Derzhavin, Gavrila Romanovich

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Derzhavin, Gavrila Romanovich (1743-1816): Russian Writer.

Gavrila Derzhavin, Russia's most outstanding eighteenth-century poet, expanded and transformed the Russian ode along with almost the entire poetic genre system of his era. Born in Kazan to noble parents, he studied in the Kazan gymnasium and entered an army career that lasted from the 1760s to 1779. Afterward he became closely linked with the government of the empress Catherine II, the Great, and his service included posts as a province governor, Catherine's legal secretary, and a counselor to the Senate. During his years of service and his retirement period after 1803, he achieved great renown for his accomplishments in court panegyric odes, sacred odes, and Anacreontic songs.

Derzhavin completely reworked the classicist system of poetic genres and styles established by Lomonosov, Mikhail, whom he especially admired. Derzhavin's odes included an individual lyrical voice previously deemphasized by earlier poets. Works such as "On the Death of Prince Meschersky" (1779) and "The Wellspring" (1783) responded in a unique way to Edward Young and to poets of antiquity. "Felitsa" (1783), a light and witty panegyric to Catherine, was one of the first odes to mix high and low styles. The ode "God" (1784) became a touchstone of Russian sacred poetry and was translated into numerous other languages upon publication. Derzhavin's Anacreontic Songs (1804) brought the specifics of Russian life into poetry, and odes such as "The Waterfall" (1798) and "To Eugene. Life at Zvanka" (1807) combined deep philosophical issues with richly illustrative descriptions. Romantic poets took inspiration from Derzhavin's discoveries of the individual lyrical voice. At the same time, Derzhavin was the model for conservative poets who wished to pursue the ode rather than the lighter genres.

Further Reading:

Pierre R. Hart, G. R. Derzhavin: A Poet's Progress, 1978.

Alisa Gayle Mayor, Models for Creativity and the Image of the Author in the Poetry of G. R. Derzhavin, 1997.

Alisa Gayle Mayor