Briusov, Valerii Iakovlevich
Born Dec. 1 (13), 1873, in Moscow; died Oct. 9, 1924, in Moscow. Soviet Russian writer.
Briusov was born into a wealthy mercantile family. He regarded his literary debut, the three collections Russian Symbolists (1894-95), as a “conscious selection” of models of western poetry (verses in the spirit of P. Verlaine, S. Mallarmé, and others). The motifs of the mature poetry of Briusov—urbanity and an interest in science and history—are apparent in his books Chefs d’oeuvre (1895) and Me eum esse (It Is I; 1897). The book Tertia vigilia (Third Watch, 1900) marks the beginning of Briusov’s artistic maturity; in it, as in his later work Urbi et orbi (1903), the characteristic features of his poetry are clearly visible and distinct—a sculptured prominence and completeness of imagery, clarity of composition, resolute intonation, and oratorical vigor. The poet foresees the inevitability of revolution and guesses at its driving force —the proletariat (the poem The Secluded, 1900-01, and the verses “Night,” 1902, and “The Mason,” 1901). With the beginning of the 20th century, Briusov became the leader of symbolism, did much organizational work, directed the publications of Skorpion Publishing House, and edited the journal Vesy. But Briusov’s philosophical-social positions and his rationalist poetics contradicted the Neoplatonic theory and artistic practice of Russian symbolism.
The book of verses Stephanos (Garland; 1906) is the apex of Briusov’s pre-October poetry. It combines high flights of romantic lyrics and splendid historical-mythological cycles with models of revolutionary poetry (the cycle Contemporaneity). Briusov stigmatized the liberals, exulting over the Manifesto of October 17 (“To the Sated,” Oct. 18, 1905), and praised the revolution (“A Familiar Song,” August 1905, and “The Dagger,” 1904); he believed in the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity and their triumph (“To the Fortunate,” 1904-05). But he felt that the revolution’s only task was the ruthless destruction of the old (“The Coming Huns,” 1905; “The Face of Medusa,” October 1905), and he criticized the Bolsheviks from these maximalist positions (in the verse “To Kindred Spirits,” July 30, 1905). V. I. Lenin, citing a line from this poem, “I’ll join you in destruction, but never build with you!”, called Briusov an “anarchist poet” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 14, p. 288, footnote). Briusov polemicized also with V. I. Lenin about Lenin’s article “Party Organization and Party Literature” (1905), affirming that the subjectively honest artist can be independent of bourgeois society.
In the years of reaction Briusov continued to believe in the ultimate triumph of the revolution and praised the creative reason and courage of man. But with the life-affirming motifs in his books of verses All Is Sung (1909), Mirror of Shadows (1912), and The Seven Colors of the Rainbow (1916) notes of weariness resound more and more frequently and repetitions of the earlier formalist searches that were ends in themselves are encountered. In this very period he published the historical novels Fiery Angel (1908) and Altar of Victory (1913), the collections of stories and dramatic scenes Axis of the Equator (1907) and Nights and Days (1913), and the collection of articles Far and Near (1912). During World War I, Briusov collaborated with M. Gorky. He studied the history and literature of Armenia and translated the verses of Armenian poets (he was named People’s Poet of Armenia).
The poet accepted the October Revolution without qualifications. In 1920 he joined the ranks of the Communist Party. He worked in the Peoples’ Commissariat of Education, and the State Publishing House, directed the Book Chamber, and delivered lectures at Moscow University and at the Higher Institute of Literary Arts, which he founded in 1921 (later renamed the V. I. Briusov Higher Institute of Literary Arts). Briusov published the books of verses Last Dreams (1920), In Such Days (1921), A Moment (1922), Distances (1922), and Mea! Hasten! (1924). The verses on the revolution and on the death of V. I. Lenin in these books permit us to see Briusov as one of the first Soviet poets. In his two last books there are interesting models of experimental poetry. As a whole, Briusov’s post-October poetry presents a persistent but not always successful search for new forms for the expression of new content.
In his poetry and prose, plays, translations, criticism, theories of poetry, and literary history and scholarship, Briusov played an important role in the development of Russian poetry. With A. Blok, he prepared the soil for the poetic activity of many Soviet poets.
WORKSPoln. sobr. soch. iperevodov, vols. 1-4, 12, 13, 15, 21. St. Petersburg, 1913-14.
Izbr. proizv. vols. 1-3. Moscow, 1926.
Dnevniki, 1891-1910. Moscow, 1927.
Izbr. stikhi. (Introduction and commentary by I. Postupal’skii.) Moscow, 1933.
Neizdannaia proza: Iupiter poverzhennyi i fragmenty drugikh istoricheskikh rasskazov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Izbr. soch., vols. 1-2. [Introduction by A. Miasnikov.] Moscow, 1955.
REFERENCESGorky, M. “Pis’ma V. Ia. Briusovu.” Sobr. soch., vols. 28-29. Moscow, 1954-55.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Briusov i revoliutsiia.” In his book Russkaia literatura. Moscow, 1947.
Maksimov, D. E. Poeziia Valeriia Briusova. Leningrad, 1940.
Valeriiu Briusovu: Sbornik, posviashchennyi 50-letiiu so dnia rozh-deniia poeta. Moscow, 1924.
Mikhailovskii, B. V. “V. Ia. Briusov.” Istoriia russkoi sovetskoi literatury, vol. 1, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.
Maksimov, D. “Briusov.” Poeziia i pozitsiia. Leningrad, 1969.
Istoriia russkoi literatury kontsa XlX-nachala XX ve ka: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Edited by K. D. Muratova. Moscow-Leningrad, 1963.
A. G. GROMOVA