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The versification of Joseph Brodsky, 1990-1992.

It has long been understood that for the formal articulation of the poetry he composed after he was compelled to leave Russia in 1972, Joseph Brodsky (1940-96) soon developed a distinctive selection of metrical resources. (1) They included first and foremost the dol'nik as the principal metrical group instead of the binary and ternary metres that were (and are) still being used in the bulk of their work by the majority of Russian poets, (2) and within that group, by Brodsky's use of longer lines than average, in sequences that lack strict regulation. (3) Meanwhile, he continued to use rhyme and a broad range of stanza forms, as he had before 1972. Further research has shown that apart from rhyme and the stanza, Brodsky did not altogether abandon mainstream metrical resources as time went on; instead, he sometimes returned to the syllabo-tonic metres, never ceasing to experiment. (4) Consequently, in order to build up a comprehensive description of his formal development, it is expedient to analyse this development in short temporal segments, even year by year, paying detailed attention not only to metre, but also to other constituent levels of verse structure. The material studied in the present instance consists of the twenty-eight poems written or first published in the years 1990-92 inclusive. Analysis will employ the linguistic-statistical method and theoretical basis that have long been standard in academic research on Russian versification, modified where appropriate to take account of the particular features of the material. (5)

In the most complete edition of Brodsky's poetry to date, these poems form part of a larger section, which covers the years 1990-93. (6) To facilitate reference they have been numbered serially according to the order in which they stand in this edition. The poems will first be listed, giving serial number, title or first line, and page number in parenthesis: 1, 'Ne vazhno, chto bylo vokrug ...' (p. 81); 2, 'Vertumn' (pp. 82-90); 3, 'Angel' (p. 91); 4, 'Vot ia snova pod etim bestsvetnym nebom' (p. 92); 5, 'Metel' v Massachusetse' (pp. 93-94); 6, 'Mir sozdan byl iz smeshen'ia griazi ...' (p. 95); 7, 'Tsvety' (p. 96); 8, 'Sheimusu Khini' ('Ia prosnulsia ot krika chaek v Dubline') (p. 97); 9, 'Arkhitektura' (pp. 98-100); 10, 'Kappodokiia' (pp. 101-03); 11, 'Portret tragedii' (pp. 104-06); 12, 'Presepio' (p. 107); 13, 'Lido' (p. 108); 14, 'Nadpis'na knige' (p. 109); 15, 'Pis'mo v oazis (p. 110); 16, 'Posviash-chaetsia Dzhirolamo Marchello' (pp. 111-12); 17, 'Ty ne skazhesh' komaru' (p. 113); 18, 'Vid s kholma' (pp. 114-15); 19, 'Kolybel'naia' (pp. 116-17); 20, 'K peregovoram v Kabule' (pp. 118-19); 21, 'Mikhailu Baryshnikovu' (pp. 120-21); 22, 'Nariadu s otopleniem [...]' (p. 122); 23, 'Podruga, durneia litsom ...' (pp. 123-24); 24, 'Posleslovie k basne' (p. 125); 25, 'Priglashenie k puteshestviiu' (p. 126); 26, 'Provintsial'noe' (p. 127); 27, 'Snaruzhi temneet ...' (p. 128); 28, '--Chto ty delaesh', ptichka ...' (p. 129).

Certain important external factors condition the interpretation of Brodsky's work during this period. (7) First and foremost, he was now writing for a worldwide readership that included Russia. Hardly any of his original poetry had appeared in his native country before he left in 1972, and nothing whatsoever between that date and the end of 1987. For about two years, the publications were mainly retrospective, in a belated attempt to give the average Russian reader access to what was by then universally acknowledged to be the most important body of poetry created in the language during the second half of the twentieth century. From about 1990 Brodsky regularly published his new work in Russian serials and collections, and many of the poems of 1990 to 1992 first appeared in these sources. (8) In what way the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991 made a difference to Brodsky's prospects and plans for publication in Russia remains to be investigated; it passed without any extensive comment in his poetry. He had other preoccupations; besides writing for the Russian readership, at this time Brodsky was intensively translating his own poetry into English (9) and also writing original prose and poetry in English.

Before the appearance of the collected works, almost all the poems of 1990 to 1992 were brought together, but again not consistently in chronological order, in the last collection the poet was able to supervise before his death. (10) Here, they make up the bulk of the section that takes its name from the most substantial single item in this chronological group, 'Vertumn' (Poem 2), and spill over into the following section, which takes its title from Poem 18, 'Vid s kholma'. One of them, Poem 15, 'Pis' mo v oazis', gives its title to the final segment of the book, and itself appears at the very end of this section. Two poems of 1990-92, however, are significantly absent from the last American collection: they are Poem 11, 'Portret tragedii', and Poem 20, 'K peregovoram v Kabule', even though, as we have just seen, Poem 11 had been published and Poem 20 was about to be published in Russia. The reasons for these omissions have been discussed by Brodsky's editor Aleksandr Sumerkin, who states that the former was a simple editorial oversight, but that Brodsky considered 'K peregovoram v Kabule' too politically incorrect to be included in a collection published in the USA. (11) 'Portret tragedii' however, is at least as offensive in a different way, unmistakably representing as it does a brutally iconoclastic coming to terms with the shade of Anna Akhmatova. This coming to terms, and the disrespectful manner in which it is carried out, may be regarded as the keynote of this chronological period, or if not the keynote, then certainly its most distinctive element. (12) It is present also in 'Pis'mo v oazis', a withering allegorical dismissal of Brodsky's near-contemporary Aleksandr Kushner, who chose to do the opposite of Brodsky, that is, to stay in Leningrad and make a career as a publishing poet during the Soviet period. The fact that Kushner is not specifically identified as the addressee of Poem 15, and probably would not be so identified by a majority of readers, perhaps suggested to Brodsky and his editors that this text could be passed for publication both inside and outside Russia. (13) The most outspoken poem of this kind, though, is Poem 23, 'Podruga, durneya litsom ...', unmistakably though not explicitly addressed to the muse of most of Brodsky's love poetry, the 'M. B.' who is usually identified by these initials alone.

