K. N. Batiushkov

Poems in this Collection

Epitaph for a Shepherdess/Надпись на гробе пастушки
Odysseus' Fate/Судьба Одиссея
My Inspiration/Мой гений
Tasso Dying/Умирающий Тасс
There is pleasure even in wild forests...
Do you know what the gray Methuselah.../Ты знаешь, что изрек...

Timeline for K. N. Batiushkov
















































Cover to "Experiments in
Poetry and Prose" (1817)


Born on 18 May in Vologda to Nikolay L'vovich Batiushkov and his first wife, Aleksandra Grigor'evna (nee Berdyaev). Shortly after giving birth to Konstantin Nikolaevich, her fifth child but first son, Aleksandra Grigor'evna suffered a nervous breakdown and spent the rest of her days in various sanatoria away from her family. She died in St. Petersburg in 1795.The Batiushkovs were among the wealthiest and most well-connected families in the empire up until the time of poet's great uncle, whom Ekaterina II exiled for involvement in an attempt to dethrone the empress. The poet's father had been sullied by the scandal, as he had been forced to inform on his uncle, and spent his adult life in self-imposed exile on his estate. There he could avoid political intrigue while cultivating both a warm and productive home life and and an extensive library (especially of French literature and contemporary continental philosophy).

1797- 1801
Father takes the poet to St. Petersburg to begin formal education. Up until this point, K.N. studies under the supervision of his older sisters at the estate at Daniilovsky. Spends the next four years at Jacquinot's boarding school, where he excels at languages and history. He transfers to Tripoli's boarding school. Platon Apollonovich Sokolov, a friend of the poet's father, oversees K.N.'s education and convinces him to begin translating. The first published work of Batiushkov's career is thus a liturgical document from the Russian into German, dedicated to Sokolov.

Withdraws from school to begin professional life. The poet is taken under the wing of another family associate, a distant uncle, M.N. Murav'ev, who was one of the first graduates of Moscow University, a high-ranking official, and himself a popular poet, founder of the Sentimentalist school in Russian verse. Murav'ev organizes the young poet's living arrangements (in his own home) and his first position as clerk in the Department of Public Education. Murav'ev ensures that Batiushkov would continue studying. He provides Batiushkov not only with a more "classical" education (history, Latin, Ancient Greek, rhetoric, and world literature), but also tempers his studies with the belief that writing and study must not exist in isolation, sowing the seed of the stylistic flexibility and generic ambiguities that constitute Batiushkov's break with, and contribution to, Russian poetry. Falls into company with his Department mates I.P. Pnin, D. I. Yazykov (the poet's father), and N.A. Radishchev (the writer's son), and is associated with members of the Olenin Circle, who advocate the creation of a specifically Russian national literature. Begins writing verse.

First publication, Послание к моим стихам ("A letter to my poems"), is a satire of contemporary literary life in Russia. The poet, very much in the Romantic style that he helped adapt to the Russian scene, fashioned himself as an ironic, hedonistic, and somewhat disenchanted character. He uses his command of both domestic and Western European Classical, Neoclassical and Sentimentalist verse styles to point out their limits and his poetry, unlike most of the popular poetry that precedes it in Russia, celebrates the sensuous and the adventurous.

In keeping his life in line with his writing, Batiushkov volunteers for military service, participates in the Prussian campaign, where he is wounded. Writes elegies based on military and romantic experiences of this period (notably Воспоминания 1807 года ("Memories of 1807"), 1809) which become stylistic benchmarks in the development of the form. Also during this period, Batiushkov begins verse translations of Italian and French works (especially of Tasso), which begin to influence his own writing and for which he is able to experiment with more stylistic freedom. After a period of considerable productivity and the death of Murav'ev, K.N. leaves for the Swedish campaign in Finland, where he becomes ill. Having regained most of his health, returns to the capital. Sister dies. Composes Видение на берегах Леты ("Vision on the Banks of the Lethe"), which gains him notoriety as a satirist, and in which he expresses disregard for all Russian writers but Karamzin, Krylov and Derzhavin. In the satirical works (which were circulated among literary circles but were officially published only much later), Batiushkov aligns himself more and more with Karamzin, until finally he moves to Moscow (also spends time in Nizhnii) and begins publishing mainly in Karamzin's journal Vestnik Evropy (Herald of Europe). Satire not only allows K.N. to demonstrate his loyalties, but also gives him opportunity to mix themes and styles in an unprecedented way.

Returns to St. Petersburg and is briefly employed as an assistant to Krylov in the Imperial Public Library. Leaves for the Napoleonic war, where he is twice decorated. When he returns to Russia, both his demeanor and writing change considerably. His personal behavior becomes unpredictable, displaying gradually more frequent episodes of paranoia, and he all but abandons his light, satirical style for a sullen, more personal mode. His elegies on the war (К Дашкову and Тень друга ("To Daskov" and "Shodow of a Friend")), on -- mostly unrequited --love (Мой гений ("My Inspiration"), Разлука ("Parting")) and on his impressions of Europe seen during the war (Переход через Рейн ("Crossing the Rhine")) do much to expand the thematic possibilities of the form, including now internal psychology and historical perspective.

Continues military service, first in Bessarabia then in the Household Guards in the capital, before retiring to civil post in 1816. Meanwhile he takes part in Zhukovsky and Uvarov's Arzamas and in The Lovers of the Russian Word. The publication of his collected works, Опыт в стихах и прозе ("Experiments in Poetry and Prose") (see left), marks the climax of Batiushkov's career, both in popularity and productivity. The two volumes include several unpublished works (typified by Умирающий Тасс ("Tasso Dying")) that highlight the poet's generic innovation, not to metion emotional depth and sensitivity. Becomes acquainted with the young A.S Pushkin and Vyazemsky. Father dies.

Selected to serve in diplomatic corps, moves to Italy, where he focuses on prose (mostly criticism) and his epigrammatic, or anthological, poems. Suffers increasing paranoid delusions and hypochondria, eventually to the extent that officials release him from his professional obligations.

Battles unsuccessfully with mental illness. Returns to Russia. Due to moribund condition, the poet's literary career all but completely ends. His acquaintances, namely Zhukovsky and Krylov and later Vyazemsky and Pushkin (who edited and published K.N.'s adaptation of Byron's Childe Harold), encourage their colleague to continue writing and publishing, and they work on his behalf to ensure him sustained credibility and income. Travels abroad to sanatoria and stays in the Maison de sante in Saxony from 1924-1928. Returns to Moscow, where he stays until 1933.

Friends in publishing collect and publish a group of poems and prose pieces (including Ты знаешь, что изрек... ("Do you know what gray Methuselah...") and "Изречение Мельхиседeка ("Apophthegm of Melchizedek")), which constitute the poet's last extant poems. Suffers ultimate breakdown and moves to Vologda to his family estate at Daniilovsky, where he lives in convalescence until his death in 1855.

Dana Fuller

Bibliography of critical works on K. N. Batiushkov








The Batiushkov family crest






























Batiushkov in 1815













Batiushkov in the 1850s.



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