Ryleev, Kondratii Fedorovich

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ryleev, Kondratii Fedorovich


Born Sept. 18 (29), 1795, in the village of Batovo, in what is now Gatchina Raion, Leningrad Oblast; died July 13 (25), 1826, in St. Petersburg. Russian poet and Decembrist.

Ryleev came from a modest landholding family of the gentry. He was trained in the First Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg from 1801 to 1814 and took part in foreign campaigns of the Russian Army in 1814 and 1815. He left the army in 1818. In 1821 he became an assessor of the St. Petersburg Criminal Court, and in 1824 director of the Russian-American Company. In 1823 he became a member of the Northern Society of Decembrists, subsequently heading its most radical and democratic wing. In his political views, Ryleev evolved from a moderate constitutional monarchist to a republican. He played a leading role in organizing the uprising of Dec. 14, 1825. He was executed in the Peter and Paul Fortress along with four other leaders of the uprising.

Ryleev won literary recognition with his satire To a Court Favorite (1820), a denunciation of the practices instituted by Arakcheev. The further development of his creative principles was linked with the Free Society of Amateurs of Russian Literature, of which he became a member in 1821. From 1823 to 1825, Ryleev published the annual almanac The Polar Star in collaboration with A. A. Bestuzhev. From 1821 to 1823 he wrote the cycle of historical songs The Thought (published separately in 1825), including “Oleg the Wise” “Mstislav the Daring,” “The Death of Ermak,” “Ivan Susanin,” “Peter the Great in Ostrogozhsk,” and “Derzhavin.” Ryleev turned to Russia’s heroic past and reinterpreted it in the spirit of his own civic ideals.

Ryleev’s central work, the epic poem Voinarovskii (published separately in 1825), is imbued with the Decembrists’ love of freedom and foreshadows the approaching fate of the movement. Ryleev expresses his lofty thoughts on serving the country in the confession of the hero, Voinarovskii, who is exiled to Siberia for participating in the revolt against Peter I incited by Mazepa. Contradictions in Ryleev’s treatment of history appear in his romantic idealization of Mazepa and Voinarovskii and in his deviations from historical fact for the sake of publicizing Decembrist ideas. A. S. Pushkin valued Ryleev’s epic poem more highly than the cycle The Thought, although in his own narrative poem Poltava, Pushkin disputed the conception of history that Ryleev expressed in Voinarovskii.

In his unfinished narrative poem Nalivaiko, fragments of which were published in 1825, Ryleev addressed the theme of the Ukrainian Cossacks’ struggle for national liberation against the oppression of the Polish szlachta (nobility) in the 16th century. The most complete expression of civic zeal in Ryleev’s poetry was the section from his narrative poem The Citizen that begins “Will I, in the fateful time…” His agitational and satirical songs, written in collaboration with Bestuzhev, resound with hatred for the autocratic serfholding order and with direct calls for its overthrow. They include “Oh, where are those islands …,” “Our Tsar, Russian German …,” “As the smith walked along …,” and “Oh, I am sick at heart even in my native land…”


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“Delo K. F. Ryleeva.” In the collection Vosstanie dekabristov, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925.


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