White Willow in Russian Literature: Folklore “Roots” of Image

Marianna Dudareva, Nina Goeva


The article deals with a complicated archetypal tree complex in Russian literature. The object chosen here is “white willow” (vetla) as one of the species of willow in its different variations - daphne willow (verba) and goat willow (rakita), and willow itself. In the 19th century Russian literature we can find the image of white willow is in V. Zhukovsky’s translated poem “The Forest Tsar”; in prose it appears in poetics of F. Dostoevsky where it is embedded in ritual mythological context. In the 20th century literature, both in poetry and in prose, white willow has also held its place. For instance, I. Bunin and M. Gorky used this image giving the tree a metaphysical meaning. S. Yesenin writes about the meaning of this tree in poetry in his treatise “The Keys of Mary” (1918) where he draws parallels with Russian folklore. The image of white willow is also live in modern poetry: it traced back to Russian literary and folklore tradition. In children's folklore (cradle songs with “scary plot”) we can see “other-worldly” nature, semantics of a tree which functions as the World Tree.


Russian literature, folklore, symbolism of trees, metaphysics, modern poetry

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