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What assessment of Fyodor Tyutchev’s creative work was given by contemporary writers? After all, they are the strictest and most ardent critics of their counterparts’ literary activity

Ivan Turgenev

“…Mr Tyutchev, who belongs to the previous generation, definitely stands higher than all his colleagues. It is easy to point out the individual qualities in which more gifted poets of our time surpass him: the enchanting yet somewhat monotonous elegance of Fet; the energetic, albeit often cold and harsh passionateness of Nekrasov; the correct yet sometimes cold ‘painting’ of Maikov; but Mr Tyutchev alone bears the imprint of the great era to which he belonged and which was so vividly and powerfully expressed in Pushkin; in him alone the talent’s harmony with itself is noticed, its harmony with the author’s life in word, though it is part of what in its full development is the distinctive characteristics of great talents. Mr Tyutchev did not have an extensive social circle – it’s true, but he was at home in it. His talent does not consist of incoherent scattered parts: it is self-contained and self-controlled; there are no other elements in it except for purely lyrical ones; but these elements are absolutely clear and have interwoven with the author’s personality; his poems do not breath of composition; they all seem to have been written for a particular occasion, as Goethe wanted – that is, they were not invented, but grew themselves like a fruit on a tree; and by this precious quality we recognise, among other things, Pushkin’s influence on them; in them we see the reflection of his time.

<…> “His talent by its nature is not addressed to the crowd and does not expect response and approval from it; in order to fully appreciate Mr Tyutchev the reader himself must be endowed with some subtlety of understanding and some flexibility of thought that have not remained idle for too long. A violet does not spread its scent twenty paces around: you need to get close to it to smell its fragrance. We do not predict Mr Tyutchev’s popularity; but we predict him the deep and warm sympathy of all those who value Russian poetry; and such poems as Send, O Lord, Thy Comfort, and others will spread all over Russia and outlive much in modern literature that now seems lasting and enjoys loud success.”

Leo Tolstoy

“Once Turgenev, Nekrasov… with difficulty persuaded me to read Tyutchev, but when I read him I just froze at the greatness of his creative talent.”

“Soon after meeting with you I met Tyutchev at the railway, and we talked for four hours. I listened more and spoke less. Do you know him? He is a man of genius, majestic and a child and an old man simultaneously. I do not know any living people, apart from you and him, with whom I would feel and think the same way.” (From a letter to Nikolai Strakhov)

Afanasy Fet

“For a long time, I had been wanting to speak about a small book of poems by F. Tyutchev, which appeared in 1854 and made a sensation in the narrow circles of lovers of the elegant and, alas, despite its value, it is still little known among the vast majority of the reading public…

“Two years ago, on a tranquil autumn night I was standing in a dark passage of the Colosseum and looking through one of the windows at the starry sky. The big stars were gazing into my eyes intently and radiantly, and as I peered into the fine blue, other stars appeared in front of me and looked at me as mysteriously and eloquently as the first ones. Behind them even the finest sparkles flickered in the depths of the sky and little by little emerged in turn. Limited by its dark thick walls, my eyes saw only a tiny part of the sky, but I felt that it was boundless and that its beauty had no end.

“With similar feelings I open F. Tyutchev’s poems. Is it possible to contain so much beauty, depth and power – in a word, poetry – in such narrow bounds (I mean a small book)? If I wasn’t afraid to violate his rights, I would copy with a daguerreotype the entire sky of Mr Tyutchev with the larger and the smaller stars, i.e. I would copy all his poems. Each of them is a sun, i.e. an original and shining world, though there are spots on some; but thinking about the sun, you forget about spots.

“The poetic power, i.e. Mr Tyutchev’s insightfulness, is remarkable. Not only does he see an object from an original perspective, he also sees its finest fibres and shades. <…> It should be noted that not only every poem, but almost every verse of our poet breathes some mystery of nature, which it jealously hides from the eyes of the uninitiated. What a paradisiacal freshness his spring and south breathe! Like an all-powerful magician Mr Tyutchev penetrates into the innermost sphere of sleep; and how this subjective phenomenon is separated from a person and powerfully put forward for everybody to comprehend! Listen attentively to what the night wind sings to our poet – and you will be scared. But we can’t enumerate everything. Calling Mr Tyutchev a poet of thought, we pointed only to the main property of his nature, but it is so rich that its other aspects are no less brilliant. In addition to their depth, his creations are very subtle and graceful, the surest proof of power.”

Nikolai Nekrasov

“Mr F. T.’s poetry is one of a few brilliant phenomena of Russian poetry. Mr F. T. did not write many poems; but everything he composed bears a stamp of a true and wonderful talent, often original, always graceful, full of thought and genuine feeling. We are certain that if Mr F. T. had written more poems, his talent would have secured him one of the most honourable places in Russian poetry.

“The main merit of Mr F. T.’s poems is in a lively, graceful and plastically correct depiction of nature. He loves it dearly and understands it perfectly; its most subtle and hardly perceptible features and shades are fathomable to him, and all this is perfectly reflected in his poems. Of course, the most complicated works in poetry are those in which there is obviously no content and no thought; it is a landscape in verse, a ‘painting’ indicated by two or three features. It is incredibly hard to catch exactly the features by which this ‘painting’ can arise and be finished automatically in the reader’s imagination. Mr F. T. is perfectly proficient in this art. <…>

“Each verse tugs at your heart-strings, as at some moments do erratic, sudden autumn wind gusts; it hurts to listen to them, but you will regret if you stop listening…”

Ivan Aksakov

“Undoubtedly, Tyutchev belonged to the so-called ‘Pushkin galaxy’ of poets. Not only because he was almost the same age as them, but especially because his poems bear the historical feature that distinguishes and defines the poetry of that era. He was born in 1803 – that is, in the same year as the poet Yazykov, a few months before Khomyakov, two years before Venevitinov, five years after Delvig, four years after Pushkin and three years after Boratynsky; in a word, in that remarkable time in Russia, which was so replete with poets. <…>

“Tyutchev’s poetry represents the nature of inner sincerity and necessity, in which we see the historical feature of the previous age of poetry. That is why he should be ranked among the poets of the Pushkin period, though his poems appeared in the Russian press when we virtually could no longer hear the songs of Pushkin and our other poets, when the time of the domination of poetry over the minds had passed. Tyutchev outlived Pushkin and his entire period of poetry by decades but remained true to himself and his talent. He was among us like an expert in some old school of painting, which was still living and creating in his person, but allowing neither repetition nor imitation.

“He was a poet by vocation not by profession. He performed a sacrament as a poet, but without noticing it, without being aware of its sacramental nature, without reverence for himself and his ‘priesthood’. His mind and heart were obviously busy all the time: his mind was hovering in the realm of some abstract, philosophical or historical ideas, and his heart was looking for vivid feelings and experiences; but above all and in everything he was a poet, albeit he actually didn’t write very many poems. His poems were not the fruit of labour (even if inspired, but still labour, sometimes even painstaking for other poets). When he wrote them, he wrote involuntarily, satisfying an urgent and persistent need because he could not help but write them: or rather, he did not write them, but only wrote them down. They were not composed but created. They were born in his head, and he just ‘dropped’ them on paper, on the first scrap of paper he came across. If there was no one to pick up these scraps and hide them, they were often lost. It was such scraps that Prince I. Gagarin took the trouble to pick up when he decided to show Tyutchev’s poems to Pushkin; but it is very likely that much has been lost forever.”

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