Fet, Afanasii Afanas’evich
Born Nov. 23 (Dec. 5), 1820, in the village of Novoselki, in what is now Mtsensk Raion, Orel Oblast; died Nov. 21 (Dec. 3), 1892, in Moscow. Russian poet.
Fet was the son of the landowner A. N. Shenshin and of Karolina Fet. He was registered as Shenshin’s son but when he was 14 the registration proved to be invalid, and Fet was deprived of his privileges as a member of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry). Fet graduated from the department of philology of Moscow University’s faculty of philosophy in 1844. He entered the military service in 1845 with the aim of obtaining noble rank.
Fet’s first collection of verse was A Lyric Pantheon (1840). He retired from the army in 1858, took up the management of his estate, and wrote few poems. In the early 1860’s, a period of sharp social demarcation that was related to the current revolutionary situation in Russia, Fet wrote a number of markedly reactionary publicist works defending the rights of landowners. He wrote poetry again late in life, publishing four collections of verse under the overall title Evening Lights (1883–91).
Fet was the main adherent of the doctrine of art for art’s sake in Russia. His poetry shunned the vital sociopolitical issues of contemporary life. At the same time, however, his poetry was in a broader sense firmly based in life. Fet sought to express in verse the true substance of existence, and succeeded brilliantly in conveying a sense of the material world as it is perceived spontaneously by man. In Fet’s lyrics life is an omnipotent, all-embracing force (“Spring and night have covered the vale,” 1856?); the poet’s ego merges with the elements (“What happiness: it’s night and we’re alone!” 1854). Intense lyric emotion is evoked in Fet by nature and the mysterious forces of spring (Again a May Night, 1857), by beautiful winter scenes (“How sad! The pathway’s end,” 1862), and by evenings and nights (“Whispers. Timid breathing,” 1850, and “On a southern night on a haystack,” 1857).
Fet depicted the shifting landscape of the human soul with a wealth of vivid realistic detail, graphic images, and visual and aural effects. His tendency toward vivid and sensitive depiction was particularly evident in his poems written in imitation of those in the Greek Anthology, for example, “The Bacchante” (1843) and “Diana” (1847). Fet’s refined psychological analysis was new in Russian poetry; he was the first Russian poet to render with exactitude man’s fleeting, shifting emotions.
Fet’s poetry is musical and melodious. Meaning is sometimes subordinated to sound, which is a particularly suitable vehicle for expressing fleeting moods.
Fet is known as a translator of Horace, Ovid, Goethe, and other classical and modern poets. Fet was the first to translate into Russian Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea (1881). He also wrote the memoirs My Recollections (parts 1–2, 1890) and Early Years of My Life (published 1893). Many of Fet’s poems have been set to music.
WORKSPoln. sobr. stikhotvorenii, 2nd ed. [Introductory article by B. Ia. Bukhshtab.] Leningrad, 1959.
Vechernie ogni. [Afterword by D. Blagoi.] Moscow, 1971. (Contains a bibliography of musical works that have been set to the poems included in the edition.)
REFERENCESEikhenbaum, B. M. “Fet.” In O poezii. Leningrad, 1969.
Ozerov, L. A. A. Fet: O masterstvepoeta. Moscow, 1970.
Bukhshtab, B. Ia. A. A. Fet: Ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva. Leningrad, 1974.
Blagoi, D. Mir kak krasota: O “Vechernykh ogniakh” A. Feta. Moscow, 1975.
Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliograficheskii ukaztel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
V. I. MASLOVSKII