Ígosheva Tatyana Vasilievna — Doctor of Philology, Professor. Area of scientific interests: history of Russian poetry of the twentieth century. For many years he has been studying the works of A.A.Blok, Vyach. Ivanova, A.A.Akhmatova, O.E.Mandelstam, N.A.Zabolotsky, etc. The author of the monograph «The Early Lyrics of A.A.Blok (1898-1904), Poetics of Religious Symbolism» (Moscow, 2013); one of the authors-compilers of the anthology «N.A.Zabolotsky: Pro et contra» (St. Petersburg, 2010). Author of two textbooks and more than seventy scientific articles. Employee of the Institute of Russian Literature Pushkin House (S-Pb), Department of Contemporary Literature.
Oleg Okhapkin’s poetic worldview is ambivalent. To appreciate his lyrics is impossible without considering his worldview. This noted ambivalence formed as a result of the poet’s double vision. On the one hand, the poet structures reality in its pure, earthly forms. On the other hand, he also watches, as Pushkin expressed, the «heavenly flight of angels» (for example, «Golden angels’ trumpets / Are open for my ears» in «Invisible Ways»).
Stylistically, this dualistic unity is expressed in a paradoxical combination of «high» and «low» styles within a single work. This literary device was introduced into Russian poetry by G.R. Derzhavin, while Venedikt Yerofeyev is typologically associated with it during the second half of the twentieth century.
The power source of Okhapkin’s ambivalent poetic world is his deeply religious attitude to the real world, which cannot be overlooked when reading his works. This religious consciousness perceives the «low» and the «high» in the world as the intersecting structures of existence and builds their sacred vertical hierarchy.
In addition to the vertical hierarchy, the poet’s religious consciousness also speaks to hierarchical relations stretching and spreading «to the depths» of the spatial coordinates, so to speak. This is a very special poetic vision implemented in Oleg Okhapkin’s artistic world.
In general, Okhapkin prefers to «see» in his poems rather than to «hear,» «touch,» or «smell». It is not surprising that the majority of his images are visual. His poetic vision is much more active than other organs of perception. His landscape poems clearly invoke these senses. Furthermore, Okhapkin’s poetic world involves the image of eyes (the visual apparatus) as a very important aspect. The function of the eyes’ spectrum in his works is quite wide. Sometimes, eyes represent a mirror reflecting the outside world:
Trembling trees in the eyes
And humidly hanging sky,
And the most unexpected of all the prayers
The cornice in tears.
(«I Believe in the Salvation …»)
The yellow sunset outside,
The day is dying in your eyes.
Sometimes eyes belong to images of nature or images of the outside world:
We were confronted by the streetlights in the dark
And by a sidelong glance of a puddle on our way.
(We Walked Around the City Half-Asleep…»)
Other times, eyes are perceived as a metaphysical barrier between the physical and spiritual world, which will be examined later.
The «to the depths» hierarchy (referred to above) manifests itself in the fact that the poet possesses a well-developed poetic ability to perceive the invisible world through the visible one, as well as the spiritual world through the material one. The material cover becomes as though transparent to his spiritual sight, almost as if it is undergoing an X-ray. You might as well say that Oleg Okhapkin follows the principle of transparency. It is one of the key conditions of his perception of existence and the organization of his artistic world. Only his poetic x-rays illuminate and reveal the emotional and spiritual substance of a human being or of the world1 rather than its skeleton.
For example, in The Sanctuary Lamp («My soul is a sacred sanctuary lamp…») the poet discloses the vision of a soul through a physical form:
My soul is a sacred sanctuary lamp.
It glows so clearly and bright.
It stays bright, wherever I lapse,
And its body is a transparent glass.
As far as I know, no poet has referred to human physicality a «transparent glass». However, this is an organic property of Okhapkin’s vision — to see through the physical world like through a transparent glass as illustrated below:
I am fully transparent before the Lord —
In silence, attention and fasting.
Another poem with the same name (The Sanctuary Lamp) («The soul is a vessel of fire and light…») describes the soul as follows:
Who says it is viewless?
I see it every day.
