J.W. Goethe’s “Faust” code in A. Akhmstova’s poem “Without a hero”

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A new aspect of intertextuality research of Anna Akhmatova’s “Poem without a hero” is suggested in this article. Authors identify quotational and reminiscent layers of the J.W. Goethe’s tragedy “Faust”. They also show that each of the many references to Goethe is a structure-forming principle towards the poem’s text. It structures the poem on different layers starting from motives and images ending in its composition. Artistic functions of Faust and Mephistopheles images who were intentionally included in the poem are considered. Interconnection with “Faust” opening plot is also presented. The situation when infernal powers come to the character who summoned them by the means of magic ritual (fortunetelling) is analyzed. The motives of devil carnival in “Poem without a hero” (with its references to “Night Brocken”) are compared with the motives of “Walpurgis night” in “Faust”. Leitmotivs of “poisoned wine”, “Golden Age”, “Dark Crime”, “pangs of conscience” in Akhmatova’s poem are conformable to the main story lines in Goethe’s tragedy. It is proved that Akhmatova’s appeals to Goethe were based not only on the original text but also on the translation by N.A. Kholodkovsky.

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When talking about Anna Akhmatova, first that comes to mind is that she is not only one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20-th century, but also an eye witness of the century, the “Silver Age” of Russian poetry. Her poetry underwent significant transformations during her life time. It gradually evolved from lovely and sincere, e.g. “Evening” into more sophisticated, e.g. “White Flock” and “Plantain”, reaching its pick and resulting in intertextually rich pinnacles, e.g. “Requiem” and “Poem without a Hero”. There is no evidence that Akhmatova enthusiastically referred to J.W. Goethe oeuvre throughout her life, but it is clear that all her suffering that she came through: execution of her husband, imprisonment of her only son, brought grim and philosophical images of Faust, becoming the essential part of her poetry. In the article we touch upon these similarities, drawing reference between J.W. Goethes masterpiece “Faust” and 1. Akhmatova’s “Poem without a Hero”. As we discuss it in the article, Akhmatova used accurate translation of “Faust” done by N.A. Kholodkovsky. The structure of the Goethe’s tragedy and Akhmatova’s “Poem without a Hero” overlap to a certain extend. The Russian poetess borrows two structural devices found in “Faust”: intermezzo: “A Walpurgis Night’s Dream Or, Oberon and Titania’s Golden Wedding and dedication in the beginning of “Faust”. And it is peculiar that in early editions of the poem its second part “Tail of a coin” is entitled “Intermezzo”. Akhmatova starts her poem with three dedications, the second one is the reminiscence of Goethe’s dedication. In “Faust” ghosts, spirits and shadows come from fog and haze. They bring memories from oblivion recollecting the time of youth that is the past. In “Poem without a Hero” Confused Psyche has “crossed the Lethe” and returned from there. (“Λήθη” - literary means oblivion in Greek.) Psyche also brings memories about the youth. Let’scompareAkhmatova’s: «Сплю - мне снится молодость наша» [1. P. 168] and Goethe’s: «Вы вновь со мной, туманные виденья, Мне в юности мелькнувшие давно <...> Былым ли снам явиться вновь дано? <...> Вы принесли с собой воспоминанье Веселых дней и милых теней рой» [2. P. 5]. 1. Akhmatova also writes dedication “Across the landing” to her version of Walpurgis Night and inserts it the way Goethe does, after describing the hells carnival and the emergence of the ghost. Genre scenes included into the poem seem not to be connected with the main storyline, but they vividly convey devilish theatricality of Saint Petersburg before the First World War. However, the masquerade ball during Christmastide which appeared to be bacchanalia of Petersburg hellish fiends contains some interesting literary allusions, the most important of which (so called literary archetype) is J.W. Goethe’s “Faust”. The Russian poetess’s remarks where she directly refers to Goethe’s “Broken” are not accidental. In fact, the “Broken” Walpurgis Night took place in Goethe’s tragedy: «…в глубине залы, сцены, ада или на вершине гетевского Брокена появляется Она же…» [1. P. 178]. Thus the Columbine goat heel-tapping dance is not only a part of Christmas ritual but also a quotation from “Faust” (reference to witch dances during Walpurgis Night) brought to Christmastide interlude by Akhmatova. The analysis of both texts reveals the following details: Akhmatova shows devil’s traits of the heroin in the following lines: «В бледных локонах злые рожки». Horns, on the one hand, are a symbol of a witch and the devil, a symbol of a person being possessed by the devil. It is also a symbol of inability to control one’s emotions by means of one’s mind. But, on the other hand, horns symbolize the ability to concentrate on a particular feeling, on the surge of emotions, on the possibility for emotions to reach their apogee. Akhmatova acutely felt this demon’s carnival in her home land. The carnival had already begun and it was described by F.M. Dostoevsky in his novel “Demons”, but in Akhmatova’s image system it found an exact correlation with the chapter in “Faust” where witch dances are described. Further confirmation we find in the following lines by Akhmatova: «Словно та, одержимая бесом, Как на Брокен ночной неслась...» [1. P. 202]. Likewisein “Faust”: «Как бесом одержим, кривляется народ, / И это он зовет весельем, пляской, пеньем!» [2. P. 40]. Akhmatova also writes: «Так парадно обнажена» [1. P. 179]. Goethe also expresses the desire to show off a young beautiful body of a young inexperienced witch during the parade of evil spirits and beasts. She is not yet fed up with the endless Walpurgis Nights. Here the image created by Akhmatova exactly matches the original Goethe’s one. We believe that she took it closer to her heart then the translator of “Faust’ did, and expressed it more vividly in her work. Here we can compare translation by Kholodkovsky: «Взгляни: разделась ведьма молодая / А старая накидочку взяла» [2. P. 182] and original text: “Da seh ich junge Hexchen, / nackt und blo ” [3]. Another interesting reminiscence of Goethe’s tragedy was found in Akhmatova’s text: «Ведь сегодня такая ночь, Когда нужно платить по счету…» [1. P. 183]. We assume that Akhmatova’s carnival is the reference to Walpurgis night. Our assumptions are based on many sources including the authors comments. Therefore, we can trace some analogy in the lines above. It is the Walpurgis night when Mephistopheles ought to pay his debt to a witch for her service: «При случае получишь ты награду; / В Вальпургиеву ночь мне можешь намекнуть» [2. P. 111]. Thus, the Walpurgis night for the devilry is similar to Christmas Eve - the time when people complete their business, pay their debts and start a new year anew, free from any including clothes. That is why the picture of nudity appears in the text under question. Akhmatova intentionally gives the names of Faust and Mephistopheles to two masked men during the carnival: «Этот Фаустом…» [1. P. 172]. Herewith the image of Mephistopheles in the carnival starts to divide into: «хром и изящен» [1. P. 173] and «Гавриил или Мефистофель / Твой, красавица, паладин?» [1. P. 182] that is easy to be mixed up with Gabriel. Goethe introduces Mephistopheles when he appears behind the bake: «Туман рассеивается, из-за печи появляется Мефистофель в одежде странствующего схоласта» [2. P. 53]. We can find the analogy to it in Akhmatova’s poem: «Или вправду там кто-то снова / Между печкой и шкафом стоит?» [1. P. 177]. Bake in Russia was always considered as a supernatural being, the core and the heart of a peasants house, the central heat of life. At windy night, supernatural powers play with flaps, howl and whistle in chimneys and bakes instilling horror and awe on inhabitants. In Akhmatova’s poem a ghost came to the heroin to bring her memories of the past. In “Faust” we can find apparitions of such in two chapters. During Walpurgis night Faust sees the ghost of Margaret, but Mephistopheles reassures him saying that its only his imagination and a cause of famous Medusa magic. «Фауст: Глаза ее недвижно / вдаль глядят, / Как у усопшего, когда их не закрыла / Рука родная. Это Гретхен взгляд. <…> Мефистофель: Ведь это колдовство! Обман тебя влечет. / Красавицу свою в ней каждый узнает» [2. P. 