I beg you be logical in the design and structure of your
work, in syntax . . . be a skillful builder, both in small
things and in the whole . . . love words, as Flaubert
did, exercise economy in your means, thrift in the use
of words, precision and authenticity—then you will
discover the secret of a wonderful thing: beauty
—Mikhail Kuzmin, 1910
Although written before the inception of Acmeism in 1912, Kuzman’s address has often been perceived as the movement’s manifesto. He calls for fellow poets to seek beauty in the natural and physical world around them—to be industrious in language and vision in order to reflect the realness of the subject.
Acmeism, a school in modern Russian poetry, formed after breaking away from Russian Symbolism—then the dominant school of the country’s literary scene. Like the French Symbolists, Russian Symbolists relied on symbols as poetic devices, using them to make grand and intuitive associations in poetry. However, the Russian movement later eschewed the decadence associated with the French movement, in favor of mysticism and German idealism, as responses to Russia’s political revolutions and social degeneration. To the Acmeist, however, the role of the poet was not to be an oracle or a diviner, but a skilled worker. The Acmeists revolted against Symbolism’s vagueness and attempts to privilege emotional suggestion over clarity and vivid sensory images.
Acmeism’s significant leading poets were Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai Gumilëv, and Osip Mandelstam. While each of these poets called into question the realness of everyday life experiences, Acmeism manifested differently in each poets’ oeuvre: one of modern Russia’s most esteemed lyricists, Akhmatova had a very intimate love of verse and witnessing; Gumilëv presented his verse as a straightforward narrative; and Mandelstam found poetic expression that combined classical themes with semantically compact imagery.