Aleksei Koltsov

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Kol’tsov, Aleksei Vasil’evich


Born Oct. 3 (15), 1809, in Voronezh; died there Oct. 29 (Nov 10), 1842. Russian poet.

Kol’tsov’s father, a cattle dealer, belonged to the Voronezh petite bourgeoisie. From childhood Kol’tsov assisted his father in business, herding cattle on the steppes as well as buying and selling them in village marketplaces. He studied in the district parochial school for less than one and a half years. At age 16 he began writing poems, imitating the popular poets of the time. His first mentor was the Voronezh seminarist A. P. Serebrianskii. In 1830, Kol’tsov met N. V. Stankevich, who had come to Voronezh. Stankevich brought the poems of the unknown youth to the attention of Moscow men of letters, including V. G. Belinskii, who soon became Kol’tsov’s close friend and mentor. He had a decisive influence on Kol’tsov’s fate as a poet, contributing to the formation of the young poet’s world view and to his liberation from elements of religiosity.

Using funds collected by subscription, Stankevich and Belinskii published the first slim volume of Kol’tsov’s poems in 1835. The talent of this self-taught poet was ardently supported by A. S. Pushkin, I. A. Krylov, P. A. Viazemskii, and V. F. Odoevskii. Kol’tsov’s progressive contemporaries were attracted by the profoundly national character of his poems, which sharply distinguished them from the numerous imitations of folk poetry. He wrote of man’s joyous work on the land and his merging with nature (”Song of the Plowman,” “The Harvest,” and “The Mower”). In some of his poems realistic depictions are combined with a certain idealization of the people’s life. Nevertheless, progressive Russian critics such as N. A. Dobroliubov, N. G. Chernyshevskii, and M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin valued above all the democratic content of Kol’tsov’s creative work, which opened up new levels of life for poetry, and they regarded his talent as evidence of the creative forces inherent in the people. Belinskii wrote that through Kol’tsov’s songlike lyrics literature was “boldly entered by bast sandals, torn caftans, dishevelled beards, and old, cloth wrappings for sandals. And all this dirty stuff was transformed by him into the pure gold of poetry” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 9, 1955, p. 534). Referring to Kol’tsov as a “great folk poet,” Dobroliubov noted that his songs “constituted a completely individual, new type of poetry for us. ... Kol’tsov was the first to present in his songs the genuine Russian person, the real life of our common people as it is, without inventing anything” (Sobr. soch., vol. 1, 1961, p. 440).

Kol’tsov’s opinions on literature, as expressed in his letters to his friends, show that despite the tragic circumstances of his private life and the unbearable narrowness of the petit bourgeois milieu in which he was suffocating, he continued to develop in the direction predicted by Belinskii. This is revealed in the poem “The Forest” (1937), in which the poet sings with epic power about Pushkin, who had just died, and pays tribute to Pushkin’s genius. Genuine, folk-based images and fresh, vivid language drawn from the wealth of folk songs were combined in Kol’tsov’s mature poems with profound social thoughts. Many of his songs and poems were set to music by composers such as A. S. Dargomyzhskii, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, M. P. Mussorgsky, and M. A. Balakirev.


Poln. sobr. stikhotvorenii. Leningrad, 1958.
Soch., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1961.
Soch. Moscow, 1966.


Belinskii, V. G. “O zhizni i sochineniiakh Kol’tsova.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1955.
Tonkov, V. A. A. V. Kol’tsov: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo, 2nd ed. Voronezh, 1958.
Chicherov, V. “Russkaia pesnia i pesni-stikhi A. V. Kol’tsova.” In his book Voprosy teorii i istorii narodnogo tvorchestva. Moscow, 1959.