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Life And Fate Of Poet Zabolotsky Житие Поэта Заболоцкого

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By Andrew Alexandre Owie
Rather tough poem `An ugly girl` about cruelty of the world and its false ideals was written by a classical author of the Russian literature of the 20 c. Nikolai Zabolotsky in 1948 and published in 1955. Earlier I wrote the name of this big Russian poet as Zabolocki. Now I have to write Zabolotsky as I knew that the poet had insisted on that spelling. Still phonetically there`s no difference in any case. I knew also that Nikolai Alexeyevich Zabolotsky`s (1903-1958) favourite authors had been Dostoyevsky, Goethe and Thomas Mann. After Anton Chekhov he was the second great Germanophile of the Russian literature. He was crazy about the order, by the way. He appreciated Boris Pasternak, as a poet and translator of the Faust by J.-W. Goethe. But he never forgot to add that he`d been the second one after Boris Pasternak as a poet.

His poem `An ugly girl` had got an exact prototype. When I was translating it in the library a girl student who peered over my shoulder (she wasn`t a philologist) noticed that the girl must have been Jewish. Soon I was very much astonished at having known that the student had been right. The prototype of the ugly girl was Ira, daughter of Nikolai Alexeyevich`s second wife Natalie Alexandrovna Roskina (1928-1989) (they`d been married for 2,5 years). When Ira grew up, she married poet Evgeniy Rein (friend and teacher of Joseph Brodsky) and they had got a baby girl who occurred to have been a beautiful child that served as an excuse for the other poets to remember Zabolotsky`s An Ugly Girl whether appropriate or not and simulate astonishment at the obvious fact that `an ugly girl` gave birth to a pretty girl.

Nikolai Zabolotsky was a man who experienced a lot in his life. He spent 8 years in the GULAG where owing to his love of order he made a brisk career from a shovelman to a foreman. It saved his life, as he would have stepped aboard the barge which was to have been drowned with all the prisoners in the Amur river in the Russian Far East, but his chief who needed the competent managers and accountants pulled him out of it literally last moment. For the first time when in the GULAG he even hadn`t got the trousers and had to walk in the column of the prisoners across the city so to say sans-culottes.

In 1944 he was pardoned, and by the 1953 he and his family (wife and two children) had been returned all they lost after his having been proscribed, including their large, comfortable flat, car, fridge, expensive Wedgwood tea service, originals of the classical paintings (he had got one of six portraits by Feodor Rokotov, a dame in a oval frame, in his private collection, in particular), big money, high social position and popularity.

And that very moment his faithful wife Ekaterina Vasiliyevna Zabolotskaya (born Klykova) who was that time 48 years old all of a sudden cheated on him with his friend, the brilliant, handsome and energetic writer Vasiliy Semyonovich Grossmann (1905-1965) who was writing his prominent novel `Life and Fate` (1959). In Memoirs of Korney Chukovsky, his close friend, we read: `If she`d swallowed a bus Zabolotsky would have been astonished less!` It happened, however, as the natural result of his own behaviour. The GULAG changed Zabolotsky`s temper; the former strong and cheerful personality became unrecognizably despotic, requiring 10-11 hours of perfect silence, weak and timid, unsociable and started drinking much vodka. He`d been listening to Maurice Ravel`s Bolero for hours and did it even in presence of guests. By the way, it was him who used to say that to be untrue to himself is of more woe than being cheated on.

He loved his wife (he never ceased loving her); but he also fell in love with Natalie Roskina, a young scholar who was that time just 28 years old, who was one of his fans and de facto adopted daughter of Vasiliy Grossmann. She married Zabolotsky who was 54 years old that time not loving him; it was him who insisted on it. Alas, I can`t represent you her photo, as to the photo that is considered to be that of her with Zabolotsky it`s but a picture of Zabolotsky with his own daughter.  All Moscow then was gossiping that Zabolotsky had urgently found a Judaic girl for himself as she seemed to him (and really was) among the prettiest ones. They moved to her communal flat in which kitchen and toilet facilities were shared by several families and where he was permanently disturbed by a neighbour who was considered to have been an intellectual because he told that he`d read almost all short stories by Shakespeare and loved best of all his story about a steam engine! Soon the former wife of Zabolotsky left Grossmann who also returned to his former wife Olga Gruber and all resumed its normal course.

But all those men and women remained the good friends, by the way, if not a common family. Literary bohemia of the Eastern Roman Empire! Ira, a prototype of an ugly girl, often lived with Zabolotsky`s adult children in their comfortable flat. Parting with Natalie Roskina, Zabolotsky presented her an amethyst necklace and, beside `An Ugly Girl` about her daughter, he dedicated to her an iconic poem `Declaration of Love`(`You are kissed, bewitched...`) that became a modern Russian romance after it had been put to music in the 80s of the 20 c. All who wrote about this romance song in the Internet resort to various tricks trying to prove that that poem by Zabolotsky had been dedicated either to his first wife or to both wives at once, allegedly they were two prototypes of it. They`re wrong, that poem, an improvisation on the S.O.S. (The Song of Songs) was dedicated to the `Judaic girl` who was its only prototype.

As to `An Ugly Girl` it was called `a pride of the Russian poetry` by Irakliy Andronikov who also was a longstanding friend of Nikolai Zabolotsky. And he was right! The contemporaries, his friends, poets did not consider Nikolai Alexeyevich Zabolotsky a great Russian poet, a genius. Once on their way back from Italy to Moscow ones of the leading Soviet poets of that time Alexandre Twardowski and Boris Slutsky (whose brother, by the way, was that time the chief of the MOSSAD in Israel) entered the compartment and thinking that Zabolotsky was fast asleep, Alexandre Twardowski said to Boris Slutsky: `What a good fella he`s happened to be and what rubbish he`s been writing for all his life!`

Zabolotsky was carrying a black suit length from Italy to have his new suit made, but he wore it only in the coffin. He died of the second heart attack. He could have lived much longer if not alcohol. Doctors warned him, but he made his choice, and their forecast, timing, accurately came true. He was afraid of the natural disasters, anthropogenic impact and did not trust the human nature and suffered from an acute atomic phobia. Once he said to Natalie Roskina: `If the all-out nuclear war begins, I`ll step downstairs to the pub in the ground floor of our house and start drinking 24/7`. `What about me?` asked Natalie. He answered: `You`re still young, you will flee!`

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