These accountings with large ghosts of the past do not exhaust this motif in this chronological group. Taken at face value, 'K peregovoram v Kabule' reads like a catalogue of the attitudes sometimes referred to reductively as 'orientalism', in this case directed against the post-Soviet powers-that-be in Afghanistan and including the post-Soviet Russians who are dealing with them. (14) Brodsky vents this animus against his own native land in other poems of this group. In Poem 13, 'Lido', he projects onto the unfortunate Romanian crew of a ship sailing down the Bosphorus all his contempt for the deprivations that the Communist system had visited on Russia and Eastern Europe; he speaks here as elsewhere as one who was himself 'prizhit/pod vopli vikhria vrazhdebnogo, iablochka, rugan' kormchego' 'Nadpis' na knige', Poem 14), but also as one who managed to escape and enjoy those shores at which the Romanians can only gaze in envy and frustration. Poem 26, 'Provintsial'noe', reads like a final consignment to oblivion of the place where Brodsky had spent his period of internal exile in 1964; in the poems about his experience before he left Russia, he had spoken of it with the nearest approximation to sympathetic affection that he ever permitted himself. (15)

Brodsky served as Poet Laureate of the USA during the period May 1991 to May 1992, when some of the poems under discussion here were written. Only two of them, though, are explicitly set in that country. Poem 18, 'Vid s kholma', describes the winter weather in Washington DC, where Brodsky was based; despite (or because of) what he was doing there, he is primarily concerned to express alienation. The other American poem is number 5, 'Metel'v Massachusetse', another description of winter, this time, as the title indicates, in Massachusetts. Poem 27, 'Snaruzhi temneet ...', is a farewell poem whose American setting is not spelled out, but is quite manifest. The tone of the remaining explicitly first-person pieces is darker; as usual, Brodsky comes to terms more ruthlessly with himself than with anyone else. The Italian setting that becomes more and more prominent in Brodsky's poetry of the 1990s returns in Poem 16, 'Posvyashchaetsia Dzhirolamo Marchello', filled with an awareness of approaching death. Poem 21 is dedicated to Mikhail Baryshnikov, and dwells mainly on former times when things felt better. The one poem here that fantasizes a way out of the author's existential dilemma is number 25, 'Priglashenie k puteshestviiu', and it plumbs new depths of grotesquerie even for Brodsky.

The formal characteristics of these poems will now be examined, in descending order of magnitude of the features concerned. Table 1 presents information about the segmentation of these poems at levels above the line. Here, units of the various sizes represented in the material are listed, with T signifying that the unit concerned is typographically discrete, and NT that it is not so. In representing rhyme schemes, lower case letters indicate masculine rhymes, upper case letters represent feminine rhymes, and upper case with prime ('), dactylic.

Length         Rhyme Scheme   Poem Nos             Total

Couplets T     AA             13                       1
Couplets NT    aa             6, 27                    2
Quatrains T    aabb           5, 17                    2
               aaBB           12                       1
               AABB           1, 4, 21, 23             4
               aBaB           15, 25                   2
               AbAb           19, 24                   2
               ABAB           28                       1
               A'BA'B         8                        1
Quatrains NT   aBaB           26                       1
6-line T       ABABCC         7                        1
7-line T       AAAABBB        11                       1
8-line T       AbAbCdCd       9                        1
               aBBacDcD       18                       1
10-line T      various        20                       1
16-line T      various        10                       1
NT             unrhymed       2, 3, 14, 16, 22         5

                              Total                   28

Length         Rhyme Scheme   Total      %
                                No.   1123

Couplets T     AA                18    1.6
Couplets NT    aa                52    4.6
Quatrains T    aabb              48    4.3
               aaBB              24    2.1
               AABB             108    9.6
               aBaB              32    2.8
               AbAb              72    6.4
               ABAB              16    1.4
               A'BA'B            24    2.2
Quatrains NT   aBaB              12    1.1
6-line T       ABABCC            24    2.2
7-line T       AAAABBB           84    7.5
8-line T       AbAbCdCd          64    5.7
               aBBacDcD          48    4.3
10-line T      various           40    3.6
16-line T      various           96    8.5
NT             unrhymed         361   32.1

                               1123    100

The most significant characteristic of the distribution displayed in Table 1 concerns the high proportion of this body of verse that is non-stanzaic and unrhymed, when throughout his writing career, Brodsky had been devoted to rhyme and invariant, often complex stanzas. The critical role is played here by one poem, number 2, 'Vertumn', which on its own accounts for about twenty-five per cent of all the lines in this corpus. There is no other poem precisely similar in form in all Brodsky's work; the longer poems almost always use a rhymed stanza form longer than the quatrain. Apart from the unrhymed non-stanzaic category, the remainder of the forms found here are familiar in Brodsky's work, both in length and rhyme scheme, and also the distribution of them. There is the customary high proportion of poems that use stanza forms longer than the quatrain; and there is the usual small proportion that use the most common stanza form in all Russian lyric poetry, the quatrain with alternating feminine and masculine rhyme AbAb. Instead of the latter, Brodsky here shows a preference for couplet rhyme schemes.

