Aleksandr Trifonovich Tvardovskii

Tvardovskii, Aleksandr Trifonovich

 

Born June 8 (21), 1910, on the farmstead of Zagor’e, now in Pochinok Raion, Smolensk Oblast; died Dec. 18, 1971, in a dacha village near Krasnaia Pakhra, Moscow Oblast; buried in Moscow. Soviet Russian poet and public figure. Member of the CPSU from 1940.

The son of a village blacksmith, Tvardovskii attended the Smolensk Pedagogical Institute. In 1939 he graduated from the Moscow Institute of History, Philosophy, and Literature. Tvardovskii began writing verse in early childhood. Beginning in 1924 he worked as a village correspondent, and his reports, poetry, and prose sketches were published in local newspapers.

The fate of the peasant during collectivization was the theme of Tvardovskii’s early work—his narrative poems The Road to Socialism (1931) and Joining a Kolkhoz (1933), his Collected Verse, 1930–35 (1935), and his novella Diary of a Kolkhoz Chairman (1932). Another and very powerful work on the same theme was Tvardovskii’s narrative poem The Land of Muravia (1936; State Prize of the USSR, 1941). The hero of this poem, Nikita Morgunok, is not simply a wandering observer of the enormous changes taking place; he also embodies the drama inherent in the abandonment of earlier hopes and illusions. The poem’s style uniquely mirrors the symbolism and hyperbole of the fairy tale. The language is rich in imagery drawn from the peasant’s perception of the world. In his lyrical verse of the 1930’s, such as that collected in A Village Chronicle (1939) and Zagor’e (1941), Tvardovskii sought to capture the changes in people’s characters in the kolkhoz villages and to voice their feelings.

Tvardovskii’s service as a military correspondent in the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939–40 paved the way for his turning to the theme of the Soviet soldier; this was the subject of the cycle of poems In the Snows of Finland (1939–40), as well as of the prose work From the Karelian Isthmus (published 1969). During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, Tvardovskii worked for frontline newspapers, which published his essays and such verse as Frontline Chronicle. In the narrative poem Vasilii Terkin (1941–45; State Prize of the USSR, 1946), the folkloric character of the quick-witted and experienced soldier is transformed into a figure of epic proportions. Terkin is an embodiment of the thoughts and feelings—in all their depth, substance, and variety—of the common people in wartime. The flexibility of the poet’s chosen genre is well suited to the breadth of the hero’s character; scenes of great tragedy alternate with lyrical digressions and with passages of playful or hearty humor. “This is truly a rare book,” wrote I. A. Bunin. “What freedom, what marvelous boldness, what keenness and precision throughout, and what an uncommon rendering of the soldier’s vernacular—it is flawless, without a single false or ready-made, that is, phony-literary, word!” (Literaturnyi Smolensk, 1956, book 15, pp. 325–26). Brilliantly expressing the moral ideals of the people, the book won nationwide popularity and brought in its wake countless imitations and “sequels” in verse.

In the postwar years Tvardovskii’s work gained ever greater depth and broader scope with his interpretation of the people’s fortunes in history—“the great and difficult world.” The narrative poem The House by the Roadside (1946; State Prize of the USSR, 1947) depicts with tremendous tragic force the fate of a soldier and his family who are deported to Germany. The portrayal of Anna’s bitter fate as a mother in a strange land is powerfully and universally true, symbolizing life’s invincibility in the struggle against violence and death. In many of his postwar poems, Tvardovskii again conveys his awareness of the full measure of the people’s sacrifices and achievements, as he does, for example, in “I Was Killed at Rzhev” and “On the Day the War Ended.”

Tvardovskii’s long narrative poem Distance Beyond Distance (1953–60; Lenin Prize, 1961) is a lyrical and topical work of vast scope—a traveler’s diary that grows into the passionate testament of a child of the century. It is a colorful and many-sided reflection of the mood of society in the 1950’s. In this work, Tvardovskii aims at a boldly drawn profile of the Soviet people in our time, skillfully interweaving the “common” and the “large-scale”; thus, such chapters as “On the Angara” and “That’s How It Was,” which deal with the great events and changes in the life of the country, alternate with chapters such as “A Childhood Friend” and “Moscow En Route,” which recount the fortunes of individuals—each person representing a minute part of the people as a whole and of the giant flow of history. The principal voice in the book, however, is that of the author, who confides to the reader his own disturbing thoughts and feelings.