The soul is evident through the poems: «It is visible in the poems of a poet, / As long as the flame is burning.», or through the eyes of a beloved woman: «It is visible in the eyes of love,» etc.
The mysterious presence of the soul in a human body is invisible to ordinary physical sight. However, it is visible to the metaphysical spiritual vision of the lyrical subject in a number of Okhapkin’s poems.
A separate lyrical storyline in Okhapkin’s poetic works is devoted to the acute sense of the presence of creatures from the invisible world in the visible world. In On Your Lovely Face…:
Будто кто от взора скрытый
Над душой моей вздохнул…
И в этом молчанье и бденье вдвоем —
Качанье метели во весь окоем,
Качанье фрегатов ночных фонарей
И крыльев незримых у наших дверей.
(«В ту ночь»)
This storyline develops towards manifestation and clarification of a creature from the invisible world, previously invisible. In Contemplation:
And your Lord unseen before
Is looking at us, and I love him.
That is, two forms of existence, visible and invisible to the ordinary view, acquire new attributes in the poet’s works: the visible physical world and the visible metaphysical world, which shows through material forms of existence. Therefore, the category «visible/invisible» is a major component of the «transparency» principle in Oleg Okhapkin’s poetic world (for example, you can refer to the poem Invisible Ways, 1972).
Okhapkin seeks to turn his physical sight into a spiritual insight or the ability to see «through». With this end in view, the flesh of the world has to become in some way «transparent» to the poet’s view and reveal its deep metaphysical layers of reality. At such moments, the invisible becomes visible. In the words of Okhapkin: «the curtain has fallen from the eyes» (Before the Poem).
In general, Lermontov was the first who demonstrated in his lyrics the ability of the poetic view to turn the invisible into visible. Later, the Russian Symbolists (first and foremost, Blok) made it a moderately official principle of poetic vision.
In the article dedicated to Vyacheslav Ivanov, in the chapter From “Helmsmen Stars” to “Transparency” (1905), Blok wrote: «‘Transparency’ is a symbol, something that pours out through the Veil of Maya.» Behind the veil, there is the world – the single whole. This is the meaning of the constant «landscape» in narrow window frames or behind the shoulders of «Renaissance Madonnas.» Da Vinci’s Lisa del Giocondo contains a «transparency soaring in her smile», which opens up the whole world behind the airy blanket of eyes. Due to the peculiarities of this painting technique, the «landscape» is noticeable only around the sides of the figure: it should shine and open up through the smile representing the variety of the whole world» (Blok 8: 5, 16). In 1911, Sergei Solovyov wrote that «Blok pointed at Leonardo’s background, those rocky distances and said: “That is her. All of this is shining through her face.”» 2
In Blok’s Dream, Okhapkin noted Blok’s ability to see through: through space, through the physical cover of the world, through time. Note this phenomenon in the following poem:
Что видел светлый меченосец Блок,
Печальный паладин Прекрасной Дамы? —
На задниках казенной мелодрамы
Истории серебряный лубок.
Рисованные дали презирать —
Заведомая доблесть Дон-Кихота.
Иль рыцаря предсмертная икота
Нам позволяет латы презирать?
Что беззащитней латника в пути,
Когда стада железных динозавров
Осинничек его зеленых лавров
Так потрясли, что листьев не найти!
Осенний вид безвыходных равнин
Увидел этот странствующий витязь,
И в сумерках пришли к нему, привидясь,
Виденья ископаемые глин.
Прибытья кораблей он ожидал.
Но что предстало сумрачному взору? —
Он затемно в Цусиме увидал
Уже вооруженную «Аврору».
This ability to see through became the principle of Okhapkin’s poetic vision. According to Blok, only an artist is able to see «not only the forefront of the world, but also what is hidden behind it, this undiscovered distance, which is shielded with the naïve reality from an ordinary eye » (Blok -8: 5, 418).
