by IRINA H. CORTEN
NICHOLAS ROERICH MUSEUM
Irina H. Corten, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Russian Literature and Culture
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
The name of Nicholas Constantinovich Roerich (1874-1947), the distinguished Russian painter, is internationally known. Roerich is also widely recognized as a scholar, philosopher and humanitarian. But there is one area of his creative activity which, until recently, had been overlooked his poetry. In 1921 a Berlin publishing house (Slowo) put out a volume entitled Tsvety Morii (The Flowers of Morya) containing sixty-four blank verse poems which Roerich wrote between 1907 and 1921; some of them had appeared previously in pre-Revolutionary Russian periodicals (e.g. Vesy, Zolotoe runo). But, because of the political and social upheavals in Russia in the 1920's, the book went unnoticed and was not rediscovered until much later. In 1974 the collection of Roerich's poems was first published in the Soviet Union . It bears the title Pis'mena which in modern Russian means hieroglyphics or any kind of old script. The term was originally used by Roerich when he was preparing the poems for publication .; it suggests that the poems contain messages of ancient wisdom.
One striking element in Roerich's poetry is the influence of Eastern thought. From adolescence on Roerich studied and drew inspiration from the sacred texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, and no Russian poet was as deeply affected by them as he. Yet he was not a mere expounder of these teachings; they filtered through his poetic consciousness in a creative and original way. His imaginative interpretations of Eastern spirituality constitute a special contribution to Russian philosophical poetry, which seems to the author to be the central one, namely, the theme of spiritual unfoldment. This theme is expressed through certain recurring metaphors of time and space which can effectively interpreted with the aid of Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the chronotope .
The chronotope is a writer's individual perception of time-spatial relationships and their artistic expression through the medium of discourse . Discourse is a response-oriented utterance which reveals the philosophical foundations of an author's or character's apperception of life. According to one Bakhtin scholar, the chronotope provides the most specific formula to describe the author/hero’s  comprehensive pronouncements about his own 'I' and about the world around him . The chronotope gives aesthetic form to the dynamics of author's and characters' interactions with their environment and to the continuing process of their reevaluating and cognizing of life. It shows the ever-changing horizons of human awareness and, for this reason, is particularly well-suited for the study of writers such as Roerich whose chief subject is the evolution of human consciousness.
At the core of Roerich's belief system is the Hindu concept of a beginningless and endless universe which manifests itself in recurring cycles of creation and dissolution of material forms caused by the pulsation of divine energy. On the human plane, this means the rise and fall of civilizations and, in terms of individual life, the reincarnation of a soul (a fragment of divine consciousness) in a succession of bodies until it matures enough to become liberated from attachment to physical form. Such a liberated soul may choose to unite forever with its divine source or to continue incarnating itself for the purpose of helping other beings to become enlightened. Enlightenment, in this context, means the soul's realization of its divine, eternal origin, the recognition by it of a uniform divine principle in all creation, and the resulting state of inner harmony, love and joy. In each lifetime, a soul has the potential for self-realization but is prevented from attaining it because of its "owner's" ignorance, lust, greed, and other human imperfections. In order to overcome these obstacles, it gravitates to the guru. This Sanskrit word is properly understood as a spiritual force that guides people toward enlightenment. The guru is believed to exist in a variety of forms as a sage with a liberated soul, as an avatar (an anthropomorphic incarnation of the divine force, a deity), or as a spiritual aspirant's higher Self. In fact, it is the latter that is believed to possess the greatest liberating power, and a spiritual journey, in essence, is that of learning to hear and to follow the voice of the inner guru. These are some of the key concepts of Roerich's ideology , and our task is to see how he gives them artistic expression in his poems.
Simple syntax and the absence of elaborate tropes help Roerich keep his own discourse as close as possible to the wise simplicity of a guru. His poetic language is characterized by a neutral, unjargonized lexicon with a slightly archaic flavor; by unhurried movement and a calm, rather solemn tone; and by a strong dialogic orientation: the author/hero is constantly heard conversing with his friends or opponents, with a teacher or a disciple, and with his own self. Roerich's language contains a high degree of addressivity (obrashchennost')  – an author's expectation of responsive understanding by the reader who, in Roerich's case, is envisioned as a truth seeker. And, because Roerich conceives of his audience as a sort of spiritual brotherhood, his utterances carry a feeling of intimacy and trust. We enter his poetic world as if by invitation to be his companions on a spiritual pilgrimage – the central chronotope of his poems.