Tvardovskii’s satirical narrative poem Terkin in the Other World (1963) met with mixed and even negative reviews in the press. This work is a “satirical depiction,” in the author’s own words, “of those features of our reality—stagnation, bureaucratism, formalism—that hinder our forward movement.” In his collections Poems From My Notebook (1961) and Lyrics of Recent Years: 1959–67 (1967; State Prize of the USSR, 1971) and in his cycle “New Poems” (Novyi Mir, 1969, no. 1), Tvardovskii used the mode of the lyrical chronicle. He achieved great depth and dramatic power in recording the changes in people’s lives, the eternal cycle of nature—which is always capable of yielding new meaning—and the many and varied states of the human soul.

Tvardovskii’s prose works are similarly charged with profound reflections on life, on the times, and on people. Some typical examples are Native Land and Foreign Land (1947) and the short story “Stovemakers” (1958). The heightened sensitivity with which Tvardovskii perceives reality, in its mosaic-like variety and frequently contradictory manifestations, is particularly evident in his prose. The author showed himself to be a thoughtful critic, true to the traditions of classical literature, in his Articles and Notes on Literature (1961) and The Poetry of Mikhail Isakovskii (1969), in his articles on the work of S. Ia. Marshak and I. A. Bunin, in his speech on Pushkin, and in his remarks at the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Party Congresses and at the Third Congress of Soviet Writers.

The popular quality and accessibility of Tvardovskii’s poetry, which has truthfully and passionately recorded many of the key events in the history of the Soviet people, were achieved through a rich and varied artistic technique. A plain popular style is organically fused with a highly cultivated language derived from A. S. Pushkin and N. A. Nekrasov and the best of 19th- and 20th-century Russian prose writing. A realistically precise imagery, a versatile inflection, a richly and boldly varied verse structure, and a skillful sound pattern combined with a subtle sense of measure—all are present in Tvardovskii’s verse, along with economy and harmony, placing his poetry among the outstanding models of Soviet literature.

Tvardovskii’s works have been translated into many of the languages of the Soviet peoples and into foreign languages. His intensive public and literary activity has had a profound influence and was a direct extension of his creative artistry. He was editor in chief of the magazine Novyi Mir from 1950 to 1954 and from 1958 to 1970, secretary of the board of the Writers’ Union of the USSR from 1950 to 1954 and from 1959 to 1971, and vice-president of the European Community of Writers from 1963 to 1968.

Tvardovskii was a deputy to the second, third, fifth, and sixth convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR. At the Nineteenth Congress of the CPSU (1952) he was elected a member of the Central Auditing Commission of the CPSU, and at the Twenty-second Congress (1961), a candidate member of the Central Committee of the CPSU. Tvardovskii was awarded three Orders of Lenin, four other orders, and various medals.

WORKS

Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow, 1966–71.
Stikhotvoreniia: Poemy. Moscow, 1971. (Introductory article and notes by A. Makedonov.)
O literature. Moscow, 1973.
Vasilii Terkin: Kniga pro boitsa. Moscow, 1967.

REFERENCES

Aleksandrov, V. “Tri poemy Tvardovskogo.” In his book Liudi i knigi. Moscow, 1956.
Liubareva, E. Aleksandr Tvardovskii: Kritiko-biograficheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1957.
Liubareva, E. Poema A. Tvardovskogo “Za dal’iudal’.” Moscow, 1962.
Vykhodtsev, P. Aleksandr Tvardovskii. Moscow, 1958.
Vykhodtsev, P. A. T. Tvardovskii: Seminarii. Leningrad, 1960.
Marshak, S. Radi zhizni na zemle: Ob A. Tvardovskom. Moscow, 1961.
Makarov, A. “Aleksandr Tvardovskii i ego ‘Kniga pro boitsa,’ ‘Za dal’iu—dal’.’” In his book Idushchim vosled. Moscow, 1969.
Turkov, A. Aleksandr Tvardovskii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1970.
Lakshin, V. “Novaia lirika Tvardovskogo.” In Den’ poezii. Moscow, 1971.

A. M. TURKOV