If we had to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage. - Cynthia Ozick
Friends and Partners has prepared some interesting material on Russian literature and poetry of the 20th century.
Themes of Decadence. Symbolism and Mladosymbolism. Akmiesm and Futurism.
(a very concise historical guide)
The rise of Decadence as an idealistic-artistic literary movement can be traced to the 1890's. The philosophical ideas of A. Shopenhaur, F. Nietzsche, A. Bergson, I. Kant, and the Neo-Kantists, as modernized and applied in the atmosphere of the times, had a significant influence on the philosophical and aesthetic concepts of the Decadence movement. Despite their seemingly dissimilar outward appearances and sometimes quarrelsome relationships with each other, the various Symbolist groups of the 1890's: Mladosymbolists, Akmiests, and Futurists, were each currents of a larger Decadent movement. Deep inside each group there existed an underlying succession of fundamental philosophical and aesthetic principles.
The history of Russian literary Symbolism may be traced to two separate literary circles, each arising almost simultaneously in Moscow and St. Petersburg, respectively. On the basis of common interest in western philosophers like Shopenhauer and Nietzsche, and the works of European symbolists, a literary Decadence group appeared in Moscow, uniting members such as B. Bryusov, K. Balmont, Y. Baltrushaitis, and S. Poliakov.
In St. Petersburg another group appeared, this one containing members such as Z. Gippius, D. Merezhkovsky, and N. Minsky.
Near the turn of the century B. Bryusov became the recognized head and leader of the Symbolist movement in Russia. He had gained recognition as a Symbolist theorist in the mid 1890's. From 1894 to 1895 Bryusov expressed his aesthetic views by publishing articles in praise of the first poetic compilation of "Russian Symbolism". Most of the poetry in this compilation was written by Bryuskov himself. He saw the goal of art in the expression "movement of the soul". He contemplated the secrets of the human soul and the identity of the artist. With his participation, the publishing house "Scorpion" (1899 - 1916) began publishing the almanac "Northern Lights". By 1903 Bryusov had practically become the literary chief of the entire publishing house and began preparing the organization of a magazine devoted exclusively to Symbolist material, in an effort to unite all practitioners of "the new art".
The magazine began publication in 1904 under the Symbolic title "Vesy," meaning "balance" or "scales".
The work of the poet, dramatist, critic, and translator Innokentie Fedorovich Annensky had particular importance. With his search for new poetic rhythms, forms, and words, he had an influence on all of the major poets of this period including Brusov, Blok, Akhmatova, and Pasternak. The Symbolists considered him a leader of "new" Russian poetry, and followers came to be known as Akmeists.
Konstantin Dmitrievich Balmont was an outstanding author of early Russian Symbolist poetry. For 10 years, as recalled by Bryusov, he "completely reigned over Russian poetry". In the 1890's the collections of his poetry "Under the Northern Sky" (1894), "Boundless' (1895), and "Quiet" (1897) were published. In the 1890's, during a period of particular creativity Balmont completed "Burning Building" (1900), "We shall be as the sun" (1903), and "Only Love" (1903).
Due to the popular ascent of Symbolism in the 1890's, the movement was to undergo another step in its development. At the turn of the century, a new generation of Symbolists, including authors such as V. Ivanov, Andrei Bely, A. Blok, S. Slovev, and L. Lobylinsky, was to enter the scene.
The pressure of societal and theoretical conflicts forced the Symbolists to address certain modern and historical issues. Mladosymbolists wanted to surpass the confined individualism of the older generation of Symbolists, and move away from its extreme aesthetic subjectivism. Questions about the fate of Russia and the life of the people were dominant themes in the Mladosymbolist movement.
In the 1890's, there were two dominant schools of Symbolist thought. In Petersburg, there was the school of "New Religious Consciousness" founded by D. Merezhkovsky and Z. Gippius. In Moscow, there was the "Argonaft" group founded by S. Solovev, Andrei Bely, and others. It was later joined by A. Blok.
It was this group that originally came to be known as the "Mladosymbolists".
The works and poetry of Vladimir Sergeevich Solovev (1853-1900) had an enormous influence on the formation of the philosophical and aesthetic ideals of the Mladosymbolists, which were further defined by the poetic forms used in the first books by Bely and Blok. In his work "The Meaning of Art," Solovev wrote that the goal of the poet is firstly "in the objectivization of those qualities of a living idea that can not be expressed through nature," secondly "in the inspiration of natural beauty," and thirdly in the immortalization of nature and natural phenomena. The higher goal of art, according to Solovev, is to realize the order and embodiment of "the creations of the universal spiritual being," and their "absolute beauty".
In the 1910's, the Symbolism movement underwent a crisis. In the midst of its peers, a group of "Tsekh"poets arose, which was lead by H. Gymilev and S. Gorodetsky. Members of the "Tsekh" were mostly amateur poets like A. Akhmatova, N. Burlyuk, V. Gippius, M. Zenkevich, Georgy Ivanov, E. Kuzmina-Karavaeva, M. Lozinsky, O. Mandelshtam, V. Narbut, and P. Radimov. "Tsekh" began publishing poetic compilations and the modest-sized monthly magazine "Giperborei".
At a "Tsekh" meeting in 1912, the issue of "Akmeism" as a new school of poetic thought was discussed. The primary vehicle of the Akmeists was the magazine "Apollon".
In an attempt to disperse the atmosphere of "irrationality" created by the Symbolists, and free poetry from its "mystical fog," the Akmeists accepted all sensuous aspects of the world: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. In their works, the Akmeists characteristically developed the theme of the relationships between Russia's past, present, and future.
In the 1910's, the "Futurism" movement arose. It was represented by three groups. There was the "Gileya" - "Cubo-futurists" group, consisting of D. Burlyuki, N Burlyuki, V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, V. Kamensky, E. Guro, and V. Mayakovsky, the "Poetic Mezzanine" - "futurists" group, headed by V. Shershenevich, and the "Centrifuge" group, consisting of S. Bobrov, N. Aseev, and B. Pasternak. The latter group charateristically tried to combine the achievements of Symbolism with the poetic style of Cubofuturism. Futurism was a unique, but nonetheless Decadant school of thought, standing out because of its sharply anarchist social and aesthetic directives. Futurism promoted a revolution in poetic form, dependent not upon content, but character. ("It's not important what, but how"). It promoted the subjective will of the artist, the absolute freedom of poetic word choice, a break from all tradition. Boris Leonovich Pasternak later regared this stage of his writing critically, never once reworking or reprinting any of his poems from that time.
It should be noted that the Akmeist and Futurist groups were dissimilar from the very beginning. Time has shown that each member of these groups went down a different path, usually ending up very far from the goal of his or her youthful literary aspirations.
In this epoch, the works of M. A. Voloshina and M. I. Tsvetaeva were especially noteworthy. Neither of these poets was affiliated with any literary group nor did either one of them participate in the literary programs of the time.