Before we can examine this chronotope, we must understand the general principles of Roerich's use of the time and space categories. Many different types of time may exist in literature. The average reader is probably most familiar with what Bakhtin calls historical time (showing a succession of historical events with a true-to-life atmosphere), biological time (showing the natural process of birth, maturation and death), and everyday time (showing people's daily life); these varieties of time are often found in realistic fiction. But Roerich's time is not of a biological or historical order, although history and nature are not alien to his world perception. His characters are human and therefore subject to the laws of material time and space which govern all living beings; however, this aspect of their existence is not emphasized. When reading his poems, one is not aware of dwelling in any particular epoch or in an environment where things happen in a familiar, predictable chronological order. Roerich is not interested in the workings of concrete, "real" time, because his frame of reference is the sum total of time, or eternity. In "O vechnom" ("About the Eternal")  the author/hero asks his friend to forget their argument, saying:
Brother, let's abandon
all that rapidly changes.
Otherwise we will not have time
to turn our thoughts to that
which is changeless for all.
To the eternal.
Roerich advises the reader to recognize the insignificance of temporal concerns before the face of eternity. The same idea is expressed in "V zemliu" ("Into the Earth") . Here a funeral is described; the relatives mourn the deceased, but the priest tells one of them ‑ a young spiritual aspirant ‑ not to grieve, for the body's death does not effect the eternal life of the soul. Paraphrasing a passage from the great Indian epic Bhagavad Gita, the priest addresses the liberated soul with the following words:
You are ancient, indestructible,
constant and eternal,
you, soaring toward the heights,
are joyous and renewed.
Roerich sees reincarnation of individuals and "reincarnation" of civilizations as a manifestation of eternity. In "Sviashchennye znaki" ("Sacred Signs") he talks about "the spark of life and death" whereby human environments are created, destroyed and recreated and history is made, forgotten and restored to memory as the generations march on. The same theme of life as an unending, cyclic process is expressed in "Lakshmi pobeditel'nitsa" ("Lakshmi the Conqueror"). The poem is an adaptation of a Hindu myth about two deities, the sisters Lakshmi and Siva, the first representing good and the second evil. These antagonists depend upon each other as Lakshmi generates benefits for humankind and Siva annihilates them, allowing the former to resume her work. And so the cosmic pendulum swings to and fro, providing a contrast to the unidirectional upward movement of individual spiritual growth.
Leading his hero toward the awareness of eternity, Roerich abstracts time from the concrete circumstances of human life, and he deals similarly with space. In vain would we look in his poems for identifiable places such as a particular country, culture or geographical region. What we find instead are generalized spatial images – a town, a house, a garden, a road, a forest, a mountain. Some of these images are endowed with descriptive details, but not of the kind that would enable us to pinpoint them as specific locales. Roerich's time is projected onto the background of eternity, and his space is correspondingly delineated against infinity. The yesterdays, todays and tomorrows through which his hero lives and the spaces through which he moves are metaphysical and metaphoric.
A noteworthy feature of the composition of Roerich's poems is that in each of them (with the exception of the last one) the title is the same as the last word or phrase. This suggests circularity, and the circle is a widely recognized symbol of eternity and infinity. Roerich seems to be saying that each experienced poetic moment is an end in itself, a microcosm embracing all of time and space. But, against this static background, the chronotope of the spiritual pilgrimage resembles the pattern of an upward spiral. A spiral, though it incorporates circularity, is dynamic and open-ended and, when seen as a metaphor of spiritual quest, is suggestive of progression and temporary regression. The arrangement of the poems in the volume bears this out. Pis'mena is divided into four cycles, the first of which is entitled "Sviashchennye znaki" ("Sacred Signs"); the second "Vestnik" ("The Messenger") or "Blagoslovennomu" ("To the Blessed One") in the Berlin edition; the third "Mal'chiku" ("To the Boy“); and the fourth, consisting of only one long poem "Mastavienie lovtsu vkhodiashchemu v les" ("Admonition to the Hunter Entering the Forest").
In the first cycle the author/hero is a spiritual novice who searches for but has not yet found the sacred signs (verbal and nonverbal messages from higher spheres) to guide him on the way. In the second cycle, as signs begin to be revealed, he acquires a more definite sense of direction. In the third cycle he already has enough knowledge to lead another novice and, by the time we reach the fourth, his voice has taken on the authority of a guru. But his ascent is not simply vertical because, in each segment of his journey, he experiences moments of doubt and disorientation which make it necessary for him to retrace his steps on the spiraling path.
