The Soul Keeps

There are poems which sink into heart, win the hearts at once and your eyes fill with tears when you read the verse written with simple kind works. These very poems were created by Nikolay Rubtsov, unknown at first, but famous later on. The poet was born in the Archangelsk region on January 3, 1936. He became an orphan at an early age. His mother died at the beginning of the war. His father was at the front and had another family after the war. That’s why Rubtsov dedicated so many heartfelt verses to his mother and mentioned his father briefly and chilly.

Rubtsov told very little about his biography in his poems, but even several lines make a striking picture of orphanage of a very small child who fully experienced severe sides of life. But everything changed once: he was sent to the Krasnovsky Children’s Home in 1942 and a year later transferred to his mother’s native land – the Nikolskoye settlement of the Totma district in the Vologda region. It became his small Motherland to which he constantly returned in his verses:

O, my peaceful motherland!

Nightingales, willows and streams...

Mother’s regrettable funeral,

That, all my life, I have seen...

Slimy and boggy is riverband,

Where I liked swimming. As yet!

Oh, my peaceful motherland!

Nothing I cannot forget.

(Translation of Lyubov Kalmykova)

Many people who knew Nikolay Rubtsov noted how attached he was to his native region, how proud he was of the North which became his home, his happiness for him, for the orphan: “I thank you, Motherland, for happiness that exists...” (In the Forest). He dreamt of the sea from childhood. Having left seven-year school, he tried to enter the Maritime Academy in Riga in June 1950, but he wasn’t admitted to it, because he was too young. Nevertheless, his dream of the sea came true. Rubtsov came to Archangelsk where he got a job of a coal trimmer at the mine sweeper “Archangelsk”. This work was difficult for him:

“What am I doing, why do I torment my frail and small constitution?” he asked with bitter humour in one of his early poems. But in spite of the difficulties, he liked this job: “I am all in fuel oil, all in axle grease, but I work in trawler fleet!”

The most important which Rubtsov got in the sea wanderings was self-reliance and significance of the self. It was a step forward after the search of a way out from “sad” everyday life. If earlier he learnt using books and found a source of inspiration in them, now he had fresh impressions which he could embody in poetic works tasting a new for him stressed verse.

Having checked his talent, he felt lack of general culture and education because he went to school within only seven years. Therefore Nikolay Rubtsov entered the Mining Secondary School in Kirov. But he studied there during only half a year – geological sciences were too far from what the young poet strived for. At the end of 1955, Rubtsov was called up for military service. He served in the Northern Fleet till 1959. Verses of the young poet were first published in the fleet newspaper. They were about the May Day.

In 1962, Nikolay Rubtsov entered the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. He lived in the hostel and became well-known amid the poets of the capital very soon. His first book titled “Waves and Rocks” was published in an edition of 5000 copies in 1962. The poems “Autumn Song”, “Visions on the Hill” and “Kind Philya” written at that time were soon published in the magazine “Octyabr” and became very popular. The way in which his poetry would develop was clearly determined then. A feeling of historical past was the main part of his attitude in general. It was fully expressed in the poem “Visions on the Hill” where the past was revealed in the present, but also got inverted perspective – the poet reached the heart of the past centuries in it. It would seem that the hill in the outskirts of the village was not a great height, but the poet could see the whole Motherland from it – not from the space, but from the historical and time point of view, up to the Mongol invasion which brought so much sorrow to Russia. All images created by Nikolay Rubtsov were deeply historical.

One more book of poetry under the title “Star of Fields” which brought fame to him was issued in autumn 1967. He was admitted to the Union of Writers a year later. Nikolay Rubtsov graduated from the Literature Institute in 1969 and was taken on the staff of the newspaper “Vologodsky Komsomolets” in September 1969. He got his own housing – a one-room flat where he moved with a shabby suitcase and a small volume of Tyutchev – at the same time.

After the “Star of Fields”, Rubtsov could publish two more books – “The Soul Keeps” in Archangelsk in 1969 and “Sound of Pines” in Moscow in 1970 and several cycles of verses in the magazines “Yunost”, “Molodaya Gvardiya”, “Nash Sovremennik”, “Oktyabr” and “Sever”.

Nikolay Rubtsov spent his last years in Vologda.

Tragic notes could be often heard in his poetry. “I will die in Epiphany cold...” One could expect the most terrible after such lines and it happened: Nikolay Rubtsov tragically died on the night of the 18th and 19th January, in Epiphany cold. A memorable plaque was placed on that house where he lived. A planet, streets in Vologda and St. Petersburg were named after Nikolay Rubtsov. A museum of the poet was opened in the Nikolskoye settlement of the Totma district. There are monuments to Rubtsov in Totma, Vologda and Cherepovets.

True admirers of the poet come to his small Motherland to see the “star of fields” in summer and autumn, to see the grey sky, a lot of grey water and lights along the bank of the Sukhona River, to see, to understand and to love Russia of Nikolay Rubtsov.

The name of Nikolay Rubtsov – the great Russian poet of the 20th century – have crossed the borders of many states. His talent glorified his Motherland, Russia, which was an ideal of sanctity, an eternal ideal for him.

Nikolay Rubtsov’s creative work which has become a significant event in our literature can give joy of opening and aesthetic delight not only to the modern, but also to the future reader.

The exhibition about the poet presented books, photographs, bookplates, drawings and paintings, memorable medals, sculptures, documents and business letters, things which belonged to Nikolay Rubtsov, friends’ letters and a lot of others from the collection of Sergey Alexandrovich Dmitriev.

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