Interpretation of "Nightingale" and "Rose" Oriental Images in Russian Poetic Art of the "Age of Timelessness"

Research article
Issue: № 3 (51), 2024


Russian poetry of the “age of timelessness” shows significant interest in the Muslim East poetic art images. Among the authors of fine de siècle we observe a tendency towards transformation and added complexity of the semantics of Sufi images-symbols, among which the ornithonym “nightingale” and the phytonym “rose” come to the fore in terms of frequency of use. In the works of M. Lokhvitskaya, D. Merezhkovsky, S.Nadson, A. Fet, K. Fofanov and others, the nightingale and the rose are given an oriental context. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how oriental images are interpreted and function in Russian poetic texts of the late 19th century. The result of the study is the provisions on the semantic content and poetic embodiment of central Sufi images in poems of the 1880s–1890s.

1. Introduction

A phytonymic context is frequent in poems of the “age of timelessness” (80–90s of the 19th century), which is primarily associated with oriental images of the nightingale and the rose, which form the core of Eastern Muslim poetry. It is known that the nightingale and the rose have an associative bond in the poetic art of the East, one image cannot be imagined without the other. The Sufi two-part image-symbol has features of ordinary love lyrics, which should not be taken literally. Thus, the nightingale in love with the rose is a Sufi seeking God. From here, it becomes clear why it is the nightingale that suffers from unrequited love in Eastern poetic tradition.

2. Main results

Sufism as a mystical movement of Islam was of particular interest to the poet of the transitional period K. Fofanov, who, according to contemporaries, had parapsychological abilities and attended sessions with mediums and hypnotists. His friend A. Zhirkevich writes the following in his diary: “Fofanov turns out to be very capable of various spiritualistic seances. He said that twice he tried to evoke the faces of the dead, but whom he had never seen even in portraits: his grandfather and Mohammed. The experiments were a success, and both faces appeared to him...”


In the context of Eastern philosophical thought, a person (Sufi, philosopher) seeking divine truth vests in the image of the nightingale in love. A similar thing is found in the poem “A nightingale was singing, flowers smelled fragrant...” (1897). The image of a young man in love is given in the aspect of its metaphorical bond with the nightingale. Such representation of the “animal/human” relationship, where boundaries between man and nature are erased, indicates an anthropomorphic perception of this image. An associative parallel arises through the use of the phraseological unit elated with a dream, the figurative basis of which transfers the ability of a bird to fly to a person.

In the work “Isn’t it true, everything breathed prose...” (1885), the two-part nightingale and rose image is used by Fofanov as a periphrasis of poetic art by analogy with poems of the Golden Age, where this inter-plot is associated with the poet and poetry theme. The phytonym rose is interpreted similarly in M. Lokhvitskaya’s works (“If there is no obstacle / To a random whim and dreams / Embody me, poet / As a pale rose, a tea rose”

, “To the Poet,” 1896–1898) and S. Nadson, for example, in the poem “Delirium” (1883), in which the image of the poet’s death static picture is complemented by the parallel introduction of the image of fragrant and irrevocably withered flowers.

The nightingale image acts as an integral attribute of a romantic date and a love symbol in the poem by K. Fofanov “They have sung away so much today...”: “Nightingales in the bushes! / They have sung away so much today / The smile on your lips / Is so diffused!”

We find similar ornithological image semantics in the poem by A. Fet “The windwas blowing. The grass was crying...» (1880): the roses lover momentarily resurrects “the time of tender dreams” with his last song
, and with it – the narrator’s memories of by-goneaffection. The connection of this text with orientalism is seen in the use of theimagery complex that is standard for Eastern Muslim poetry, as well as in the appeal to the yearning motif (“Why else yearn in vain?”
), implicating the longing motif. Let us note that the Sufi nightingale and rose pair –that is one of the brightest manifestations of the “East” in Fet’s works – a rose as a result of the poet’s many years of interest in the romantic tradition in both Russian and Western European literature.

In the work “Do you remember what happened then...” (1885) the nightingale is in bliss over the lovers, singing its song. The intensification of romantic feelings is enhanced through the personification of Love. Its brilliance, as well as the verbal form urged to come, contribute to objectification, the abstract begins to play the active subject role in the lyrical plot system: “Love urged to come to it / Both with brilliance and odorous passion...”

. The odorological image of odorous passion is interesting. Fet gives the abstract concept an olfactory characteristic, with the help of which the passion is “transformed” from a sensual attraction into an object emitting a fragrance.

The Sufi nightingale and rose images are subject to artistic conceptualization by D. Merezhkovsky. Note that the East is, first of all, Buddhism and the Ancient worldfor a symbolist, in particular the esoteric teaching about the “Mystery of the Three”. A similar tendency characterizes the emigrant period of his work. At an earlier stage, in the 1880–1890s, the Muslim East image is revealed as an object of close attention in Merezhkovsky’s poetry.

In the work “Family idyll” (1890), the poet turns to the artistic depiction of the ornithonym nightingale by appropriating love symbolic content typical of Eastern literature. Here Merezhkovsky also likens romantic relationships to high poetic art, and their end – to prosaic reality with withered roses and silent nightingales (“... the roses will wither, / The moonlight will fade, the nightingales will fall silent / Under the breath of relentless prose...”

). In the poem “We dreamed of love in a valley...” (1889), the nightingale is a herald of the coming love feeling; its trill reunites the narrator with his beloved. The ornithological image of the nightingale in the work “It’s spring again” (1899) has a similar connotation, in which the images of singing nightingales and lovers running into young boscages act as components of an associative-figurative parallel.

In “Ancient octaves” (late 1890s) and “Faith” (1890), Merezhkovsky’s symbolist dualistic tendency is clearly manifested, whose components are the nightingale and rose images, as well as the dreamy landscape of the romantic East, Byronesque in general. A similar dualistic opposition between the real and the surreal, the world of dreams and reality characterizes the poem “On the southern coast of the Crimea” (1889), where the oriental landscape with typical images of a weeping nightingale and crimson roses is “at odds” with the space of memories and “the sadness of the years that have flown away”


In the Muslim legend “Allah and the Demon” (1886), the phytonym rose, together with lexemes of confessional origin (Allah, Hallelujah, etc.) forms the basis of the religious figurativeness of the work, acquires significance in the “plant ornament” of the Eden Garden of bliss, since it is roses that angels send to people as a symbol of divine love.

3. Conclusion

Thus, in poems of the 1880s–1890s the phytonymic context is quite frequent, which is primarily associated with the oriental images of the nightingale and the rose – central in Eastern Muslim poetry. The works of Lokhvitskaya, Merezhkovsky, Nadson, Fet, Fofanov and others are dedicated to them.

Since the Romantic period, the interest of Russian poetic art in Sufi images has not weakened. In the 1880–1890s there forms a tendency towards their complication and transformation. Sufism gives poetry a touch of mysticism, fills it with a special sensual worldview, symbols with hidden secret meanings, which, of course, makes it similar to the aesthetics of romanticism and the symbolist movement genetically related with it.

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