The purpose of the journey is to enable the soul to rise above the spatio temporal confines of its carrier body and to become fully aware of its infinite and eternal divine source. This is not easy because with each incarnation the soul, ensnared by the demands of the new body, forgets much of the wisdom acquired in previous lifetimes. In "Zavtra" ("Tomorrow") the author/hero laments this predicament, describing life, death and rebirth in metaphors of alternating days, nights and mornings.
Only yesterday I knew much,
but it became obscured in the course
of the night.
Indeed, the day had been long.
Long and dark was the night.
Then came the fragrant morning.
Fresh and marvelous it was.
And, illumined by the new sun,
I forgot and was deprived of that
which I had accumulated.
Thus the soul must surmount the ignorance and oblivion which block its homeward path; the particulars of this difficult experience constitute the subject matter of Pis'mena.
The author/hero sets out on the journey with a group of like-minded people including the audience (the text is replete with addressive words such as "you", singular and plural, "my friend[s]", "fellow traveler[s]" etc.). At the beginning of the "Sacred Signs" cycle the seekers wander randomly about in quest of understanding. It is unclear if this initial effort takes days or years and if the distance covered is short or long. The key chronotopic image of the road is present, but at this point the search has no specific direction. The travelers are spurred on by hope but completely disoriented in space and time.
And we shall seek sacred signs.
* * * * * *
They are most likely to be
on roadposts. Or among flowers.
Or upon the waves of a river.
We think we can look for them
on vaulted clouds. By the light
of the sun and the moon...
shall we seek sacred signs.
* * * * * *
It's turning dark.
It's hard to see the way.
Incomprehensible are these places.
Where can they be – sacred signs?
Today we aren't likely to find them,
but tomorrow there will be light.
I know – we shall see them.
from "We Shall See"
Gradually, the spaces of the pilgrimage become more distinct and its time begins to regulate itself by the rhythms of the pilgrims' achievements and setbacks. Certain symbolic spatio temporal images come into focus. In "Nash put" ("Our Journey") the travelers are seen walking along a country road and accepting gifts from children (a blessing). But, later, they discard these humble gifts; such mindlessness will impede their spiritual advancement. In "Naprasno" ("Vainly") they are temporarily lost in a plain – a horizontal non-directional space suggesting lack of progress. In "Tropinki" ("Trails") they roam through a forest with many diverging trails (disorientation). In "Vremia" ("Time") they move away from a crowd (confusion and strife) and go up to the top of a hill (progress). Sitting under an ancient pillar (a signpost, connection with the past), they wait for a propitious time to continue. In "Vzoidu" ("I Shall Ascend") they attempt to climb a mountain – a significant symbol of spiritual ascent.
As their path becomes more directed, concrete barriers are encountered upon it which must be overcome, notably a closed gate or door. A gate or door is an important chronotopic image, for it delineates space and shows demarkation lines between past (having approached), present (standing at the threshold), and future (anticipating entry). In "Na poslednikh vratakh" ("Upon the Last Gate") the travelers pass a succession of closed gates. At the threshold of each they are told "You may not!", but force their way through and then hear "You may!" behind their backs. They press on, with a presentiment that "You may!" will be written on the front of the last gate. This, obviously, means that a dedicated seeker will meet with success at the end of the road; the last gate opens into eternity. One of Roerich's best-known poems, "Privratnik" ("The Gatekeeper"), uses the gate-door image in a special way. The poem is quoted here in full.
Gatekeeper, tell me, why
are you closing this door?
What are you guarding so staunchly?"
"I am guarding the secret of quietude".
"But quietude is empty. Reliable people
say there is nothing in it."
"I know the secret of quietude.
I am placed to guard it."
"But your quietude is empty!"
"It is empty to you,"
replied the gatekeeper.
This poem is the only one of the first cycle in which a sign is revealed (though not understood). The state of quietude, free from unrest, suffering and delusion, gives one a taste of eternity, but the author/hero is not yet ready to enter this state (space). Roerich uses the word pokoi which means quietude and also a quiet room, chamber; this dual meaning creates a complex chronotopic image both physical and metaphysical. The space from which the author/hero is barred contains that which he cannot yet understand – the idea being that space is defined by one’s apperception of it. Moving through space, then, becomes identical with the process of expanding one's consciousness, and the boundary between external and internal space, between form and content, is erased.
