Poets and Politics
Poetry has always played a unique role in Russian history. Due to the absence of possibilities for legal political life and political action, poets sometimes took the place of politicians. Accordingly, state authorities always desired to convert Russian poets into their allies, or persecuted them as political enemies (i.e., exiled them, expelled them from the country, imprisoned them, and even sent them to their deaths). In 19th-century authoritarian Russia and the 20th-century totalitarian Soviet Union, we often find situations that could not be imaginable in ‘normal’ democratic societies: the leaders of the state (such as Alexander I, Nicholas I, and Joseph Stalin) carefully read the poetic works of the major Russian poets and carried special resolutions about them; some sessions of the State Council of Imperial Russia or the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party were completely devoted to recent poetic works and their possible impact on the inner conditions of society and on foreign affairs. In our course, we will examine the reasons for this unique attention paid by the state to poets and poetry. The political views of different Russian poets, as well as their influence on Russian society, will be a subject of our special examination. We will explore works and ideas of such poets as Gavriil Derzhavin, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Fedor Tyutchev, Nikolai Nekrasov, Alexander Blok, Osip Mandelshtam, Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, and Joseph Brodsky. We will examine some cases in which poetry became a major issue of political life: Pushkin’s ‘southern exile’ and the case of his poem “André Chénier,” the Central Committee’s Resolution on the journals Zvezda and Leningrad (particularly against Anna Akhmatova), Pasternak’s Nobel Prize scandal, or the trials around Joseph Brodsky (who was charged with “parasitism”).