“How Often, Surrounded by the Motley Crowd…”: Zhukovsky – Batyushkov – Venivitinov – Lermontov

2022. № 4, 87-99

Лев Аркадьевич Трахтенберг

Московский государственный университет имени М. В. Ломоносова (Россия, Москва)



The paper shows that the first two words of Mikhail Lermontov’s poem, How often, can be viewed as a formula, which evolves in the 1800s – early 1820s. Its history begins with Vasily Zhukovsky’s translation of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, where it introduces an anaphor. In another poem by Zhukovsky, the epistle To Philalethes, the formula comes to associate with the theme of recollection as dream. Konstantin Batyushkov in his Recollections supplements it with the motif of loneliness in a crowd. In Zhukovsky’s Detailed Report on the Moon this theme acquires a spatial dimension. In Venevitinov’s Epistle to R<ozhali>n the situation of loneliness in a crowd is combined with the metaphor of handshake signifying mutual understanding, which the poet fails to find.

Thus the first words of Lermontov’s poem call forth associations with the poetic tradition, introducing the themes of recollection and loneliness. They also generalise the situation, as far as their literal meaning goes, contrasting with the precise date, January 1, which opens the text as its heading. The synthesis of a unique moment in the time of reality and a multitude of repetitions in the time of dream gives the poem a universal meaning.

For citation:

Trakhtenberg L.A. “How Often, Surrounded by the Motley Crowd...”:
Zhukovsky — Batyushkov — Venevitinov — Lermontov. Russian Speech = Russkaya Rech’. 2022. No. 4. Pp. 87–99. DOI: 10.31857/S013161170021746-9.