The time-space component of Roerich's spiritual-journey chronotope takes on a third dimension, so to speak, through discourse. Two types of discourse are at work here. The first of these is "authoritative discourse" which means the word of a supreme authority (religious, philosophical, political etc.). "It's authority was already acknowledged in the past . . . It is given in lofty spheres, not those of familiar contact. Its language is a special (as it were, hieratic) language . The second type of discourse is called "internally persuasive." It is "more akin to retelling a text in one's own words, with one's own accents, gestures, modifications. Human coming-to-consciousness, in Bakhtin's view, is a constant struggle between these two types of discourse: an attempt to assimilate authoritative discourse into one's own system, and the simultaneous freeing of one's own discourse from the authoritative word" .
Every thinking human being carries on a dialogue with the authoritative word, but such dialogue is especially intense for spiritual aspirants of Roerich's type who do not worship God through established rituals and do not abide by ecclesiastical or scriptural dogma. They acknowledge the dharma – cosmic law emanating from divine consciousness which governs all life and which cannot be fully explained by the profoundest of scriptures. And they are mystics in that they seek direct, intuitive contact with the divine force, without the aid of prescribed rules. For these seekers, the authoritative word is not something which is clearly spelled out and taken for granted from the beginning, and before they can enter a dialogic relationship with it, they must first attune themselves to hearing it and make sure that it comes from the right source.
For Roerich's pilgrims, their initial disorientation in time and space corresponds to their disorientation with regard to the authoritative word. They believe that it exists somewhere in the universe, communicating itself through a "khoziain" (master). But "Nobody knows where the master / had left his signs" ("We Shall See"). Soon after this poem, there is a sequence of three poems in which the excited pilgrims think that they have found a guru ("Tsar") who will address them with authoritative discourse. This discovery abruptly changes their indeterminate chronotopic environment: their space narrows down (events take place in a city) and their time becomes urgent and sequential. This is how the poem begins:
Our Tsar arrived at midnight.
He retired into his chamber.
So he said.
In the morning the Tsar walked out
into the crowd. And we didn't
even know it. We didn't have time
to see him. We had to learn his commands.
The Tsar comes at midnight – a time which, for spiritual novices, is dark and incomprehensible. He goes into his chamber (pokoi) – a space not yet accessible to his followers. The rest of the poem describes in symbolic, chronotopic images their frantic efforts to catch up with the elusive Tsar. They rush through the crowded city looking for his footprints, bump into passersby and get lost in a maze of sidestreets. Just when it seems that the footprints have at last become visible, it turns out that they belong to a blind beggar. The chase continues in the next poem, "Trails". The seekers decide that the Tsar has gone into a wood and follow him there, only to find themselves going on false paths. In the third poem, "Poverit'?" ("Are We to Believe?"), they finally learn the whereabouts of the Tsar – he is delivering a sermon at the "old square with three towers." The tower image may be interpreted as elevation above common life, and the number three as universal harmony. The seekers hurry there but find the square and the adjoining streets already so full of listeners that they cannot hear the Tsar's voice. His words reach them by relay, having been rephrased and reinterpreted by many other people. At the end of the poem they are left wondering if these words can now be accepted as authoritative. Here Roerich raises an important philosophical question – does a spiritual teaching retain its value after reinterpretation or, in other words, does hermeneutics serve a good purpose? The question is not directly answered, but from this point on the author/hero seeks personal contacts with guru figures, shunning even the company of his fellow seekers. Individual encounter with a bearer of authoritative discourse now becomes an important landmark of his chronotope.
Toward the end of the first cycle of Pis'mena the author/hero's individual "I" separates itself from the "we" of his initial environment. In "I Shall Ascend", for instance, his mountain-climbing party scatters. He calls after them, trying to reassemble them, then abandons the effort.
I do not know if you'll go on,
but I still desire to reach the summit.
* * * * *
Your ropes would be helpful to me,
but I can ascend by myself.
Seeking an "I and Thou" relationship, he enters the realm of internally persuasive discourse. In "K Nemu" ("Toward Him") he finds a hermit who is reputed to be a spokesman of God. Anxiously he queries the holy man about the best way to reach God and is told that he must renounce that which is dearest to him, namely Beauty.
"Who commanded this?" I asked.
"God" the hermit replied.
Let God punish me ‑
I shall not renounce that which is most beautiful,
that which leads us to Him.
