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Kuzmin, An Introductory Essay

"Mikhail Kuzmin is a simple and clear artist.  One might call him understandable, if he were understood.  But both the very genre of his work and the harmonious accord of a many-stringed soul, joyfully accepting life and all its `dear, fragile things' in trusting submission to God, are not very accessible to the perceptions of his contemporaries,"1 Viacheslav Ivanov ruefully concluded in what remains one of the few sensitive responses to the early prose of this neglected author. Ten years later, in 1920, Boris Eikhenbaum still found it necessary to preface his evaluation of Kuzmin with a caveat: "Kuzmin's prose has still not entered circulation -- and so it is all the more interesting to speak of it.  He is known and loved more as a poet."2 The same might be said today, for while his poetry has been handso mely reprinted with extensive biographical and analytical articles by Malmstad and Markov, the prose, with the exception of  his short novel Wings, is still largely undervalued.3

It is a curious case of critical myopia, and a further confirmation, if one were necessary, of Jakobson's axiom formulated in the 1935 article "Randbemerkungen zur Prosa des Dichters Pasternak" ["Comments on the Prose of the Poet Pasternak"]: "Die vorderen Stellungen der russichen Wortkunst der ersten Jahrzehnte unseres Jahrhunderts gehoren der Dichtung, eben die Dichtung wird hier als merkmallose, kanonische Ausserung der Literatur, als ihre reine Inkarnation empfunden." ["The advanced positions in Russian verbal art of the first decades of our century belong to poetry; here poetry is taken as the unmarked, canonical form of literature, as its genuine embodiment."]4 So strongly has the unconscious force of this truism governed critical thought , that discussion of Kuzmin's famous profession de foi "On Beautiful Clarity" has taken his aesthetic position as applying directly to verse, without regard for the subtitle "notes on prose"; Denis Mickiewicz goes so far as to suggest that this qualific ation was added "to diminish any possibility of controversy".5 It was poetry that mattered: "Bis auf wenige Ausnahmen ist die berufsmassige Kunstprosa dieser Epoche eine typische Epigonens- produktion, eine mehr oder weniger erfolgreiche Reproduktion klassischer Muster; das Interesse dieser Machwerke liegt entweder in der gelungenen Nachahmung des Alten oder in der grotesken Verwilderung des Kanons oder aber besteht das Neue in der schlauen Anpassung neuer Thematik an vererbte Schablonen" ["With few exceptions the standard artistic prose of this age is a typical product of epigones, a more or less successful reproduction of classical models; the interest of this hackwork lies in its successful imitation of the old or in its grotesque brutalizing of the canon, or its novelty is in its clever transmission of new thematics via exhausted cliches."].6 My central purpose here is to demonstrate that Kuzmin's prose, while superficially an ideal embodiment of this Jakobsonian characterization of the prose of the age, in fact transcends it, so transfiguring its constituent elements that Pasternak himself, one of Jakobson's "few exceptions", was able to write in an inscription to Kuzmin on his 1926 Selected Poems: "Last year I reread your three-volume prose, and it was my favourite reading of that year."7 Kuzmin's prose achieves its transcendence through its interplay with his poetry and its systematic interconnections with itself, in its best pages attaining those qualities which Doctor Zhivago strove for:

His whole life he had dreamed of an originality which would be smoothed out and dampered, externally unrecognizable and concealed beneath the cover of a generally-used and customary form; his entire life he had striven towards the development of that restrained, undemanding mode in which the reader and the listener absorb the content without themselves noticing how it is they are assimilating it.8
Behind its deceptive screens of casual banality, Kuzmin's is as much a poet's prose as Pasternak's. The economy of its form and the many-voiced purity of its diction demand a critical response which is both detailed in analysis and broad in focus. But the attention devoted hereafter to the minutiae of vocabulary and syntax, themata and characterization, literary antecedent and accidence of external circumstance is not meant to imply an exhaustive treatment. In view of the limited amount of study Kuzmin has received, description must come first and completeness cannot be hoped for. It should, however, be possible at least to suggest appropriate approaches to the texts and appropriate contexts in which to contemplate them.

Immensely erudite, adept at many forms of writing, composer and dramatist, wit and raconteur, Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin (1872-1936) has always managed to evade the toils of the critics, who generally try to snare him somewhere between Symbolism and Acmeism. It seems fitting that two of the best critical studies are entitled "Blok and Kuzmin" and "Akhmatova and Kuzmin", headings which suggest his stature yet reveal by their conjunctions the limitations to which appreciation of his achievement has been subject. Although closer, perhaps, to Symbolism than to Acmeism, Kuzmin was neither the exclusive product of the first, nor, as has sometimes been implied, merely a forerunner of the second. His relations with the two movements and with their major representativ es were complex indeed. He caricatured Sologub in the novella "The Cardboard House", but drew on his works for imagery and plot elements. He admired Briusov but was careful to emphasize the differences in their approaches to historical themes. At first a rapt disciple of Viacheslav Ivanov, he gradually moved away from him and came to an aesthetic stance strongly opposed to Symbolism and subtly critical of his mentor in "On Beautiful Clarity". An early patron of the Acmeists, author of the preface to Akhmatova's first book of verse, Evening, and the man who chose the title Tristia for Mandel'shtam's second collection of poems, he was from the beginning curiously reserved when reviewing Gumilev, and later became more and more critical of Acmeism in such essays as "Parnassian Sprouts" and "Scales in the Net". His work, while laced by myriad threads to the creations of these writers and others, remains a fabric fundamentally his own.

Much of the best contemporary criticism of Kuzmin has sought to characterize the specific texture of this fabric by making reference to its autobiographical or philosophical underpinnings. It can be shown, however, that attempts to reduce the two novellas "Wings" and "The Cardboard House" or the novel Travellers by Sea and Land to romans a clef or a these must fail. They cannot account for the systematic onomastic evolution of Kuzmin's characters from work to work, or for the kaleidoscopic recombination of their physical traits. These structural elements, along with the recurring and developing details of plot, setting, and even lines of dialogue, contribute to the creation of a Kuzminian world of archetypal figures performing quasi-mythical actions with both parodic and almost mystic significance, a world in which Kuzmin's biography and philosophic searchings are subordinated to the larger goal of artistic effect. In this he is akin to Nabokov, and it is not difficult to see why it was Kuzmin's self-generating and self-referential system of works which Nabokov chose to draw upon for important components of his 1930 novel The Eye and his 1931 short story "Lips to Lips".9

In his use of autobiography Kuzmin is as close to Gide as to Nabokov. Like Gide, he kept an extended journal or diary which, judging by the comments of his contemporaries, the extract he published in 1922 under the title "Scales in the Net", and the sterilized fragments which appeared in the Soviet Union, must have been to his prose what Gide's Journal and Cahiers were to his.10 Both writers achieved notoriety for their frank handling of the theme of homosexuality, Gide in L'Immoraliste in 1902, Kuzmin in Wings in 1906. With Gide Kuzmin shared an impervious indifference to Wagner, and an admiration for Dostoevskii which found expression through parody: Gide's Lafcadio in Les Caves du Vatican can be seen as a mocking portrait of Raskolnikov, while Kuzmin's novel The Quiet Guardian mimics The Brothers Karamazov. There is a striking similarity, finally, between Ivanov's remarks on Kuzmin cited at the beginning of this introduction and Curtius's comment on Gide to Klaus Mann that "in reality and at bottom there is nothing paradoxical about the man. On the contrary, he is more harmonious, in a sense, than anyone I've known. Harmonious in a complicated way, if you know what I mean. The way our grand old Goethe might have been -- all self-assured and serene, notwithstanding those notorious two souls dwelling together in his breast, alas. But why shouldn't a strong and intelligent fellow master half-a-dozen souls, if need be?"11

Kuzmin faced the task of mastering, if not half-a-dozen, then at least three souls of his own, in a struggle for self-integration that continued throughout his life. John E. Malmstad has produced two excellent books outlining  that struggle which may be consulted for more detail.12 Here we need sketch only the main stages in his development until his literary debut in the Green Miscellany, which appeared in December, 1904. Since Kuzmin made his start in literature at the relatively late age of 32, many of the views important to an understanding of his art were formed in this period, before he took up writing as a career. Discussion of his later life will be reserved for presentation with his individual works.

K. N. Suvorova confirmed Malmstad's deduction that Kuzmin was born in 1872 rather than 1875, the date traditionally cited.13 Of mixed Russian and French ancestry (there was perhaps a connection with Theophile Gautier), he came from a family of Old Believers, a background which he was to draw upon in his work. Shortly after his birth the family moved from Iaroslavl' to Saratov, where in a few years he began his education. His early reading included Shakespeare and E.T.A. Hoffman, then Don Quixote and Scott's novels, and later Greek literature, Moliere, and the fabliaux. Early exposure to music and the theatre fostered his lifelong interest in these areas. Under the promptings of a "little blue stocking" named Zina, he began to write as well, and the title of one of the three novellas he produced in imitation of Hoffmann has come down to us: "Hans Bekkar".

