Елена Дубровина

Dmitrii Klenovsky. POET AND PHILOSOPHER. 1893-1976

We are all dreamers, and we often dream about the future. But we are still haunted by our past. Time does not take us back into our past, only memory can help us to cross the border of time and space. Who will remain in memories of the next generation of readers and writers? Probably those who lived extraordinary lives. People leave this earth, but memories of those who left footprints of their good deeds and creative spirit, realized in their work, do not disappear forever. They may be incarnated again in another century and epoch. Such moments of realized creativity continue to live, inspiring the next generations of writers, poets and artists. Many writers and poets, however, remain undeservedly forgotten, erased from the memory of the next generation. Often the reason for their invisibility in literary circles can be explained by the lack of readers. Many of those, who due to dire circumstances lived abroad, still wrote poetry in their native tongue. This is especially true for Russian émigré writers. Neither they nor their work could cross the borders that were so carefully guarded by the Russian authorities. For many years, their work remained totally banned in their motherland. Only recently have their names become known to Russian readers. Those writers and poets who lived outside the country were eager to “return to Russia in poems”, but many of them died in isolation, without the readers or the recognition they deserved.

They dreamed, however, of returning to the country of their remote past, to the country where they had spent their childhood. In their minds, Russia still remained the country they had left, not the country of suppression and persecution. This mistaken concept of their abandoned motherland caused them to mourn a fantasy land that in reality no longer existed. Every wave of Russian exodus expressed their nostalgia for the motherland in their work. The “first wave” fled Russia after the Revolution. The “second wave” came to the West after World War II.

And yet there was a difference between the “first wave” and the “second wave” of Russian emigration: the generation of the “first wave” either did not live under Soviet repressions or if it did, for only a short period, while the “second wave” had experienced that repression every day of their lives. Unfortunately, the Russian intelligentsia had already suffered the cruelty of Russian prisons and Siberian labor camps. Therefore, for some the only way out was to leave with the German Army. The other part of the “second wave” was forcefully taken by the Germans to work in German labor camps. Many had been captured as prisoners of war and sent to Nazi concentration camps. Those who survived preferred to avoid forceful deportation by remaining abroad, well aware of what awaited them in the Soviet Union. The fate of one of the most renowned poets, who represented the “second wave” of Russian emigration, differed markedly from that of others.                                                               

Dmitrii Klenovsky (Дмитрий Кленовский), whose real name was Dmitrii Krachkovsky, a poet and journalist, was born on October 6, 1893, in St. Petersburg, Russia. He died on December 26, 1976 in Germany. Dmitrii was born to the family of the famous Russian landscape painter and academician Joseph Krachkovsky. His mother, Vera Bekker, was also an artist. Dmitrii studied in one of the most prestigious gymnasiums, the Tsars Village near St. Petersburg. Later, living abroad, he remembered those years in the Tsars Village in his poetry. He often traveled with his family to Italy and France. From 1911 until 1913 due to poor health, he lived in Switzerland.

From 1913 until 1917, Dmitrii Klenovsky studied law and philology at St. Petersburg University. At the same time he began to publish his articles and poetry in various periodicals. Shortly after his graduation, he moved to Kharkov, Ukraine, but during the German occupation, in 1942, Dmitrii, along with his wife and many others, managed to escape to Austria, and then in 1943 to Germany. In his short autobiography he remembers the frequent interrogations and threats from the Soviet authorities. The only way to avoid the Gulag was to leave Russia. And yet he believed that one day his poetry would cross the border and reach his readers:


Between us are doors and bolts,

Only in my vagrant fate

Im serving you with lofty words,

In a foreign land – Im serving you.


An interesting fact of Klenovskys biography is that shortly after the Russian Revolution he abandoned his poetry and was silent for more than twenty years. Living abroad he wrote: “I dont know how it all happened, but as soon as my feet left Soviet soil… I resumed my literary work after twenty years of silence…” During 1944-1946, he wrote more than a hundred poems. All together, in his lifetime he published eleven books (more than 500 poems). He described the resurrection of his poetic spirit in his poem “The Boldin Autumn”:


And I was dead. On a damned troika

I was taken to an unknown village

And I was laid in an unknown grave,

Captivity of a foreign land.


And I was dead. One year replaced the other.

I tried to rise, I knew – that I could not.

And suddenly, under the heavens vault,

On the blue snow, I awoke.