Thus the hermit's authoritative word is dialogized: The author/hero questions it, formulates his rejoinder, and reaches out toward a higher authoritative source (God's judgment). Another example of dialogizing authoritative discourse is in the previously cited "Gatekeeper", though here the situation is somewhat different. The gatekeeper's teaching is more esoteric and more profound than that of the hermit; rejecting the hermit's word may, indeed, bring the author/hero closer to the Supreme Authority, whereas rejecting the gatekeeper's word only reveals the author/hero's ignorance and reliance on false authority ("reliable people"). But the debate in "The Gatekeeper" is constructed in such a way that the authoritative word is strongly reaffirmed at the end, and the author/hero is faced with the necessity of assimilating it and making it internally persuasive.
The second cycle of poems begins with "Kapli" ("Drops"). It describes an important turning point in the author/hero's chronotope. He is suddenly lifted out of his temporal-spatial-dialogic milieu and allowed to experience an ecstatic moment of direct nonverbal communion with God. He is floating somewhere above the earth, with outstretched hands into which God is pouring His grace (blagodat'). But the small human hands cannot contain the bounty and it overflows and disperses. The author/hero wants to bring it back for the benefit of all the people, but
… I shall not have time
to reach home. Of all His Grace,
I will bring
in my tightly closed hands only
The author/hero is blessed and chosen to be one of God's messengers, but he cannot yet cope with this enormous task. Having returned from God's domain, he continues to undergo spiritual vacillations. At times he feels confident of his mission as messenger (vestnik), that is, as a transmitter of authoritative discourse:
Arise, my friend.
The message has been received.
Your rest is over.
I have just learned where
one of the sacred signs is kept.
from "It is Time" 
At other times he lapses into uncertainty and longs for supportive dialogue with his guru:
And here I am, unknowing and unable.
Thou, who comest in silence,
tell me wordlessly –
what did I want in life,
and what have I achieved?
from "In the Morning"
At this difficult stage the author/hero is shown recollecting and reassessing his earlier experience. In one of the poems of this cycle, titled "Bezdonno" ("Fathomless"), he looks back on the segment of his pilgrimage traveled in the first cycle, summarizing its accomplishments and bringing its time space images into perspective. He gives a special time dimension to the journey – three days; in this case, three may be interpreted as completion . He and his companions first go through – a plain, a forest and a swamp. Having passed these frustrating places, they begin moving up a mountain range, climbing over the foothills shrouded in fog, then scaling steeper and steeper slopes under gathering thunderclouds. Having weathered the storm in an unknown hideaway they see, when light returns, that
A wall rose above us. Beneath us
a chasm showed its fathomless
This represents an impasse in the author/hero's chronotope, expressed symbolically in his inability either to ascend or to descend. No authoritative word has yet become lucid enough for him to abide by, and he must place his trust in internally persuasive discourse based on the wisdom accumulated thus far. In this poem, such discourse expresses itself through an affirmation of faith:
You, the Mighty One, are
everywhere and in all things.
You awaken us toward light.
You put us to sleep in darkness.
You lead us in our wanderings.
His search now enters a more intense and private phase, and there is a corresponding change in time-spatial imagery. The large, open spaces of the first cycle are replaced in the second cycle by small, enclosed ones – a house and garden (in "Zamechaiui' ["I Notice"]), a laboratory (in "Otkroi" ["Open!"]), a study (in "Ne udalialsia" ["Thou Hast Not Withdrawn"]). These spaces protect the author/hero from distractions and help him orient himself with regard to the location of the "quiet chamber" (pokoi). As for time, it is now highly individualized and given shape by the author/hero's sporadic encounters with the guru. Each of these encounters offers him an opportunity to cast away time awareness by contemplating the eternal Now, and time exists to the extent of his inability to do so. Linear time (from past to present to future) continues to govern his life as long as he is conscious of not having reached his goal.
In striving to reach this goal, the author/hero is hindered by his perception of the guru as someone alien, as a "not I". He thinks of the guru in two ways – either as a pontificator, a giver of commandments (e.g. the Tsar in the first cycle) or as a mysterious stranger with a cryptic message which needs to be explained:
Every morning an unknown singer
sails by our shore.
* * * * *
And it seems to us that we
shall never learn
who that singer is,
and where he goes each morning.
And for whom he sings
his ever new song.
from "For Us?"
The notice of the "otherness" of the guru generates a great deal of anxiety in the author/hero, and he wastes his energy trying to pursue, through time and space, that which is beyond both. Says he in despair:
How hard it is to divine your intentions!