From Saratov the family went to Saint Petersburg in 1885, where Kuzmin continued his education in the eighth gymnasium. Here he first met Georgii Vasil'evich Chicherin (later to become an important Soviet diplomat), who exercised a powerful influence on his life. Through him Kuzmin broadened his knowledge of philosophy, undertaking a study of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Renan, and Taine. The two shared as well their homosexuality, which is evidenced in Kuzmin's correspondence by 1893. His struggles to reconcile this aspect of his inner life with his religious upbringing led to a prolonged emotional crisis and eventually to attempted suicide by poison in late 1896. An entry in his 1905 diary (quoted below) suggests that he may even have suffered from multiple personalities.

In 1891 Kuzmin entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied under Rimskii-Korsakov. He completed only three years of the seven year course, preferring to devote his time to his own compositions rather than to assigned ones, and making an intensive study of Italian music and literature. In late 1892 at Chicherin's suggestion he also began studying German. During this time mention of French and Russian literature grows infrequent in his correspondence (the names most often cited are Musset , Maupassant and Pierre Loti; Turgenev and Del'vig), but there is compensation in the abundant references to Italian and German writers: Dante and authors of the Italian Renaissance; Goethe, Heine and Schiller.

To the period 1895-6 belong Kuzmin's initial studies of Plotinus and his first formulations of his views on the nature of art. It was a time when Kuzmin oscillated between optimism and pessimism, between an acceptance of the Romantic idea of the tragic isolation of the artist and feelings of guilt and the need for expiation. In a letter from November, 1896 he formulated a first artistic credo:

Pure art is engendered and perfected in its own special closed circle, detached from the whole world, with its own particular demands, as the world of a sick madman (even if ideal and well-constructed, but in its detachment and abstraction mad).14
As was to be the case throughout his life, he remained aloof from the social and political movements of the time: Populism might attract Chicherin, but it held no interest for Kuzmin.

Guilt feelings -- about his homosexuality and about his choice of music as career over the objections of his family -- led him to make a comparison of various religions and to involve himself in mysticism. A trip to Egypt in 1895-6, which provided the background for many of his works, failed to resolve his spiritual impasse. His health deteriorated, and doctors insisted that a second trip abroad was imperative. Following their advice, he set off for Italy in the spring of 1897.

Vladimir Markov has outlined the impact this trip had on Kuzmin's writing.15 It provided the background for the third part of "Wings" and contributed to several cycles of poems. In Florence Kuzmin came under the influence of a Catholic priest, Canon Mori, and may even have converted to Catholicism for a time. Although he soon became disenchanted with Mori, the Italian journey provided an impetus for the study of the early Church Fathers and the Franciscan poets, two interests which find reflection in his work.

The trip to Italy did not relieve Kuzmin's spiritual and emotional crisis, although it did improve his physical health. Nor was his study of Gnosticism and Neoplatonism able to alleviate his sense of isolation from the world around him. They led him rather to an increasing desire for an unattainable system of absolute values, which found its reflection in his definition of art:

Is not the goal to be found in awakening the slumbering creativity in every person?  And the more elect the person, the deeper he has perceived, the stronger is the art?  But then, who knows by what means it awakens?  This is already completely indefinite and less conscious than absolute beauty which, once achieved intuitively, already subsists, if only in recollection...16
What evaded him was a synthesis of the Christian with the Classical which would allow him to retain his religious beliefs while accepting those aspects of his personality which his religious faith condemned. Upon his return to Russia he travelled north, beginning a period of his life about which little is known at present. He apparently pursued his interest in the Old Believers, studying their music and collecting icons while living in several monastic communities around Kostroma and Nizhnii Novgorod.

The stay in these religious communities, along with visits to friends and relatives and continued study of Plotinus, seems to have stilled Kuzmin's emotional disturbances. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in 1901 or 1903, he began to compose music again. He also began writing lyrics to his songs, some in the form of sonnets, others, drawing on Egyptian themes, in free verse. In 1904 Chicherin introduced him to the "World of Art" group. It was in the congenial company of men like Sergei Diaghilev, Aleksandr Benois, Leon Bakst, and especially Walter Nouvel and Konstantin Somov that Kuzmin began to develop his ideas of art into works of his own, synthesizing his broad background in literature with the influences of two German writers, Johann Georg Hama nn and Wilhelm Heinse, as he began to write "Wings" and the poems which were to become his first book of verse, Nets. Encouraged as well by the family of the young poet Iurii Verkhovskii he turned to literature in earnest, and in December 1904 the  "Green Miscellany of Verse and Prose" published thirteen of his sonnets and his long poem "A History of the Knight d'Alessio". They were not well received, but soon his Alexandrian Songs would attract the attention of Valerii Briusov, leading to their publicat ion in The Scales and eventually to the scandalous success of "Wings".

From the beginning of his career Kuzmin made innovations in both poetry and prose. The Alexandrian Songs constitute the first sizable body of free verse in Russian, while the short novel Wings represents the first sustained treatment of the theme of homosexuality. Yet another innovation is the extent to which these two poles of literary composition generate a single artistic universe in his oeuvre.

Kuzmin's prose and poetry are inextricably meshed, and he himself often used meshes to represent the product and process of his work. In one form (сети), they name his first book of poems; in another (невод), as part of the title he gave to the published selection of carefully arranged passages from his commonplace-book, they admit failure to capture some essence of art or life. They are an apt emblem, for if etymologically texts are something woven, then Kuzmin's are nets, in which the threads of sig nification are functionally no more important than the spaces of enigma they create and enclose. For Kuzmin, steeped in the complicated traditions of Gnostic thought, creation begins as a process of division, but at the same time it is a search for a syn thesizing resolution to the conflicts inherent in figure and ground, form and chaos, Christianity and Platonism. It is at once pilgrimage and odyssey.

In their two basic forms, сети and невод, nets are a coordinate system sectioning and connecting the Kuzminian universe. They relate (in both senses of the verb) his major themes. Representative of the hitherto largely unremarked self- and inter-referentiality of Kuzmin's texts, this complex interaction can be illustrated by analyzing two adjacent poems from the section of Parabolas called "Poems about Art". In addition to obtaining a plausible reading for the second poem, considered enigmatic by Malmstad and Markov, this analysis will serve to demonstrate how Kuzmin's texts depend on one another: 


В глухие воды бросив невод
Под вещий лепет темных лип
Глядит задумчивая дева 
На чешую волшебных рыб.

То в упоении зверином
Свивают алые хвосты 
То выплывут аквамарином 
Легки, прозрачны и просты.

Восторженно не разумея 
Плодов запечатленных вод 
Все ждет, что голова Орфея
Златистой розою всплывет.

1922.  Февраль.


Nets cast into water glaze as
in dark lindens' vatic hush
pensively a maiden gazes
at the scales of magic fish.

Now in animalish rapture
scarlet tails they curl and swish,
Now, aquamarine, the capture
light, transparency their wish.

Ecstatic, she has misconstrued
the deep imprinted waters' fruit,
the head of orpheus, supposed
to surface as a golden rose.

February, 1922.

В раскосый блеск зеркал забросив сети
Склонился я к заре зеленоватой,
Слежу узор едва заметной зыби, -
Лунатик золотеющих озер!
Как кровь сочится под целебной ватой,
Яснеет отрок на гранитной глыбе,
И мглой истомною в медвяном лете
Пророчески подернут сизый взор.

Живи, Недвижный! затрепещут веки,
К ладоням нежным жадно припадаю
Томление любви неутолимой
Небесный спутник мой да утолит.
Не вспоминаю я и не гадаю, - 
Полет мгновений, легкий и любимый
Вдруг останавливаешь ты навеки
Роскошеством юнеющих ланит.

1922. Апрель. 

With toils cast out in mirrors' slanting glimmer,
I bent toward the sunset's greenish pool.
I trace the patterns of the barely rippling
Somnambulist of lakes becoming gold!
Like blood that seeps from under cotton wool
Upon a granite slab appears a stripling,
And by the languid dark in honeyed summer,
Gray-visaged, he's prophetically encowled.

"Live, Unmoving one!" - eyelids will shiver,
I'll fall to touch his tender palms with greed,
Let my divine companion come to cool
The languor of an all but quenchless need.
I do not recollect, do not foresee, --
The flight of moments, light and loving, free,
You bring a halt to suddenly, forever,
By splendour of your cheeks becoming young.

April, 1922.

Placed on facing pages, joined by contiguity and the parallel syntax of their opening lines, these poems thereby link Orpheus and Narcissus as tutelary deities of two stages in Kuzmin's art,19 drawing together his characteristic imagery of fishes, mirrors , meshes, and journeys. At the same time they establish a network of reminiscences, tapping Kuzmin's own work and that of Viacheslav Ivanov, to produce a subtly polemical model of Kuzmin's "creative path".

