun. while both of Miciński‟s do. perhaps starting to bud. though it is an intriguing idea that the Polish Symbolists might have been more apt to write of resistance. Based only on three poems. and compares with Blok‟s poem. the frost has cut my tulips. and macabre. was more rapid. it is impossible to extrapolate this observation to the rest of the Symbolist movement in Russia and Poland. However. Miciński‟s speakers both actively struggle against the outer circumstances: in “Ananke. but a frost has prematurely chilled them. . At my feet lies a dying seagull – on her corpse gaze the pensive trees. but nothing will mute her – I hear strange song in the soul’s black castle.” Where that one had strength and hope. alive. It appears this night scene (nocturne) is at some point on the boundary between winter and spring – the speaker‟s tulips were planted. presented earlier. and in “Nokturn. and mystical. the poem‟s tone is reminiscent of many other Symbolist works. All in all. In fact.” the speaker scoffs at the stars. Of further interest is how Blok‟s poem told a story with no first-person speaker. using soft words and anthropomorphism.” however. With the snow I wash off the blood. while “Nokturn” is strangely captivating. this one presents a melancholy winter scene. Perhaps this same frost affected the seagull.The forest of weeping willows dusted in snow. the speaker finds beauty within the tragedy.” the speaker attempts to wash blood away.
19. 41 Balakian. owing to the theatrical artists Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski. miracles are in us and not outside us. were becoming fixed and specific by the extent to which they were being shared by a long series of authors.” 44 Symbolist poetry remained popular. these new movements of an aggressive avant-garde all but declared war on art and ancient knowledge. but the extravagant and abstract ideas for the theatre fell by the wayside. If at first they had a multiplicity of meaning. 107. 2 44 Balakian. even though they were ambiguous at first. offshoots of Symbolism grew into movements of their own. stylization was reducing their ambivalence and the character of their enigma.5 Conclusion “Believe me. Balakian describes her as “a seventeen-year-old „monster‟… living on the frontiers of both the visible and invisible… [not able to] maintain the delicate balance between the rational and irrational. 8 46 Ibid. Seraphita is the feminine version of a Romantic fictional character invented by Balzac.” -Seraphita41 As the new century progressed. Futurism and Acmeism truly broke with Symbolism around 1910.46 the main movement of the turn of the nineteenth century will be best remembered for its contemplation of the hidden spiritual meanings in everyday objects and in literature. 43 Gerould.45 Though Symbolism revived in Poland in the 1970s. 45 Gerould. p. p. The changing times and stressful events to follow no longer had need of the decadence of the Symbolist movement. p. as well as the growing threat of World War. Symbolism itself grew repetitive: “Gradually these much used symbols.43 Alongside of them. p.” 42 Knowledge from class lecture.42 With the tide of revolution approaching in Russia. p. 9 .
18901914. New York: New York University Press. Rene. . Cultural symbolism in literature. “The term and concept of symbolism in literary history. An Anthology.kioskart. Available from http://wiadomosci. Warszawa: Wiedza. 2009 [cited April 21 2010].2678. 1935. Ronald E. George. Wellek. Balakian.Y. The symbolist movement : A critical appraisal. 1970.polscy_symbolisci. Praha: Nakl. UK. Gasyna. Symbolism in polish painting. Amsterdam. Hall. A history of Russian symbolism. 2008. Cambridge. and Detroit Institute of Arts. Realism and Young Poland. Robert A. http://www. A dictionary of literary symbols. Benjamins Pub. Slovanského ústavu.: Linguistica. Historia literatury polskiej. O symbolismu v polské a ruské literature. [Detroit]: Detroit Institute of Arts. 1977.org/stable/468631.” New Literary History 1. Teofil. http://www. Máchal. Anna Elizabeth. Britannica Online Encyclopedia.html. (2. Ferber. Peterson. 1946.” Sarmatian Review(01): 1359. “Polish literature from 1864 to 1918.com/ Charazinska.. Wojeński. Michael.pl/1546818. A Symposium on Periods) (Winter): 249-70.jstor. Ithaca.britannica.onet. 2007. Co. Philadelphia: J.6 Works Consulted Polscy symboliści: niecodzienna wsytawa w ramach Polska!Year.1. Jan. 1984. 1993. N. New York: Cambridge University Press. Elzbieta. 1963.
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