How difficult to follow you!
from "Not Having Understood"
Gradually, the author/hero outgrows these perceptions and changes his approach. He realizes that he had already been given a significant authoritative pronouncement – quietude ("The Gatekeeper"), and that he must now make it work. Abandoning his struggles, humbling his spirit, stilling his mind and senses, he gently opens himself up toward the guru:
Come, come closer to me, radiant one,
I shall not frighten you with anything.
Yesterday you wanted to approach,
but my thoughts wandered and my glance
* * * * * *
But today I shall let go of all
that has hindered me.
I shall immerse my thought
* * * * * *
I wait. I know you will not
forsake me. That you will approach me.
In silence shall I preserve your image.
from "I Shall Preserve"
The last sentence of this poem is especially important in the unfolding of the author/hero's chronotope, because it reveals the beginning of the process whereby the guru is internalized. From now on, the dialogue will take place not so much between two separate beings as between two levels of the author/hero’s consciousness – the lower (disciple) and the higher (teacher). The awakening of the guru voice within him will eventually enable him to become a messenger of God, that is, an uncluttered channel of authoritative discourse. But, until then, the dialectic of transforming authoritative discourse into internally persuasive discourse must continue.
The most difficult aspect of this dialectic, in Roerich's poetics, is that authoritative discourse is rarely expressed in words. It is, rather, imparted through the powerful but silent presence of the guru force which subtly shapes the aspirant's thoughts, emotions and way of life. Mindful of this transformation, he responds to it with internally persuasive utterances which help describe the process to himself and to those around him. In the second cycle of Pis'mena the author/hero formulates several such utterances. In "Svet" ("Light") he ponders:
How shall we perceive Thy Countenance?
deeper than feelings and intellect,
impalpable, inaudible, invisible.
I appeal to you: heart, wisdom and labor.
The teaching, as he now understands it, advises that God may be reached through a life of love, discerning knowledge and patient, disciplined work.
In the last two poems of this cycle the author/hero communes with his inner guru and makes internally persuasive another important guideline for spiritual fulfillment – joyfulness. In "Veselisia" ("Rejoice") he addresses his brooding spirit:
You are rich, my spirit.
Knowledge is coming to you.
The banner of light shines above you!
In the concluding poem, "Ulybkoi?" ("With a Smile?"), the same idea is expressed in a less solemn, more personal way. Dialogically, this poem has an interesting, rather complex structure, with four participants – God, God's messenger, the author/hero as disciple and the author/hero as guru. The author/hero receives through the messenger, God's gift of healing power. But the messenger does not know how the gift works, and the author/hero must figure it out himself. The disciple in him queries God and the messenger, but they do not speak. He then concludes that the power of the gift lies in tears: "Every tear of mine will heal the world's ills." Yet, somehow, this notion does not seem right, and God provides a silent answer through the physiognomy of the messenger. The author/hero’s guru is activated and helps him arrive at an internally persuasive interpretation:
Messenger, my messenger!
You stand before me and smile.
Have you not (brought me) a command
to heal misery with a smile?
In the author/hero’s chronotope, the discovery of such "pearls of wisdom" becomes more and more frequent and helps him make the transition to his new role in the next cycle.
The poems of the third cycle of Pis'mena ("To the Boy") are devoted almost entirely to the dynamics of a teacher-disciple relationship, the former appearing as "I" and the latter as "boy". There are two possible ways to view these dialogue partners – either as different people, a novice and his mentor, or two voices within the author/hero. The latter interpretation  is suggested by Sidorov who sees the boy as Roerich the artist emerging from Roerich the man. Whichever interpretation the reader prefers is of no consequence, because the crucial element in both is the integration of authoritative and internally persuasive discourse within the author/hero. Although, from time to time, he still suffers from doubt and uncertainty (e.g. in "Ne mozhem" ["We Cannot"]), his inner guru's voice now usually comes through clearly and directly, carrying a great deal of authority. His learning has now entered the stage of intuitive perception which bypasses the process of dialogizing authoritative discourse and minimizes chances of misunderstanding.
In instructing the novice, the author/hero sometimes feels the need to appeal for assistance from a source which he perceives as being outside of himself. For instance, in "Bog Last" ("May God Grant") he tells the timid boy:
I have a secret friend.
He will ward off your fears.
When you fall asleep,
I'll quietly call him to your bedside –
the one who possesses power.
He will whisper a word to you,
And you will awaken courageous,
May God Grant.