As in "Scales in the Net", the net in "Muse" fails in its task: the pensive maiden waits in vain for the head of Orpheus to surface as a golden rose, for she does not recognize its embodiment in the scarlet and aquamarine fish. Light, transparent, and simple, they are the fruit of the final act of the creative process Kuzmin described with the same word in "On Beautiful Clarity":

And further - by means of divisions and clear furrows, the complex and beautiful world was obtained, which, accepting or not accepting, artists strive to recognize, see in their own way, and imprint.20
The undulating motion of the fish, reflecting Orpheus's descent and return, is repeated in almost identical terms in the fragmentary novel Roman Miracles, where it, too, mirrors the cycle of death and resurrection prophesied for the protagonist:
He was ashamed and blushed, which anyway was not particularly noticeable in the sunset and, stubbornly examined the fish, which swam up, drowsily opened their mouths in expectation of crumbs, and again descended to the bottom, on which Hylas was drawn.21
In "Muse" realization of the Classical in the Christian, a constant function of art for Kuzmin, would be achieved regardless of the expectations of the muse, for both the fish and the golden rose are ancient Christian symbols,22 but her vatic preconception presumably prevents her participation in the creative process: the poem ends with her still waiting. It is a failure implicit in the very structure of the word невод: не + вод, hinting that the absence of the вожатый, Kuzmin's enigmatic male muse, portrayed in the second poem as Narcissus but elsewhere depicted as Saint George, the Archangel Michael, Hermes or a naked youth, dooms his female counterpart to incomprehension.

The connection of Orpheus with Narcissus made by these two poems is a reconsideration of their oblique merger in the 1916 short story "The Stepmother from Scarperia",23 a stylized Italian tale of spurned passion and revenge, which combined numerous images Kuzmin l ater developed in the Gnostic poems of Otherworldly Evenings and in Parabolas, forming a syncretion of diverse Classical and Christian elements.24 The hero of the story is Narcizetto (an Italian derivative of Narcissus), who arouses a Phaedra-like passion in his stepmother Valeriia. When he spurns her, she orders a servant to kill him and bring her his head, which she buries in a potted shrub after caressing it for two days. The head is later revealed to her husband by the dwarf Nikola who, himself jealous of Narcizetto for outgrowing his affection, had initiated the fatal chain of events by delivering Valeriia's confession of love. Her crime unearthed, Valeriia is to be sent to a nunnery, but hangs herself in despair before she can be exiled.

By a foreshadowing comparison Kuzmin subtly identifies the burial of Narcizetto's head with the fate of Orpheus's head, cast into the waters of the river Hebros:

The danger for his honour and life, which Nicola had warned him of, did not impinge upon his imagination, did not sketch out any pictures, and was not at all like a grain which sends out a shoot into the earth which has received it, but was sooner like a stone thrown into the water and forming only on the surface slight, swiftly-disappearing circles.25
The indirect merging of Narcizetto with Orpheus in this way is illustrative, in an attenuated sense, of Kuzmin's own shift away from Symbolism. When Narcizetto abandoned Nikola he was, in effect, a pupil abandoning his teacher; in particular, he left th e means of music behind. Nikola asks plaintively:
When you were a child, was it not I who cut flutes out of reeds for you and got you birdnests with fledglings?  I couldn't teach you to ride horseback, but I showed you how to play chess, how to catch fish and snare birds.  You remember that, don't you?26
This abandonment is paralleled by the shift from the aural orientation of the first two lines of "Muse" to the visual imagery in the beginning of the second poem. The intertextual movement from невод to сети, just as the intratextual move of the невод itself into the "deaf waters" and away from the "wise babbling", is motion away from the aural origin that Viacheslav Ivanov posited for the Symbolist poets in general and Kuzmin in particular.27 `Глас' [`voice'] becomes `глаз' [`eye']. Whether Orpheus's head is embodied as fish or rose, its new form is soundless, a departure from the Orphic imagery so important in Symbolism and reflected in Kuzmin's own article on Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, a shift to an art inspired by Narcissus and rooted in the silent visual, in what Kuzmin called "the Good News of the mutest of fish" in his Gnostic poem "The Fish".28 There as well, waiting in vain was associated with the невод, both in the form of the patched nets of Andrew and as the silver ones of the Naked Stripling trying to catch "the Good News" in the gold-bottomed bucket of the sun; the word is changed to сети when the poet's own persona dives into the boy's nets in an act of surrender to creative love recalling the song from The Chimes of Love:
Love lays out nets of strong silks
Lovers like children seek fetters.29
It is a sinister love which spreads its nets (сети) in the short story "The Shade of Phyllis",30 where the poor fisherman Nektanebus drags a drowned girl back to life, and an ironic one which brings the poor Chinese fisherman Don-Drin-Tea his fortune when his patched nets (сети) give out, transforming him into the rich and noble Vi-Hai-Pee in "Prince Desire",31 but in both cases the nets achieve their goals, and thus the distinction between the uses of сети and невод is preserved.

The movement from "Muse" to the second poem is accompanied by a sense of restraint removed: the meter expands to iambic pentameter and the poem itself is four lines longer than its counterpart. At the same time, the deaf waters are replaced by the slanting glitter of mirrors, a substitution of a property of human artifice for nature. The adjective slanting echoes the косые соответствия, the oblique correspondences thrown into the space of mirror spheres, found in the opening poem of Parabolas.32The image of the spherical mirror which thus infects the opening line of the second poem is found in Kuzmin's prose as well, forming the central object of the story "Sphere in the Flower Bed".33 Containing the universe within itself, joining beginning with ending, it is one of several symbols of a Parmenidean oneness which Kuzmin employs in his search for a reconciliation of Platonism with Christianity.

One of the functions of pairing "Muse" with "In the slanting gleam of mirrors...." and in particular their opening lines becomes clearer if they are considered in the light of another mirror poem, which provides a matrix or pre-structure for them:

Motionlessly imperious, like a statue,
She held like a double trophy
Two mirrors and, indignant with them
threatened me; on the one that was rightmost
was the sign of Art, of nature the leftmost one,
But as in a coat-of-arms the bends sinister
were joined by the slenderest of chain
For those, whom the blinfold had not wearied.34
Placed as they are in Paraboly, "In the slanting gleam of mirrors... " bears the mark of art, "Muse" the mark of nature. The introduction of the mirror of art as a replacement for the mirror of nature has mythic significance in Kuzmin's path away from Symbolism and the Ivanov aesthetic system, for it parallels the role of the mirror which was given to the infant Dionysus to distract him before he was torn to pieces. This dismemberment was facilitated, paradoxically enough, by an instrument of integration . In just such a fashion Kuzmin's plea for harmony and simplicity in "On Beautiful Clarity" helped facilitate the crisis in Symbolism in 1910.35

For Kuzmin the mirror is the organ of memory, the human faculty which joins the past with the present:

Oh beautiful youth, your carelessness is bold,
But memory preserves mirrors,
And in them you will see eternity as momentary and fragile,
And the magnet demagnetized...36
Combining this quality with its catoptromantic properties,37 the mirror is thus an element which absorbs all space and time into a single here and now. Its function as a kind of orbus pictus is emphasized in the final poem of The New Hull:
I hold an unseen crystal
As if a multitude of mirrors
had join their facets.
There is a special light in each cell:
Now the gold of coming years,
Now the gleam of recollection.38
It is this aspect of the mirror which lies behind the line "I neither recollect nor prophesy" in "In the slanting gleam of mirrors...". Time itself has been stopped by the mirrored image of the youth.

The mirror, then, eliminates representations of the dualities which for Kuzmin were one of the most irritating features of Symbolism.39 In "In the slanting gleam of mirrors..." it joins water with sky, a joining analogous to the function of the grammatical ambiguity of the first lines of the first poem in Parabolas:

To fling slant links
into mirror sphere space -40
Here the interpositioning of the verb in the Russian text makes two literal readings possible: "To throw the oblique correspondences of mirror spheres into space" or "To throw oblique correspondences into the space of mirror spheres". The ambiguity is continued in the poem "Art", which immediately precedes "Muse":

(Are the stars visible in the well or in the sky?)41

Like the net, the mirror simultaneously joins and differentiates, sections and connects. When Kuzmin's persona or characters gaze into their looking glasses they generally see someone other than themselves, or else themselves as Other.42 The image in t he mirror in "In the slanting gleam of mirrors..." can be more specifically identified. An initial clue is provided by the striking simile in line 5, for wounds in Kuzmin are always wounds of love:

In vain the demon affirms: "Come,
After all, monk's robes are trash!"
But as protection in the breat there burns
the wound of bliss..43

The raging flame has burnt my breast,
But I have grown used to the scarlet wound.44

In these two examples the wound was inflicted by the vozatyj as a sign of his love. The end of love is identified with a healed wound:

Early, early in the fresh morning
I tossed a glance at the rowan-tree
- Oh, healed-over wound!
A boy who has gathered dry brush
throws the purple of berries onto the ground -
But where shall I throw my heart?45

The return of love is marked by the reopening of the wound:

Across the strings of the moonmist
The chant of love flies.
Again, again the wound is opened,
The soul burns.46

The image of blood seeping under cotton wool, then, implies the renewed presence of the Guide who, one with Eros yet ultimately transcending him, marked Kuzmin with a permanent brand of love.47 It is he whom Kuzmin's persona sees on the granite outcrop ping, for the mirror itself is an object intimately associated with the Guide. It was his gift to the poet to provide a constant reminder of the mystic vision in which Kuzmin was joined to him forever:
Climbing onto a nearby step
the Guide entrusted me with a mirror
There he was reflected like a shadow,
And his armour shone brightly gold
And from that glass day streamed.48
"In the slanting gleam of mirrors..." also focuses attention on Kuzmin's characteristic concern with the function of point of view, and on his habit of examining a single event from various stances. The merger of sky and water imagery in the poem's first four lines in fact hints that the poem as a whole is narrated from an inverted viewpoint. This becomes clear when it is compared with the following sonnet dedicated to Vsevolod Kniazev, one of the figures from Kuzmin's biography who embodied the ideal of the Guide, a hussar-poet whose suicide was chosen by both Kuzmin and Akhmatova as leitmotif in The Trout Breaks the Ice and Poem without a Hero:
Slow thoughts lazed into obliqueness,
Stretched-out bones slept in the body,
Doves did not desire to slice into the azure,
And deer did not thirst for living streams.