In terms of the conventional metrical typology of Russian poetry, the poems fall into two principal groups: syllabo-tonic, or 'classical', and non-syllabo-tonic, or 'non-classical'. Seven poems of the twenty-eight, together accounting for 224 of the total number of lines (about twenty per cent of the grand total of 1123 lines) employ syllabo-tonic metres. Poem 15, 'Pis'mo v oazis', is in iambic hexameter, the metre that Brodsky tended to reserve for particularly solemn topics, principally elegies; in this particular case, as I have noted, the attitude is condemnatory rather than laudatory. Poem 9, 'Arkhitektura', is a familiar intellectual exercise in Brodsky, a paean to an abstract entity, in this case architecture (rather than a particular building or buildings) expressed as direct address to the abstraction concerned, in the second person singular. The poem uses the kind of heterogeneous longer stanza that Brodsky once claimed to have learned from the English metaphysicals, in this case I44424442. The following stanza states several articles of faith and in an equally familiar way ascribes agency to the abstraction it is addressing; the penultimate line is an aberrant pentameter:


The rhythmical profile of the tetrameters is again familiar in Brodsky but almost unknown in the work of any other Russian poet, with a weak second ictus: the percentage stressing for the first to the fourth ictus is 96.5-8.8.-70.2-100.0. (16)

Two poems in this chronological group use trochees, generally the most under-represented metrical group in Brodsky's work when compared to the standard distribution of the metrical typology in twentieth-century Russian poetry. The motivation is not hard to find: both the poems are pastiches of folk verse, for the evocation of which literary poets have tended to use trochees since the eighteenth century. Poem 17, 'Ty ne skazhesh' komaru', is in trochaic tetrameter (T4). The second, Poem 19, 'Kolybel'naia', as the title makes clear, is a lullaby, using a familiar form for this genre, T4242AbAb; the poem also employs 'female skaz', adopting an authorial stance that is standard in this genre but found here for the only time in Brodsky's work. (17) The other three syllabo-tonic poems use ternary metres. Poem 24, 'Posleslovie k basne', is a mock-fable stylistically similar to Poem 17, but it uses amphibrachic trimeter, again in the most common stanza form of Russian poetry. The remaining two are the representatives in this group of the Nativity poem that Brodsky habitually wrote on Christmas Eve: Poems 1, 'Ne vazhno, chto bylo vokrug', and 12, 'Presepio', both in the metre he had made personally canonical for this exercise, amphibrachic tetrameter. It may be gathered from Table 1 that these poems are not distinguished from the remainder in terms of segmentation higher than the line: common stanza forms are not necessarily associated with common metres.

The seven poems in 'classical' metres have a particular feature in common, in fact, the negative feature of an absence of that authorial irony that characterizes Brodsky's poetry in general. All the poems just mentioned are impersonal, in the sense that they avoid an authorial first-person singular; they are distanced from Brodsky's autobiography in this way rather than through the use of irony. The tone may verge on the frivolous, as with Poems 17 and 19, but there is no ironic undercutting, even when the subject concerns dying, which exceptionally for Brodsky is explicitly named in Poem 17. Brodsky distances this concept by means of unattributed direct speech and the comic truncation in the fourth line of the opening stanza:


As is almost invariably the case, though, this formal correspondence is a tendency rather than a hard-and-fast equivalence. (18) Among the poems that do not use classical metres, but are nonetheless affirmatory, is Brodsky's celebration of his guardian angel, Poem 3: the important point is the angel's liberation from the flesh and its anonymity, for which the poet, trapped in his failing body and now universally feted, seemed to long more and more. In Poem 4, 'Vot ia snova pod etim bestsvetnym nebom', Brodsky celebrates his return to this childhood home under the 'colourless skies' of the Baltic region, but, as the dedication to Tomas Transtromer makes clear, the country concerned is not the part of that region that belongs to Russia, but instead Sweden. (19) Brodsky also proclaimed himself to be 'at home' in Dublin, or at least capable of starting life again there, in the poem dedicated to Seamus Heaney (number 8). Poem 7, 'Tsvety', is a familiar set-piece in Brodsky's work, the 'philosophical' still life, this time enumerating the properties of flowers. Poem 22, 'Nariadu s otopleniem', presents one of Brodsky's strangest but most revealing fantasies, asserting the existence of a 'system of absence' in every house parallel to the central heating.

The remaining poem of this period is number 10, 'Kappodokiia' which is on the surface a study in ancient history. The poem gives an account of the battle between the Pontine King Mithridates VI and the army of the Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla for control of Cappodocia in 84 bc following Mithridates' invasion of this Roman-held territory, in present-day east central Turkey. Mithridates eventually was forced to surrender all his territories to Roman rule. He died, defeated and hounded, in the Crimea, and Sulla became one of cruellest dictators in Rome. The poem is an excellent example of Brodsky's unsurpassed ability to evoke exotic landscape and setting through sharply observed detail, but he is as usual more interested in the metaphysical implications of these events; in particular, he is dealing with the fatal fall of the great man and the futility of empire-building, themes that run throughout his mature work.

As may be gathered from Table 1, the poem is composed in six sixteen-line stanzas whose rhyme scheme varies. The most remarkable formal feature of this piece is the use of enjambement: Brodsky uses it in the most provocative place possible, the stanza boundary, in all but one of the stanzas concerned here. In addition, he sometimes takes rhyme sets across typographical stanza boundaries. His formal practice will be illustrated by reference to the fourth of these stanzas. To be comprehensible, this stanza requires several lines preceding and following it to be supplied. The quotation begins half-way through line 46, continues with the stanza beginning at line 49, and terminates with the first line of the next stanza, which like the line with which it started, has a median sentence boundary and an enjambement. The quotation presents a definition first of armies and then of history, and these definitions illustrate Brodsky's idiosyncratic use of sut' not only in the standard fashion as a third person plural copula (l. 46), but also as a third person singular (l. 63).


This passage illustrates strikingly the preoccupation with metamorphosis that has been mentioned earlier. The two armies, having been defined as 'water', an image keyed by the fluid movements on the march that have been described in the preceding stanzas of the poem, are then represented as two lakes, which move through the different degrees of animation represented by animals and plants to become, when the armies join battle, something completely inanimate and inert, a mirror. The narrative focus then switches from the horizontal to the vertical and adopts the bird's eye view; the peculiar existential advantage of the avian over the human is asserted (the ability to exist simultaneously in past and present), and then the stanza concludes by returning to the army in its setting, Brodsky having defined the way in which it constitutes history by interacting with this setting, exemplifying the friction of the animate against the inanimate that history is here held to be.

