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 Mikhail Prishvin

Born:   January 23 (N.S. February 4), 1873
Deceased:   January 16, 1954, Moscow

Russian writer


Mikhail Prishvin, an illustrious Russian writer, is mainly known as the poet of Russian nature, who described it in realistic detail and vivid romantic metaphors. A geographer, ethnographer, naturalist, traveler and philosopher, he called himself a painter, and was a keen observer of life, both of nature and society.

Mikhail Mikhailovich Prishvin was born on January 23 (N.S. February 4), 1873 in Khrushovo Estate near Yelets town of Orlov Province (now Lipetsk Oblast). His father was a bankrupt merchant. Mikhail was expelled from Yelets classical school for his conflict with the teacher of geography, later known as writer and philosopher Vasily Vasilievich Rozanov, who became Prishvin’s friend and soul mate some years past. Then he studied in a non-classical secondary school in Tyumen, and a polytechnic school in Riga; for participation in Marxist circles’ actions he was subjected to solitary confinement in 1897. Further on the future writer graduated from agricultural department of philosophical faculty of Leipzig University (1900–1902) and then worked as an agronomist in Zemstvo (elective district council in pre-revolutionary Russia) of Klin and Luga till 1905, at the same time publishing several books and articles on agriculture. A frontline journalist in the years of the First World War, after the October revolution he switched to teaching, researching local ethnography, and hunting. He lived in Yelets, in Smolensk region and in Moscow area. While taking to folklore and ethnography he traveled a lot.

Prishvin’s first short story Sashok was published in 1906. The impressions of European North (Olonets, Karelia, and Norway) inspired his first books: the traveler’s notes In the Land of Unfrightened Birds (V krau nepugannyh ptitz) (1907) and (The Bun) Za volshebnym kolobkom (1908), which helped the author find himself in the centre of literary life of St. Petersburg. Prishvin’s closeness to symbolist and decadent writers’ milieu found its reflection in his short stories Beast of Krutoyarsk , Bird Cemetery (both in 1911), sketch By walls of an invisible town (1909) dedicated to the legendary Kitezh. Prishvin’s journeys to Crimea and Kazakhstan resulted in the essays Adam and Eve (1909), The Black Arab (Cherny Arap) (1910), Tambourines of Glory (1913), and others.

His numerous nature-describing sketches, hunting stories, phenological notes and short stories for children are marked with “kindred attention” to nature, in which the author saw “the face of life itself”. A bright example of it is the book Springs of Berendey (1925), supplemented and issued under the title Calendar of Nature in 1935.

From scientific knowledge and folklore the writer moved on to poetic belles-lettres prose. Thus, his essay on dear Dear Animals Prishvin, Jen Sheng: The Root of Life (1933). Fusion of realistic and romantic vision, of truth and tale determined the specific character of Prishvin’s prose.

The changeable face of nature was grasped both in his story Undressed Spring about Kostroma and Yaroslavl lands, and in the cycle of lyrical and philosophical miniatures Drops from the Forest (Lesnaya kapel) and the adjoining poem in prose Facelia (all in 1940).

A different line in Prishvin’s writing is represented with his autobiographical novel The Chain of Kashchey (Kasheeva tsep)(1923–1954; published in 1960) and the adjoining novel on creativity Motherland of Cranes (1929). In these works the spiritual quest of the main character is unfolded against the background of real historic events in the 20th century Russia that are conveyed in a critical and sober way.

The observing precision of an artist and naturalist, intense thought, high moral feeling, and fresh figurative language nurtured by juices of folk speech made for readers’ unflagging interest in Prishvin’s works. A remarkable place among them belongs to the true tale The Treasure Trove of the Sun (Kladovaya solntsa) (1945), the fairy story Ship Thicket (1954), and the fairy novel Osudareva doroga (roughly translated as Sovereign’s road (published in 1957).

Prishvin's constant spiritual work and his way to inner freedom is most vividly manifested in his diaries rich in observations, such as Eyes of Earth (1957; fully published in the 1990s) that give a truthful picture of the process of bereaving peasants of their land plots and Stalinist reprisals, and expresses the author’s humanistic aspiration to maintain “the sacredness of life” as the highest value.

Russian readers started to know Prishvin’s work in its depth not before the late 20th century; the writer put forth the problem of “gathering of man” in his story Worldly Cup (aka Slave of Monkeys, 1920; fully published in 1982), that conjugated reforms of Peter the First with Bolsheviks’ transformations, while regarding the latter as a “new cross” for Russia and the sign of “deadlock of the Christian realm”.

Mikhail Prishvin died in Moscow on 16 January 1954.


Tags: Mikhail Prishvin Russian literature Russian writers   

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