Was it in a dream or in noon captivity
That I lay motionless by the motionless spruce?
From the cupola of the sky, as from a dome
Amber dripped sleepily onto my knees.

Suddenly a golden cloud appeared amidst the sky
And swallows whirled up in a snowy cloud
With their merry noise of wings to meet the arrows.

Through clamour and splash and trembling , like metal,
Someone's tender voice sang out "Live" to me, 
And I spied a familiar countenance in the gleam..49

"In the slanting gleam of mirrors..." reverses the position of the speaker in the two poems, a reversal which affects both space and time.50 From the upward-looking perspective of the sonnet it is noon; the gold is a cloud in the sky. This contrasts with the заря and gold lakes in "In the slanting gleam of mirrors... ", where perspective focuses downward. The sonnet is filtered through the youth of "In the slanting gleam of mirrors", while this latter poem assumes the point of view from which the voice says "live" , but in both cases the Guide is Other. This Other performs the function of the Muse in its most literal sense: inspiration as life-giving, a point which is emphasized in the sonnet by the use of the phrase "tender voice", inevitably evoking Pushkin's "I recollect a wondrous moment... ".

The poem"Muse" thus constitutes a template for reading "In the slanting gleam of mirrors.... ", just as Kuzmin's work as a whole is a necessary background to interpreting both poems. As the pensive maiden of "Muse" misperceives as a duality the underlying uni ty of the fish and the golden rose, so the reader initially accepts the dichotomy of persona and отрок in the second poem. However, when viewed against the background of Kuzmin's artistic universe (as it must be if the title of the section "Poems about Art" is to be understood properly), the dichotomy is seen to be only an illusion, produced by the inherent limits of human perception. When "In the slanting gleam of mirrors..." and the sonnet to Kniazev are read together, persona and youth become one.

This implicit unity is strongly opposed to the dualities of Kuzmin's early mentor, Viacheslav Ivanov. The point can be illustrated by two echoes of Ivanov used polemically in these poems, but can be demonstrated on a wider body of material as well.51

The image of the head of Orpheus surfacing as a golden rose merges two adjacent images from the prologue to Ivanov's "Rosarium", the fifth book of Cor Ardens:

You are called at the waves, where Orpheus sang the sun
by the Muses weeping over the rose!52
In Kuzmin's poem the Muses have been reduced to a single silent representative. This is a typical device in Kuzmin's use of imagery polemical with Ivanov's: the synecdoche used for concretization. In "Muse" the goddess is confined to the title; within the poem itself she is only a "thoughtful maiden".53

A more complicated reminiscence is established between "In the slanting gleam of mirrors... " and the epilogue to "Rosarium" entitled "Eden". In this poem Ivanov draws a sharp line between God the Father, who is identified with the depths of love and ocean, and the vault of the sky, which is likened to a prison ceiling. The poem's first person plural persona identifies itself with nets:

We do not know happiness, as a net of gold
that, Fisher, You have cast into the ether,- 54
Whereas for Ivanov God is a pre-existing Other who created Man out of nothing, for Kuzmin, as will become clearer after an analysis of his theoretical statements on the nature of creation in "On Beautiful Clarity" and "Scales in the Net", Man comes into be ing along with the rest of creation through a process of self-division. In contrast to Ivanov, who has one kind of net, невод, cast into the sky and is thus in Kuzminian terms doomed to failure, Kuzmin uses another kind of net, сети, thrown into the glittering unity of sky and water to indic ate the ultimate success of his quest to obtain integration through self-contemplation. His allusions to Ivanov draw together the beginning and ending of "Rosarium" to form a circle characteristic of Kuzmin's art as a whole. If in Kuzmin Orpheus's singi ng head becomes in potential the silent golden rose which never actually appears, Narcissus through interplay with the sonnet to Kniazev becomes a virtual nightingale whose tender voice cries out "Live".

The example just presented, starting from the image of the net and intended to show how it unites Kuzmin's other imagery, has illustrated as well some of the ways in which his poetry and prose interact, serving as mutually revealing and completing commentaries. More obviously, many of Kuzmin's prose works have poetry embedded in them (e.g. "The Shade of Phyllis", "The Tale of Eleusippus, Told by Himself", Gentle Joseph and The Adventures of Aime LeBoeuf), or are associated with parallel poem cycles (e.g. "The Cardboard House" with the cycle "The Interrupted Tale"). But if the complex interplay that results from such juxtapositions forms the warp of Kuzmin's texts, then their woof is the interaction among the prose texts themselves. Evgenii Znosko-Borovskii Kuzmin's first biographer and perhaps most systematic critic, points out that "there is a great similarity in both structure and moods among Kuzmin's three large works, which have often been cited by us, namely Gentle Joseph, Tee Dreamers, and The Quiet Guardian.  The struggle which goes on about the heroes, who are defended by several `quiet' guardians from the preyings of businessmen, approximates these novels to the separate parts of a single large epic. ".55 However, it has never been shown to what extent many of Kuzmin's other prose works are so inter-linked that it makes sense to speak of single, complexly articulated works of art, constituent members and appendages of which -- short stories, novellas, and novels disparate in both actual and narrative time and space -- are joined by shared images, themes, plots and characters.

The fact that portions of Kuzmin's prose combine to form these larger artistic wholes helps to explain the sense of  enigmatic incompleteness which pervades individual works such as "The Tale of Eleusippus","The Shade of Phyllis", "Florus and the Robber" and "The Gold Sky", or "Wings", "The Double Confidante", "`Lofty Art'",  Gentle Joseph, "The Dreamers", "Travellers by Sea and Land", and "The Quiet Guardian", to name two of the central clusters. It imparts as well a deeper significance to seemingly superf icial and second-rate stories like "The Lady in the Yellow Turban" (an elaboration of a single detail in "Travellers by Sea and Land") or "Petie's Evening" (a treatment of the problem of perspective, corresponding to a more subtle treatment in the skazka "The Upper Window" ). Analyzing the mechanics of such intertextual relationships reveals that the change in style between those post-revolutionary prose works which have survived and Kuzmin's pre-revolutionary prose, a change perhaps too simply labelled a move towards Expressionism, is motivated by elaboration of techniques already developing in his earliest works, and represents an organic evolution rather than an abrupt break with his past.

This past is rooted in a highly complex and original conglomeration of literary traditions, which, as Eikhenbaum points out, combines the Latin West (Henri de Regnier and Anatole France among the moderns, Sorel, Lesage and Prevost among the masters of the picaresque) with old Russian exoticism, drawing primarily on Leskov, whom Eikhenbaum labels Kuzmin's only Russian teacher. "Thus there were immediately defined two lines in Kuzmin's prose, - that of the elegant, amusing narrator, as he remains in his smaller pieces, which sometimes take the form of simple anecdotes ("The Reply", "Masha's Paradise", "The Prejudiced"), and sometimes infectuously funny, urchin-like, like "Entr'acte in the Ravine" or "The Sphere in the Flower Bed", and that of an enigmatic, somewhat sombre depicter of everyday life, not bereft of tendentiousness, -- lines, it may be said, which are also characteristic of the work of Leskov."56 Markov indicates that in his poem "My Ancestors" Kuzmin himself fostered this idea of duality, which was picked up by Blok and Diks, eventually finding its way into many of the standard referen ce works,57 but ultimately the formulation must be traced back even further, beyond Kuzmin to Viacheslav Ivanov's lecture of 14 April 1907 "The Paths and Purposes of Contemporary Art", printed in The Golden Fleece as "On Merry Craft and Intelligent Merry-Making". Duality as a schema for classifying Kuzmin into Russian and non-Russian thus arises in the earliest period of his work, when he was still in thrall to Ivanov. It takes no account of his own later pronouncements on aesthetics, nor of the basic configuration of his oeuvre, but it serves as a useful starting point. As Kuzmin pointed out many times in his poetry and prose, "Where two are bound, a third is born".58

It was in a paper read at the "Wandering Dog" cabaret that Kuzmin provided the triple approach best suited to discussion of his own writing.59 Here he outlined three paths for contemporary Russian prose following the triumph of the modernism of the 1890s an d the subsequent closing of its special organ Весы. All three are reflected in his own work: the path of simplicity (Pushkin), the path of Russian colorfulness and extravagance (Gogol' via Leskov) and the path of the filtered language of the intelligents ia (Turgenev via Chekhov). Any true innovation in prose would be simple; novelties of device were transitory. Kuzmin expanded on this point in his preface to Iurii Iurkun's novel Swedish Gloves:

A novel may be new in theme, illumination, language and creative method, to which the language also refers, as a partial, fragmentary phenomenon.  Novelty of theme, to which lazy people have once again been inclined, assuring us that they have grown tired of generalizations and psychology, is the cheapest and most dangerous novelty.  It is like the chasing of rare rhymes and is easily exhausted.  Once the circle is completed repetitions and obvious unnaturalness are inevitable.60
In both the paper and the preface Kuzmin challenged writers to be simple in form, sincere and complex in content, while differentiating the two to their uttermost extreme. This glorification of a dichotomy almost ritually denied to exist by contemporary criticism is the underlying assumption of the stylization that Kuzmin's critics have traditionally considered the most typical feature of his prose. As Susan Sontag has written:
Stylization' is what is present in a work of art precisely when an artist does make the by no means inevitable distinction between matter and manner, theme and form.61
Paradoxically, this same dichotomy is a symptom of Kuzmin's most characteristic trait as an artist in society; his refusal to participate in schools, movements, or any other organizations functioning to disguise the individual in art. It is fundamental, moreover, to the way Kuzminian texts signify.

