Chronotope In The Cycle Of J. Brodsky "A Part Of Speech" And Metaphysical Poetry


The article regards the process of broadening the term «metaphysi-cal poetry» taking J. Brodsky’s cycle «A Part of Speech» as empirical ma-terial. The research aims at accumulating evidence on studying chronotope as a philosophical category as well as its artistic function. The study fea-tures the analysis of chronotope being represented in a symbolic way, to-gether with geometric symbols and image structure. The cycle «A Part of Speech» defines three groups of space images: geographic, localized (closed), indefinite-personal. Principal time images include the following: historical (mythical and real), calendar (astronomical), abstract (mythical). Concerning methodology of research there were structural and semiotic, formal, receptive and phenomenological methods as well as discursive ap-proach applied. To comply with the time and place model there are func-tions of nuclear catalyst defined. It is the images of time and space that act as nuclear catalysts which is determined by the distributive and integrative units emphasized in the article. The symbols of space and time differ from the point of view of artistic visibility and audio image, thus, visual and au-dial aspects are contrasted. The role of space being the integral part of world history as well as a cultural and geographical sign is pointed out. The feelings of loneliness and aloofness typical of a lyric hero as well as their transfers from reality to the world of reminiscence are relevant for metaphysical poetry. The essence of the latter is revealed through author’s attitudes towards exile, death and immortality.

Keywords: Brodskymetaphysical poetrychronotope


Joseph Brodsky being the reformer of Russian poetry style and following Pushkin’s and Baratynsky’s footsteps still leaves the researchers seeking for answers to many questions his poetry triggers. The principal issues are those illness, aging, death, Hell and Paradise, God and man, Time and Space, Nothingness, Parting and loneliness, freedom, empire, part of speech (identified with artistic work), man and things. Time and space issues studied within the framework of «A Part of Speech» cycle determined the way lexical units were systematized with the corresponding philosophical attributes and time matters (Burdina, 2016, pp. 217-222). The system also includes lexical units that depict the inner world of the human.

V. Polykhina’s distillations on Brodsky’s life and artistic work prove ones of cultural significance. They are the books “Brodsky as the Poet of Today’s” («Brodskij – poe`t dlya nashego vremeni») published in Cambridge in 1989 and “From those who still remember me. To Joseph Brodsky. In memorial” («Iz ne zaby`vshix menya. Iosifu Brodskomu. In memoriam») issued in Tomsk university publishing house in 2015. The latter is a book featuring poet’s own illustrations which includes about 200 poems written in commemoration to the Noble Prize Winner.  It also contains some passages from memoirs, poems in Russian as well as his poetic translations from European languages including English. This fundamental work being in the background Brodsky’s biography issues by literary critic Bondarenko (2018) got ambiguous reviews. The most gripping moments include the one describing the poet’s northern exile along with speculations of Brodsky following both the classical Russian and Soviet literary tradition. This statement corresponds with the analysis of the Empire concept in Brodsky’s poetry conducted within the framework of this research.

Cinema also acknowledges genuine interest in Brodsky’s life and artistic work, comparing him with another Russian immigrant writer against the background of the 1970-s and the looming emigration of artistic intelligentsia. The latter is depicted in A. German Jr. film “Dovlatov”: “The film reveals a set of days in Sergey Dovlatov’s life in Leningrad of the 1970-s before his friend Joseph Brodsky, a future Noble Prize winner, immigrated. The plot is a whirlpool of paradoxes and hilarious life situations” (Dovlatov, 2018). Vokrug TV channel featured an animated discussion of the film along with the issue of comparing the main hero with Brodsky himself – the film character with the prototyp (Geroi Dovlatova v fil'me i v real'noj zhizni: sravnivaem ekrannye obrazy s prototipami, 2018). The interest in film resulted in agitated debates of another A. German Jr. film “The End of Beautiful Era” held by TV-centre channel on the point of comparing Brodsky and Dovlayov. The following issues were the pint of attention: “How did the paths of Saint-Petersburg communal houses residents, proud loners, cult figures of their time intersect? What happened to them in Leningrad and later in the USA?” (Konec prekrasnoj epohi. Brodskij i Dovlatov, 2018). Lev Ryzhkov (2018) comments on Brodsky and Dovlatov’s encounter this way: “The film features three their encounters. And there is no sparkle between them that is always there when two geniuses come together. Their talks are merely trivial and boring (Ryzhkov, 2018).

