The Ironic Journey into Antiquity

  • Georges Nivat


The journey into ‘antiquity’ plays a cardinal role, not just in the poetics, but also in the imagination of Joseph Brodsky. The decapitated, antique statue with the sumptuous folds of its tunic or peplum which at one and the same time reveal and conceal the body, seems to me to be the fundamental image, that can, perhaps, provide the key to the ‘Arts Poetica’ of the poet of the ‘Roman Elegies’, of the ‘Bust of Tiberius’, or of the play ‘Marble’. The marble toga is simultaneously life/folds, oblique unveiling of the body, modesty eternalised in stone — and total impersonalisation — solidification of life, a decapitated body which does not ‘speak’, save through the scarcely disclosed contours of its inner self … Brodsky’s ‘Ars Poetica’ contains both of these elements: life seized in moments of eternity and the impersonality of the world, and of the man made solid, made into statue in this world.


Fundamental Image Cardinal Role Word Amount Cyrillic Alphabet Rubbish Heap 
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  1. 1.
    Translated by J. Brodsky, To Urania: Selected Poems 1965–85, Penguin; London, 1988), p. 69.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Predmetnaya sviaz’, in A. Kushner, Dnevnye sny, (Leningrad, 1986), p. 55.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Translated by J. Brodsky, A Part of Speech, OUP:, Oxford 1980, p. 105.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

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  • Georges Nivat

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