This particular stanza is enjambed syntactically at both ends, and in a particularly severe way at the beginning, with the boundary falling between a numeral and its dependent noun (tri chetverti); the rhyme scheme is also made to cross the stanza boundary, so that beginning at line 47 the sequence is: Ab [parallel] bACddCeeFggFhIIh. The stanza then continues to play metrical boundaries against syntactic boundaries. Only subordinate clauses and interpolations or items in lists, indicated typographically by commas, coincide with line endings; the sentence boundaries are all sited in the body of the line (ll. 49, 55, 57, 62, and 64).

In order to investigate the metrical characteristics of the complete stanza that occupies lines 49-64 inclusive, its structure will be schematized using X to represent a stressed syllable and x an unstressed syllable. The syllables are aligned to the right, rather than the left as in the text of the poem, and numbered from the rhyming syllable; at the foot of each column, a figure is given for the total number of times a stress falls on the respective position.
     15   14   13   12   11   10    9   8

49    X    x    x    X    X    x    X   x
50                   X    x    x    X   x
51                                  x   X
52    x    X    x    X    x    x    X   x
53                        x    x    X   x
54                             X    x   x
55              x    x    X    x    X   x
56         x    X    x    x    x    x   X
57              X    x    x    X    x   x
58         X    x    x    X    x    X   x
59    x    x    x    X    x    x    X   x
60                        x    x    X   x
61         x    x    X    x    x    X   x
62         x    x    X    x    x    X   x
63                             x    X   x
64                        x    x    X   x
      1    2    2    6    3    2   12   2

      6   5   4   3   2   1

49    X   x   x   x   x   X
50    X   x   x   X   x   X   x
51    x   x   x   X   x   X   x
52    x   x   x   X   x   X
53    X   x   x   X   x   X
54    x   x   x   x   x   X   x
55    X   x   x   X   x   X
56    X   x   x   x   x   X
57    X   x   X   x   x   X   x
58    X   x   x   x   x   X
59    X   x   x   X   x   X
60    X   x   x   X   x   X   x
61    X   x   x   x   x   X
62    x   x   x   X   x   X   x
63    X   x   x   x   x   X   x
64    X   x   x   X   x   X

     12   0   1   9   0  16

The lines of the stanza thus vary considerably in length, ranging from fifteen syllables to nine; and there are only two cases where lines of the same length are adjacent (ll. 53-54 and 61-62). The total number of syllables in the stanza (excluding clausulae) is 201, an average of 12.6 per line. The number of stresses per line varies in broad correspondence with the line length, giving totals for the sixteen lines of 6, 5, 3, 5, 4, 3, 5, 4, 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 4, 3, and 4, a total of 69 stresses, averaging 4.3 per line. Despite this lack of strict patterning, though, a sense of overall metrical integrity is achieved by regulating the disposition of the stresses, especially towards the end of the line: syllables 1, 3, 6, and 9 are strongly stressed, and the syllables between and immediately preceding them are weakly stressed, if at all. The opening of the line lacks such clear patterning, and is in fact deliberately made unpredictable; after a possible design is hinted at by using similar openings in lines 49-50 (dactylic) and 51-52 (amphibrachic), any resulting expectancy is then denied; the three consecutive anapaestic openings in lines 60-62 are made all the more unpredictable by the irregularity that has preceded them.

In previous studies of Brodsky's late verse of this kind, the lines concerned were described in close detail, with the total numbers of each type of interval and opening being calculated, in order to identify the metrical group to which these lines could best be assigned. It is assumed here that enough was said to categorize these lines integrally as belonging to the dol'nik. (20) Instead of offering an exhaustive line-by-line description, the attempt will now be made to establish a typology of these metres. The procedure for classifying the lines will be illustrated by reference to the stanza just cited from Poem 10.

The dol'nik may be defined as a metre in which intervals of either one or two syllables occur between the strong syllables. (21) From the evidence contained in the stanza cited, it may be seen that five of the sixteen lines represent 'perfect' examples of such patterning. Lines 53, 60, and 64 have an opening of two unstressed syllables followed by intervals of two, two, and one syllables, which may be schematized as 2-2-2-1-. This is an unambiguous 4-ictus dol'nik, in fact its most common rhythmical variation. Line 50 exhibits the pattern 0-2-2-2-1-, and line 55, 2-1-2-2-1-; they thus expound two rhythmical variations of five-ictus dol'nik.

The remaining lines are harder to classify. This is because they contain either intervals of more than two syllables or less than one. The assumption has been made here that these intervals occur because one or other ictus (metrically strong syllable) is not fulfilled by a word stress, and in the second case because one or other weak syllable carries a hypermetrical stress. They may therefore be classified as dol'nik lines if the appropriate allowance is made for these rhythmical variations. Thus, three further lines in the example from poem 10 may be securely classified as 4-ictus dol'nik: line 51, which lacks a stress on the second ictus; and lines 54 and 63, which lack one of the third. Of these lines, 51 and 63 have a one-syllable anacrusis, and 54 a zero anacrusis. There are then two unambiguous 5-ictus dol'nik lines, standing together at lines 61-62. They both have the structure 2-2-2-2-1-, the first with the fourth ictus unstressed, and the second with the third ictus unstressed. A further four lines expound 6-ictus dol'nik. Line 52 has the structure 1-1-2-2-2-1-, with an unfulfilled fourth ictus; line 56 has the structure 1-1-2-1-2-1- (or 1-2-1-1-1-2-1-) with unfulfilled second and fifth ictuses; and line 58 has the structure 0-2-1-2-2-1-120 (or 0-2-1-2-1-2-). In the case of lines 56 and 58, the verse-design pattern -2-1- rather than -1-2- in the last six syllables is strongly suggested contextually.

