Afanasy Fet: Clear and Golden

Afanasy Afanasievich Fet (1820-92) was the son of a Russian squire named Shenshín and a German wife, but the marriage, contracted abroad, was not recognised at home. It was not until 1876 that a royal decree allowed Fet to adopt the surname Shenshín, and in fact he kept the earlier name for his publishing life. Fet's progress was rapid. He published, at his own expense, a volume of poems in 1840 that showed little promise, but  was sending to the Moskvityánin some of his most perfect lyrics only two years later. He entered military service and served in various cavalry regiments for the next fifteen years. Promotion was slow, however, and it was only in 1856 that Fet could leave as Captain of the Guards and a title. After a short journey abroad, he married the daughter of a rich tea merchant and settled down to make a success of his estate. Fet was exceptionally reserved, but his poetry was well received, making him one of the best-known literary figures in the 1850s, familiar with Turgénev, Tólstoy and other luminaries of the day The exclusively aesthetic nature of his poetry made him enemies among those promoting civic poetry, however, and in 1863, after the third edition of his poems appeared, Fet retired from the literary scene. Twenty years went by. After 1883 Fet occasionally issued small volumes under the title of Evening Lights, but he was never prolific, preferring to work instead on three volumes of memoirs and translations of the Roman poets. {2}

translating Fet's Clear and Golden

Fet was a devotee of the aesthetic aspects of poetry, and was appreciated as such by the creative writers of his time, but not by critics who saw these gently melodic pieces as little better than 'moonshine'.

But for Druzhinin the chief property of Fet's talent was 'the ability to catch the elusive, to give an image and a name to what was before him nothing more than a vague, fleeting sense of the human soul, a feeling without an image and a name'. {3} After 1863, and especially in the 1880s, Fet's poetry becomes more difficult, metaphysical and condensed. {4} The greatest achievements in the last years were the love poems for someone whom Fet had not married long ago for career reasons. They are remarkable in a man of seventy, but more so for the saturation of experience compressed into hard outlines. {2}

Poem in Russian

The Russian text is: {1}

В вечер такой золотистый и ясный,
В этом дыханьи весны всепобедной
Не поминай мне, о друг мой прекрасный,
Ты о любви нашей робкой и бедной.

Дышит земля всем своим ароматом,
Небу разверстая, только вздыхает;
Самое небо с нетленным закатом
В тихом заливе себя повторяет.

Что же тут мы или счастие наше?
Как и помыслить о нём не стыдиться?
В блеске, какого нет шире и краше,
Нужно безумствовать — или смириться!

Analysis of the Poem

The poem is in the amphibrachic (u-u) or ternary metre:

В ве чер та кой зо ло тис ты й и яс ный,      4A
В этом ды ха ньи вес ны все по бед ной       4B
Не по ми най мне, о друг мой пре крас ный,  4A
Ты о люб ви на шей роб кой и бед ной.         4B

Ды шит зем ля всем сво им а ро ма том,     4C
Не бу раз верс та я, толь ковзды ха ет;       4D
Са мо е не бо с нет лен ным за ка том          4C
В ти хом за ли ве се бя пов то ря ет.            4D

Что же тут мы и ли счас ти е на ше?              4E
Как и по мыс лить о нём не сты дить ся?       4F
В блес ке, ка ко го нет ши ре и кра ше,          4E
Нуж но бе зумст во вать — и ли сми рить ся!   4F

A TTS Audio Recording of the poem:


The woman remembered is Maria Lazich, about whom Fet naturally had a guilty conscience. She was courted in 1848, but then, being penniless, and with Fet anyway determined to regain his aristocratic status first, was promptly abandoned. In 1851 Maria set her clothes alight, either by accident or design, and died four days later. 'Do not blame him for this,' she apparently said, but Fet nonetheless felt remorse for the rest of his life, (as far as one can tell in so taciturn a personality).

Is Fet being the reliable narrator here? After all, it was not Maria who had anything to feel ashamed about, but Fet, who is both having his cake and eating it in this poem, i.e. pretending that it was Maria who had cold feet about the affair. That, unfortunately, is the somewhat less than honest attitude we shall have to accept with poets, who are are skillful is creating the needed persona. For translation purposes, we have to take the poem at its face value.

Regarding structure, we could translate the lines as tetrameters, but their ternary or amphibrachic nature suggests the pentameter would be better: the lines have ten or more syllables. There should also be a quiet musicality:


Clear and Golden

Clear and golden is the sunlight’s end,
and nor from breaths do conquering springs withdraw.
Do not remember me, my dearest friend
nor think our love was all too shy and poor.

The breathing earth gives up its perfumes yet;
and sky unfolds into its breathy wealth:
rich and imperishable will all suns set,
and quietly, bay on bay, repeat itself.

What is happiness, and what is there
to feel ashamed about? Surely now because
of that great light and beauty everywhere
it's madness not to take it as it was.


The Blond (Portrait of Tevashova) by Ilya Repin (71cm x 58cm) 1898 {1}

lya Yefimovich Repin (1844-1930) was the leading exponent of Russian realism. He was born in Chuguyev, in the Kharkov Governorate (now the Ukraine) and began his local apprenticeship by painting icons. But in 1863 he went to St. Petersburg Art Academy, met many painters later important, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874-6, and became an academician. Celebrated paintings followed: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (1891), Religious Procession in Kursk Province (1883), and Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan (1885). He became well off and purchased an estate, the Penates, in Kuokkala, Finland.

Repin was instrumental in getting Russian painting known internationally. In 1901 he was awarded the Legion of Honour. He generally welcomed the Revolution, but was sceptical of its promises, turning down the many offers from the Soviets to return to his country of origin. Celebrations of his works in Moscow and Leningrad notwithstanding, Repin remained in Finland, where he died, being buried at the Penates. {2}

References and Resources

References can now be found in a free pdf compilation of Ocaso Press's Russian pages.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.