Brodsky’s poetry of the immigration period, in particular his cycle «A Part of Speech» tends to be considered as metaphysical. Foreign researchers were first to apply the term «metaphysical poetry» to Brodsky’s artistic works. The term usage was due to the way Brodsky translated English poetry with his special metaphorical style and features of the imagery system. «Settling down in the USA, translation of his poetry into English became a matter of Brodsky’s professional career. Brodsky meticulously revised English translations of his work done by others. Supervising translations of his verse from Russian into English prepared by other translators, Brodsky set out to adjust them, with the belief that above all else the metrical structure of the original should be preserved across translation. This insistence was based in the belief that the relationship between form and content in poetry is not arbitrary; that a poem is the result of necessity» (Ishov, 2018). We would rather draw the focus to the fact that the definition of “metaphysical poetry” fails to take into account Brodsky’s poetical conception. The latter’s key principles were disclosed in discussions with Yves Bonnefoy concerning the ways of poetic form transfer while translating O. Mandelstam’s poems into English: «But in characterizing Mandelstam’s verse language for English-language readers, Brodsky also came down hard against renderings that traduced original form. This occasioned a lively response from no less a poet and critic than Yves Bonnefoy who rejected Brodsky’s argument by proposing a solution at the other extreme» (Khan, 2017, p. 8).

In regard to applying Brodsky’s term «metaphysical poetry»it proves interrelated with chronotope. The poet himself admitted to the relevance of time and place concepts for him: “Space really seems less relevant and valuable for me than time. It is due to the fact space is material while time is an idea of something material” (Brodsky, 1987, pp. 166-167).

It is worth mentioning that the researchers claim the following concerning chronotope: “…the term chronotope has devolved into a veritable carnival of orismology. Forall the good work that has been done by an ever-growing number of intelligent crit-ics, chronotope remains a Gordian knot of ambiguities” (Bemong et al., 2010, p. 19).

Smirnova’s (2019) conception of nothingness (nebytie) appears relevant to the analysis conducted. Still, the mentioned conception reflects nothing that contributes to treating Brodsky’s poetry as metaphysical one. The researcher claims the following: «This project demonstrates that one kind of nebytie is defined through spatial references and primarily addresses one’s location in space or one’s inability to be in the desired place; this sort of nonexistence is identified as nebytie. The other nebytie in Brodsky’s works is related to temporality and is connected to one’s confinement in time; this is what we are going to call post-bytie» (Smirnova, 2019). This approach enables the authors of this article to trace the links between world images and the poet’s outlook. Researchers react to Brodsky’s lecture on receiving the Nobel Prize in the following way: Brodsky’s way to treat time is determined by his outlook (Virgilian, 2019).

Problem Statement

The relevance of the article is determined by studying the sign explication of chronotope together with geometric symbols that lie in the core of chronotope and the way the latter correlates with imagery. The empirical data is the cycle «A Part of Speech». Another relevant aspect is to define the borders between the world forming features in poetry and the lyric hero’s outlook.

Research Questions

Broadening the term « metaphysical poetry » demands chronotope modeling and further description. The task set required the three-level analysis: the first level implied time and space images being systematized, the second one involved interrelations between world forming processes and lyric hero’s perceptions of the world, the third level is determined by Brodsky’s views on space being material while time being an idea of something material and describes the poetic ontology of thing and its symbolic nature.

Purpose of the Study

Modeling chronotope within Brodsky’s cycle «A Part of Speech» contributes to broadening the term « metaphysical poetry » as well as to examining chronotope as philosophical categories and revealing their artistic functions.

Research Methods

The research conducted implies the following methods: structural and semiotic one, which added to studying the structure of chronotope as well as its sign explication; formal one, which contributed to classifying time and space images along with separation of geometric symbols; receptive and phenomenological method, directed at analyzing perceptions being the tool activating the reader interpreting the metaphysical imagery of Brodsky’s poetry; finally, there comes discursive approach relying on the communicative nature of the text.


The first level of analyzing the time and place concepts implies the latter being classified. Thus, there were three groups of space images: geographical (toponimically realized), localized (close), indefinite and personal (marked as relatively topinimical, employing the lyric hero’s personal symbolism). If localized space is limited to domestic already lives in space (basement, terrace), then the images of identifying nature fixing the hero’s personal affiliation to History (Homeland, Empire) aim to broaden the ontological borders. Empire served as an example for distinguishing the role of space as the subject of world culture and at the same time as a geographical sign. There came a system of various time images: historical time (mythical and real), calendar time (astronomic), abstract (mythical).

The second stage of tackling the chronotope reveals interrelations between the world forming processes and the lyric hero’s outlook from the angle of nuclear catalyst and the system of distributive and integrative units. The third stage of considering chronotope disclosed the symbols of space and time from the side of artistic visibility and audio image, both visual and audial aspects.

Empire as one of the world forming concepts for Brodsky’s poetry proves polyphonic: the poet mixes features of absolutely different empires within the framework of one poem.

Table 1 reflects the Empire’s dualistic function ‒ firstly, within its territorial integrity and in its geographical recognizability; secondly, in its temporal artistic dimension. The following are direct quotations from the source (Brodsky, 2017).

