|Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin|
Gavrila Derzhavin by Vladimir Borovikovsky
July 14, 1743|
Kazan, Russian Empire
|Died||July 20, 1816
Zvanka manor, Novgorod Governorate, Russian Empire
Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin (Russian: Гаврии́л (Гаври́ла) Рома́нович Держа́вин; IPA: [ɡɐˈvrilə rɐˈmanəvʲɪt͡ɕ dʲɪrˈʐavʲɪn] ( listen); July 14, 1743 – July 20, 1816) was arguably one of the greatest Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.
Derzhavin was born in Kazan. His distant ancestor Morza Bagrim, who relocated from the Great Horde in the 15th century to Moscow, was baptized and became a vassal of the Russian Grand Prince Vasily II. Nevertheless, by the 18th century Derzhavin's father was just a poor country squire who died when Gavrila was still young. He received a little formal education at the gymnasium there but left for Petersburg as a private in the guards. There he rose from the ranks as a common soldier to the highest offices of state under Catherine the Great. He first impressed his commanders during Pugachev's Rebellion. Politically astute, his career advanced when he left the military service for civil service. He rose to the position of governor of Olonets (1784) and Tambov (1785), personal secretary to the Empress (1791), President of the College of Commerce (1794), and finally the Minister of Justice (1802). He was dismissed from his post in 1803 and spent much of the rest of his life in the country estate at Zvanka near Novgorod, writing idylls and anacreontic verse. At his Saint Petersburg house, he held monthly meetings of the conservative Lovers of the Russian Word society. He died in 1816 and was buried in the Khutyn Monastery near Zvanka, reburied by the Soviets in the Novgorod Kremlin, and then reinterred at Khutyn.
Derzhavin is best remembered for his odes, dedicated to the Empress and other courtiers. He paid little attention to the prevailing system of genres, and many a time would fill an ode with elegiac, humorous, or satiric contents. In his grand ode to the Empress, for instance, he mentions searching for fleas in his wife's hair and compares his own poetry with lemonade.
Unlike other Classicist poets, Derzhavin found delight in carefully chosen details, such as a colour of wallpaper in his bedroom or a poetic inventory of his daily meal. He believed that French was a language of harmony but that Russian was a language of conflict. Although he relished harmonious alliterations, sometimes he deliberately instrumented his verse with cacophonous effect.
Derzhavin's major odes were the impeccable "On the Death of Prince Meschersky" (1779); the playful "Ode to Felica" (1782); the lofty "God" (1785), which was translated into many European languages; "Waterfall" (1794), occasioned by the death of Prince Potemkin; and "Bullfinch" (1800), a poignant elegy on the death of his friend Suvorov. He also provided lyrics for the first Russian national anthem, Let the thunder of victory sound!
According to D.S. Mirsky, "Derzhavin's poetry is a universe of amazing richness; its only drawback was that the great poet was of no use either as a master or as an example. He did nothing to raise the level of literary taste or to improve the literary language, and as for his poetical flights, it was obviously impossible to follow him into those giddy spheres." Nevertheless, Nikolai Nekrasov professed to follow Derzhavin rather than Pushkin, and Derzhavin's line of broken rhythms was continued by Marina Tsvetaeva in the 20th century.
Memorable lines 
- Gde stol byl yastv, tam grob stoit (English: Where used to be a table full of viands, a coffin now stands)
- I'm a czar - I'm a slave - I'm a worm - I'm a god (Я - царь, я - раб, я - червь, я - бог, Ya tsar, - ya rab, - ya cherv, - ya bog)
- …Heart of a lion, wings of an eagle Are no longer with us! – How can we fight? (Львиного сердца, крыльев орлиных нет теперь с нами. Что воевать?)
Lines found at Derzhavin's table after his death 
- The current of Time's river
- Will carry off all human deeds
- And sink into oblivion
- All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
- And if there's something that remains
- Through sounds of horn and lyre,
- It too will disappear into the maw of time
- And not avoid the common pyre... <lines broken>
- Derzhavin's biography (in Russian)
- D.S. Mirsky. A History of Russian Literature. Northwestern University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8101-1679-0. Page 53.
Further reading 
- Y. K. Grot. Life of Derzhavin. SPb, 1883 - great biography by a first-rank scholar
- V. F. Khodasevich. Derzhavin. Berlin, 1931 - a literary masterpiece in its own right. (published in English as Derzhavin by University of Wisconsin Press in 2007)
His memoir Zapiski has been reprinted by Oriental Research Partners (Newtonville, MA) in 1973 with a new introduction by Prof. Richard Wortman, University of Chicago.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Gavrila Derzhavin|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Works by Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin at Project Gutenberg
- Collection of Poems by Gavrila Derzhavin (English Translations)
- Illustrated timeline
- Luba Golburt, "Derzhavin's monuments: Sculpture, Poetry, and the Materiality of History", Toronto Slavic Quarterly 13, Summer 2005, retrieved 23 October 2006.