But, as a rule, the right word now wells up in him from within. In the cycle's first poem, "Vechnost"' ("Eternity"), he tells the boy not to postpone his pilgrimage.
If you tarry,
then you still don't know that there is
the beginning and joy,
the primary source and eternity.
These words explain in a nutshell the meaning of the soul's journey and have the ring of true wisdom. Occasionally, the author/hero even demonstrates the capacity, possessed only by the most enlightened souls, of investing material objects with supernatural power. In "Zhezl" ("The Rod") he tells the boy to break off a tree branch and carry it in front of him:
This rod, given by me,
Will help you see beneath the earth.
Even if this is to be viewed as a metaphor for inspiration (the "magic wand" that transforms reality), still, the ability to inspire is the mark of a highly accomplished teacher.
The establishment of the author/hero in the role of teacher or God's messenger brings about changes in the time-space imagery of his chronotope. Linear time is no longer significant, and the images of progressing toward a destination (from plain to mountain in the first cycle, from the threshold into the chamber in the second) fade away. He now lives almost entirely in the present, attending to his disciple’s spiritual needs with a calm understanding of the boy's past and future:
Looking over your past life,
how many dazzling victories
and mournful signs I see!
But you are destined for victory,
should you so desire.
from "You Shall Desire"
The spatial imagery in this cycle is predominantly that of a place filled with people – one where they congregate, mix, play, or fight. In the first two cycles, the author/hero avoided such a space because of its tendency to distract and mislead, to generate noise which drowned out the voice within.
It is hard for us to walk in a crowd.
So many hostile forces and desires!
* * * *
Let us step aside. . .
* * * *
They will go by.
from "Time" (first cycle)
But now, ensconced in his quiet inner chamber, the author/hero is no longer afraid of a crowd. He leads the bay to it, for it is an important part of his spiritual training.
… Be cautious
in touching the crowd. Living is hard,
my boy; remember the command
to live, not to fear, and to have faith.
To remain free and strong,
and then you will also succeed
The relationship between teacher and disciple described here resembles that of Krishna (avatar of divine love) and Arjuna (a warrior and truth-seeker) in the Bhagavad Gita. Like Arjuna, the boy is fortified with insight and guided to walk the battlefield of life with courage, calmness and commitment to the cause of bringing justice and light to his fellow humans. And, like Arjuna, he is given to understand that the movement of individual life through time and space is nothing but a small ripple in the ocean of eternal existence.
"Admonition to the Hunter Entering the Forest" follows the third cycle of Pis'mena. In it, the author/hero appears in the role of a full-fledged guru whose own pilgrimage is completed and whose task is to equip others for theirs. In the opening lines he reestablishes contact with his audience, this time addressing it not as a group of observers or fellow travelers but as recipients of God's wisdom which he is empowered to transmit:
Whether Roerich from Russia has given it
Whether Allal-Ming-Sri-Isvara from Tibet has given it
I AM WITH HIM.
After this general addressive statement, the author/hero proceeds to impart the teaching through one particular disciple. The boy of the preceding cycle is now a young man about to face life on his own. His journey toward enlightenment is shown through the metaphor of a hunter seeking big game; the author/hero describes the forthcoming expedition and gives him last instructions.
Since, in foreseeing the disciple’s pilgrimage, the author/hero is reliving his own past experience, its stages are depicted in a condensed, telescopic fashion. They unfold in the course of one metaphoric day, beginning at dawn and ending with nightfall. Yet time remains open-ended; the author/hero reassures the hunter that night (a hiatus in spiritual development) will not arrest his progress:
If, during the first day of the hunt,
you do not meet your prey,
do not despair.
The prey is coming to you.
The spaces to be traveled by the hunter are similar to those which figure in previous cycles – leaving his home in a valley, he will traverse a forest and go toward a mountain. But these spaces are now shown from a new perspective.
The chief chronotopic image in the poem is the forest, a symbol of maya – the world of manifold phenomena which obscures the unity of absolute being.
Oh sacred, and fearsome,
and blessed forest! Let
the hunter pass through you.
Do not hold him back. Do not
conceal your roads and trails.
And do not frighten him.
For I know that you are many-voiced.
