Who shall surpass me?

Motherland I hate;
I love the ideal of Man.

That’s Valery Bryusov, 1896. Students of Russian poetry who focus on three to five names in the 20th century may not realize how much Bryusov (from Bruce, like the kings of Scotland) both impressed the general reading public and influnced fellow Russian poets. He single-handedly concocted three “collections” of verse entitled “The Russian Symbolists” (1894-1895) with the famous one-liner

O cover your pale legs!

(or feet — Russian has one word for both). There were days when, a pale youth myself (“O pale youth with a burning stare, // I am now giving you three precepts…”), I would repeat to myself his Assyrian inscription —

I am the King of Kings and King Assarhadon.
O lords and czars, I say unto ye: Woe!

And then:

Who can surpass me? Who can equal me?
Deeds of all men are shadows in a mad dream,
Dreams of exploits are like a childish sport.

I have exhausted you, o wordly fame!
And lo — I stand alone, in grandeur all embasked,
Myself — the King of Kings and King Assarhadon.

Bryusov was one of only two major Russian poets of his time to graduate from a university (Russia’s oldest, Moscow U). He was a prolific and gifted translator. After 1917, Bryusov joined the Bolshevik party and died a few years later.

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