In line 49, a zero interval occurs between the stresses on the twelfth and eleventh syllables. If the second of these stresses is regarded as hypermetrical, and an unstressed fifth ictus is assumed on either the third or fourth syllable from the end, then the line may be unambiguously construed as a 6-ictus dol'nik with structure 0-2-2-2-2-1-. The remaining line is the most difficult of all to interpret metrically. It may be seen that line 57 contains a 3-syllable interval between the second and third stresses. It would be possible theoretically to construe the verse-design structure as 6-ictus dol'nik 0-2-1-1-1-2- with the third ictus unstressed. Such an interpretation is militated against, though, by the fact that a metrical design of three monosyllabic intervals would result, and this pattern, even though it is attested in the material, goes against the contextual design, in which line-median metrical intervals are predominantly disyllabic. The line expounds five-ictus taktovik, that is, a line in which the intervals may range between 0-2 or 1-3 inclusive. In the analysis that follows, this type of line has simply been classified as 'other'. Lines which either in whole or in part expound a binary or metrical model, though, but without intervals of zero or greater than two, have been regarded as falling within the dol'nik. A similar policy has been adopted in cases where regarding one or other of an adjacent pair of stresses as hypermetrical would result in a three-syllable interval.

The result of the foregoing procedures is that the stanza cited above may be categorized as composed in free dol'nik, containing five 6-ictus lines, four 5-ictus line, and six 4-ictus lines, but including one non-dol'nik line. The different kinds of line occur in an irregular order; in fact, the order in which they stand appears to be such as to defeat predictability by avoiding patterning. However, it is noticeable that there does seem to be a general principle of diminution at work, whereby the 6-ictus lines are located earlier in the stanza and the four-ictus lines more towards its end. The structure of a single stanza from a poem that is made up of six such stanzas, though, is clearly inadequate as a basis for generalization in this respect.

In the analysis that follows, the relative proportions of different constituent lines in a text, arrived at by the principles of analysis just exemplified, will govern the metrical classification of the text concerned. The sample studied from 'Kappodokiia' is clearly classifiable as 'free', since no single line type accounts for more than about forty per cent of the lines, but, on the other hand, the number of principal constituent lines is limited to four. Guidelines for further classification will be set out when more material has been analysed; the most important problem to be considered, obviously, concerns the points at which 'free' dol'nik is distinguishable from other types, of which the main components, by analogy with convention in the classification of the syllabo-tonic metres, will be homogeneous and heterogeneous.

The remaining twenty-one poems of the period 1990-92 use one or other variety of the dol'nik that has just been exemplified. Table 2 lists the basic characteristics of the lines concerned. Because of its disproportionate length, Poem 2 has been omitted from the body of Table 2, which lists the other twenty poems in ascending order of average line-length, excluding clausulae, whether or not the clausulae concerned are rhymed.

   Poem no.     No.         No.        No.
              Lines   Syllables   Stresses

         28      16         120         46
          8      24         237         84
          5      32         333        131
         21      32         356        133
          3      17         191         63
         26      12         135         50
         23      40         453        187
         16      41         481        156
         22      23         272         77
         18      48         570        214
         20      40         486        162
         14      10         124         42
         11      84        1075        373
         10      96        1239        416
          4      20         263         94
          7      24         315        113
         13      18         241         88
          6      24         324        121
         27      28         382        135
         25      16         220         79

      Total     645        7817       2764

Average per    32.2       390.8      138.2

     Poem 2     270        3506       1217

   Poem no.      Av.    Av. No.    Stress-
                Line   Stresses   Syllable
              Length   per line      Ratio

         28      7.5        2.9        2.6
          8      9.9        3.5        2.8
          5     10.4        4.1        2.5
         21     11.1        4.2        2.6
          3     11.2        3.7        3.0
         26     11.2        4.2        2.6
         23     11.3        4.7        2.4
         16     11.7        3.8        3.1
         22     11.8        3.3        3.5
         18     11.9        4.4        2.7
         20     12.1        4.0        3.0
         14     12.4        4.2        2.9
         11     12.8        4.4        2.9
         10     12.9        4.3        3.0
          4     13.1        4.7        2.8
          7     13.1        4.7        2.8
         13     13.4        4.9        2.7
          6     13.5        5.0        2.7
         27     13.6        4.8        2.8
         25     13.7        4.9        2.8


Average per     12.1        4.3        2.8

     Poem 2     13.0        4.5        2.9

Seen in these terms, this body of poems presents a similar variety to that discovered in earlier studies. At 12.1 syllables, the average line length is greater than that of the core components of the standard metrical typology. It may be observed from the information in Table 2 that the number of stresses to the line does not correlate absolutely with the length of the lines concerned, but only tends to rise and fall in direct correlation with it. The stress-syllable ratio, though, is completely independent of the length of the line. The overall average, at one stress to every 2.8 syllables, is predictable in terms of the usual level of stressing in non-metrical Russian; the important fact about this is that Brodsky has managed to defeat the higher ratio that tends to occur with binary metres and the lower ratio that tends to occur with ternaries. His chosen metrical resources enable a 'natural' ratio which can be manipulated for special effect both in terms of a text as a whole and of specific parts of it.

Table 3 presents the distribution of the principal line-lengths in the material. Omitted from individual tabulation are the line-lengths that account for less than five per cent of the total. (22) The incommensurately long Poem 2 has been mentioned separately at the foot of Table 3.

               LINE-LENGTH (SYLLABLES)
                 EXCLUDING CLAUSULA

no.        15     14     13     12     11

28          0      0      0      0      1
 8          0      0      0      2      7
 5          0      0      0      0     14
21          0      3      2      6      9
 3          3      2      2      1      2
26          0      1      2      1      3
23          1      4     10      2      9
16          3      2     14      5      3
22          3      4      1      0      6
18          2      4      9      8     10
20          6      3     10      5      4
14          3      1      0      1      3
11         15     12     16     16      9
10         16     19     13     11     11
 4          3      1     10      3      2
 7          2      8      6      3      3
13          4      7      0      3      2
 6          3      6      5      5      2
27          7      7      6      4      1
25          7      1      6      1      1

Total      78     85    112     77    102

645%     12.1   13.2   17.4   11.9   15.8

Poem 2   15.5   14.1   15.9   14.8   11.5


Poem                          Total
no.        10     9   Other     No.

