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Modern Russian Poetry/Maximilian Voloshin

Maximilian Voloshin

(Born 1877)


Of the three confessed elements of Voloshin's life: places, books, and men, places came first. Born in Kief, his early impressions were associated with the Crimea, the Hellenic promontory of the Scythian plain. At twenty-three he glimpsed the desert of central Asia. But in his own words he found "the fatherland of his spirit" on the Mediterranean littoral. And Paris was the peak on which the climbing poet came to rest, finding there the lifting consciousness of rhythm and form. Books came second: Russian, of course, and later foreign books: the sophistry of France and the wisdom of immemorial India. Men, Voloshin admits, came last. And so his acid bites into the plate most frequently to etch still life, or a landscape where the presence of God or man is a thing remembered.

By his own acknowledgment, he learnt the art of verse from Ivanov, Balmont and Hérédia. Whatever he may have derived from the Russian poets, it is clear that he shares Hérédia's precision and plastic perfection, his sonority and color. Voloshin's is a richly visual poetry. Indeed, he has earned his bread as a painter. Like Hérédia, he is a sonneteer of consummate skill. The sonnet from " Lunaria ", given here, concludes a cycle of fifteen, which are so written that the last line of each forms the first line of the next, the final sonnet being composed of the first lines of the preceding fourteen. And finally, it may be said of him, as it was of Hérédia, that this Parnassian is a modernist. Yet he has ever stood aloof from coteries, an aristocratic and solitary figure.

Although seemingly dépaysé and above the battle, Voloshin has quite recently written several poems of exasperated and retrograde patriotism, which, irrespective of their politics, are magnificent poetry.