poem index

A Brief Guide to Acmeism

Year

2004
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     I beg you be logical in the design and structure of your
     work, in syntax . . . be a skillful builder, both in small
     things and in the whole . . . love words, as Flaubert
     did, exercise economy in your means, thrift in the use
     of words, precision and authenticity—then you will
     discover the secret of a wonderful thing: beauty
     clarity.
     —Mikhail Kuzmin, 1910

Although written previous to the inception of acmeism in 1912, Kuzman's address has often been perceived as the manifesto for acmeism. He calls for fellow poets to seek beauty in the natural and physical world around them—to be industrious in language and vision in order to reflect the realness of the subject.

Acmeism, a school in modern Russian poetry, formed after fracturing away from symbolism—then the dominant school of the Russian literary scene, which often used words as symbols to express high romanticism in the prophetic and portentousness of the beyond. To the acmeist, the role of the poet was not to be an oracle or a diviner but a skilled worker. The acmeists revolted against symbolism's vagueness and attempts to privilege emotional suggestion over clarity and vivid sensory images.

Acmeism's significant leading poets were Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai Gumilëv, and Osip Mandelstam. While each of these poets called into question the realness of everyday life experiences, acmeism manifested differently in each poets' oeuvre: one of modern Russia's most esteemed lyricists, Akhmatova had a very intimate verse of love and witnessing; Gumilëv defined his verse as a straightforward narrative; and Mandelstam found poetic expression that combined classical themes with semantically compact imagery.