Table 1 -
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Indefinite personal space is personally symbolic and characterized by the lyric hero’s involvement in the events described. Barthes’ (1987) view on linguistic as well as personal marking relies on the concepts of function and index regarded within the structural theory of narration: “the narrator’s code is similar to language being made up with two sign systems ‒ personal and impersonal ones” (p. 412). In this regard, the symbolic nature of time and place concepts within the lyric narrative is syncretic and connects personal и impersonal.

The third group of space images enables one more classification to emerge including axiologically, spiritually, ideologically marked images (Heaven, hell), mythopoetic ones (dreams), cosmological images (planet), etc. Generalizing space images adds to Bakhtin’s idea of space as the starting point for time images which enables to describe them functioning as world images. Brodsky’s poetry features frequent references to the images to follow: North, sea, glass, heel, shadow, South, winter, night, map, candles, field, ocean, chair, sky, moon, traces, rook, feather, mouse, shirt, dust, stuffiness, fish, loneliness, empires, air, water, etc. Such frequency is due to the poet’s northern exile which appeared dominating Brodsky’s outlook and his poetic system.

There is a classification of space images together with references to Brodsky’s cycle under study, the titles of poems and pages containing the citations represented in Table 2 .

Table 2 -
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The special focus is on the way «foreign capitals» are marked with anonymity being a nomination technique that aims to hide topinimical objectivity.

Time images classified accordingly to Bakhtin’s concept of artistically visible sensation of space seek to identify the forms and specific features of the poet’s outlook. The following time images classification differentiates historical (mythical and real), calendar (astronomic), abstract (mythical) time. It proves interesting that the dimension of the poet’s attitudes is due to diversity in understanding mythical time: the one describing alienation distance (historical and mythical, the time fixed in historical memory) and another acquiring the features of personal marking (abstract mythical time). The distinction between historical mythical time and abstract mythical one is obvious when the poet mentions some real historic names: Poseidon, Trojan war, Herod, Caesar, Pliny the Elder, Simeon, Maria, Dante, Euclid, Thomas More, Prince Albert, Schiller, Elizabeth. Images and types of time are represented in Table 3 .

Table 3 -
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Tables 2 and 3 put in juxtaposition reveal connections between world forming processes and the poet’s perceptions of the world. Firstly, it lies in syncretic images of space and time. For instance, the image of Kronos as an Ancient Greek symbol of mythological nature addresses the time. The poem «Kolybel’naya treskovogo mysa» (Lullaby of Cape Cod) depicts Kronos embodying the space through the double message function: Mestnost’, gde ya nakhozhys’, est’ pik / Kak by gory. // Dal’she – Vozdukh, Kronos (terrain, where I am, there is a peak like mountains. On - air, Kronos) (Brodsky, 2017, p.123). Secondly, a set of poems features the space specified through attributes. Such lyric conception distinguishes distributive classes of time and space images.

The same tables compared prove the structural conception of the narrative. Thus, Benveniste’s theory of language levels also referred to by Barthes (1987, p. 392) implies connection between distributive and integrative relations. Several description plans in their integrative perspective (Barthes, 1987, p. 392) lay the groundwork for analyzing the symbolic nature of time and place concepts in Brodsky’s poetry. They also aim at correlations of paradigmatic and syntactic nature together with defining the function of nuclear catalyst within the system of distributive and integrative units. As an example, the poem « Ty zabyla derevnyu, zaterynnuyu v bolotah» (Have you forgotten the village lost in the swamps) contains the word gunerniya (province) operating as a dictionary slot or nuclear catalyst, distributed through the images of village, kitchen-gardens, road, causeways and gullies. The same applies to the distributive class zimy ( winters) as the time image specified by the moroznoe nebo ( frosty sky) .

Ty zabyla derevnyu , zaterynnuyu v bolotah

zanesennoj gubernii , gde chuchel na ogorodakh

otrodyas’ ne derzhat - ne te tam zlaki,

i dorogoj tozhe vse gati da bueraki <…>

A zimoj tam kolyut drova i sidyat na repe,

i zvezda morgaet ot dyma v moroznom nebe

(H ave you forgotten village , lost in the swamps

forested province , where scarecrows in their gardens

he has never kept - not those where cereals, and expensive, too,

but all the causeway gullies <…>

In winter , there is chopping wood and sit on turnips,

and the star blink of smoke in the frosty sky ;

(Brodsky, 2017, p. 101).

The poem “Dekabr’ vo Florentsii” (December in Florence) features the image of city ( города ) characterized by distributive meanings: зеркала, река под шестью мостами, места, трамвайный угол. Semantic units aim at creating urbanistic images:

Est’ goroda , v kotorye net vozvraya.

Solntse b’etsya v ih okna, kak v gladlie zerkala . To

est’, v nih nе proniknesh’ ni za kakoe zlato.

