Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov was a Russian poet, philosopher, playwright and translator who also acted as a literary critic. His work, up to around the 1920s, can be placed amongst that of prominent Russian Symbolist writers and artists.
He was born on the 28th February 1866 in Moscow. He did well at school, graduating with a gold medal, and this earned him the right to attend the Moscow University. He read philosophy and history before going on to further studies in Berlin. His major subjects there were Roman Law and Economics but he took a great interest in German Romantic writers and philosophers, notably Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Novalis.
His studies into ancient Roman law inevitably led him to Rome where, in 1892, he completed his doctoral dissertation on archaeology. He remained there for some time, eventually marrying in 1899 and the couple travelled a great deal, taking in Athens, Geneva and the middle eastern countries. He was often drawn back to Italy though, where Lombardy and the Alpine regions inspired him to write sonnets, some based on poetry written by medieval Catholic mystics. He also took an avid interest in Dionysus, the Ancient Greek cult of religious ecstasy, fertility and wine making. One of his poems is called The Vineyard of Dionysus, and it is reproduced here:
Ivanov published his first collection of poetry in 1903. It was called Lodestars and included pieces of work written some ten years earlier. This was hailed as a new chapter in Russian Symbolism and the poems drew favourable comparisons with Trediakovsky and Milton for their
On his return to St Petersburg in 1905 after years of foreign travel he was feted as a major poet. His house became a regular meeting “salon” for poets such as Alexander Blok, artists like Konstantin Somov and philosophers including Nikolai Berdyayev. Dramatic productions were staged, for example the medieval Spanish play Adoration of the Cross, written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca in the 17th century.
Ivanov quickly established himself in St Petersburg and became known as
Those who attended this oasis of culture, an island set in a sea of Russian illiteracy, saw themselves as completely detached from the sufferings of the ordinary people. Despite this, though, Ivanov saw the possibilities of creating a kind of
strongly influenced by ancient mystery plays and Greek tragedies.
His writing was curtailed by personal tragedies when first his wife died in 1907, and then his second wife also died in 1920. This prompted further travel, firstly to Baku (present day Azerbaijan) where he studied towards his PhD in philology. He then went once more to Italy, settling down to write poetry in Rome where he remained for the rest of his life. Here his final collections were published – Roman Sonnets (1924) and the Roman Diary (1944).
Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov died on the 16th July 1949 at the grand old age of 83. His body lies in the Cimitero Acattolico, close to the graves of other Russian artists and writers.