The proverb says: “A man can die but once.” Nevertheless, some people can interpret this proverb in a different way. “The body of a man can only die once.” Physically, we live only once in one space and at certain time. But there is a way a person can come back to life again. You may ask how and who could live beyond the frames of time, and who could cross those boundaries? There are several approaches to this subject: we can stay alive in the memory of those who were close to us, we can come to life again in our works of art, or we can believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation is defined as follows: “On the death of the body the soul transmigrates to or is born again in another body.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner founded a spiritual movement called Anthroposophy that later was widely adopted by many Russian writers, philosophers and poets, including Dmitrii Klenovsky.

As mentioned before, from 1913 until 1917, Klenovsky studied at St. Petersburg University. After the death of his father in 1914 he had to combine his studies with work, but in spite of that he devoted his life to art, literature and ballet. In the artistic movement of that period, he was especially attracted to the school called “The World of Art,” led by Benua, Somov, Lancere and others. In the world of poetry he most enjoyed the poetry of Osip Mandelshtam, Georgii Ivanov and others who belonged to the school of Acmeism. Between 1918 and 1920 he attended lectures on Anthroposophy by Andrei Belyi. He often attended Poets House where for the first time he heard poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva and his beloved poet, Maximilian Voloshin, who influenced his philosophical perception of the Universe. At that particular time, this popular European philosophy of Rudolf Steiner infiltrated Russian minds. In many cases Anthroposophy deeply influenced the work of those who had been infatuated by his philosophy, and among them were such poets, writers, artists and philosophers as Nikolai Berdyaev, Vladimir Soloviev, Andrei Belyi, Maximilian Voloshin, Dmitrii Merezhkovsky, Zinaida Gippius, Vasilii Kandinsky, Dmitrii Klenovsky. In poetry, the most ardent follower of Rudolf Steiner was Andrei Belyi who, along with his wife, attended Steiners courses in Germany. This philosophy could briefly be described as “knowledge produced in man by a Higher Self.” Often in his poetry, Dmitrii Klenovsky develops this thought, couching it in poetic language.


On the Italic marble plate –

There is a name, a scanty date.

But why you stopped, and why I winced,

Being seized… by confusion?


But maybe its because we have been touched

By miserable human lack of knowledge,

And by the story on those stones,

Repeated finally so many times.


The word Anthroposophy originated from the Greek word “wisdom.” Rudolf Steiner said this about his philosophy: “Under Anthroposophy I understand the scientific study of the spiritual world.” He then further developed his idea: “Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, striving to connect the spiritual aspect of human nature with the spiritual aspect of the Universe.” Klenovsky muses on this statement in his poetry, imagining the Universe as his home.


If I am only a grain of sand

On an empty, earthly coast –

Then why does the universe exist?

Is it my vast, my eerie home?


According to Steiner, the spirit of man controls the law of reincarnation. One of the main themes in Klenovskys poems is a theme of the return of his wandering soul to earth after his death. He thinks about his work as the art that he would have to leave to the world. But he also ponders over the art that he will bring again to the world after his reincarnation.


I wont be able “over there” my poetry to write,

But I still doubt that Ill forget my art.

I do believe that even without words

Ill bring my art at another time into another world.




And my fear, and my earthly grief,

My unskillful song –

This is all I have to leave

Out of my hundred years on earth.


Why so little? Wherefore,

Burning with lust

Have I have lived agonizing lives

After swimming through deserts and seas?


How long do I have to wait and to believe,

To count countries, centuries to count?

How long do I have to knock

Quietly at the door with only my heart?


However, development of the higher human components requires many lifetimes on Earth. And again, Klenovsky meditates, trying to understand if his spirit will ever outgrow his body. Many of his poems deal with the subject of life after death. Yet he expresses the profound grief of having to part with his beloved earth. I can see here another underlying theme: his “earth” implies “motherland” where he dreams to return one day. His nostalgic dreams often intertwined with his philosophic outlook on the spiritual Universe.


Will we ever outgrow the body?

If without the body we can kiss

And can we weep and, finally, extend

A hand to one another?


Of course, it will all come,

But how long must we wait?

And how many times shall we return

To earth to learn once more

That we cannot depart with her.


According to some aspects of Anthroposophy, the physical world is only a partial reflection of the spiritual world that controls everything through spiritual creatures and forces. Man is a body, soul and sprit or a system of “subtle bodies.” (“Subtle bodies” means “live energy”).


Shall we forget about single space,

The only place of our own souls?


