Livshits, Benedikt Konstantinovich

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LIVSHITS, BENEDIKT KONSTANTINOVICH (1886 [1887, New Style]–1939?), Russian poet. Born in Odessa, Livshits finished the Duc de Richelieu Gymnasium in 1905 and obtained a law degree from Kiev University in 1912. His early poetry (first published in Antologiya sovremennoy poezii, 1909) was inspired by classical antiquity and the French poètes maudits (especially Rimbaud, Corbière, and Laforgue). In 1910, Livshits began to contribute to Apollon, the influential St. Petersburg art journal; in 1911, he published his first book of verse, Fleyta Marsiya ("The Flute of Marsyas"). In 1912, under the influence of D. Burlyuk, Livshits left the Apollon group and joined the Futurist circle known as Hylaea, becoming one of its most prominent theoreticians. His poetry and manifestos appeared in the Futurist miscellanies Sadok sudey ("A Trap for Judges"), Poshchechina obshchestvennomu vkusu ("A Slap in the Face of Public Taste"), Dokhlaya luna ("The Croaked Moon"), etc. In 1914, Livshits published another collection of verse, Volchye solntse ("The Sun of the Wolves"). After Marinetti's visit to Russia, Livshits initiated an all-out attack against European Futurism. The French version of his manifesto "We and the West" was published by Apollinaire in Mercure de France (CVIII, Apr. 16, 1914). Hylaea began to disintegrate at about this time, however, and Livshits left the Futurist movement. His later poetics represent a refined synthesis of Hylaean Cubo-Futurism and *Mandelshtam's Acmeism. The poems of Iz topi blat ("Out of the Swamp," 1922) and Patmos (1926) are complex riddles, the solution of which demands great literary and historical erudition. In 1928, Livshits published a retrospective collection of his poetry, Krotonskiy polden ("The Crotonian Noon"). His memoir Polutoraglazy strelets ("The One-and-a-Half-Eyed Archer," 1933) is outstanding both as a work of art and a historical document. Livshits also excelled as a translator, producing the most faithful and artistically satisfying Russian poetic translations of modern French verse (Ot romantikov do surrealistov, 1934). In 1938, he was arrested in connection with the so-called "translators' case" and died, according to official Soviet data, in May 1939.

As a rule, Livshits avoided Jewish themes in his poetry for fear of "cultural inbreeding": in a 1920 poem he spoke of the Jewish heritage in his blood as "the tender duty of the levirate," fulfilling which the "family-loving Hebrew possessed his brother's widow, mixing his blood with that of his brother" (cf. O. Mandelshtam's poem "Return to the Incestuous Bosom"). His other publications include Gileya (1931); Frantsuzskiye lirikixix–xx vv. (1937); U nochnogo okna (1970). Some of his poems have been translated into English in V. Markov, ed., Modern Russian Poetry: An Anthology (1967; Eng. tr. by M. Sparks).


V. Markov, Russian Futurism: A History (1968); Manifesty i programmy russkikh futuristov (1967).

[Omri Ronen]