Under the Shadow of Tyutchev

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Kaliningrad is going to perpetuate the memory of Russia’s great son

By Boris Bartfeld, a writer

To wake up under the roof of a wing of the house on the Tyutchev family estate, to look through the window at the snow–covered park and remember that today is 5th December – Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev’s birthday. But what year and what century is it? Tyutchev’s poetry is timeless, and it seems that this magnificent house in the village of Ovstug [Tyutchev’s birthplace in the Bryansk region] and the romantic park have always been there. Though we know that for most of the twentieth century this house did not exist, and the park was destroyed by the Germans during the occupation. But the thirty-year efforts of residents of the Bryansk region and enthusiasts, led by the village teacher Vladimir Gamolin, inspired by the love for their native land and Tyutchev’s poetry, performed a miracle of revival in the 1980s.

I was lucky enough to see this estate not only in winter, but also on the border from spring to summer and at the very end of August. The name of the Russian poet is not only connected with the land of Bryansk, but also with Moscow, St Petersburg, Tsarskoye Selo and Munich. But what does the faraway Kaliningrad from which I am writing these lines have to do with it? Of course, great poetry overcomes times, spaces and boundaries, but there is also the fact of the poet’s personal presence in our city.

Let’s look back on 1859. In May Tyutchev was entrusted with a courier expedition to Berlin and went to Europe by steamer. There were Szczecin, Berlin, Munich and many German cities along with Paris and Geneva on his long journey. On completing the trip on 21st October (the old calendar), the poet returned to Berlin. On 24th October, having received a special assignment, he departed for Königsberg in order to visit the Russian consul in the Royal City. The day before his departure Tyutchev wrote to his wife from Berlin: “Tonight I will plunge – not into eternity, like those hanged in England, but into infinity, like travellers in Russia.”

Having received a special mail at the Königsberg Consulate for delivery to St Petersburg, the poet went to the Russian capital across the Empire’s vast expanse. He arrived in St Petersburg on 2nd November and returned to work as Chairman of the Foreign Censorship Committee. And during that endless journey Fyodor Ivanovich wrote the incredibly sad and wistful poem, On the Way Back from Königsberg. Please read his short excerpt:

My native landscape… Under a smoky canopy

Of a huge snow cloud

The expanse is showing blue – with its sullen forest,

Shrouded in autumn haze…

Everything is so bare – and immeasurably empty

In the deathly-still monotony…

In places there just appear through spots

Of dead waters covered with the first ice.

The autograph of the poem from the poet’s letter to his daughter Daria has survived. On 17th of January 1860, it was published for the first time in the Nashe Vremya (Our Time) newspaper. The autograph is accompanied by Tyutchev ‘s postscript to his daughter: “My dear daughter, here are a few rhyming lines, which helped me distract myself from my boring, tiresome journey. I am sending them to you instead of a long letter… However, for the sake of justice I must tell you that at this very moment the sun is shining brightly. However, it isn’t shining onto rose bushes or blooming orange trees, but onto ‘fresh’ icicles which have just ‘blossomed out’.”

Are this episode from his biography and the poem not enough to perpetuate the memory of the great poet, diplomat and thinker in Kaliningrad? Besides, the poet is part of the city’s history. Our Kaliningrad Regional Museum of History and Arts cooperates closely with the Ovstug Museum-Reserve. With the participation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Kaliningrad representation of the Ministry, two museums held a brilliant exhibition, Russian Poet-Diplomats of the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries, dedicated to the 210th birth anniversary of Tyutchev.

Now, on the eve of the poet’s 220th anniversary, it’s high time to roll up our sleeves and perpetuate the memory of Russia’s great son in a city he visited.

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