In earlier poems no specific descriptions of the forest are given. It appears as an enigmatic and threatening place full of barriers and signs incomprehensible to a novice. But now it is viewed by a man of knowledge, one whose vision is clear and whose navigating skills are developed. We are given an abundance of detail – flora and fauna, hills and marshes, thickets and clearings. Each of these details represents a lesson in the art of living: fear of enemies (snakes, scorpions, predators) is to be conquered, hesitancy before obstacles (trees, boulders) is to be overcome, the lure of easy pleasures (picking flowers, drinking from a brook) is to be avoided, and so forth. While in the forest, the hunter must also learn to deal with others whose motives are different from his. Like life, the forest is filled with people who do not pursue spiritual goals and who "hunt" for sport, self-aggrandizement, or material need. They expound their own philosophies, and our hunter is warned not to be influenced by them and to heed only the voice of the inner guru.
Do not believe those who call you,
and do not address those who
You, only you, know your prey.
Yet he is instructed to be tolerant of other people, however unenlightened they might be, for their souls, too, may some day awaken.
Drink water with them as you rest
by the fire. Understand,
O understanding one.
New spaces will await the hunter at the far end of the forest. The author/hero prophesies that he will see his prey "burning in the sky" above the highest mountain and will follow it there. This is the first and only time that the image of a pilgrim atop a summit appears in Pis'mena; in previous poems only the process of ascending is shown. At this point the hunter will behold watery realms:
I have brought you to wide
rivers and boundless lakes.
And I have shown you the ocean.
Water, in general, stands for purification and renewal. Rivers, which flow in a specified direction, suggest transition and movement toward a goal. A lake, especially in Indian literature, is often used as a metaphor for self-reflection and revelation, and the ocean represents the universe. Having dwelled in these domains, the hunter will be liberated from ignorance and delusion and will himself become a guru because
He who has seen the infinite
will not be lost in the finite,
for there is no infinite forest.
And so the teaching flows unendingly from generation to generation, as the completion of one soul's pilgrimage merges with the inception of the next.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
Thus Roerich concludes his Pis'mena, proclaiming that the authoritative word has been heard and that a new spiritual odyssey is about to begin. In this manner, Roerich gives artistic form to his idea of how divine consciousness manifests itself through human destinies. In his poetics, the chronotope of individual life reveals the dimensions of eternal being.
 Other editions appeared in 1977, 1983, and 1984. The 1974 and 1977 editions bear the title Pis'mena. In 1983 the poems were appended to Valentin Sidorov's study on Roerich (Na vershinakh) under the title Tsvety Morii. The 1984 edition is entitled Tsvety Morii.
 In 1918 or 1919 Roerich was compiling a book of his literary endeavors called Plamia which contained a substantial amount of poetry. In the table of contents the poems were referred to as "pis'mena".
 Bakhtin (1895-1975) was a distinguished Russian philologist whose works are considered seminal in contemporary Western literary criticism. The concept is discussed in Bakhtin's essay "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" (The Dialogic Imagination, tr. by C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1981, pp. 84-258).
One feature of Bakhtin’s writing should be noted here. While providing extensive discussions of his innovative concepts, he tends not to offer formulaic definitions of them. Therefore, when working with Bakhtin's texts, one must at times attempt to define his terms in one's own words.
 Discourse is a key concept in Bakhtin. The term is a translation of Russian "slovo" which means word, statement, utterance or speech. "Discourse" is an apt choice because it stresses the addressivity or the dialogic orientation of an utterance. Discussed in ''Discourse in the Novel" (The Dialogic Imagination, pp. 259-422) and elsewhere.
 Author/hero is a term used by Bakhtinian scholars in regard to a protagonist whose point of view corresponds, at least in part, to that of the author. Such a protagonist is frequently referred to as "I", especially in lyrical poetry.
 N. Perlina, "Mikhail Bakhtin and Erich Auerbach: Two Types of Poetic Representation of Reality". Paper delivered at the Department of German & Scandinavian Languages, Univ. of Minnesota, May 1983.
 The term "ideology" is used here broadly, to mean an idea system rather than a set of political convictions.
 Discussed in Bakhtin’s Estetika slovesnopo tvorchestva (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1979, pp.275-280) and elsewhere.
 The English translation of this and all other poems in this article is mine.
 This poem appears in the 1921 edition but not in the 1977 edition.
 The Dialogic Imagination, p.342.
 Ibid., p.424.
 In the Soviet edition this poem precedes rather than follows "Drops". This is either an editorial oversight or the compiler’s misinterpretation of Roerich's intent. (The Berlin edition was seen through the press by the author himself.)
 A. de Vries, Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery, Amsterdam: NHPC, 1976, p.463.
 Introduction to Pis'mena, p. 19.
 A legendary Tibetan sage.
Last update: 01/18/2014 15:07