Fyodor Tyutchev: a philosophical and religious poet

  • Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev was born on December 5th, 1803, into an old noble family in their estate near the city of Bryansk, southwest of Moscow. The family roots are said to trace back to a Crimean Tatar, who, however, was a citizen of the Venetian Republic and Marco Polo’s associate. The poet spent his childhood years in Moscow, where he joined the classical academy. His first printed work was a translation of Horace’s epistle to Maecenas.

  • His family teacher was Semyon Raich, who was one of the first Russian experts in German philosophy and who later became a teacher to another poet, Mikhail Lermontov. Tyutchev then attended Moscow University, where he specialized in philology.

    In 1822 he joined Russian Empire’s Foreign Ministry and was sent to Munich, Germany, where he remained for 22 years. There, he found himself absorbed in the atmosphere of German Romanticism. He enthusiastically studied German philosophy. He met many outstanding personalities of the time. Heine called Tyutchev “one of his best friends”, while Schelling referred to Tyutchev as “an excellent and most cultivated man with whom it is always a pleasure to converse”. The influence of German poetry and philosophy on Tyutchev’s creative development is doubtless.

    In 1836 Tyutchev managed to have some of his poems published in Sovremennik, a literary journal edited by Alexander Pushkin. Over the following 14 years, Tyutchev did not publish a single line of poetry. He regarded his poems rather as bagatelles, not worthy of publication. It was not until 1854 that his first collection of verse was printed, which was carried out by the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev.

    Tyutchev died in Tsarskoe Selo, near Saint Petersburg, on July 27th, 1873 and was interred at Saint Petersburg’s Novodevichy Monastery.

    Tyutchev’s poetry is “ideological” in the highest sense of the word. It is really “more than poetry” and conveys a profound philosophical message. That is to say, Tyutchev’s poetry is, to a considerable extent, a means to express Truth. And his poetry is not getting worse because of that.

    Everything that is going on around is underlain for Tyutchev by a solid philosophical and religious foundation. First of all, many of his poetic images echo with primitive religiosity. Here, he could not help but be attracted by such a phenomenon as a thunderstorm, which may be considered one of the most vivid manifestations of the divine forces’ play:

  • The thunderstorm has passed, yet smouldering, an oak
    Was lying prostrate, smitten by the thors…

Tyutchev’s famous “May’s first thunderstorm” ends with an envoy, which is often omitted in school reading-books, but which, in reality, carries the poem’s principal message:

  • You’d think capricious Hebe,
    feeding the eagle of Zeus,
    had raised a thunder-foaming goblet,
    unable to restrain her mirth,
    and tipped it on the earth.

Having outgrown primitive beliefs, Tyutchev turns to the religion of Nature. The Latter is not for Tyutchev just an aggregate of physical, chemical, and other “scientific” phenomena. Actually, It is a living Being:

  • It has a soul and a tongue,
    And there is love and freedom in It…

But it is not just a living Being. For Tyutchev, Nature is a harmonious, beautiful Being. It is a Cosmos. Yet, this Cosmos is not a primary formation. It originates from Chaos. Reminding of it is the wail of the night wind, who sings songs about the “ancient, native Chaos”. And those songs are so consonant with the “night soul”.

Nature, or Cosmos, proves to be so familiar to a responsive Human, that He cannot help but feel His kinship with It, and, sometimes, even oneness with It:

  • Here comes the hour
    Of inexpressible yearning,
    All things in me,
    And I’m in everything…

Tyutchev seems to anticipate the endpoint of the endless human cognition, which, in essence, amounts to nothing other than discerning of Human in Nature. This disclosing of Nature contains Its forthcoming transcendence, when Human wants not to cognize, but create, that is, He ceases to be Human proper. Undoubtedly, Tyutchev gives Nature Her due, he glorifies Her grandeur. For all that, he does not consider Her self-sufficient and is not going to confine all Truth to Her:

  • Природа – сфинкс. И тем она верней
    Nature’s a Sphinx. And her ordeal
  • Своим искусом губит человека,
    Is all the more destructive to mankind
  • Что, может статься, никакой от века
    Because, perhaps, she has no riddle.
  • Загадки нет и не было у ней.
    Nor did she ever have one.

Having exhausted all the opportunities provided by Nature, Tyutchev is surely moving towards accepting the religion of the true God. Tyutchev is convinced that there truly exists not Nature, but another Entity which Human cannot fully comprehend:

  • Есть нескудеющая сила,
    There is a strength which never wanes,
  • Есть и нетленная краса.
    There is untainted Beauty.

Furthermore, Truth for Tyutchev is not exclusively an Object of study or contemplation. It is turned towards Human and urges Him to exert effort to approach It, to communicate with It. Truth will only reveal Itself to those who are able to love and suffer, who can cure others’ ailments, and also to those

  • Кто душу положил за други
    who has laid down his life for their friends
  • И до конца все претерпел.
    and endured everything to the end.

Finally, Truth cannot but manifest Itself. Because for Tyutchev It is not just something theoretical. As a matter of fact, it is God. And It is not just “God”. It is a God Who ultimately appears before the world. It is a God Who has a human face. It is God-Man:

  • Когда пробьет последний час природы,
    When nature’s final hour strikes
  • Состав частей разрушится земных:
    And earthly matter has disintegrated,
  • Все зримое опять покроют воды,
    All will again be covered by waters,
  • И Божий лик изобразится в них.
  • With God’s face being pictured in them..
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