Friday, February 17, 2006

Three posts about Gumilyov part one

The workman - Nikolay Gumilyov

Now if you want to make it big in the precognition game, the most impressive trick you can carry out is to correctly predict the manner of your own death. Even if you get it wrong, you have the consolation that no-one's going to be able to point it out to you, but get it right and you'll have created something a work which will have unease tap-tap-tapping down the spine of anyone who reads it.

Nikolay Gumilyov was part of the same generation of Russian poets as Esenin and Mayakovsky. A traveller and adventurer, his idiosyncratic and imaginative poetry, as it veers between the classical and the surreal, has one of the strengths I most admire in writers - the ability to switch moods. Nabokov, though, once said that Gumilyov was a poet for adolescents - and, let's face it, Nabokov was an expert on that subject.

The workman is a six verse poem which, though atmospheric and haunting, is mainly remarkable for its prescience.

He stands before the red-hot furnace
A small old man
The blinking of his reddish eyelids
Gives a submissive air to his calm eyes

Having briefly set the mood, Gumilyov snaps into first-person and gets straight to the point

All his comrades have gone to sleep
He alone is not sleeping
He is busy casting the bullet
Which will part me from the earth

While we're reeling from that, Gumilyov follows the workman a little longer.

He's finished, his eyes have brightened.
He's going home. The moon is shining.
At home, waiting in a large bed
Is his warm and sleepy wife

And for the rest of the poem, Gumilyov describes the consequences of the workman's actions

The bullet he has cast will whistle
Above the foamy white Dvina
The bullet he has cast will seek out my breast
It has come for me

I will fall in mortal agony
I shall see the past as it really was
And my blood will gush like a fountain
Onto the dry, dusty and trampled grass

And the Lord will requite me in full measure
For my brief and bitter life
This is what the small old man in the light grey shirt
Has done for me

In August 1921, the Petrograd Cheka (secret police) ordered the execution of 61 alleged monarchists, including Gumilyov, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Tsar and was a fervent anti-communist. The exact dates, means and locations of the executions are unknown, but I suppose it's a good guess that it would have been done by firing squad. I wonder if, in calling the workman's associates "comrades" (товарищи - tovarishchi), Gumilyov is also making a stab at the identity of his communist executors.


Blogger Psychbloke said...

This prescience is ok as far as it goes, but I'm glad it didn't happen to Elvis.... There aint much that rhymes with 'toilet'......

10:05 am  
Blogger Psychbloke said...

Please don't allow my flippancy to detract from what I hope will continue on to be an interesting little triptych of posts - just my defence mechanisms kinda kickin' in again.....

10:07 am  
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