Webster Hall


Yurii Pavlovich Ivask

Yurii Pavlovich Ivask was born in Moscow, Russia, on September 1, 1907. His father, Pavel Ivask, was of Estonian-German origin; and his mother Evgenia Ivask, nee Frolov, was related to many old merchant families of Moscow, included the Zhivagos and Matveyevs. After the 1917 revolution his family moved to Estonia (1920), where he studied law at the University of Tartu, pursuing his literary interests as a member of the "Guild of Poets" in Tallinn. In 1943 he married Tamara Mezak (d. 1982). After law school, Ivask worked as a tax inspector in the Pechora region and together with Sterna L'vovna Schliffstein founded the literary journal A Russian Shop which served as a prototype for Pavel Irtel's almanac Nov' [Virgin Soil]. Together they published the fiction of Alexei Remizov and Boris Poplavskii as well as their own poetry. A significant meeting of this period was with poet Igor Chinnov in Latvia.

Displaced to Germany by the World War II, he studied Slavic languages and literature at the University of Hamburg. A visit to Paris brought meetings with the emigre literary scene there including Tsvetaeva (with whom he had earlier begun to correspond), Z. N. Hippius (Gippius), and D. S. Merezhkovskii (Merezhkovsky). In 1949 he emigrated to the United States and began an academic career at Harvard, where he was offered the position of visiting lecturer and received his Ph.D. in Russian literature in 1954 (dissertation: "Vjazemskii as a Literary Critic"). He became a United States citizen in 1955. During this period Ivask also edited In the West: An Anthology of Russian Emigre Poetry (New York: Chekhov, 1953) and the literary journal Opyty (New York: M. Tsetlin, 1953-58).

Ivask taught Russian literature at the University of California, Berkeley (1956), Kansas University (1956-1960), University of Washington in Seattle (1960-1968), Vanderbilt University (1968-1969), and as Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst from 1969 until he became Emeritus in 1977. He also taught for a number of summers at Middlebury College. Beyond his teaching duties and mentoring of graduate students, Ivask was a prolific poet and essayist. His published collections of poems include: Severny bereg: stikhi 1933-36 (Warsaw: Svyashchennaya lira, 1938); Tsarskaya osen': vtoraya kniga stikhov (Paris: Rifma, 1953); Khvala (Washington, DC: Kamkin, 1967); and Zolushka (New York: Mosty, 1970). He wrote numerous essays on V. Rozanov and O. Mandelshtam, as well as introductions to their published works. He wrote a monograph on the philosopher and essayist K. Leontiev (Konstantin Leont'ev: zhizn' i tvorchestvo, Bern, 1974) and edited a two-volume edition of his works. Essays on other Russian poets include Batyushkov, Boratynskii, Fet, Sluchevskii, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, Belyi, Georgii Ivanov, Mikhail Kuzmin, Blok, Akhmatova, and Khlebnikov, many of which appeared in his work Pokhvala Rossijskoy Poezii. Scholarly and critical articles by him appeared regularly in such organs of the American and European emigre press as Novoye Russkoye Slovo, Russkaya Mysl, Sovremennik, The Slavic Review, The Russian Review, The Slavic and East European Journal, and Zeitschrift fŸr slavische Philologie. He was an active member of AATSEEL (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages) and lecturer at universities in the United States and in Europe.

Ivask's desire to reach the Russian audience led to broadcasts for Radio Liberty and Radio Vatican as well as Samizdat publications, including that of his Homo Ludens and a series of religious, philosophical, cultural and historical reflections. This effort was facilitated in Russia by his friend, cultural historian Aleksandr N. Bogoslovskii, who in turn copied and sent him archival research materials on Rozanov, Leontiev, etc.

Ivask took various trips abroad. Besides pencil sketches, diaries, and notes on art and architecture, these gave rise to poetry and published travelogues. One such (Stranstvija) describes his travels following the footsteps of Leontiev in Greece. Other writings apply to Western Europe generally, Mexico (his lyric cycle Zavojevanie Meksiki), Mt. Athos, Portugal, and Moscow.

Ivask died in Amherst in February 1986.

Articles on Ivask's writings:

Laszlo Dienes, "On the Poetry of Yurii Ivask." World Literature Today 53 (1979): 234-237.

Valentin Evdokimov, "Igra pera i podvig vdokhnoveniya: Man'erizm i tragism 'igrayushchego cheloveka.'" Vestnik RKhD 127 (4/1978): 131-141.

Temira Pakhmuss, A Russian Cultural Revival: A Critical Anthology of Emigre Literature before 1939. 1981, pp. 433-437.


Webster Hall