Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry

I came to Batyushkov via an almost throwaway mention of his poem "Parting" in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. I couldn't find the poem online, nor could I find a straight collection of Batyushkov's work. Perhaps it was providence then that led me to this volume, which was more an exploration of the man's life interwoven with carefully chosen examples of his poetry and prose.

It's been a good year for me so far, at least poetically. I have to admit that, despite writing poetry on and off for most of my near five decades, I'd never really found much pleasure in reading it, neither mine nor other's. I have dim recollections of attempting to read Shakespeare a few times in my youth, and the only poet who ever made anything of an impact on me was Jack Prelutsky. I got a cassette copy of a full reading of his "The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight: More Poems to Trouble Your Sleep" probably around the time it was published (1980) and to this day they're the only poems I can recite from memory. I came across Charles Bukowski during my decade in Japan, but only his prose. I looked up his poetry for an assignment in an introductory poetry class that I took in 2020, but it's not like I instantly fell in love with his verse. It wouldn't be until the hot summer of '21 that I read a collection of his correspondence and realized that I had more than a passing interest in the lives of poets. This was followed by Anne Sexton's life and times, and now here we arrive at Batyushkov and I gotta say: I know how to pick 'em. All tragic motherfuckers, though at least Bukowski reached some semblance of old age while continuing to work his craft.

At any rate, this book in question was illuminating in a number of ways. Batyushkov had a hell of a life: riding into battle on horseback; he saw Moscow burn; he rode triumphant into Paris; and, perhaps most importantly, he helped define Russian literature. How do you even do that? This idea alone, for me, in these modern times where everything feels more or less like a free-for-all, seems an impossibility. I was thinking about this while trying to stay awake through an editing class at university: 200 years ago, Batyushkov and company were redefining a nation's use of language, and here I am trying to come up with the pros and cons of digital publishing. But perhaps that's the allure and illusion of history: everything seems much grander when taken in scope; yet for the individuals involved, their worlds were trash-compactors of ideas much like ours.

I think there's a lot to say about this book that would be better said in discussion. I'd recommend the reading to anyone interested in a life of poetry, and if you're one of those I'll leave you with this: don't ever lose your love for writing, and always do it for the sheer joy of it. It seems to me that straying from that noble path is what's ruined more than a fair share of genius throughout time.


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