28          5     2       8       6
 8          5     6       4       5
 5         17     1       0       3
21          2     8       2       8
 3          4     2       1       7
26          4     1       0       5
23          5     7       2       8
16          7     3       4      11
22          3     5       1       7
18          5     7       3       8
20          5     5       2       9
14          2     0       0       6
11          3     7       6      10
10         10     7       9      10
 4          0     0       1       6
 7          0     1       1       8
13          0     1       1       6
 6          0     0       3       6
27          1     0       2       7
25          0     0       0       5

Total      78    63      50     141

645%     12.1   9.8     7.7

Poem 2    4.8   6.3     8.2      12

The average number of different line-lengths per poem is fractionally over seven; it may be seen that some poems are significantly below this figure, and others significantly above, and that there is consequently a spectrum of heterogeneity in respect of this feature. During the analysis of the example from 'Kappodokiia' it was observed that in this particular stanza there is a tendency for line-length to diminish towards the end of the stanza. The systematic registration of this feature is the most difficult methodological problem posed by a consideration of this material. Only in one poem is line-length patterned in such a way as to merit classification as metrical rather than rhythmical. This is Poem 28, '-- Chto ty delaesh', ptichka ...; the shortness of its average line-length is due to the fact that in the quatrains into which it is segmented, the even-numbered lines are consistently shorter than the odd-numbered; the total numbers of syllables in the four lines of the stanza are 40-22-39-19.

In other poems, the length of line per position in the stanza varies in different ways. Table 1 divided the poems into typographically segmented and others; these categories will now be examined separately.

Table 4 presents figures for the rhythmical organization of the line, taking into account the last twelve syllables and excluding clausulae. Here, the syllables have been numbered as in the example taken earlier from Poem 10, backwards from the rhyming syllable. Absolute figures are given for the number of times each of the twelve syllables carries a stress. Once again, the figures for the disproportionately long 'Vertumn' have been set apart from the remainder of the Table.

                        SYLLABLE NO.
                 (NUMBERED BACK FROM RHYME)

Poem       12     11     10      9      8      7

28         --      0      0      6      2      1
 8          1      2      1     11      8      0
 5         --      0      6     13     17      1
21          3      8      2     17      8      4
 3          4      2      3      8      5      2
26          1      2      3      5      6      2
23          7     13      7     16     18      5
16          8      7     12     14     10      8
22          6      2      2     11      7      0
18          6     17      8     22     18      7
20          7      5     10     14     15      5
14          3      0      3      7      1      2
11         20     19     21     33     30      7
10         29     24     16     47     31      8
 4          7      5      5      7      7      4
 7          3     10      9      6     16      3
13          6      6      3      9      6      2
 6          4      9      9      8      8      4
27          8     13      2     16     11      0
25          7      7      3      7      7      4

Total     130    151    125    277    231     69

% 645    20.1   23.4   19.4   42.9   35.8   10.7

Poem 2     27   25.9   25.2   41.1   29.6   20.4

                    SYLLABLE NO.

Poem       5     4      3     2      1

28         0     0     14     0     16
 8         1     0     19     0     24
 5         4     0     30     0     31
21         2     0     26     0     32
 3         0     0      8     0     17
26         1     0      8     0     12
23         4     0     38     0     40
16         1     0     20     0     39
22         0     0      7     0     21
18         1     1     38     0     48
20         2     0     21     0     40
14         0     0      6     0     10
11         4     2     50     0     83
10         1     2     46     0     94
 4         0     0     13     0     20
 7         0     1      9     0     24
13         0     0     14     0     18
 6         0     0     18     0     24
27         1     0     22     0     28
25         0     1     10     0     15

Total     22     7    417     0    636

% 645    3.4   1.1   64.6   0.0   98.6

Poem 2   2.6   3.7   52.5         99.6

Brodsky's rhythmical shaping of these heterosyllabic lines is clearly perceptible from the data in Table 4. The pattern is consistent, both overall and in the case of individual poems, with what was observed in the example from 'Kappodokiia'. The highest proportion of stressing is carried by the rhyming syllable, and this syllable serves as a point by reference to which the integrity of the line is assured. Further patterning is oriented not from the beginning of the line, but from its end: the second syllable, which is never stressed, works along with the rhyming syllable in establishing this pattern. Further leftwards along the line, the overall pattern is that syllables 3, 6, and 9 are stronger, and the remainder weaker; the strength of the weak syllables increases progressively towards the beginning of the line as far as syllable 9. The rhythmical profile of the line is conditioned by the stress/syllable pattern 1-2-1- in its last seven syllables.

If the figures for individual poems are examined, however, it may be seen that the treatment of syllables 8 and 9 may differ. The overall higher prominence of the 9th syllable over the 8th is because this situation obtains in a sufficient majority of texts (3, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 21, 22, 27, and 28). However, in a lesser but nonetheless significant number the reverse is the case (5, 7, 23, 26), and in nearly as many the two positions are exactly or very nearly equal (4, 6, 20, 25). The reasons for the anomalous rhythm of the thirteen-syllable line remain to be investigated.

The theoretical criteria for the classification of lines that were discussed and exemplified on the basis of the example from 'Kappodokiia' were applied to the material as a whole; Table 5 gives the results. The Table lists figures for the totals of the various principal dol'nik lines per poem in this body of material (columns (i)-(v)), followed by totals for minor dol'nik lines (column (vi)), and all dol'nik lines (vii). In column viii, a figure is given for the total number of non-dol'nik lines in each poem. This is followed in column (ix) by the percentage accounted for by all dol'nik lines of all lines in each poem. Column (x) then gives a figure for the proportion of all lines in the particular poem represented by the single most numerous dol'nik line, and column (xi) for the second most numerous dol'nik line. The Table is arranged in descending order of the proportion represented of the total lines in each poem by all dol'nik lines, as per column (ix). Figures in columns (x) and (xi) have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

         (i)   (ii)   (iii)   (iv)   (v)    (vi)

Poem       2      3       4      5     6   Other
no.                                           dk

