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The Epistle of One Nobleman to Another

 

The verse section of The Epistle of One Nobleman to Another (1608-1609) is written in rayeshnik verse. The author of the Epistle, a landowner by the name of Ivan Funikov, was in Tula, which had been captured by Ivan Bolotnikov, when it was besieged by Vasily Shuisky. Food supplies ran out and the besieged went hungry. The rebels held Ivan Funikov in prison on the suspicion that he was concealing grain. In the Epistle Funikov describes his misadventure:

Сидел 19 недель,

А вон из тюрьмы глядел.

А мужики, что ляхи,

Дважды приводили к плахе,

За старые шашни Хотели скинуть с башни.

А на пытках пытают,

А правды не знают.

Правду-де скажи,

А ничего не солжи.

А я божился,

И с ног свалился,

И на бок ложился:

Не много у меня ржи,

Нет во мне лжи…21

For nineteen weeks I sat in jail,/And through the window did I look/And twice the peasants, like the Poles / Did take me to the chopping block / For sins as old as old can be /They wanted to throw me off a tower./ And oh, how bad they tortured me / Because the truth they did not know / Tell us the truth, they all did cry,/But mind you do not tell a lie./And I did tell them and did swear / Down on my knees and lying there: / Alas, I have but little rye/And, ’pon my soul, I do not lie. The comic ring of these lines led some specialists to suspect that Ivan Funikov was not the author of The Epistle of One Nobleman to Another; that it had been wrongly ascribed to him and that a person could not write in such a humorous vein about his own sufferings! But the fact is that the rayeshnik verse, which Funikov uses, is designed to produce a comic effect. The semantic aura of the rayeshnik is comicality. It is the buffoonery of the skomorokhs accentuated by rhyme. The rhyme “distorts phenomena, by making the dissimilar similar … depriving the account of its seriousness and making a joke even of hunger”,22 suffering and torture. This joking is a kind of psychological defence against real phenomena that can damage the psyche. In making use of rayeshnik verse, the author has to reckon with its semantic inertia. Therefore, Ivan Funikov willy-nilly adopts the pose of the joker. There are also prose passages in the Epistle, incidentally, and they do not contain a trace of humour: the semantic inertia of the rayeshnik does not operate here.

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