Tyutchev, Fyodor Ivanovich

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(18031873), Russian poet.

Widely considered one of the greatest poets in world literature, Tyutchev can be classified as a late romantic, but, like other persons of surpassing genius, he was strikingly unique. Tyutchev's literary legacy consists of some three hundred poems (about fifty of them translations), usually brief, and several articles. Although recognition came slow to Tyutchev, in fact, he never had a regular literary career, eventually books of his poetry came to be the treasured possessions of every educated Russian.

Many of Tyutchev's poems deal with nature. Some of them offer luminous images of a thunderstorm early in May or of warm days at the beginning of autumn. Others express the pantheistic beliefs of romanticism ("Thought after thought / Wave after wave / Two manifestations / Of one element"), particularly its preoccupation with chaos. Indeed, the philosopher Vladimir Soloviev considered Tyutchev's treatment of chaos, which he represented as the dark foundation of all existence, whether of nature or human beings, to be the central motif of the poet's creativity, more powerfully expressed than by anyone else in all literature. Tyutchev's poem Silentium can be cited as the ultimate culmination of the desperate romantic effort to, in the words of William Wordsworth, "evoke the inexpressible." A somewhat different, small, but unforgettable group of Tyutchev's poems deals with the hopelessness of late love ("thou art both blessedness and hopelessness"), reflecting the poet's tragic liaison with a woman named Mademoiselle Denisova.

An aristocrat who received an excellent education at home and at Moscow University, Tyutchev was a prime example of cosmopolitan, especially French, culture in Russia. Choosing diplomatic service, he spent some twenty-two years in central and western Europe, particularly in Munich. The service operated in French, and Tyutchev's French was so perfect that, allegedly, other diplomats, including French diplomats, were advised to use Tyutchev's reports as models. Tyutchev was prominent in Munich society and came to know Friedrich Schelling and other luminaries. He married in succession two German women, neither of whom spoke Russian.

Politically, Tyutchev belonged to the Right. Not really a Slavophile in the precise meaning of that term, he stood with the Petrine imperial government, where he served as a censor (a tolerant one, to be sure) as well as a diplomat. He may be best described as a member of the romantic wing of supporters of the state doctrine of Official Nationality and, later, as a Panslav. Tyutchev's most prominent articles, as well as a number of his poems, were written in support of the patriotic, nationalist, or Panslav causes. They lacked originality and even high quality, at least by the poet's own standards. Yet Tyutchev's power of expression was so great that occasionally these items became indelible parts of Russian consciousness and culture:

One cannot understand Russia by reason,
Cannot measure her by a common measure:
She is under a special dispensationOne
can only believe in Russia.

See also: golden age of russian literature


Mirsky, D. S. (1949). A History of Russian Literature. New York: Knopf.

Nabokov, Vladimir. (1944). Three Russian Poets: Selections from Pushkin, Lermontov and Tyutchev in New Translations by Vladimir Nabokov. Norfolk, CT: New Directions.

Pratt, Sarah. (1984). Russian Metaphysical Romanticism: The Poetry of Tiutchev and Boratynskii. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (1992). The Emergence of Romanticism. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nicholas V. Riasanovsky