In Anthroposophy, the soul is the mediator between body and spirit, receiving impressions from the outer world through the body and reshaping them through the three human activities of thinking, feeling and willing. And again, in Klenovskys poetry we can hear the same motif of departure, whether it is departure from the earth or from his motherland.


My soul, my guest from “over there!”

Youre on your way back!

But wait, for miracles do not begrudge,

Just take your time! Stay longer!


But what about me... And who will answer me

From this forthcoming silence?

Thats how it happens in this world:

For you – the whole space, for me – departure.


In this poem, he talks with deep sadness about silence. We can suggest that silence here is death, but he may also be talking about silence from “over there,” from the country he once left forever.


And to this place I will return,                                                                                                   

To this mainland,

Ill rise in a new form,

That has not yet been predetermined.


Klenovsky philosophizes about death, trying to find the meaning of his existence, the sense of his sojourn on this earth.


When we die, well perhaps understand

Why in this world such bitterness exists,

And we will come to love the land,

And in this nonsense we will find sense.


It is interesting to note that in spite of the sense of sadness that Klenovsky often expresses in his poems, he believes that he will return to this earth after death and his poems about death thus often sound optimistic. He is not afraid of any suffering that may accompany his reincarnation because he loved the life he had lived and had no regrets.


If I should have to start my life anew –

Id let it be exactly as it was meant to be:

Like a belated traveler, too trustful,

And helpless, like a twig under my hand.


I would not sheer away from any pain,

From single execution or offence.

Let it again bend over me, enslave me,

And insult me with the useless strain.


In 1907, Steiner developed a new approach to the artistic process of creativity that he called Eurythmie. The term also originated from a Greek word that means balance, harmony, symmetry and coherency. This movement was based on a deep emotional experience, comprehension of beauty, the laws of music and language, “from a spiritual aspect in man to a spiritual aspect in the Universe.” This aspect of his philosophy particularly influenced the new approaches to ballet and poetry. Klenovsky widely used the method of Eurythmie in his poetry. We can still hear the echo of the poetry of “Silver Age,” where music, rhythm and rhymes often dominate in its verses.


In full, I can forgive it all

Without confrontation and inquest,

And not your single fault

My memory will put to rest.


But theres a boundary, through it

I have no strength to flee and get to you:

Nor can I forgive you

For those things – you did not pardon me.


Dmitrii Klenovsky also continued the traditions of the St. Petersburg school of poetic craftsmanship. This is what Temira Pakhmuss wrote about him: “This type of poetry is distinguished by exquisite artistic taste, impeccable technique, and philosophical or contemplative moods manifesting the poets everlasting antinomies.”

Now, reading Dmitrii Klenovskys poetry, armed with the main methods of Steiners philosophy, we can better understand the depth of his verses. Rhythm, musical pattern, rhyming and profound philosophical thoughts, colored with high poetic emotion characterize his poetry. He is a skilful composer who combines a spectrum of colors and profound ideas into one unforgettable symphony of poetic sounds. He possessed an incredible poetic intuition that, in combination with his logic, sets his poetry apart from that of his contemporaries. We can name five main themes that dominate his poetry: love, life and death, reminiscence, reincarnation, nostalgia and his relationship with God. Klenovsky often talks to Him, trying to understand the path that He had chosen for him.


Teach me how to die!

Teach me to look into deaths eyes,

Like you, to look through that window glass,

Where there is still light,

Where there are the river and lumber,

And no wonder, not one wonder –

Only leaves, stems and water are there

And a path. God knows where . . .


Klenovskys relationship with God is complex. He wants a proof from God that he exists not only inside his soul, but also in the “starry sky.” He resurrects memories of his childhood where he compares his mothers touch, her whisper, her song, with Gods influence on his soul.



There is light inside and above me –

Emptiness and darkness are not there!

You repeat again that You exist

In the starry sky and in my soul!


Like a child blind from birth

Never knowing his mothers face,

I still remember her singing and her whisper,

And the touch of her refined hand.


This is how I have known You;

Notwithstanding any earthly mind,

I can sense Your breath,

Your song I hear, and Your whisper I can understand.


Dmitrii Klenovsky wrote about his work: “... in my poems I never betrayed my inner truth and never lied to myself, God or people. Every one of them is sincere and none of them has any poetic pretentiousness, pose, even exaggeration of my emotions.” Klenovsky devoted many of his poems to the woman he loved, always remaining true to himself – sincere, honest, emotional. He worships her and she is in his dreams even when he dies. He sends his love to his imaginary widow, trying to help her to forget him. In one of his best poems he expresses an unusual poetic image – he has died, but he is willing to die again, just to see his beloved bending over him one more time.


