Folk Versification, Russian

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Folk Versification, Russian


the versification of Russian oral folk poetry. There are three principal types of versification: govornoi, napevnyi, and pesennyi.

(1)Govornoi (rhymed speech) verse is used in proverbs, sayings, riddles, witticisms, and introductions to folktales. The text is divided into rhymed speech segments and lacks a clear rhythmic structure, for example, “Lozhkoi kormit, a steblem glaz kolet” or “Doseleva Makar ogorody kopal, a nynche Makar ν voevody popal.”

(2)Napevnyi (recitative) verse is employed in byliny (epic songs), historical songs, ballads, spiritual verse, and lamentations. It is unrhymed, with feminine or, more often, dactylic endings, and has a complex, not yet fully understood rhythmic structure. The most common meter, consisting of three stresses (ictuses), apparently developed from a common Slavic ten-syllable verse line. Intervals between the strong syllables (ictuses) vary from one to three syllables, so that recited separately the lines can sound like trochees (Kak vo slávnom bylo górode vo Kieve), like anapests (Kak vo slávnom vo górode Kíeve), like dol’niks (Kak vo slávnom górode Kíeve), or like taktoviks (Kak vo slávnom vo górode vo Kíeve). The degree of metrical strictness or diversity varied among reciters. Meters with two stresses, such as in the bylina about Shchelkan, or with four stresses, as in some historical songs, occur more rarely.

(3)Pesennyi (song) verse is used in lyric songs and ranges from relatively strict construction (four-foot or six-foot trochee) to highly complex variations that depend on the melody and that have not yet been thoroughly studied. The versification of chas-tushki and dance songs is somewhat simpler, consisting of dol’niks based on trochees.

In literary verse, govornoi versification was the basis for the presyllabic poetry of the 17th century, and it survived into the 18th century in verses composed for intermedia and interludes. In the 19th century this type of versification was used by A. S. Pushkin in his poem Tales About the Priest and His Servant Balda, and in the 20th century it occurs in the poetry of Dem’ian Bednyi. Examples of recitative versification are Pushkin’s Songs of the West Slavs and M. Iu. Lermontov’s Song of Tsar Ivan Vasil’evich. Imitations of pesennyi verse, known as chastushka meters, are found in Soviet poetry.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.