In a discussion of Briusov's novel The Fiery Angel Kuzmin revealed a principle crucial to understanding this aspect of his own work:

It seems to us that we will not be erring if we suppose that behind the external and psychological tale there is a deeper and secret content, for `those who have ears to hear', but we will submit to the desire of the author that this secret should only be supposed, only hinted at, and thereby should mysteriously deepen the novel, filled with a plethora of all sorts of content.62
In just  such a fashion the spaces of enigma  in Kuzmin's prose generate by their shapes virtual images, implicit contents which considerably enhance its aesthetic effect. Eikhenbaum came tantalizingly close to this realization when he w rote of what on first glance seem to be Kuzmin's lesser efforts:
The story becomes an enigmatic patter, in which everyday life and psychology disappear like the objects in a rebus.  Contemporary life is used as a background against which this pattern stands out more sharply.  When it seems that Kuzmin is `depicting' do not believe him: he is the solving a rebus of contemporaneity.63
In his final entry in "Scales in the Net" Kuzmin summarized the effect he sought:
Heading: "Reading for the edification of the worldly and the amusement of the devout."64
While the passage of time and the death of culture may prevent us from solving all his puzzles, the principles by which they are constructed can usually be recovered.

It was Znosko-Borovskii, himself a chess master and therefore well-equipped for solving rebuses, who first pointed out that the theme of love was a basic building block of Kuzmin's work:

And here if one accepts love as Kuzmin's basic element, - and he himself says: `Love is my constant faith' - and in this he is more correct than in any other claim - then the evolution of this feeling in his works is very significant..65
Of course, in pursuing this line of inquiry it would be well to keep in mind one of Kuzmin's other remarks on the subject:
One may choose stories about workers, about clerics, about students, about office-holders, about sectarians - what do I know? - finally hatred, stinginess, pride, all seven deadly sins may serve as such a unifying motif, but love - who doesn't write about love?  Is not everything written by it and about it?... The theme is so broad and general, that under its flag one might be able to launch almost all the books that come out in the world.66
And yet . . . "Love is our faithful helmsman".67 To conclude with Znosko-Borovskii that love yields its place as the central theme of Kuzmin's work to other general ideas in the second half of his output would be to miss the lesson of the two poems analyzed earlier. Love does not yield place but is transformed, and even this transformation turns out to be a return. The progression of love in Kuzmin's prose moves in a direction opposite to the development of form. If form tends toward fragmentation, love aspires to integration, beginning from the essentially egocentric, Narcissistic position of "Wings", "The Cardboard House", and the stylizations of the picaresque, through the searching of the first major novels, to the perfected, self-denying love of The Quiet Guardian, The Wonderful Life of Joseph Balzamo, Count Cagliostro, and the novel fragments. It is this path which Kuzmin symbolizes in his poems on Orpheus's descent into Hell to retrieve his beloved Eurydice, and in this context it is highly significant that for Kuzmin the iconic form of the Orpheus myth is not Ovid but Gluck.68

In one of his last surviving stories, "The Gold Sky", Kuzmin seems to be making a final statement on the fundamental role of Eros in his oeuvre:

Eros is a good and wise divinity.  Many consider him the most ancient divider of chaos, the father of harmony and creative power.  And indeed, without unifying love much in the world would fall to pieces... The God is not to blame for people putting his properties, his gifts to evil purposes and calling disorderly and fatal passions love.69
Here the God who hovered over the primordial ylem at the beginning of "On Beautiful Clarity" has been recognized as Eros as well as Jehovah. This is the final reconciliation of the Platonic and the Christian, the last stage in the journey Kuzmin describ ed in his introduction to The Wonderful Life of Joseph Balzamo, Count Cagliostro:
I am mainly interested in the multitudinous paths of the Soul, which lead to a single goal, sometimes without getting there and allowing the traveller to turn into sidestreets where he will doubtless become lost.  The place which chosen heroes occupy in the general evolution and general construction of God's world is important to me, but the external motley change of pictures and events is necessary only as an entertainling wrapping, which may always be replaced by imagination, the younger sister of clairvoyance.70
It is a stage admirably summarized in a passage from "Scales in the Net":
Is this not the secret of the Trinity?  God is Fullness, Creation, Unity.  As soon as there is creation, there are immediately two: the Creator and the Created.  Division.  But immediately there is love as unification and active fullness.71
But it is present in one form or another throughout Kuzmin's work, and must trace its roots to the basic structure of his psyche as he himself perceived it in a diary entry from the autumn of 1905:
I must be sincere and truthful, if only for myself, concerning the sombreness that reigns in my soul, but if I have three faces, there are still more people sitting within me, and all of them are wailing, and at times one outcries another, and how I am to harmonize them, I don't know myself.  My three faces are so unlike one another and so inimical one to another that only the keenest eye will not be taken in by this difference; they upset everyone who loves so particular one of them: one is with a long beard, reminiscent somehow od DaVinci, very tender and seemingly good and of a somehow suspicious holiness, seemingly simple, uncomplicated; the second has a sharp little beard and is a bit foppish, like a French journalist, more coarsely subtle, indifferent, and bored, the face of Eulogius; the third is the most terrible, without beard and mustache, neither old nor young, fifty years old, an old man and a youth, a Casanova, half charlatan, half abbot, with a cunning and childishly fresh mouth, dry and suspicious.72
The linear concepts of "progress", "development", or "evolution", then, while they may prove useful in describing individual aspects of Kuzmin's work, are inappropriate to an appreciation of his artistic achievement as a whole. They have continually dis torted critical response to his writing. On the one hand, they force it into pre-conceived systems of classification aimed more at justifying a generalized theory than at understanding individual artists. An example of this is Zhirmunskii's perceptive yet ultimately misleading characterization of Kuzmin as the "third wave" of Symbolism.73 On the other hand, they produce the impression that Kuzmin is somehow static: "As the years pass there is no discernable development of ideas but rather a repeated re turn to the familiar",74 as Granoien formulates it. The assumption behind these two points of view is that schools are significant to Kuzmin's art and that ideas are its essential product or goal. In fact Kuzmin responded to individuals, and ideas were the raw material for the production of aesthetic effect, an appeal to the emotions rather than to the mind.

The modes of Kuzmin's work are characteristically global, self-containing and self-generating, while its goal is integration rather than differentiation, contemplation (in the old sense of the augur marking a vantage point with his staff) rather than ideation. This is the quality which determines the structure of the analysis given here. Setting into motion the "colored spiral in a small ball of glass" which Nabokov chose as an emblem for his life in Speak, Memory, it takes the form of a double helix, apparently ret urning to the same points again and again, but each time at a higher level of understanding. Its spiral arms are the twin concerns of the relationship of the prose to the poetry and of the prose to itself. Within such a geometry, Kuzmin's major formulations of his theory of creation will be convenient vantage points from which to survey his prose as a whole. Their structures isomorphic with the views they propound, they are microcosms of his "creative path" and, together with the "Poems on Art" and a scattering of other poems on art, form a basis for understanding how his writing works.

"On Beautiful Clarity", with its classical symmetries, architectural metaphors, and subtle polemics with Viacheslav Ivanov, is not a programmatic but a summarizing essay when considered in the context of Kuzmin's prose. It formulates the principles underlying the stylization he employed in many of his early works, but at the same time it marks the transition from the predominance of stylization for its own sake to the parodic and self-parodying works of his "Nagrodskaia" period (what Markov has called his "hackwork period"),75 which begins with "A Corpse in the House" and the fairytales and culminates in The Quiet Guardian.

"Scales in the Net", taking the form of a commonplace book, adopts thereby the fragmented, kaleidoscopic shape which, although implicit in Kuzmin's earlier works, becomes their most prominent structural feature only after the revolution. At the same time, this second consideration of the nature of creation formulates the collage of Gnostic and mystic elements so characteristic of The Wonderful Life of Joseph Balzamo, Count Cagliostro and of the novel fragments.

Finally, the manifestos on Emotionalism, with their collective voice propounding an individualistic artistic stance, with their explicit criticism of formalist approaches to literature in the face of the susceptibility of Kuzmin's own work to such analyses, proclaim a complex and even self-contradictory position which is sketchily apparent in the few surviving post-revolutionary prose pieces, but which can be traced in the later poetry.