189]. Similarities can be found in the first chapter “1913”, in the episode when apparition appears: «Бледен лоб и глаза открыты... / Значит, хрупки могильные плиты…» [1. P. 177]. The heroine tries to convince herself without much success that it is only her imagination because it is too scary to think of the real ghost: «Вздор, вздор, вздор! - От такого вздора / Я седою сделаюсь скоро…» [1. P. 177]. The second appearance of the ghost which can also be correlated with Akhmatova’s apparition occurs when Faust and Mephistopheles come to rescue Margaret from a prison the night before execution. She sees a silhouette of her mother: «Недвижны глаза; голова тяжела... / Не встать ей: увы! она долго спала» [2. P. 209]. The most important part of the image here is the eyes. They blindly stare somewhere as if they are chasing the soul that has gone away a moment before. There is an entry in Akhmatova’s “Notebooks” that confirms this resemblance with Goethe’s “Faust”: “I start to notice another peculiarity of the poem: everyone can fine himself inside it, everyone accepts it to one’s account. There is something similar to “Faust”, (the chapter where Faust sees Margaret on Brocken, and Mephistopheles says that everyone recognizes this ghost as his beloved). But at this very moment Faust gives up everything and runs to “save” Margaret” [4. P. 154]. The text of the poem contains other references to Goethe although not such obvious. Thus the line: «шевельнулись в стекле Елены» [1. P. 178] contains resemblance with the scene “The Witches’ Kitchen” in “Faust”. It is there Faust sees the image of Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. Faust is tasting the witch’s potion, which is a poison for an ordinary man: «МЕФИСТОФЕЛЬ: Подай стакан известного питья! <…>ВЕДЬМА: Охотно. У меня имеется флакон <…> Но если чарами ваш друг не защищен, Ему и часу жить не остается» [2. P. 108]. The previous quotation casts light upon the fragment of the poem before the appearance of Helen as the image that can be seen in reflection: «Санчо Пансы и Дон-Кихоты / И, увы, содомские Лоты / Смертоносный пробуют сок» [1. P. 178]. Even Mephistopheles in the scene names the poison “juice”. When Faust brings the poison to his lips the flame soars over the liquid. The same images reminiscently appear in the second chapter of the poem “Tail of a coin”: «И над тем флаконом надбитым / Языком кривым и сердитым / Яд неведомый пламенел» [1. P. 192]. The lines without “Faust” context appear to be enigmatic and cryptic. In the same way it is interesting to remark that Kholodkovsky translates the line using the epithet «неведомый» for sunrise. Faust awaits this sunrise when he is going to drink a poisonous liquid from the chalice. Thus it is probable that the choice of lexis used by Akhmatova was affected by the translation. Likewise the image of poisonous cup appears in Akhmatova’s lines as the method for the main character to forget herself: «Распахнулась атласная шубка! / Не сердись на меня, Голубка, / Что коснусь я этого кубка: / Не тебя, а себя казню» [1. P. 180]. The appearance of the cup image in “Faust” in the scene has most of correlations with the poem “Walpurgis night”. Witch-marketeer advertises her merchandise saying: «Здесь кубка нет, в котором не бывал / Когда-нибудь напиток ядовитый» [2. P. 185]. There are also correlations with the original text and the poem in attributes of poison. It can burn the person who drinks it: “Kein Kelch, aus dem sich nicht, in ganz gesunden Leib / Verzehrend hei es Gift ergossen” [3]. In the work of Akhmatova we can find the same attribute, something that can burn, when people drink hot poison: «В хрустале утонуло пламя, / И вино, как отрава жжет» [1. P. 171]. The arrival of shadows from 1913 is considered by the heroine of the poem an omen of the Last Judgment: «Не последние ль близки сроки?..» [1. P. 174]. During “Walpurgis night” Mephistopheles also says that the last days of the world are near: «Народ созрел, и близок страшный суд; / В последний раз на Брокен я взбираюсь... <…> весь мир к концу идет, ручаюсь!» [2. P. 184]. It is common for people to consider the days of disasters as omens of the end of the world. In connection with J.W. Goethe, Akhmatova reference to F.I. Chaliapin in so called “Chaliapin stanza” is not accidental: «И опять тот голос знакомый, / Будто эхо горного грома <…>Он несется, как вестник Божий, / Настигая нас вновь и вновь» [1. P. 181]. It is F.I. Chaliapin who was one of the best performers of Mephisto in operas “Faust” by C. Gounod and “Mefistofele” by A. Boito in 1910s. He was recognized as the leading singer in Russia by many people including Akhmatova and was one of the best basses of all time. Anna Akhmatova is comparing his poem with the casket with several (up to three in the later editions of the poem) secret compartments: «Я согласна на неудачу / И сму- щенье свое не прячу... / У шкатулки ж тройное дно» [1. P. 195]. Meanwhile we do remember that the casket played an important role in the act of Margaret`s seduction by Faust. On the physical plane, it contained exquisite clothing but, on the spiritual plane, it bared hidden message to Margaret: the world is much bigger than she can imagine, her life is not limited to her close surrounding, it has many temptations to offer and they are awaiting to be tested. But Margaret was a young and naive person, she did not know that every choice goes along with responsibility and there are no free things in the world, everything must be payed for. Another image that we can find in both literary works under analysis is the clock which represents the life of a person. In the scene where Faust makes a deal with Mephistopheles, he expresses an idea about the end of life by means of drawing analogy with the clock: «Пусть смерти зов услышу я - / И станет стрелка часовая, / И время минет для меня» [2. P. 67]. Akhmatovaemploysthesamemetaphor: «Пусть навек остановится время / На тобою данных часах…» [1. P. 200]. And besides that, both characters want to stop the time when they both have the happiest moments of their lives. Finally, another interesting correlation between “Faust” and “Poem without a hero” is found. In the second part of “Faust” Astrologer uses his spells that extend the area of “The Hall of the Knights” for the magic performance: «Начнись же, драма, как монарх велит; / Стена, раздвинься: дай на сцену вид! / Препятствий нет: здесь все послушно чарам! / И вот ковер, как скрученный пожаром, / Взвивается; раздвинулась стена, / И сцена нам глубокая открылась; / Волшебным светом зала озарилась - / На авансцену я всхожу» [2. P. 281]. Almost the same scene can be found in the Akhmatova’s poem: «А для них расступились стены, / Вспыхнул свет, завыли сирены, / И как купол вспух потолок» [1. P. 172]. Thus, we can observe the use of similar lexis and the concept. A.A. Akhmatova in the most psychologically difficult years of her life in need to express her feelings and creative ideas without any doubt used among others the images, archetypes if not created but polished to perfection by J.W. Goethe. Sometimes she felt the original thought better than the translator, in her poem we can find several images closer to original text that to translation. The article also shows that A.A. Akhmatova definitely knew N.A. Kholodkovsky translation well. In cases of interconnection she often uses the same lexis in close situations. J.W. Goethe’s layer in “Poem without a hero” is not yet depleted. For instance, the motives of “Golden Age”, “Dark crime” and “Pangs of conscience” which show up in the poem go along with the main story line of “Faust”. The same can be said about the very idea of appearing of infernal powers before the mortal who summoned them by means of magic spells. Although, Akhmatova uses this motive in subtext, it can be seen only in epigraphs which points out the ritual of Christmastide augury as being essentially the same magic spell.


About the authors

Lyubov Gennadyevna Kikhney

Institute of International Law and Economy of A.S. Griboedov

Author for correspondence.
Email: lgkihney@yandex.ru

Doctor of Philology, Professor, Head of Department of Journalism History and Literature

111024, Moscow, Enthusiastov Highway, 21

Sergey Anatolyevich Kornienko

Institute of International Law and Economy of A.S. Griboedov

Email: sergeykornienko@mail.ru

post graduate student of Journalism History and Literature

111024, Moscow, Enthusiastov Highway, 21


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Copyright (c) 2017 Kikhney L.G., Kornienko S.A.

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