Andrei Voznesensky, 1933-2010

200px-Andrei_Voznesensky In the NYT:

Mr. Voznesensky and poets like Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina and Robert Rozhdestvensky burst onto the stage in the cultural thaw that followed Stalin’s death in 1953 and rose to stardom in the 1960s, filling stadiums for poetry readings and attracting worldwide attention as creators of powerful verse and symbols of youthful defiance.

Mr. Voznesensky traveled the world to read his poetry, serving as a sort of unofficial Kremlin cultural envoy, even though he was a critic of rough-handed Soviet policies like the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He seemed to provide a propaganda boost at times to Moscow in its yearning search for approval at home and abroad. His independent voice seemed to represent the Communist leadership’s degree of tolerance for criticism, encouraging some foes of totalitarianism to believe that the system could be reformed.

Whatever Mr. Voznesensky’s political opinions, his skill, experimentation and depth as a poet won respect around the world. He was also remembered as a magnificent reader of his poetry. He once appeared in London on the same bill as Laurence Olivier and Paul Scofield and more than held his own.

“I Am Goya,” one of Mr. Voznesensky’s earliest and best-known poems, expressed the fear of war he experienced in childhood. It was inspired by a volume of Goya’s etchings given to him by his father and reads in part (as translated by the American poet Stanley Kunitz):

I am Goya
of the bare field, by the enemy’s beak gouged
till the craters of my eyes gape
I am grief
I am the tongue
of war, the embers of cities
on the snows of the year 1941
I am hunger
I am the gullet
of a woman hanged whose body like a bell
tolled over a blank square
I am Goya

The poem creates its impressions of war and horror through a series of images and interrelated variations on the name of the painter, which echo throughout in a series of striking sound metaphors, in Russian: Goya, glaz (eyes), gore (grief), golos (voice), gorod (cities), golod (hunger), gorlo (gullet).