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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

MATTER AND MUSIC Andrey Bely, The Dramatic Symphony, translated by Roger and Angela Keys, and The Forms of Art, translated by John Elsworth (Polygon) £10.95

The Dramatic Symphony, the second and best of four innovatory prose poems composed between 1901 and 1908, is in a sense an actualization of the article 'The Forms of Art' written, like the Symphony, in the year 1902. In this article, Bely defined his concept of a possible fusion between the techniques of music and poetry. All art, he claimed, is 'supra-rational' (to the uninitiated 'irrational, almost insane'), but this is because art is concerned with reality, not 'as we know it' but 'as it truly is', an 'ideal' reality. This ideal reality is aspired towards, but never attained, by the dynamic movement of images in poetry: '. . . in poetry we move to the depiction of reality in only one dimension (in time) [. . .]. The direct depiction of the visible world is absent in poetry. It is replaced by the verbal depiction. The combination of words, extended in a single line, symbolises the one-dimensionality of poetry.'

The Dramatic Symphony opens with an attempt to depict the reality of a great city where 'Pedestrians succeeded each other like moments . . . and every passerby had his moment of walking over every place.' The visible world is far from absent. Bely's artist's eye and ear invest each 'moment' with immediate, sensual impact:


3 You would meet at that hour, in every direction, dispirited bicyclists. Dripping with sweat, backs bent, legs working away. With rolling eyes they would ring their threatening ...


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