Throughout, we will be concerned to demonstrate the essential unity of Kuzmin's work and the role of the implicit in it, the virtual images it leaves on the retina of our mind's eye. Like Gogol', whom Kuzmin parodied in the povest' "The Captain's Watch" and with whom he has more affinities than have been suspected, Kuzmin is a writer in whose best works figure can become ground, and syntax sense. Like Gogol', he is a writer whose unwritten works form a portion of his oeuvre essential to an understanding o f the whole. Some, like The Book of Holy Warriors, may have existed only in the mind of the author; others, such as the novel The Vanished Veronica or the remaining chapters of Roman Miracles or The Gold Sky, rumoured to have been lost with the Kuzmin archive in Berlin during World War II, may yet be discovered in private collections in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, and one day be available for study. But others come into being at the interstices of his surviving works, and it is this property of his writing that Anna Akhmatova drew upon in producing the "open text"76 of Poem without a Hero, that Mandel'shtam responded to in works as diverse as "Sisters - heaviness and tenderness" and "The Egyptian Stamp", and that Nabokov used to produce both the fragmented, intentionally deceptive narrator of The Eye and the subversion of the roman a clef in his 1928/30 short story, "Lips to Lips".

Perhaps even if faced with these affinities for (if not influences of) Kuzmin's work, Ivanov would still claim that "M. Kuzmin is a simple and clear artist." But as Valery once wrote of Mallarme, "Qu'est-ce qu'il y a de plus mysterieux que la clarte?"

Notes to Introductory Essay

1 (Return to text) Viacheslav Ivanov, "O proze M. Kuzmina", Apollon No. 7 (1910), p. 46.

2 (Return to text) Boris Eikhenbaum, "O proze M. Kuzmina", Skvoz' literaturu (Leningrad: Academia, 1924), p. 196.

3 (Return to text) An exception, Neil Granoien's 1981 UCLA dissertation Mixail Kuzmin: An Aesthete's Prose is in its author's words "an interpretation that draws upon inner biographical realities and the external sources that comprised his interests, leaving aside a close analysis of style and structure." (p. 7). It thus complements my work, which is concerned primarily with this latter task.

4 (Return to text) Roman Jakobson, "Randbemerkungen zur Prosa des Dichters Pasternak", Slavische Rundschau, 7 (1935), p. 357. Kuzmin had reached the same conclusion in "Parnasskie zarosli" ["Parnassian Sprouts"], Zavtra No. 1 (1922), p. 114, and perhaps Briusov expressed the sentiment best of all: "Perhaps everything in life is only a pretext/for brightly-singing verse?"

5 (Return to text) Denis Mickiewicz, "Apollo and Modernist Poetics", Russian Literature Triquarterly No. 1 (1971), p. 245.

6 (Return to text) Jakobson, pp. 357-8.

7 (Return to text) George Cheron, "B. Pasternak and M. Kuzmin, (An Inscription)", Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, 5 (1980), p. 67.

8 (Return to text) Boris Pasternak, Doktor Zhivago (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959), pp. 451-2. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that immediately following this passage Zhivago composes the poem "Skazka" ["Tale"], combining Western European and Russian traditions a bout St. George and the Dragon, a favorite theme of Kuzmin.

9 (Return to text) See John A. Barnstead: "Nabokov, Kuzmin, Chekhov and Gogol': Systems of reference in `Lips to Lips'", in Julian Connolly and Sonia Ketchian (eds.), Studies in Russian Literature in Honor of Professor Vsevolod Setchkarev, (Columbus: Slavica, 1986), pp. 50-60.

10 (Return to text) Lidiia Chukovskaia, in Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoi, tom I: 1938-1941, (Paris: YMCA Press, 1976), pp. 150-1, reports that Akhmatova compared Kuzmin's diary to Vigel''s and considered it, as did Ol'ga Glebova- Sudeikina, "something monstrous". Kuzmin was in the habit of reading intimate passages from the diary out loud to friends. Viacheslav Ivanov describes such readings in his own diary; see Viacheslav Ivanov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 2, pp. 784, 793 (entries for 6 and 21 August 1909). The excerpt Kuzmin published is in Strelets no. 3 (1922) pp. 96-109. K. N. Suvorova has  published fragments from the diary dealing with Aleksandr Blok in "Pis'ma M. A. Kuzmina k Bloku i otryvki iz dnevnika M. A. Kuzmina" ["The Letters of M. A. Kuzmin to Blok and Excerpts from the Diary of M. A. Kuzmin"], Literaturnoe nasledstvo 92 (Moscow: "Nauka ", 1981): Aleksandr Blok. Novye materialy i issledovaniia [Aleksandr Blok.  New Materials and Investigations]. Kniga 2., pp. 143-174. Unfortunately, extensive cuts were made, many of them obviously intended to obscure Kuzmin's relationship with the painter Sergei Sudeikin. Moreover, in her introduction to the diary Suvorova misrepresents its nature by selective quotation of Kuzmin himself (p. 147). See also Malmstad, SSIII, pp. 306-7, for a discussion of the diary after 1930.

11 (Return to text) Klaus Mann, Andre Gide and the Crisis of Modern Thought (New York: Creative Age Press, 1943), p. 16.

12 (Return to text) John E. Malmstad, "Mixail Kuzmin: A Chronicle of his Life and Times",  in John E. Malmstad and Vladimir Markov (eds.), Michail Kuzmin,  Sobranie Stikhotvorenij, vol. III, pp. 7-319. My summary of Kuzmin's life to December 1904 on pages 7-10 is drawn entirely from his account. For the later period I sometimes disagree with Malmstad's chronology and evaluations, and these cases will be indicated in the notes.

13 (Return to text) K. N. Suvorova, "Arkhivist ishchet datu" ["The Archivist Seeks a Date"], Vstrechi s proshlym [Meetings with the Past]. Sbornik neopublikovannykh materialov [A Collection of Unpublished Materials] CGALI SSSR, vypusk 2 (Moscow: "Sovetskaia Rossiia", 1976), pp. 118-119.

14 (Return to text) Cited according to John E. Malmstad and Vladimir Markov (eds.), Sobranie Stikhotvorenij, vol. III, p. 33.

15 (Return to text) Vladimir Markov, "Italy in Mikhail Kuzmin's Poetry", Italian Quarterly vol. 20, nos. 77-78 (Summer-Fall, 1976), pp. 5-18. An early unpublished story, "V pustyne" (GPB, f. 400, op. 1, ed. xr. 9),  dates from 1897.

16 (Return to text) Cited according to Malmstad and Markov, Sobranie Stikhotvorenij, vol. III, p. 51.

17 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, Paraboly [Parabolas/Parables] (Petersburg-Berlin: Petropolis, 1923), p. 14.

18 (Return to text) Ibid., p. 15.

19 (Return to text) The figures of Orpheus and Narcissus were linked before Kuzmin, of course. An early example is to be found in the Flamenca romance, dating from the third quarter of the thirteenth century, where the stories of the two are listed consecutively:

L'us diz com neguet en la fon 
Lo belz Narcis quan s'i miret; 
L'us diz de Pluto con emblet 
Sa bella mollier ad Orpheu;

[One tells how the fair Narcissus drowned in the well when he admired himself in it; 
one tells how Pluto robbed Orpheus of his beautiful wife.]

A second still vaguer linking is given in Marsilius Ficinus's Commentarium in Convivium Platonis, 1469: 

Hinc crudelissimum illud apud Orpheum Narcissi fatum.

[Hence Narcissus's cruel fate with Orpheus.]

See Louise Vinge, The Narcissus Theme in Western European Literature up to the Early 19th Century, (Lund: Gleerups, 1967), pp. 88-89, 123-127. It is important to note that the figures of Orpheus and Narcissus are linked rather than merged by the two p oems being considered here. They are only partially amenable to the analysis given by Herbert Marcuse in "The Images of Orpheus and Narcissus", chapter 8 of his Eros and Civilization. They cannot be viewed as reconciling Eros with Thanatos, nor can thei r telos be described as "just to be what they are", "being there", existing: Orpheus in "Muza" is the essence of the metamorphosed; Narcissus in the second poem is the essence of potentiality, of becoming rather than of having become. Freud's concept of primary narcissism is, however, a perfectly satisfactory description of the state prior to creation in Kuzmin; for Freud:

Originally the ego includes everything, later it detaches from itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are aware of now is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling - a feeling which embraced the universe and expressed an inse parable connection of the ego with the external world. (Civilization and Its Discontents, p. 13)

and for Kuzmin:

In the life of every person there come moments when, as a child, he will suddenly say: `I and the chair', `I and the cat', `I and the ball', then, as an adult: `I and the world'. ("On Beautiful Clarity").

Marcuse's conclusion that the Orphic-Narcissistic images ultimately aim to reunify what has become separated is also compatible with Kuzmin's usage: in the poem "Now after rusty lions and roars..." (written before the poems being considered here but placed after them in Parabolas, in the section "Tamino's Paths") Kuzmin portrays Orpheus leading Eurydice through a swampland to the blessed groves of grace; from the poem "The End of Volume Two" in the same collection this swampland may be seen to represent the universe before the division of the dry land from the waters. The goal of Orpheus, then, is a return to the pre-creational state of undifferentiation. A similar goal is implied for Narcissus in "In the slanting gleam of mirrors... " by the merger of water with sky in its first four lines. For Kuzmin the linkage of Orpheus with Narcissus can be seen as a rejection of Viacheslav Ivanov's Dionysus and the overt dualism which lay at the roots of Russian Symbolism. In this Kuzmin departs from the Orphic tradition linking all three. For deta ils on this triple linkage see Walter A. Strauss, Descent and Return. The Orphic Theme in Modern Literature (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1971), pp. 5-8, 18-19.

