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The Verse of Ivan Khvorostinin


Already during the time of Patriarch Philaret, in late 1622 or early 1623, Khvorostinin was persecuted for “vacillating in faith” (he forbade his servants to go to church, saying that “praying is useless and won’t raise the dead”). They confiscated Khvorostinin’s manuscripts containing “all manner of reproaches against various people of the state of Muscovy”, among which there were notebooks with verse. Of these only one couplet has survived, quoted in a decree of the Tsar and the Patriarch: “Moscow folk sow the earth with rye, but all of them do live a lie.” Khvorostinin was banished to the White Lake Monastery of St Cyril, where he was put in a separate cell under strict supervision. In order to prove his loyalty to Orthodox faith, Khvorostinin had to write his Discourse Against Heretics and Vilifiers, a long treatise in verse consisting of 1,300 lines, in which he denounced Catholicism and various heresies.23 Khvorostinin’s Discourse was not an original work. It was a translation (or, rather, a rendering) of a Ukrainian polemical work, also in verse.24 In spite of this, Khvorostinin’s treatise provides most interesting material for evaluating early attempts at Russian written poetry.

From the late sixteenth century two systems of versification were used in Ukrainian and Byelorussian books, the parisyllabic and the imparisyllabic, in both cases with plain rhyme. Whereas Evstraty inclined towards parisyllabic rhyme, Khvorostinin gave preference to imparisyllabic. It was along the path chosen by Khvorostinin that Russian poetry of the first half of the seventeenth century developed. The early generations of Moscow poets wrote imparisyllabic verses, calling it “two-lined harmony”, thus stressing the principle of plain rhyme.

In certain important respects “two-lined harmony” coincided with rayeshnik verse. In both cases each line was a complete phrase intonationally and syntactically. In both cases alongside the prevailing feminine rhyme considerable use was made of mas­culine and dactyllic rhyme. In Khvorostinin we find the following final rhymes: Рим—дым, сотворил—одарил, ловец—овец, бог — мног (masculine rhyme), отвращаемся—утверждаемся, писание— пропитание, учители—мучители (dactyllic rhyme). For all his westernisms, Khvorostinin was clearly influenced by the skomorokhs’ art. The couplet “Moscow folk sow the earth with rye, but all of them do live a lie” is a paraphrase of an old proverb: “Beauti­ful is a field with rye, and speech with a lie” known from miscella­nies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It should be noted that the same rhyme is used in Ivan Funikov’s Epistle and later in the Polite Epistle to a Foe and in other works of rayeshnik verse.

Thus, in the early stages the folklore tradition and the Ukrainian-Polish influence acted together. Very soon, however, these streams divided, when a certain hierarchical principle began to operate in written poetry. The “two-lined harmony” became identified with “highbrow”, serious versification, and the inherent­ly comic rayeshnik with “low-brow”, popular versification. This hierarchical division led to changes in the technique of “two-lined harmony”, which can be seen clearly in the verse of the so-called ChancerySchool.