To say, however, that the success of Whitman’s poems depended entirely on their appropriation by the purveyors of liberal propaganda is to ignore the poetry’s deeply spiritual resonance, without which the mysterious Russian soul simply would not be itself.Ilya Repin, a painter and a Christian philosopher, expressed this resonance well when he wrote: ) American, who rose suddenly in front of me as Christianity’s second sun.God’s child, Walt Whitman revealed in his simple heart anew the true meaning of God’s Word.
That person was Konstantin Balmont, bohemia incarnate, Symbolist luminary, globetrotter, poet.
In subsequent essays, Balmont developed a language of such reverence and grandeur as were rarely bestowed on poets even within Russia’s then indulgent artistic milieu: Whitman was an “ultimate”, an “inevitable”, “strong” poet, “as inescapable in the life of our souls as the first love, first grief, a moonlit night, or a sunny morning.” His poetry, then, could not be akin to anything before or contemporary to it.
Writing in 1908, Balmont denied Whitman’s verse any “accessible consonance of rhyme”, “common ornamentation of poetry”, or any “correct measure”, seeing in it, instead, the “movement of waves”, “rustling of breezes”, and the “breath of the sea”.
Liudmila Kiseliova provides excellent insight into this cultural environment in her essay “Poetic Dialogues of the Silver Age: K. Apparently, the friends agreed, because the only surviving clue to this early translation is Chukovsky’s confession in the preface to the 1913 collection of translations from Whitman: “I published about Whitman a pamphlet about ten years ago and I am not at all pleased with it.” This 1913 edition did not survive either: the book’s entire run was censored and confiscated.
Thus, we must take 1919 as the year of Chukovsky’s first book-length treatment of Whitman, the first in a series of ten more volumes published until 1969.