One of Okhapkin’s lyrical storylines is the image of the soul — its light, its fire and its energy — that brightens the physical shell of a human being and makes it transparent. For example, in My Heart Calmed Down. Hope: «And people unwittingly become enlightened…» The soul can be often seen through a person’s eyes:
“Your soul shines in your eyes…”
Or the aforementioned example about the soul:
“It is visible in the eyes of love…”
The principle of transparency in Okhapkin’s poetic world is especially important in his structure of a female image. A woman’s appearance is a mask:
Что мне в том, если эта твоя личина,
Как бы всё, что ценит в любви мужчина,
Как бы всё, что знает о бабе хахаль, —
Лишь солёный скетч, анекдот, спектакль!
Actually, this is Okhapkin’s variation of Lermontov’s famous poem From Under a Mysterious Cold Half-Mask… Lermontov was the first in Russian poetry who introduced a composite model of a female image involving multiple layers. The first layer is a fancy half-mask, the second layer represents features not hidden by a half-mask («fascinating eyes», «deceitful lips», «virgin cheek», «white neck», «unruly curls»). The third layer is complemented by light attributes in the imagination of the lyrical «I» and transformed into the image of the ideal beauty.
The behavioral strategy of the lyrical «I» in Oleg Okhapkin’s poems is comparable with Lermontov’s «I», the eyes of which look for «another woman» in a female image:
I am looking for other features in your lineaments…
(«No, It Is Not You I Love So Flamingly…»)
Therefore, a higher, metaphysical essence of a woman is seen through the «mask» of a female image, tailored as a theatrical mask in order to take part in a sensual performance addressed to «a man», «a boyfriend» or Okhapkin’s lyrical «I»:
Там, как в Киевской Софии,
Ты со мной во мне одна,
Будто солнца луч в сапфире,
Вся насквозь душе видна.
One might assume that this essence is most clearly expressed in When I Looked at You… The poem starts with the motive of a look facing through the «mask» rather than the «mask» itself:
* * *
Когда глядел я на тебя
И предо мной ты, как в киоте,
Молчала, книгу теребя,
Мерцало небо в позолоте.
Там шла вечерня облаков,
И доносилось из-за окон
Глухое пение стихов,
И солнце жгло твой рыжий локон.
И всю тебя прошла насквозь
Весны вечерняя молитва.
А в окна дерево рвалось,
И там в ветвях кипела битва.
А на руках твоих закат
Сгорал дотла, желтей огарка,
И скат плеча был так покат,
Как будто ты — сквозная арка.
Тогда я вглядываться стал
В твои черты, в лицо живое,
И кто-то нас перелистал,
Как ветер ветви над землею.
И мне запомнилось одно:
Твоя щека искала встречи,
Клонилась грудь, молились плечи,
Ломилось дерево в окно.
The female image of this poem is tailored according to the image of the Blessed Virgin. This is evident as it is «like in an icon-case», a posture typical for the Blessed Virgin fixed in the iconography of the Annunciation:
You were silent and fumbling with a book,
The sky was shimmering in gilding…
The principle of transparency is expressed vividly here. The heroine is a figment of spiritual reality rather than a physical one. The landscape is seen through her, as through Giocondo (in Blok’s interpretation). It may be no accident that the word «through» is accented so much here: «The evening prayer of the spring / Passed through your being»; «And the shoulder was sloping so / As if you were a through archway.” The spiritual landscape is seen through this archway and the sloping shoulder.
The lyrical subject is poetically stated here as the owner of a «double vision» able to see both the world of phenomena, the physical appearance of a woman, and the higher world of essences that shines through her. It is not a mere coincidence that a female image is accompanied by lightful images. The principle of transparency works not only as a result of Okhapkin’s lyrical «I» spiritual insight, but also subject to the availability of spiritual energy and light illuminating the density of the material world from the other, «that» side.
In summary, one can say that Oleg Okhapkin’s poems reflect a special spiritual effort to make the physically dense world «transparent» and, as a result, to see and to transfer in words its true metaphysical essence — the fragile and delicate beauty, deep-rooted in the spiritual part of existence.
Translated by Julia Zimarskaya, Jay Evic
© Tatiana V. Ígosheva
© «Okhapkin readings» almanaс № 1, 2015
© «Russian culture», 2018