28         5      3       8      0     0       0
 5         0      0      31      0     0       0
 8         0      2      20      1     0       0
26         0      0       8      3     0       0
 7         0      0       1      9    11       1
13         0      0       1      7     8       0
21         0      1      18      8     0       1
23         0      1      13     15     6       0
25         0      0       0      5     9       0
18         0      1      14     17    10       0
22         0      0      12      7     1       0
27         0      0       1     14     9       0
10         0      0      25     30    26       1
16         0      2      14     14     4       0
20         0      0      14     11     8       0
 4         0      0       0      8     8       0
14         0      0       3      3     2       0
 6         0      0       1      7    11       0
11         0      1       9     34    20       1
 3         1      0       7      4     1       0

Totals     6     11     200    197   134       4

         (vii)   (viii)    (ix)    (x)   (xi)

Poem       All      Non       %      %      %
no.         dk      -dk      dk   dk 1   dk 2

28          16        0   100.0     50     31
 5          31        1    96.8     97      0
 8          23        1    95.8     83      8
26          11        1    91.7     67     25
 7          22        2    91.7     46     37
13          16        2    88.9     44     39
21          28        4    87.5     56     25
23          35        5    87.5     37     32
25          14        2    87.5     56     31
18          42        6    87.5     35     29
22          20        3    86.9     52     30
27          24        4    85.7     50     32
10          82       14    85.4     31     27
16          34        7    82.9     34     34
20          33        7    82.5     35     27
 4          16        4    80.0     40     40
14           8        2    80.0     30     30
 6          19        5    79.2     46     25
11          65       19    77.4     40     24
 3          12        4    75.0     41     23

Totals     552       93

All these poems thus belong within dol'nik group, because at least three-quarters of the constituent lines of each poem may be classified unambiguously as such; in the vast majority of cases, such lines in fact make up at least eighty per cent of the entire text in which they are located. Within this broad metrical homogeneity, though, several reasonably distinct sub-groups emerge. Poem 5, 'Metel' v Massachusetse', and Poem 8, 'Sheimusu Khini', in which one single metrical line-type accounts for over eighty per cent of the lines, may be regarded as homogeneous metres, in both cases the metre concerned being 4-ictus dol'nik. In none of the remaining poems does any single line-type reach seventy per cent of the total. It has already been established that Poem 28, -- 'Chto ty delaesh', ptichka', is a special case, in which the two predominant line-lengths alternate in an invariant order; this poem thus uses what is conventionally regarded as a heterogeneous metre, as its pattern follows the long-short sequence that conventionally dominates this metrical sub-group.

The remaining poems, in which there is variation in the order in which lines occur, belong to the 'free' sub-group. Again, it may be seen from Table 5 that within this sub-group there is evidence of variety. The poems may provisionally be divided into three broad categories, which exhibit ascending degrees of heterogeneity. In the first, a single line-type accounts for over fifty per cent of the total, and the second most common line registers in the range twenty-five to thirty-two per cent; Poems 21, 22, 25, 26, and 27 belong to this category. In the second category, a single line-type accounts for between forty and forty-nine per cent of the lines, and the second most common type accounts for about five per cent less; to this category belong Poems 3, 6, 7, 11, and 13. In the remaining poems, the most common line-type accounts for thirty-nine per cent or less of the total: to this group belong Poems 18, 20, 23, and Poem 10, the extract from which discussed above exemplifies the nature of this least regulated sub-group. The poems concerned exhibit additional variation in terms of the categories discussed earlier, and especially of stanza form. As was remarked then, though, the sequence in which variant line-lengths are placed and in a poem is of considerable significance, but an objective linguistic-statistical method for classifying this feature has not yet been developed. It may be observed by comparing the data in Table 5 with those in Table 1, though, that there is no direct correlation between the degree of heterogeneity at the level of the line and the level of the stanza: symptomatically, the first category includes both a poem set in typographically discrete quatrains with alternating rhyme (Poem 25, 'Priglashenie k puteshestviiu') and a non-stanzaic unrhymed poem (Poem 22, 'Nariadu s otopleniem'). The most important formal feature shared by all the poems in the free dol'nik is the pattern -2-1- in the last six syllables of the line: it may be observed on the basis of Table 4 that this pattern is present equally strongly in all the three subcategories just distinguished.

On the basis of the evidence analysed in this article it may be asserted that by the latter part of his creative life, Brodsky had developed a distinctive metrical repertoire. He continues to use elements from the classical segment of the repertoire, but in a restricted number of poems in which the authorial irony characteristic of his poetry as a whole is not displayed. Homogeneous and heterogeneous dol'nik also appear, but in a small proportion of the poems studied here. By this point in Brodsky's development the majority of poems employ not these relatively familiar forms, but one or other variety of the free dol'nik, the development of which as a subgroup was the most distinctive contribution Brodsky made to the metrical repertoire of modern Russian poetry. Brodsky thus developed the internal variety of the dol'nik group so that it stands on an equal basis with that of the isosyllabic metres. The free dol'nik, with its capacity for variation in line length and stressing, provided Brodsky with the means to defeat formal predictability. The poems of 1990-92 illustrate the way in which Brodsky developed the resources to make each poem formally unique, and also achieve formal integrity across substantial numbers of poems, which are marked as his and his alone, inseparable from the personal messages they articulate.


(1) My 'The Versification of Shorter Poems by Russian Emigres, 1971-1980', Canadian Slavonic Papers, xxvii, 4 (1985), pp. 385-99.

(2) For an account of the metrical repertoire of Russian poetry in its historical development, see M. L. Gasparov, Ocherk istorii russkogo stikha. Metrika, ritmika, rifma, strofika, 2nd edn (Moscow: Fortuna Limited, 2000), and Barry P. Scherr, Russian Poetry: Meter, Rhythm, and Rhyme (Berkeley, CA, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1986).

