On '1893'

by Guusje Groote

Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) was one of Russia's greatest historians. His writings focus on the history of modern philosophy and stress his ideas on religion, nationalism, social issues, and the role of Russia in World History. Nevertheless, most important and influential were Solovyov's views on religion and 'mysticism'. He explores this mysticism in his book Philosophical Principles in Integral Knowledge. He presents his metaphysical religious conceptions through philosophical lectures, discussions and his writings. Towards the end of his life, his interest narrowed to ethics and epistemology.
As in the other sonnets, Morgan seems to give an historic account. In 1875 Solovyov taught philosophy in London. He was known to travel a lot and the title of the sonnet refers to the year in which Solovyov visited Stronachlachar.
1893 is closely linked to the preceding sonnet on G.M. Hopkins. Hopkins and Solovyov lived in the same era and were both very religious men. Hopkins as well as Solovyov broke away at the age of 22 from the religious tradition in which they were brought up. Hopkins converted to Catholicism and Solovyov reconverted to Orthodoxy. They both explain and bring across their religious ideas in their teaching and writings.

The sonnet starts with Solovyov's remark on "the fishy vennels of St Machar" (l. 4). Presumably this is St Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen. This cathedral has seen many versions of the Christian faith. It was founded as a Celtic church, but later became Roman Catholic, then Episcopalian and from 1690 to the present it has been a Presbyterian church. Saint Machar was the first missionary to convert the Picts to Christianity. He was sent by St Columba who plays an important role in Morgan's earlier sonnet 'Colloquy in Glaschu'.
From "St Machar" the sonnet moves on to "Inversnaid". Inversnaid is a small village near Loch Lomond and is set in beautiful surroundings. Inversnaid refers back to Hopkins, who wrote a poem called 'Inversnaid' during his stay in Glasgow after having visited Loch Lomond.
The sonnet contains a mystical atmosphere. Solovyov's belief in what seemed reality is confused as the boatman turns out to be a boatwoman. Morgan plays a game between appearance and reality. However, Solovyov is not disappointed by his misconception and he sees the woman as a dream image. She is not what she seemed to be at first sight and this creates a sense of illusion. Solovyov perceives her as a divine being, almost a kind of angel, which associates her with the religious meaning of the word mysticism. After having meditated over the lake Solovyov directly experiences the divine. Her mystical transformation is combined with "Wisdom" as well as with "the Lord" (l. 12).
The sonnet contains an important twist in which a down-to-earth atmosphere takes over Solovyov's mystical world. Solovyov's image of the woman sharply contrasts with line 10: "To her, he was a man of forty, reading." It seems as if the woman is there to put Solovyov back on his feet. Still, this direct and common sense view does not affect Solovyov. Solovyov does not let it happen and he drifts off again into the white, light and violet sky of "the Northern Lights" (l.14). These "lights" and the "mazy unknown waters" (l. 13) carry mysterious connotations. He remains in his world of imagination in which the woman becomes almost an apparition, "dancing like Wisdom before the Lord" (l. 11). Despite the realistic view dropping in on Solovyov, Morgan ends the sonnet with a mystical, divine tone.

 

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