Mirror of the Soul: A Life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev by John Dewey - review by Stanley Mitchell

Stanley Mitchell

Self’s Secrecy

Mirror of the Soul: A Life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev

By

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Who in Britain has heard of Tyutchev? Perhaps a few Slavists and some very keen lovers of poetry. All his poems, some 200, have been translated into English, but few have been published. In his excellent biography John Dewey tells us that, as a purely lyric poet, Tyutchev cannot cross borders. But many are the lyric poets who have, from Baudelaire to Rilke. The main difficulty in translating this poet is his mingling of an archaic diction, rooted in the eighteenth century (he lived in the nineteenth century), with a modern impressionism. There is no analogue to this in British poetry owing to the different development of the two languages. Nevertheless, Dewey himself translates the poems he discusses (with one exception), remarking that his biography grew out of his fascination with the poetry.

In Tyutchev’s case the poetry is the biography, for he was a man divided between a largely superficial career (as a diplomat and courtier) and a tormented inner self which produced his poetry. The iconic poem ‘Silentium’ represents the secrecy of this self. Dewey’s translations, while reading well,

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