(3) For discussion of the rhythmical and other features of this kind of dol'nik see my 'The Versification of Joseph Brodsky's "Kellomiaki"', in Russian Verse Theory, ed. by Barry Scherr and Dean S. Worth (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1989), pp. 377-93, trans. by L. V. Losev as 'Versifikatsiia v stikhotvorenii I. Brodskogo "Kellomiaki"', in Poetika Brodskogo, ed. by L. V. Losev (Tenafly: Ermitazh, 1986), pp. 141-59; and 'Stikhoslozhenie i sintaksis v "Kolybel'noi Treskovogo mysa" I. Brodskogo', in Kak rabotaet stikhotvorenie Brodskogo. Iz rabot slavistov na Zapade, ed. by L. V. Losev and V. P. Polukhina (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2001), forthcoming.

(4) See 'Stikhoslozhenie poslednikh stikhotvorenii Iosifa Brodskogo', in my Vzgliad izvne: Izbrannye stat'i o russkoi poezii i poetike (Moscow: Iazyki russkoi kul' tury, 2001), pp. 481-98; 'The Versification of Joseph Brodsky, 1993', Slavonica, 8 (2002), forthcoming.

(5) For an account of the aims, achievements, and future potential of this theory and methodology, see M. L. Gasparov, 'Lingvistika stikha', in Slavianskii stikh: Stikhovedenie, lingvistika i poetika, ed. by M. L. Gasparov and T. V. Skulacheva (Moscow: Nauka, 1996), pp. 5-17; for an ongoing bibliography of the subject since 1983, see the biannual Russian Verse Theory Newsletter, ed. by I. K. Lilly (Auckland: Russian Department, University of Auckland).

(6) Sochineniia Iosifa Brodskogo, 6 vols (St Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond, 1997-2000), iv (1998), 81-129.

(7) I am grateful to Professor Valentina Polukhina for help with the interpretation of Brodsky's life and work.

(8) In these publications, not many of the poems are dated, and chronological order tends not to be observed. See, for example, Nezavisimaia gazeta, 16 September 1992, p. 5 (Poems 16, 18, 21, 10, and also some later poems); Zvezda, 2 (1993), 3-7 (Poems 13, 18, 21, and 27); Novyi mir, 5 (1994), 100-12 (Poems 6, 9, 14, 17, 22, and 25); and a posthumous publication, Novyi mir, 5 (1996), 67-76 (Poems 8 and 20, placed towards the end of the selection, after the newer work).

(9) Joseph Brodsky, So Forth (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996) contains auto-translations of Poems 1, 2, 10, 11, 13, 16, 19, and 27-30.

(10) Iosif Brodskii, Peizazh s navodneniem (Dana Point, CA: Ardis, 1996). The poem to Seamus Heaney, no. 8, appears far out of its chronological order, on p. 189; Poem 25, 'Priglashenie k puteshestviiu', is less displaced, on p. 170; and Poem 28, '--Chto ty delaesh', ptichka ...' least of all, on p. 123.

(11) A. Sumerkin, 'Peizazh s navodneniem: kratkaia istoriia', in Iosif Brodskii: tvorchestvo, lichnost', sud'ba (St Petersburg, 1998), pp. 42-48.

(12) Poem 23 was anticipated by the notorious 'Dorogaia, ia vyshel segodnia ...' (1989); the tone of the later poem has become incomparably more bitter and scornful.

(13) An indication of the sensitiveness of this poem is that in the earlier version of Brodsky's collected works, Sochineniia Iosifa Brodskogo (St Petersburg: Pushkinskii, 1992-96), the index at the back of Vol. iii lists it as appearing on p. 247 of this volume, but that page in fact carries the last few lines of 'Pamiati N. N.', printed with unusually wide spacing apparently in order to occupy the place where 'Pis' mo v oazis' was originally supposed to appear. I am grateful to Professor Barry Scherr for pointing this out to me.

(14) For a discussion of the problem of irony in this poem, see Catherine Ciepiela and others, 'Joseph Brodsky, "On the Talks in Kabul": A Forum on Politics in Poetry' (Russian Review, 61.2 (2002), pp. 186-219).

(15) See, for example, the poem 'V derevne Bog zhivet ne po uglam', composed 6 June 1965 in Norenskaia.

(16) On this rhythmical profile, see my, "Singing without Music. Pen'e bez muzyki"', in Joseph Brodsky: The Art of a Poem, ed. by Lev Lose. and Valentina Polukhina (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1999), pp. 1-25; on the rhythm of Brodsky's binary metres in general see Nila Friedberg, 'The Rhythm of Exile: The Semantics of Meter in Brodsky's Poetry', DieWelt der Slaven, forthcoming. I am grateful to Ms Friedberg for sight of this article.

(17) On this device see Barbara Heldt, 'Female skaz in Sasha Sokolov's Between Dog and Wolf', Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 22, 1-2 (1988), 279-86; and my 'Voyeurism and Ventriloquism: Aleksandr Velichanskii's Podzemnaia nimfa', in Gender and Russian Literature: New Perspectives, ed. by Rosalind Marsh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 283-301.

(18) For a wide-ranging survey of form-content associations in Russian poetry, see M. L. Gasparov, Metr i smysl. Ob odnom iz makhanizmov kul'turnoi pamiati (Moscow: RGGU, 1999).

(19) For the author's comments on the emotional significance of this landscape, see Iosif Brodskii, Peresechennaia mestnost'. Puteshestviia s kommentariiami, ed. by Petr Vail' (Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta, 1995), p. 169.

(20) I am obliged to Academician M. L. Gasparov and Professor B. P. Scherr for their critiques of my earlier analyses of this type of metre.

(21) See M. L. Gasparov, 'Trekhiktnyi dol'nik', 'Chetyrekhiktnyi dol'nik', in his Sovremennyi russkii stikh (Moscow: Nauka, 1974), pp. 220-44, 245-93. In Anglo-American and Germanic versification the dol'nik is usually referred to as 'strict stress-metre'; see Marina Tarlinskaja, Strict Stress-Metre in English Poetry Compared with German and Russian (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1993).

(22) The lines concerned are: twenty of 16 syllables, eleven of 8 syllables, eight of 17 syllables, seven of 4 syllables, three of 7 syllables, and one of 18 syllables, a total of fifty lines.
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