20 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "O prekrasnoi iasnosti" ["On Beautiful Clarity"], Apollon No. 4 (January, 1910), p. 5. Note also the use of zapechatlet' [`to imprint'] in the poem "Moi portret" ["My Portrait"], Seti [Nets] p. 33, lines 5-6:

Kleimom liubvi navek zapechatlenny
Cherty moi pod Vasheiu rukoi; 

[My features are forever imprinted
beneath your hand by a brand of love;]

It is also interesting to note in this regard that one of Kuzmin's favorite Leskov stories was "Zapechatlennyi angel" ["The Sealed Angel"] (see Malmstad and Markov, Sobranie Stikhotvorenij, vol. III, p. 210); Eikhenbaum's use of this story as an example in his article on Kuzmin's prose is probably not accidental.

21 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, Rimskie chudesa [Roman Miracles], Strelets 3 (1922), p. 16. The image of the drowned youth appears in various forms in Kuzmin, beginning with Narcissus in Kuranty ljubvi [The Chimes of Love"], and including Antinous and Hylas. It is intimately connected with Kuzmin's self-im age: Antinous was his nickname in the mock literary society Kabachok Gafiza. The image later acquired new significance with the drowning of Kuzmin's friend, the painter Sapunov, but its meaning was already well- established in Kryl'ia [Wings], where the hero Vanja is confronted with a drowned boy bearing the same name, producing an emotional crisis which leads to his acceptance of a homosexual way of life. Derek Harris points out that this image has strong homosexual connotations, giving examples from Hart Crane, Lorca and Luis Cernuda. See Derek Harris, Luis Cernuda: A Study of the Poetry (London: Tamesis Books Ltd., 1973), p. 50, n. 42. For a discussion of the fish as a self-contained image and complex element of traditional symbolism in Kuzmin's work see John E. Malmstad and Gennady Shmakov, "Kuzmin's `The Trout Breaking through the Ice'" in George Gibian and H.W. Tjalsma, Russian Modernism (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1976), pp. 143-4. The image of the fish in "Muse" is connected to the sun in Forel' razbivaet led ["The Trout Breaks the Ice"] via the aquamarine:

Tebe nadoel ved' 
Solnce akvamarinom 

[You are after all tired
of the sun as an aquamarine]

             ( Forel' razbivaet led [The Trout Breaks the Ice], p. 9, "Pervoe vstuplenie" ["First Introduction"], lines 6-7)

22 (Return to text) It is an ancient custom for the Pope to bestow a golden rose on Christians who have earned his particular esteem.

23 (Return to text) Mixail Kuzmin, "Machekha iz Skarperii" ["The Stepmother from Scarperia"], Devstvennyi Viktor [Virginal Victor] (Petrograd: M.I. Semenov, 1918), pp. 79-94.

24 (Return to text) A more detailed discussion of these elements is reserved for discussion of the story itself.

25 (Return to text) "Machekha iz Skarperii" ["The Stepmother from Scarperia"], p. 84.

26 (Return to text) Ibid., p. 85. Capture or control over birds also symbolizes creation in Kuzmin; see the title poem of Glinianye golubki [Clay Doves].

27 (Return to text) Cf. Viacheslav Ivanov, "O veselom remesle i umnom veselii" [On Merry Craft and Intelligent Merrymaking"], Zolotoe runo [The Golden Fleece] No. 5 (1907), p. 54: "And even M. Kuzmin, an aesthete and a Parnassian, a genuine offspring of Alexandrian culture, a living anachronism among us, a stylist, involuntarily making, without thinking in French, charming Gallicisms and in his most careless compositions preserving the imprint of a true Latin/French classicism, -- even he with half his soul belongs to our barbaric element, and is at home in the world of Old Belief and is putting together his first experiments in simple mystery-plays.  All these artists were born `from the spirit of music', under the sign of the musical/orgiastic, barbaric Dionysus. This passage was omitted when the article was printed in book form in Ivanov's Po zvezdam {"Via the Stars"]. For an interesting survey of Orpheus in Russian Symbolism, see Zoia Iur'eva, "Mif ob Orfee v tvorchestve Andreia Belogo, Aleksandra Bloka i Viacheslava Ivanova" ["The Myth of Orpheus in the work of Andrei Belyi, Aleksandr Blok, and Viacheslav Ivanov"], American Contributions to the Eighth International Congress of Slavists (Columbus: Slavica, 1978) vol. 2, pp. 779-799. Mandel'stam's vision of Orpheus is particularly close to Kuzmin's (see note 70).

28 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Ryba" ["The Fish"], Nezdeshnie vechera  ["Unearthly Evenings"](Berlin: Slovo, 1923), pp. 88-9. The ordering of critical articles in the collection Uslovnosti  [Conventions] is significant in this regard: it begins with drama, goes to opera, then prose, followed by poetry, ending with painting. Contrast this with the opposite ordering in Ahmatova: Haight reports that she told the poet Anatoly Nayman, "When I was young I loved architecture and water, now I love music and earth." (Anna Akhmatova, a Poetic Pilgrimage. NY: Oxford, 1 976, p. 183.) I must also point out here the close similarity of this progression to the interpretation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus given in Jeffry Mehlman "Orphee Scripteur: Blanchot, Rilke, Derrida", Structuralist Review, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring, 1979 ), pp. 42-75. On Kuzmin as a "visual" poet see the anticipation in E. Anichkov, "Poslednie pobegi russkoi poezii" ["The Latest Shoots of Russian Poetry"], Zolotoe runo {The Golden Fleece] No. 2 (1908), pp. 53-54.

29 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, Kuranty liubvi [The Chimes of Love], SSI, p. 13.

30 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Ten' Fillidy" ["The Shade of Phyllis"], Zolotoe runo [The Golden Fleece] No. 7-9 (1907), pp. 83-87.

31 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Prints Zhelanie" ["Prince Desire"], Pokoinica v dome {A Corpse in the House](Peterburg: M. I. Semenov, 1914), pp. 113-122.

32 (Return to text) Paraboly [Parabolas/Parables], p. 9.

33 (Return to text) In Zelenyi solovei {The Green Nightingale] (Petrograd: M. I. Semenov, 1916), pp. 71-98.

34 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Mne snilsia son: v glukhikh lugakh idu ia . . . " ["I dreamt a dream: I am going in overgrown meadows..."] Glinianye golubki  [Clay Doves] (Peterburg-Berlin: "Petropolis", 1923), p. 59, lines 9-16.

35 (Return to text) See John A. Barnstead, "Mikhail Kuzmin's `On Beautiful Clarity' and Viacheslav Ivanov: A Reconsideration", Canadian Slavonic Papers 24 no. 1 (March, 1982), pp. 1-10.

36 (Return to text) Mixail Kuzmin, "Net ne zovi menia, ne poi, ne ulybaisia . . . " ["No, do not call me, do not sing, do not smile..."], Osennie ozera {Autumn Lakes] (Moscow: "Skorpion", 1912), p. 68, lines 8-12.

37 (Return to text) An example of using mirrors for divination is provided by the Aleksandriiskie pesni:

Ty - kak u gadatelia otrok:
vse v moem serdtse chitaesh'
no znan'e tut ne veliko
i ne mnogo slov tut i nuzhno, 
tut ne nado ni zerkala
ni zharovni: 

[You are like a fortune-teller's boy:
you read everything in my heart
But the knowledge here is small
and not many words here are needed,
neither mirrors
nor burnt offerings are needed:]

          (Seti [Nets], p. 146, lines 1-2, 5-8)

38 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, Novyi Gul'  [The New Hull] (Peterburg: "Academia", 1924), p. 29, lines 1-6. Cf. also "V odin sosud griadushchee i proshloe steklo" [In one vessel what is to come and the past have run together"], line 12 of "Vozhatyi" ["The Guide"], part 6, in Seti [Nets], p. 117.

39 (Return to text) See, for example, his comments on rasshcheplennost' dukha [fragmentation of the spirit] and raskolotaia dusha [the cloven soul] in "O prekrasnoj jasnosti" ["On Beautiful Clarity"], Apollon No. 4 (January, 1910), p. 5. His poem "O, plakal'shchiki dnei minuvshikh" {"Oh mourners of bygoone days"] in the cycle "Mudraia vstrecha" ["Wise Encounter"] dedicated to Viacheslav Ivanov, may be chiding Ivanov for this fault: its line 18 "Ne sozhalei i ne gadai" ["Do not regret and do not guess"] anticipates line 13 of "V raskosyi blesk zerkal..." ["In the slanting gleam of mirrors..."].

40 (Return to text) Paraboly [Parabolas/Parables], p. 9, lines 1-3.

