Elisaveta Dmetrieva

‘My gloom will not be illuminated.’
-from a Baroness Cherubina de Gabriak poem

in this house under a pear tree
I lay to rest the overheated verses of my youth
dying in exile for anthroposophical views

my threat distilled to these lines upon the page

wondering what unspoken secret carried me here
to the foothills of the West Tian Shan Mountains
Tashkent’s walls overwhelmed by the Lion Chernyayev
and a Russian Orthodox priest clutching his cross
to echo the destruction rained by Gengis Khan

I now know Voloshin’s prison of discovered places

Apollo, you ignited my star
gentle Voloshin brought the offering
playing the trickster to show the world its folly
crafting my identity to fan their imaginations

conflagration as readers melted with love

Gumilyov became obsessed with my creation
wrote intimate letters to my Silver Age image:
more suitable for consumption, mirroring male need
my crippled body hobbled the aspirations of my mind

paeans and poetry, a lyre created for Apollon’s honor

Baroness Cherubina birthed and slain
Voloshin defeated in his impish protection
our ruse exposed through crude sexual aggression
Gumilyov’s love burnished to hate

insisting the duel be fought where Pushkin fell

you will not understand that Cherubina
has never been a game for me
Cherubina was my birth, but, alas, it was a stillbirth –
brine blood of my creative endeavor

I buried her in a child’s coffin at Delphi

mysterious and mystical woman
rich, cloistered, fictitious
within her lay the temptations of sin and my voice,
now cloaked as Li Xiang Zi through another’s invention –
to escape the duality, I must always be fluid

Tell me before the last, will my lands be ever conquered, all my treasures plundered?

Notes: This poem (a repost from September 2012) is based in the historical duel between Nikolay Gumilyov and Maximilian Voloshin over the imaginary poet Baroness Cherubina de Gabriak (pen name of Elisaveta Dmitrieva). It is reposted for Meeting the Bar at dVerse where I am hosting today on the subject of Keats’ Negative Capability. The real author of Gabriak’s poetry, Elisaveta Dmitrieva, was born on March 31, 1887. Between 1890 and 1903 she suffered from tuberculosis of the bones and was left lame and barely able to walk. She studied French and Spanish literature at Saint Petersburg State University, and published some verses both before and after her Gabriak period but without much success. In 1911 she married Vasiliev, an engineer, and took his last name. Starting from 1921, she was searched and interrogated by the State Political Directorate along with other members of the Anthroposophic Society. Finally in 1927 she was exiled to Tashkent where she died in 1928 of liver cancer. Shortly before her death, she was visited in Tashkent by her friend Sinologist Yulian Shchutsky and wrote, influenced by him, 21 poems attributed to Li Xiang Zi, a fictional Chinese poet exiled for his “belief in immortality of human spirit”. The name of Li Xiang, invented by Shchutsky, means “a house under a pear tree”, where Dmitrieva indeed lived in Tashkent.