Our Notes & References
Rare first edition of the Nobel’s winner’s first book, one of 200 copies.
When ‘Bliznets v tuchakh’ came out on the cusp of 1914, the Russian critics, especially the futurists led by Vladimir Mayakovsky, were sceptical. An ascetic looking cover (Pasternak refused to add any illustrations, which would appear in his later collections), and a preface by the then little known poet and friend of Pasternak Nikolai Aseev: the futurists labelled the whole project as ‘sucking on a squeezed out lemon and nibbling on tiny sugar crumbs’ (‘The First Magazine of the Russian Futurists’). Valerii Briusov, the maître of the Russian poetry, perceived, however, the birth of something big in Pasternak’s volume, the promise of the writer’s future successes. ‘Bliznets’ formally opens Pasternak’s career in literature: having searched for his true vocation for many years, first training as a musician, and then as a philosopher in Marburg, Germany, he finally accepts his calling as a ground-breaking poet. In his preface to the volume, Aseev presents Pasternak as a knight with a flaming sword, whose poetry will break ‘the entranced silence of the Russian Symbolism’.
Poems in ‘Bliznets’ appear without dates of composition, which was unusual for Russian poetry collections of the time. Nevertheless, it is possible to establish that scenes of the countryside (poems II, XVIII) were inspired by Pasternak’s life at the estate Molodi outside Moscow during summer 1913 – the last peaceful summer of the tsarist Russia. In August 1913 Pasternak came back to Moscow, where he met Nadezhda Sinyakova and fell in love with her: it is likely that some of the love poems in ‘Bliznets’ are addressed to her (‘Vse nadenut segodnia pal’to’; ‘Grust’ moya, kak plennaya serbka’). In 1912 Pasternak and his family visited Venice, which inspired his poem about the city, where palaces are torn from the ground ‘like a strip of unravelled lace’ (‘Venetsia’).
‘Bliznets’ is exploring an array of poetic possibilities and directions. The opening poem, ‘Edem’, declares an allegiance to the poetic tradition, according to which poetry is a divine matter. The poem that follows, ‘Lesnoye’, is more innovative, with its naturalistic images of trees, mosses and ‘moist grass’. Poem III is probably the first example of Pasternak’s unique poetic voice – a blend of visual household details seen in the revelatory emotive key: ‘Mne snilas’ osen’ v polusvete stekol’. Accused by the futurists of excessive mannerism, Pasternak, in fact, was attempting the seemingly impossible – applying poetry to the modern, increasingly urban and prosaic, life. In some poems in ‘Bliznets’ he succeeds, for example, when describing the telephone conversation between the two lovers in ‘Nochnoe panno’: the quiet suburbs by the motorway are able to communicate with the lights of the city centre, as the speaker reaches for his lover through the celluloid of the phone’s receiver. In many of the poems in ‘Bliznets’, it is their opening lines that are most striking: they possess a quality of independent one-line exposures, the power and the beauty of a stand-alone poem. This, and the musicality of Pasternak’s first book of poetry, are the main features of ‘Bliznets’.
An excellent example in fresh original wrappers. It is very rare to find examples of this edition in such a fresh, untouched condition, with the genuine publisher’s wrappers and without tears, loss, repairs or added binding.
Provenance A. Levinson (ex libris label to upper wrapper); Robert Eden Martin (b. 1940; American lawyer and noted collector of Russian, British and American literature works).