Polonskii, Iakov

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Polonskii, Iakov Petrovich


Born Dec. 6 (18), 1819, in Riazan’; died Oct. 18 (30), 1898, in St. Petersburg; buried in Riazan’. Russian poet.

The son of an impoverished official, Polonskii graduated from the law faculty of Moscow University in 1844. His first collection of poetry, Musical Scales, appeared that year. From 1846 to 1851 he lived in Tbilisi, where he worked as an official. His collection Sazandar (1849) successfully portrayed the spirit and life of the peoples of the Caucasus. Beginning in 1851, Polonskii lived in St. Petersburg, where in 1859 and 1860 he edited the journal Russkoe slovo (The Russian Word). Between 1860 and 1896 he served on the Foreign Censorship Committee and on the Council of the Central Administration of the Press.

Amid the social polarization taking place during the 1860’s, Polonskii did not arrive at a clear-cut position. His democratic sentiments were sincere but vague. However, he believed that poets should follow the trends of the times, expressing this thought in the poem “My heart is a source, my song is a wave.” Thus, he wrote poems that were civic in tone, including “The Madman,” “I confess I forgot, gentlemen,” and “Miasma.” In 1878 he wrote “The Prisoner,” a poem sympathetic to V. Zasulich.

Late in life, Polonskii turned to themes of old age and death in the collection Evening Bells (1890). Most important among his narrative poems is the verse fairy tale The Grasshopper Musician (1859). Polonskii also wrote prose. His gentle, impressionable lyric heroes retain warm memories of childhood, as seen in “Winter Road” and “Another Winter.” Man’s soul is depicted with psychological exactitude in “In Winter, in a Carriage”; complex shifts of mood are masterfully conveyed in “At the Door.”

Many of Polonskii’s poems have been set to music by A. S. Dargomyzhskii, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, S. I. Taneev, and A. G. Rubinstein. His poem “Gypsy Song” (“My campfire shines in the fog”) has become a folk song.


Stikhotvoreniia. [Introductory article, preparation of text, and notes by B. M. Eikhenbaum.] Leningrad, 1954.


Orlov, P. A. Ia. P. Polonskii. Riazan’, 1961.
Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliografich. ukazatel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.


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