The River of Time: Time-Space, History, and Language in Avant-Garde, Modernist, and Contemporary Russian and Anglo-American Poetry

The River of Time: Time-Space, History, and Language in Avant-Garde, Modernist, and Contemporary Russian and Anglo-American Poetry


Ian Probstein

Series: Jews of Russia & Eastern Europe and Their Legacy
ISBN: 9781618116260 (hardcover)
Pages: 300 pp.
Publication Date: July 2017

Add To Cart

This book explores the changing perception of time and space in avant-garde, modernist, and contemporary poetry. The author characterizes the works of modern Russian, French, and Anglo-American poets based on their attitudes towards reality, time, space, and history revealed in their poetics. The author compares the work of major Russian innovative poets Osip Mandelstam, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Joseph Brodsky with that of W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and, in spite of the postmodernist “estrangement” of reality, the author proves that similar traces can be found in the work of contemporary American poets John Ashbery and Charles Bernstein. Both affinities and drastic differences are revealed in the poets’ attitudes towards time-space, reality, and history.

Ian Probstein is associate professor of English at Touro College. He has published ten books of poetry, translated more than a dozen poetry volumes; and has compiled and edited more than thirty books and anthologies of poetry in translation.


Ian Probstein’s The River of Time is an ambitious study of modernist poetry in two major ways … in the sheer number and variety of the poets discussed in the book … [and] in the parameters that Probstein sets for his study. … Probstein’s frame of reference, broad as it is, holds refreshing potential: it allows the author to move, with varying ease, between numerous voices of Russian and Anglo-American literary contexts. All too often, in the discussion of modernist literature, scholars downsize modernism to a rigid and geographically limited canon, which does not incorporate modernist authors from a broader map of national contexts, including Russia. While Probstein focuses on the works of some of the central modernist figures, he also seeks to embrace the complexity and diversity of modernisms (we can appreciate here the creative mind of an experienced translator and editor of numerous anthologies).
— B. Tokarsky, University of Cambridge, Slavonic and East European Review Vol. 96, No. 4
I am reminded once again of Brodsky’s fine account of Anna Akhmatova’s ability to see the tragic events of her time ‘first through the prism of the individual heart, then through the prism of history’. What remains so striking about such a vision, continues Brodsky, is that ‘These two perspectives were brought into sharp focus through prosody, which is simply a repository of time within language’. Simply? Ian Probstein’s The River of Time offers the help we need to gauge the real complexity of that word ‘simply’.
— Peter Nicholls, New York University, Textual Practice Vol. 32.3 (2018)
Ian Probstein’s magisterial study of the aesthetics of time in modernist and contemporary poetry offers illuminating exegeses of touchstone poems by Mandelstam, Eliot, Khlebnikov, Yeats, Pound, Brodsky, and Ashbery, among others. With the dialectical force of a ‘feast of citations,’ The River of Time brilliantly interweaves Russian and American poetry.
— Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania, Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences
The River of Time is unique in its range and depth: it is, I believe, the first study of Modernism—and specifically of the time-space chronotope in Modernism—to read the poetry of Yeats, Eliot and Pound against such very different poets as Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, and Mandelstam. Ian Probstein’s carefully documented study also takes up the post-World War II generation, again moving easily between Joseph Brodsky and John Ashbery, with a final excellent chapter on the contemporary poet Charles Bernstein. Throughout The River of Time, the author provides excellent new analyses of both familiar and unfamiliar poems, and his own translations of some of the most difficult Russian poems make this a book a treasure trove for all students of Modernism.
— Marjorie Perloff, Professor Emerita of English, Stanford University and University of Southern California, Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society

Table of Contents

Introduction. Forms of Time-Space (Chronotope) in Poetry

Part One. Beyond Barriers: Avant-Gardе and Futurism
1. Forms of Chronotope in Avant-Garde Poetry  
2. “The King of Time” and “The Slave of Time”: Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky  

Part Two. Chronotopes of Reality and History in the Poetry of Osip Mandelstam, W. B. Yeats, and Ezra Pound
1. Nature and “The Artifice of Eternity”: The Relation to Nature and Reality for Yeats, Pound, and Mandelstam
2. “Sailing to Byzantium”—“Sailing after Knowledge”: Byzantium as a Symbol of Cultural Heritage in Mandelstam, Yeats, and Pound
3. Fear and Awe: Osip Mandelstam’s “The Slate Ode”

Part Three. T. S. Eliot: “Liberation from the Future as Well as the Past”
1. The Waste Land as a Human Drama Revealed by Eliot’s Dialogic Imagination
2. “Liberation from the Future as well as the Past”: Time-Space and History in Four Quartets

Part Four. Joseph Brodsky: “The River of Time” or “What Gets Left of a Man”

Part Five. John Ashbery: “Time Is an Emulsion”

Part Six. Charles Bernstein: “Of Time and the Line”