Национальный исследовательский Томский политехнический университет
Bunin is one of the most gifted Russian poets, short story writers, and translators of the 20th century. His short story “Light breathing” is the story he was most proud of in his later years. As well as expressing Bunin’s opinion on the problem of the nature of the relationships between an individual person and the vast universe, it also expressed his personal aesthetic. In this short stories Bunin successfully combined poetic feelings and psychological reality. In the following analysis of “Light breathing”’s plot and poetic language, I will attempt to analyze the poetic manner of Bunin’s writing.
Keywords:Bunin, the non-linearity of the plot, narrative details, Language of poetry
Bunin is one of the most gifted Russian poets, short story writers, and translators of the 20th century. Due to the fact that his work carried on the classical Russian prose traditions, he became the first Russian writer to be rewarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He honed to perfection his short stories’ artistic value. While Bunin was well-known in literary circles as a poet, his skill of writing prose exceeded his art of writing poetry. Due to his tendency to write poetry, all of his novels had a unique and artistic style. His short story “Light breathing” is the one he was most proud of in his later years. As well as expressing Bunin’s opinion on the problem of the nature of the relationships between an individual person and the vast universe, it also expressed his personal aesthetic. In the following analysis of “Light breathing” ’s plot and poetic language, I will attempt to analyze the poetic manner of Bunin’s writing.
1. The non-linearity of the plot.
In the short story “Light breath” Bunin uses a poetic manner of narration. The story is about a student named Olya, whose life suddenly ends. The narrator intentionally uses a non-linear narrative thread. The story opens at funeral, where people are throwing earth into a fresh grave. The narrator then describes the setting up of an oak cross. The only thing in the middle of this cross is Olya’s portrait. The thing that is most noticeable on this portrait is Olya’s amazing eyes (a). The narrator then describes her adolescence: she has already turned into a beautiful young lady, who is known as the most beautiful girl in her school, and she is in love with one of her fellow students (b). The narrator then describes the last winter of the heroine’s life and her private talk with the school principle (c). One month passes by, when a Cossack officer shouted “Olya is dead” at the railway station (d). From the diary we find out that last summer the principle’s brother Malutin came around and he and Olya had a physical relationship (e). Then the narrative turns to the classroom teacher remembering the heroine’s talk about ‘the light breath’ (f). According to a linear narrative, the sequence of events should be: b, f, e, c, d, a. The non-linearity of narration and the sudden changes of scenes are two of Bunin’s characteristic features. The episode where the life of the heroine was suddenly and cruelly ended by the Cossack, was written in only one sentence. This kind of intentionally non-linearity was used by Bunin in order to shade this episode and that is how the author emphasized that this story is full of the lightness of breath and of a slight melancholy. Because of the above mentioned details the plot is both vivid and life-like. One critic of the short story said: “I cannot say that the short story is a short story, it is a revelation that fills you with the fear and love of life. It is also the author’s sorrowful and peaceful reflection. It is an epitaph for the young girl’s beauty”. Although the novel has its beginning, culmination and conclusion, the author still doesn’t describe the whole process of events. Instead, he describes the main reason why the whole situation happened and from the separate episodes the whole plot is gathered together. The author thereby achieved the effect that excites the reader, and makes him or her think about the great variety of reasons of why it has happened.
In his short stories Bunin successfully combined poetic feelings and psychological reality.
2. Narrative details
The poetic manner of Bunin’s works is also expressed in the layers of narrative detail. In “Light breathing” Bunin created a unique and sad atmosphere, which is felt throughout the whole story. In the beginning of the story the sky is grey, trees are stripped of their leaves, and the cold wind is blowing. These details create an atmosphere of sorrow. Then there is description of the heroine’s beauty (slender body, small waist, well-proportioned legs, breasts, etc.). The beauty of her physical movements are emphasized (nobody could dance, ice skate or run like she did). The above mentioned details make the readers of the novel imagine the heroine’s life and think about what will happen next.
Even though the life of such young girl was suddenly interrupted (Olya was shot by a Cossack officer on the platform), the author does not create an atmosphere of tragedy. Beyond all this, there is the question of the light breathing and what is signifies. Although it is April, and we read of the gray fields and a cemetery surrounded by a white fence, there is still the hint of spring coming in the sound of the bird’s sweet song, and a woman teacher lost in deep thoughts. The teacher remembers how she accidentally heard a conversation between Olya and her friend about what beauty should include: “ besides the pitch-black eyes, the gentle blush on cheeks, the slender and graceful stature, the main thing is — light breathing! I have just the same, listen, how I sigh — is it?” This light breathing covered over Olya’s capricious nature, open hypocrisy, and the flaws of her feebleness and despotism. There is also light breathing in the natural world; in white clouds that are piled upon one another, in the cool spring wind. Such details allow the whole story to be filled by a faded melancholy, from which it is impossible to escape. Light breathing is an eternal act of sorrow, which does not have the capability to disappear; it forces people to worry and not to forget. The details of creation are also a special poetic feature of Bunin short story.
3. Language of poetry
The language of Bunin’s short story has a neat verse and hidden meaning. It also has light and simple prose, and the whole has a rich sense of rhythm and musicality. It contains scintillating witticisms, and stirs people's memories. In 1912, Bunin, during an interview in the “Moscow newspaper” said he refused to divide literature into poetry and prose. He believed that poetry and prose must come together to mutually enrich each other. Bunin wrote that “The concise speaking of the language of poetry needs to be close to natural speech”.
Я крепко заснула,/ но тотчас же проснулась ∙∙∙/ Нынче я стала женщиной!/ Папа, мама и Толя, / все уехали в город, я осталась одна. / Я была так счастлива, что одна!
Я утром гуляла в саду, в поле, / была в лесу, / мне казалось,/ что я одна во всем мире, / и я думала так хорошо, / как никогда в жизни.
Теперь это легкое дыхание / снова рассеялось в мире /, в этом облачном небе,/ в этом холодном весеннем ветре.
In fact, while reading his story we can feel that the rhythm is slow, there is a clear melody in some places, and the rhyming has some similarities to poetry. Because of this, we can say that Bunin is a poet. All his life, Bunin continued to work at the intersection of prose and poetry. Even during the last years of his life, when he no longer wrote poetry, he still translated the work of European poets. We can say that from the very beginning to the end, he had the character of the poet. He saw the world through the poet’s eyes; with the poet’s feelings he came to perceive the world; he used the personal experiences of the poet to express the inner feelings of the world. Bunin desired that his short stories be read aloud, with a sense of poetic rhythm to them. “Light breathing” is an example of this. The story not only merges elements of poetry, but also elements of drama. It is as if the story has a chaotic plot, but also a unified artistic structure. Omitting even one phrase, one might destroy its sense of artistic integrity. So the Bunin story inherited the best traditions of Russian literature, including Pushkin and Turgenev, and at the same used a non-linear plot, strong emotions, musical cadence and other poetic features.
1. И. А. Бунин Собрание сочинений в шести томах(1987). Москва: Художественная литература.
2. Dai Cong, Ren Zhong Translators(1983).The Selected Works of Bunin. Hefei: Anhui’s Peoples Press.