Leonid Martynov

Leonid Martynov Poems

Born into the family of a communications technician, Martynov was unable to complete school because of the Revolution. While working at different jobs he began to publish his poetry in Siberian journals in 1921. His work as a journalist while traveling through Siberia and Turkestan resulted in a first book of essays in 1931.

His first collection of poems, "Стихи и поэмы" (Verses and Long Poems), was published in 1939 and called little attention to itself. His work was seen as apolitical and belonging to another time. His finest early poetry is linked to the theme of a symbolic wonderland, "Лукоморье" (Cove) (1945). The tide, taken from traditional Novgorod heroic poems (byliny), had been used by Pushkin in his poetic fairy tale "Ruslan and Ludmila." Just after World War II, an infamous article by Vera Inber, an ambitious poet who was striving to make herself a literary commissar, charged that Martynov's work was not compatible with Soviet poetry. He was systematically excluded from Soviet journals and not published at all after 1947; he became a teller of fairy tales with nothing to do, unsuited for times that wanted drumbeaters of war sentiment.

After the death of Stalin, Ilya Ehrenburg brought Martynov back to public attention. Martynov's small green book Стихи (Verses) became the first poetic best-seller in the renaissance of poetry during the Thaw (the post-1953 period). Martynov was a marvelous, even extraordinary poet, but the era was brief and contradictory in the extreme. The new political struggle in literature gave fame to both Martynov and Boris Slutsky and then seized their popularity and tragically compelled them, two talented and honest poets, to betray Boris Pasternak with uncharacteristic denunciations after publication of Dr. Zhivago in 1957, for which their reputations suffered. A brilliant craftsman of the extended image, Martynov was the author of splendid long poems about Siberia as well as semifantastic shorter ones and a master of the short epic form, aphoristic miniatures, and phantasmagoria. His style was unique, as shown in "Sunflower".