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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Russian Realistic School of Poetry
Critical Introduction by Eugene Mark Kayden (1886–1977)
IT was the realistic school of poetry which ventured to speak about the life of the common people, the oppressed and the injured. And the master spirit of this social poetry was Nekrasov. Happily, the people had spoken before their champions rose, and had spoken truly, without platform or argument, pleading no cause, seeking no reform. Alekseï Koltsov (1809–1842) came out of the heart of the people. From youth he was acquainted with life in village, field, and steppe. He knew little about the art of versification, and his songs seem to have been written more to the measure of folk poetry and to the music of the popular balalaika. But it was Koltsov who brought the peasant into literature, and a truer full-length peasant has never since been drawn. He sang what he knew of him, and his environment—the air of meadows and the smell of black furrows. We listen to songs of plowing and sowing, the joys of the peasant in his yellowing fields of rye, the happy busy days of the harvest; we have also songs about the sadness of the dark and cold days and the gloom of the long drought. We hear about the lot of the young farmhand without wife or house, the lover’s disappointment, but everywhere the unreflecting courage to live and to endure, everywhere a hearty hope, like the dying and the blooming of nature itself.  1
  If Koltsov was of the people, Nekrasov was for the people, the platform and inspiration of revolutionists and reformers. In the main his poetry was denunciatory, mocking in its bitterness against the social order, rank, and social morality; and uncompromising in its purpose. His burden was his mighty and continuous passion in the cause of social justice, a poetry “of vengeance and of grief.” He had an angry fancy, this poet of the masses trodden under foot; in the city he saw only unfortunate women, the slum and the gutter; in the villages—hunger and famine and never-ending suffering. It was only when he turned to the past story of heroic self-sacrifice of Russian men and women who gave up youth and career for freedom, or to the silent grief of mothers, or to peasant children, that his wrath was stilled; then purpose vanished, and he became wonderfully lyric, objective, rising to imaginative sublimity in his descriptions of nature and human passions. “Fancies! But I believe in the people!” he often repeated, and this dream of the future was the asylum of his distracted soul from the world of actuality.  2
  After the death of Nekrasov, the problems of personal perfection and æsthetic idealism in poetry again seemed to lure men away from the ugly business of the struggle with wrong. But this deflection was only temporary. The lyricism of Semyon Nadson (1862–1887), who was carried off by consumption at twenty-four, came like “a voice with a nervous tremor, like a brother’s voice in a lonely hours to the despairing men of the stagnant black days of reaction in the eighties. Tender, nervous, gloomy, feeling that he was dying hourly, he sang of the melancholy dreams of youth, disillusionment, and this strain filled his poetry like one long sob. He knew his own limitation. “My verse is barren of all strength, and pale, and delicate…. I suffer and often weep in secret in the silence of the night,” but at least, he avowed, he never wrote to amuse or to chase away tedium. His morbid verse, magical in form, color and its emotional appeal, reflected the general weary feeling in society. But Nadson was also the poet of new effort, service, and hope. His message of deliverance, when the earth “weary of strife and the cries of the fallen will lift its eyes to all-comforting Love,” stirred his generation; and, popular beyond comprehension, he became the most representative poet of the end of the nineteenth century and the forerunner of the twentieth,—the Russia of revolution and change.  3

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