The Poetry of Spiritual Despair

  • Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal


Merezhkovsky’s emotional make-up, as revealed by his writings, chiefly his poetry, of the eighties and early nineties is the subject of this chapter. My purpose is not to reduce Merezhkovsky to a set of neuroses, but to suggest that his own problems made him acutely sensitive to the stresses and strains of modern life. Reacting to loneliness, emotional repression, and sexual frustration he was led to criticize all existing ideas and institutions. A biographical sketch of his formative years is necessary to provide the psychological matrix in which his thought developed.


Early Ninety Existential Activity Biographical Sketch Russian Intelligentsia Sexual Frustration 
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  1. 1.
    If not for its value in indicating the seeds of Merezhkovsky’s mature ideology, we would not deal with it at all; as poetry it is not great.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Zinaida Gippius, Dmitri Merezhkovsky (Paris, 1951), p. 115.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
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    V. V. Rozanov, “Sredi inoiazychnikhi,” Novyi Put’ 1903, no. 10 (Oct.), p. 227.Google Scholar
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    Evgenii Trubetskoi, quoted by Merezhkovsky in V tikhom omute, PSS XVI, 94.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
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    Andrei Bely, Nachalo veka (Moscow, 1933), pp. 173–76, 189-90, 423-24. See also his Epopeia: Vospominaniia o Bloke (Moscow, 1922), pp. 167, 212.Google Scholar
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    Aleksandr Blok, “Merezhkovsky,” Rech, no. 30 (Jan. 31, 1909), p. 3. 12 Pertsov, p. 95. See also pp. 86-87, 218.Google Scholar
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    “Kriticheskie zamet’ki,” Mir Bozhii 1896 no. 7 (July) p. 239. This was not a journal of the left, but the tone of the criticism is similar.Google Scholar
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    Gippius, pp. 34-36. Though not explicitly stated, it is obvious.Google Scholar
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    Merezhkovsky, “Starinnyia oktavy,” PSS XXIV, 65-72, especially, pp. 8-9, 12-14.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Ibid., p. 51. My translation of this and the poems that follow is essentially a paraphrase intended to convey the meaning and mood of the original. I have copied the line structure except where it would result in a garbled translation but have not attempted to duplicate the rhyme and meter.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    lbid., pp. 15-16.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 51.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 16.Google Scholar
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    Temira Pachmuss, Zinaida Hippius: An Intellectual Portrait (Carbondale, 1971), p. 143.Google Scholar
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    “Starinnyia,” p. 63.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 57. See also “Avtobiograficheskiia,” p. 109.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp.. 57-59.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    This is the name of a novella written in 1897 and the theme of many works including “Vera.”Google Scholar
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    “Starinnyia,” pp. 71-72.Google Scholar
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    Merezhkovsky, Taina Trekh (Prague, 1925), pp. 363–64. Merezhkovsky also states, “the world is perishing because it has forgotten the mother. Men have ruled over women. War is a masculine affair, hence endless war.” Also, on p. 343, the “third person” in the Holy Trinity is a woman; “spirit is always in the feminine gender.”Google Scholar
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  30. 31.
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  31. 32.
    Merezhkovsky, “Liubov-vrazhda,” PSS XXII, 173.Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    Merezhkovsky, “Odinochestvo v liubvi,” PSS XXII, 174-75.Google Scholar
  33. 34.
    Merezhkovsky, “Rabstvo liubvi,” PSS XXII, 47.Google Scholar
  34. 35.
    Robert Brustein, The Theatre of Revolt (Boston, 1962), p. 125. Brustein cites Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death as his own source.Google Scholar
  35. 36.
    Merezhkovsky, Jesus Manifest, trans. Edward Gellibrand (London, 1935), p. 288. There are definite sado-masochist elements here as well as a type of “death-wish.”Google Scholar
  36. 37.
    Nietzsche speaks of the heart’s “double will,” and uses the imagery of the abyss in Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche, W. Kaufman, ed. and trans. (New York, 1958), p. 254.Google Scholar
  37. 38.
    Merezhkovsky, “Odinochestvo,” PSS XXIII, 156.Google Scholar
  38. 39.
  39. 40.
    Bely, Nachalo, p. 434. Bely may have been in love with her.Google Scholar
  40. 41.
    Merezhkovsky, “Tish i mrak,” PSS XXII, 13; “Kogda bezmol’nyia svetila,” Ibid., p. 20; “Nirvana,” Ibid., p. 182; “Chto ty mozhesh’,” Ibid., p. 179; “Dvoinaia bezdna,” Ibid., p. 190. These poems were written over a twelve year span indicating an underlying constancy of mood despite changes in philosophy.Google Scholar
  41. 42.
    Merezhkovsky, “Seryi den’,” Ibid., p. 38; “Goluboe nebo,” Ibid., p. 172. Baudelaire’s “The Stranger,” is in Paris Spleen (New York, 1970), p. 1.Google Scholar
  42. 43.
    Merezhkovsky, “Solntse,” PSS XXII, 62. The theme is the Aztec rite of human sacrifice.Google Scholar
  43. 44.
    Merezhkovsky, “Poroi kak obraz Prometeiia,” Ibid., p. 10.Google Scholar
  44. 45.
    Merezhkovsky, “Naprasno ya khotel’,” Ibid., p. 12. See also, “I khochu no ne v silakh liubit ya liudei,” Ibid., p. 11.Google Scholar
  45. 46.
    Merezhkovsky, Jesus The Unknown, p. 371.Google Scholar
  46. 47.
    Merezhkovsky, Vechnye Sputniki (PSS XVII, XVIII), XVII, 28.Google Scholar
  47. 48.
    Ibid., p. 44.Google Scholar
  48. 49.
    Ibid., p. 116.Google Scholar
  49. 50.
    Berdyaev, p. 149.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal

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