Putting together the pictures to go with his post proved to be one of the hardest tasks I have had yet on this blog. I could easily have put up twice as many shots as the eight I settled on. But as a true believer of the notion that less is more, I drew the line at these eight, still exceeding any amount I have ever used. The fact of the matter is I was lucky to hit this monument to Ivan Krylov, the great Russian writer of fables, on City Day in Moscow. The streets were teeming with families out to enjoy the great weather, the concerts all over town, the street theater, the ad hoc cafes, clowns, balloons and such. And, Krylov, of course, is one of the most beloved figures in Russian culture. His fables and fairy tales, drawn in part, but not at all entirely, from La Fontaine, are virtually every Russian child’s first institutional introduction to humor, wisdom, irony and the paradoxes of nature and human life. Maybe this is one of the reasons why this culture does literature and art so well, both in terms of cultivating it and appreciating it, because virtually every citizen since the early 19th century has been inculcated with Krylov’s greatness from his or her earliest years.
If you need proof of children’s love of Krylov, just look through these pictures – look how at ease they are with the man, look at the love and affection they have for him (i.e., the girl blissfully hugging his right knee below). It’s hard to say what Krylov – in this monument sculpted by Andrei Drevin and Daniel Mitlyansky, and constructed by architect Armen Cheltykyan in 1976 on the north bank of Patriarch’s Pond – thinks of all this. At some angles he has the slightest bit of a smile, as though he knows too much about the world to really join in the children’s joy, but he also has too good a heart to deny their joy. From other angles the poor man simply looks exhausted by it all – exhausted by the perfidy of mankind, about which he wrote so well, and wearied by the effluence of love that he cannot possibly match in return.
The monument is a multi-part piece scattered over a large territory which includes the statue of Krylov and several panneaux that you pass on your way to greet the great man, and which illustrate scenes from some of his most popular fables. Immediately above you see a depiction of “The Wolf and the Heron,” with Krylov in the background. In the final picture below you see a rendition of the fable “The Wolf and the Lamb,” with Krylov even farther in the distance.
Krylov (1769-1844) was a poet, essayist, publisher and, of course, fabulist nonpareil. He was a hugely popular man in his time and he was also simply huge. There is one sentence in the extensive Russian Wikipedia article that fairly begs to be quoted: “Anecdotes about his amazing appetite, his slothenliness, his love of fires, his extraordinary willpower, his wit, popularity and his evasive wariness are only too famous.” His love of fires? That may be one of the finest, most comprehensive, one-line biographies I have ever read. If you search the net for images of Krylov you are most likely to find him only as an old man. I like the fact that the sculptors here made him relatively young. It suits his 236 fables, all of which are as young today as when they were written. For those who are interested, there is a pretty cool English-language ebook available on the net. It was published in 1869, includes a biography and prose translations of approximately half of Krylov’s fables.