41 (Return to text) Paraboly [Parabolas/Parables], p. 13, line 14. The process of merger begins with the section "Lodka v nebe" ["The Boat in the Sky"] in Nezdeshnie vechera [Otherworldly Evenings].

42 (Return to text) This theme, which Jacob Stockinger suggests as a distinctive feature of homosexually-oriented texts in his article "Homotexuality: A Proposal" in Louie Crew (ed.), The Gay Academic (Palm Springs: ETC Publications, 1978), pp. 135-151, has been explor ed in detail for Kuzmin's Kryl'ia [Wings]by Donald C. Gillis, "The Platonic Theme in Kuzmin's Wings", Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 22, no. 3 (1978), pp. 336-347. Other works which use the mirror in this way include Plavaiushchie puteshestvuiushchie [Travellers by Sea and Land], Tikhii strazh [The Quiet Guardian], "O sovestlivom laplandtse i patrioticheskom zerkale" ["On the Conscientious Laplander and the Patriotic Mirror"], and "Shelkovyi dozhd' ["Silken Rain]".

43 (Return to text) Seti [Nets], p. 116, lines 5-8.

44 (Return to text) Seti [Nets], p. 128, lines 5, 13.

45 (Return to text) Glinjanye golubki [Clay Doves], p. 46, lines 1-6.

46 (Return to text) Glinjanye golubki [Clay Doves], p. 120, lines 1-4.

47 (Return to text) This phrase is taken from "Moi portret" ["My Portrait"], Seti [Nets], p. 33, line 5.

48 (Return to text) Seti [Nets], p. 114, lines 1-5.

49 (Return to text) Osennie ozera [Autumn Lakes], p. 32.

50 (Return to text) The phrase "iuneiushchix lanit" ["cheeks growing young"] in line 14 of "V raskosyi blesk zerkal . . . " ["In the slanting gleam of mirrors..."] is evidence that in the inverted world of this poem time itself flows backwards. Space inversion is further evidenced by comparing line 8 of "V raskosyi blesk zerkal . . . " ["In the slanting gleam of mirrors..."] with line 9 of "Nevniaten smysl tvoikh velenii. . . " ["The meaning of your bidding is unclear..."]: "Tvoi vzor, prorocheski letucii" ["Your gaze, prophetically flying"].

51 (Return to text) See my article "Mikhail Kuzmin's `On Beautiful Clarity' and Viacheslav Ivanov: a Reconsideration", Canadian Slavonic Papers, vol. 24, no. 1 (March, 1982), pp. 1-10.

52 (Return to text) Viacheslav Ivanov, Sobranie sochinenii (Brussels: Foyer Oriental Chretien, 1974) vol. 2, p. 450.

53 (Return to text) The synecdochic relationship established between Ivanov's muses and Kuzmin's single representation is not random but polemic. Ivanov records the sceptical reaction of the members of Kabachok Gafiza to his preaching about "mystical energetism" with the following significant commentary: "They are angry at the `moralist' and think, that this is one of my nine contradictions. ("In what lies the wisdom of the Muses?" they asked me.  I said: "In the fact that they are nine: poetry is nine contradictions.")  By the way, this is mine, genuine and true."

54 (Return to text) Ibid., p. 531. For Kuzmin "Rosarium" had served to characterize Ivanov earlier. He makes reference to it in a poem for Ivanov's nameday from March, 1911:

55 (Return to text) Evgenii Znosko-Borovskii, "O tvorchestve M. Kuzmina" ["On the Art of M. Kuzmina"], Apollon No. 4-5 (April-May, 1917), p. 36. 56.  Eikhenbaum, pp. 198-199.

57 (Return to text) Vladimir Markov, "Poeziia Mikhaila Kuzmina" ["The Poetry of Mikhail Kuzmin"], Sobranie Stikhotvorenij, vol. III, p. 402. Note also Sergei Makovskii, Na parnase "serebrianogo veka" [On the Parnassus of the "Silver Age"], p. 22.

58 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Lesenka" {"Stair"], Paraboly [Parabolas/Parables], p. 105, last line.

59 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Kak ia chital doklad v `Brodiachei sobake'" ["How I rRead a Paper at `The Wandering Dog'"], Sinii zhurnal {The Blue Journal] No. 18 (1914), p. 6.

60 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, preface to Iurii Iurkun, Shvedskie perchatki [Swedish Gloves](Peterburg: S. I. Semenov, 1914), p. 4.

61 (Return to text) Susan Sontag, "On Style", Against Interpretation (New York: Dell Publishers, 1966), p. 19.

62 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Khudozhestvennaia proza `Vesov'" ["The Artistic Prose of `The Scales'"], Apollon No. 9 (1910), p. 39.

63 (Return to text) Eikhenbaum, p. 199. Here Eikhenbaum may be drawing on a passage from Kuzmin's introduction to Iurii Iurkun's novel Shvedskie perchatki: "Iu. Iurkun considers his readers to be perceptive people and not slow-witted; of course, this trustfulness and politeness is conditioned by the age of the author, but may serve him ill.  I don't wish to say that he is consciously writing rebuses, but he does require attention." (p. 5). As with Kuzmin's discussion of Briusov's novel The Fiery Angel, much in this preface may be taken as applying to Kuzmin himself.

64 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Cheshuia v nevode", Strelets No. 3 (1922), p. 109.

65 (Return to text) Znosko-Borovskii, p. 33.

66 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Zametki o russkoi belletristike" ["Notes on Russian Belles-lettres"], Apollon No. 6 (1910), p. 43.

67 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Pustit'sia by po belu svetu . . . " [To go out into the wide world..."], Glinianye golubki [Clay Doves], pp. 75-76, line 28.

68 (Return to text) The chief difference in the two stories is that in Gluck's opera, after Orpheus has lost Euridice by looking back at her before reaching the upper world, Love appears and returns her to life. This ultimate escape from tragedy underlies all Kuzmin's treatments of the theme, but is felt especially strongly in the poem "Orfei" ["Orpheus"], published in Literaturnyi sovremennik [The Literary Contemporary] No. 4 (April, 1941), p. 59, and omitted from Malmstad and Markov's Sobranie stikhotvorenij. Gennady Shmakov published a variant of the poem in Chast' rechi [Part of Speech] No. 1 (1980), pp. 98-99, dedicated to L. Rakov and dated "1924(?)"; the version in Literaturnyi sovremennik  [The Literary Contemporary] is dedicated to Kuzmin's illustrator and friend A. Ia. Golovin, and dated 5 June 1930 (i.e. shortly after Golovin's death). Given the nature of the poem and its mention of Golovin, I am inclined to accept this latter text as authoritative. Mandel'shtam's Orpheus also draws on Gluck: see Steven Broyde, Osip Mandel'stam and His Age (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975), pp. 83-86.

69 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Zlatoe nebo" ["The Gold Sky"], Abraksas No. 3 (February, 1923), p. 10.

70 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, Chudesnaia zhizn' Iosifa Bal'zamo, grafa Kaliostro [The Wonderful Life of Joseph Balzamo, Count Cagliostro] (Petrograd: "Stranstvuiushchii Entuziast", 1918/19), pp. 8-9.

71 (Return to text) Mikhail Kuzmin, "Cheshuia v nevode" ["Scales in the Net"], Strelets [The Archer] No. 3 (1922), p. 107.

72 (Return to text) Cited according to Gennadii Shmakov, "Blok i Kuzmin" ["Blok and Kuzmin"], Blokovskii sbornik 2 (Tartu: Izdatel'stvo Tartuskogo universiteta, 1972), p. 348.

73 (Return to text) V.M. Zhirmunskii, "Preodolevshie simvolizm" ["Those who have Overcome Symbolism"], Voprosy teorii literatury  [Questions of the Theory of Literature] (Leningrad: Academia, 1928), p. 278. Zhirmunskii is correct in placing Kuzmin with the Symbolists because of his mystical experiences as reflected in his poetry, but he exaggerates the Pushkinian line in the poems and places too much emphasis on "On Beautiful Clarity" as a programmatic work. Already in the "Spiritual Verses" of Autumn Lakes it was clear that Kuzmin was more than just the poet of "dear, fragile things".

74 (Return to text) Neil Granoien, Mixail Kuzmin: An Aesthete's Prose, (unpublished UCLA dissertation, 1981), p. 10.

75 (Return to text) Vladimir Markov, "Beseda o proze Kuzmina"["Conversation About Kuzmin's Prose"].  In Mikhail Kuzmin, Proza, (Berkeley: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1984), vol. 1.

76 (Return to text) This term is used by V. N. Toporov to describe that property of Poem Without a Hero "which deprives a text of finality, the completeness of semantic interpretations and, quite the opposite, makes it `open', constantly located in statu nascendi and therefore capable of capturing the future, of adaptation to potential situations." V. N. Toporov, Akhmatova i Blok (Berkeley: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1981), p. 8. In this regard a quote from Kuzmin's play Komediia o Aleksee cheloveke Bozh'em  ["The Comedy Concerning Aleksei, Man of God"] used by Markov as epigraph to his article "Beseda o proze Kuzmina" ["Conversation About Kuzmin's Prose"] is particularly appropriate: "I don't completely understand the last words." - "The song is still long, and from what follows the meaning of what precedes becomes clear.  By itself nothing can be understood."

Copyright © 1999 by John Barnstead