...O, if only, from my silence,

The marvelous completion of my life…

I could regain the horror of those days,

And taste again all your disdain,

The lie of every touch,

And like the last and earthly mercy,

To pull the trigger – just in order

To see you bending over me again.


Grief over the loss of his beloved during a time of war he expresses in his poems with a piercing emotion. And again, we see his talent, his unconventional approach to writing poetry. All he is asking is for her voice to come into his dreams, the voice that drowned in the “typhoid fever and shooting noise.”


O, if only your voice I could recall –

This city would invade my mind.

This river (was it called the Neva?),

The colonnade of the cumbrous hall,

A slender spire in the frosty height,

The park in snow, so absurd, so nude...

O, to recall your voice if only I could,

Your quiet, your remote voice!

Without it what do I need these for?...

But it has already drowned, as everyone before

Without a letter, or burial, or scream

In typhoid fever and the noise of shooting,

And on the final boat, and sudden surge

That sailed from the Yalta berth...

O, if your voice could come into my dream,

Your dear voice, your drowned voice forever.


In 1928 Klenovsky met his future wife, Margarita Gutman, who became his soul mate until the end of his life. This is what he wrote about her: “... fate presented me with a friend… A person of completely opposite characteristics, interests, convictions, she became my life mate in the most precious and beautiful meaning of these words. I cannot imagine a union between a man and a woman based on deeper love, mutual understanding, friendship and trust than ours. Not a single cloud has ever cast a shadow over it, time has only deepened it.” To her he dedicated the best of his love poems, in which we can feel the purity and chastity of his soul. Dmitrii Klenovsky could always find the right way to express his profound feelings.

The reminiscence of his childhood and youth are colored with a pure and subtle emotion of joy and happiness. He takes us to the Tsars village where he spent the best days of his life. But he had to leave those happy days behind, to leave behind his past, his motherland that always remained vivid in his memories. Now, he had to embrace a new life in a foreign land.


We all are leaving under a sail

For only one and a distant land.

Winds are at war with clouds,

A wave is slandering a wave.


Where is the dock? Some place! Some place!

There is no time to talk about it.

We only know its descriptions,

But they are fading day by day.


And only when we overcome it all,

And any term well win –

The costal sand will freely rustle

Under the keel.


And by its clear, real name

Well call the shore.

To guess about it – is still in vain,

The heart we cant console.


Just now, around us – a foreign land,

Surfs, clouds and whirlwind,

And when we doze, a silent angels hand

Rests on the wheel.


Some poetry does not leave its footsteps either in the hearts of its readers or on paper. There were, of course, poems written by Russian immigrants that remained only as fleeting shadows, almost unnoticed and intangible and which finally disappeared with the sunrise. The poetry of Dmitrii Klenovsky leaves a heartfelt feeling, makes his readers meditate about life and death, love and God. He does not strive for the originality and complexity that often replace and exclude truly subtle, inspirational and poetic feeling. He presents in his poems not only a reasonable mind, but also a poetic emotion based on his intuitive sense of poetry. True poetry carries elements of poetic intuition and we realize that such is indeed the case when we read the poetry of Dmitrii Klenovsky. He treats every written word with care, using them with great skill. The words he used in his verses are inseparable both by their poetic structure and by their colorful passages. Harmonizing with each other, they create unusual images – capacious and monolithic, unpredictable and many-sided.

Time has passed and Dmitry Klenovskys poetry has finally found its place in the hearts and souls of Russian readers. He has come back to life through his work. And I feel sure that his profound, philosophical and highly emotional poetry, a reflection of his pure and sincere soul will live on this earth for centuries to come. Although the fate of many writers and poets of the “second wave” of Russian immigration was deeply tragic, they managed to create and live with pride and dignity in a foreign land, preserving the Russian traditions of poetry writing, and sharing their thoughts and feelings with the readers. We can proudly say that Dmitrii Klenovskys poetry is a monument to his talent.


Yelena Dubrovina was born in Leningrad, Russia. Immigrated to the U SA in 1978. The author of two books of poetry, two books of short stories and a bilingual anthology “Russian Poetry in Exile. 1917-1975”. She co-authored a novel with Hilary Koprowski, entitled “In Search of Van Dyck”. The editor of two journals “Russian Poetry Past and Present” and “Russia Abroad Past and Present”. She is a bilingual writer, published in both Russian and American periodicals.

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