Tam vsegda protekaet reka pod shest’yu mostami ;

Tam est’ mesta , gde pripadaet ustami

tozhe k ustam i perom k listam. I

tam tolpa govorit, osazhdaya tramvajnyj ugol ;

na yazyke chelovekа, kotoryj ubyl

There are cities in this world to which one can’t return.

The sun beats on their windows as though on polished mirrors ;

And no amount of gold will make their hinged gates turn.

Rivers in those cities always flow beneath six bridges ;

There are places in those cities where lips first pressed on lips

and pen on paper. In those cities there’s a richness

of scarecrows cast in iron, of colonnades, arcades.

There the crowds besieging trolley stops are speaking

in the language of a man who’s been written off as dead . (Brodsky, 2017, p. 130).

The poem «Pokhorony Bobo» (“The Funeral of Bobo”) describes a leaf ( листок) making a semantic space unit. The image of a leaf is allegorical – this is a one from the tear-off calendar. The image relies on the metaphorical space and time unity. The date ( data) coupled with zero ( nul’) add to double coding representing a time measurement or a cyclicity criterion, a personal marking (mentioning a person’s name – Bobo) as well as the description of air filling the room in square (kvadratom) at one and the same time;

Sorvi listok , no datu pereprav’:

Nul’ otkryvaet perechen’ utratam.

Sny bez Bobо napominayut yav’,

i vozdukh vhodit v komnatu kvadratom

Tear off a page , correct the date :

the list of losses opens with a zero ;

Dreams without Bobó suggest reality.

A square of air comes in the window vent. (Brodsky, 2017, p. 14).

The example shows geometric symbols emerging that revive the living connection in objects and form the poetic ontology of thing. Believing in objects possessing souls reveals the hero being lonely and unsettled.

Revealing certain links with A. Blok’s poetry a prominent American literary researcher dwelled on the common features of symbols: “The images created by him always preserve both their definite as well as abstract meanings, thus, they make symbols” (Taranovsky, 2000, p. 319).

Complexity of Brodsky’s symbols is due to their polyphonic nature. In this regard, time never stands for a certain period only: it emphasizes moving forward and is interconnected with eternity beyond the power of man.

The third level of studying chronotope is determined by the poetic ontology of thing and its symbol. It is known that the polysemy of symbol is due to associative links (Taranovski, 2000, p. 319). That is the world of associations creating polyphonic symbols in the poem «Babochka» (“Butterfly”):

Ne sokrushajsya zh, esli

tvoj vek , tvoj ves

dostojny nemoty:

zvuk - tozhe bremya.

Besplotnee, chem vremya ;

bezzvychnej ty

Do not crush

Well, if a your age, your weight dumbness worthy:

sound - also a burden.

incorporeity, than time ;

you silently . (Brodsky, 2017, p. 5) ‒

The symbols of space and time differ in their artistic visibility and audio image that is in visual and audial features. Unfortunately, further studies of the issue lies beyond the research questions.

Time and space connections revealed aim at forming each time different lyric plot. The types of the latter make up a list of Brodsky’s metaphysical poetry. Brodsky’s lyrical cycle belongs to his metaphysical poetry characterized by the feeling of loneliness and aloofness as well as the hero’s transfers from reality to the world of reminiscence. Lyric hero’s sufferings and emotions reflected in Brodsky’s poetry are largely intertwined with him being in opposition to the authorities: “Brodsky demonstrates his engagement with this tradition and its political implications by emphasising the ‘authority of poetry’, which he places in direct competition with that of the state. Such views are found throughout his interviews and essays” (Price, 2014, p. 7). Nevertheless, the role of chronotope contributing to outlook formation draws attention to the hero’s existential world. The latter also proves a key feature of metaphysical poetry.


The bottom line is, time and space images prove the poet defining localized and ontological types of space. Such differentiation contributes to determining the role of space as an integral part of world history as well as a cultural and geographical sign. The images and types of time in their turn are studied from the perspective of artistic visibility and regarding time consuming space. The cycle «A Part of Speech» reveals the connection between the world forming features in poetry and the lyric hero’s outlook represented as multiple correlations. Various images of time and chronotope and place concepts is revealed in time and space symbols differing in visual and audial attributes.


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20 November 2020

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Sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, bilingualism, multilingualism

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Urazayevа, K. B., Shomanova, G. K., Rysmaganbetova, G. D., & Zhienbay, A. B. (2020). Chronotope In The Cycle Of J. Brodsky "A Part Of Speech" And Metaphysical Poetry. In Е. Tareva, Prof. Dr., & T. N. Bokova, Prof. Dr. (1st Edition), Dialogue of Cultures - Culture of Dialogue: from Conflicting to Understanding, vol 95. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1032-1043). European Publisher.