The name Ivask is Estonian. So were George Ivask's ancestors. His great-grandfather was a miller, his grandfather, who married a German, an agronomist. Ivask's father Paul, born in 1881, left Estonia, settled in Moscow, and completely assimilated. He married Evgeniia Frolov, the daughter of a jeweller who belonged to a distinguished family of merchants. Her mother's maiden name was Zhivago.
George Ivask called himself an intellectual poet. He was also a keen literary critic and the author of countless articles, essays, stories and tales, reviews, and diaries whose literary works remain partly unpublished. He was a historian of Russian literature, a distinguished professor, and an able scholar with interests in the history, architecture, and culture of many countries, especially of Italy, Portugal, and Mexico. He travelled widely.
Ivask, a man of spiritual nobility and reverence, was born in Moscow on November 12, 1907, according to our documents. The Library of Congress and the Directory of American Scholars give, however, the date of 1910. He attended high school (gymnaziia) in Moscow, but in November of 1920, when he was thirteen, his family left Russia and returned to Estonia, then an independent republic. There the young Ivask completed his high school studies. Considering himself Russian, he did not associate with the Estonians. Only much later, as an emigrant, did he come closer to some of his countrymen, like the poet Aleksis Rannit. In his Poslednie slovo (Last word), published posthumously in excerpts in Novoe russkoe slovo of March 2, 1986, he reminisces: IA navsegda ostalsia bez russkogo prostranstva pod nogami, no moei pochvoi stal russkii iazyk i moia dusha sdelana iz russkogo iazyka, russkoi kultury i russkogo Pravoslaviia. (I was forever left without Russian space under my feet, but the Russian language became my sure ground and my soul which was formed by the Russian language, culture, and [Russian] orthodoxy).
George Ivask stayed in Estonia for approximately twenty years. In 1932 he graduated from the University of Tartu with the degree in law. At that time he met Igor' Vladimirovich Chinnov, a poet from Riga. They formed a lifelong friendship.
Ivask began to write poems and to publish critical essays and articles. His first collection of poems, Severnyi bereg (Northern shore), was published in Warsaw in 1938. Near the end of the Second World War, Ivask and Chinnov retreated westward following the German army. In the fall of 1949, George Ivask, together with his wife Tamara Georgievna, emigrated to America. He taught in eight different institutions of higher education over the next twenty-seven years.
In the years of 1950-54, Ivask was a lecturer in Russian language at Harvard University. About the same time, he decided to compile an anthology of the émigré poetry. In order to carry out this plan, he sought contributions from friends, acquaintances, and poets. The bulk of the correspondence in the Ivask's papers concerns this effort. The book was published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry). In that same year, his second collection of poems, TSarskaia osen' (Royal autumn), was published in Paris by Rifma, a firm headed by Sergei Konstantinovich Makovskii, himself a poet and critic, and a contributor to Ivask's anthology. In 1955, Ivask and his wife became naturalized citizens of the United States. In that same year, Ivask received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. For two years he had worked on his voluminous dissertation in Russian: "Kniaz' P. A. Viazemskii--literaturnyi kritik" (Prince P. A. Viazemskii--literary critic). About the same time, Ivask became the editor of the Russian literary magazine Opyty (Experiments), which was published in New York by M. E. TSetlina, founded in 1953. Ivask had another opportunity to turn to Russian literary figures for contributions. But the magazine was in financial trouble, and after five years of existence it folded.
After graduating from Harvard, Ivask accepted the position of assistant professor of Russian literature and language at the University of Kansas. He stayed in Lawrence until 1960, when he became associate professor of Russian literature at the University of Washington. In the same year, Ivask went to Europe. Such trips became his passion and he missed no opportunity to learn about other cultures and people, exploring their past and present. Italy and Portugal especially interested him, and later on Mexico. After some time, he visited Mount Athos, when he was working on Leont'ev, describing this trip in a letter to Roman Gul'.
Ivask remained at the University of Washington for eight years. In 1967 his third collection of poems, Khvala (Praising), was published by Kamkin in Washington, D. C. At sixty Ivask was flourishing as a poet and also reaching the height of his career. During his stay in Seattle, he made more trips to Europe.
During the summer of 1965, Ivask taught at Indiana University in Bloomington, at the National Defense Education Act Russian Language Institute. For one year he also taught at Vanderbilt University.
In 1969, Ivask was appointed full professor in the department of Slavics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a position he held until his retirement in 1977.
In 1970, Ivask again travelled extensively in Europe. In the same year, more of his poems were published, this time by Mosty in New York, under the title of Zolushka (Cinderella). The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has a copy of this book with forty handwritten explanatory notes by the author and structural and biographical comments. Three years later, Ivask and H. W. Tjalsma edited another anthology under the title Antologiia petersburgskoi poezii epokhi akmeizma . Acmeist and others; an anthology published in Munich by Fink. The next year his monograph Konstantin Leont'ev: zhizn' i tvorchestvo (Konstantin Leont'ev: [his] life and work) was published in Bern by H. Lang.
In 1974 Ivask taught for one semester at the University of Freiburg, Germany. By 1977, his Igraiushchii chelovek (Playing Man) was circulating in the Soviet Union under the title Homo Ludens, published by Samizdat in typewritten form. The next year, his collected works (1933-1978) of almost 500 pages also appeared in Samizdat, a fact he was especially proud of. For this reason, his unexpected trip to the Soviet Union (Moscow and Leningrad) with a group of excursionists from France had special meaning for him. He left a diary of about twenty pages describing this trip.
In the year of Ivask's death, two more of his books appeared: a second edition of Zavoevanie Meksiki (Conquered by Mexico), a collection of poems dated 1959-79, which was first published in 1984; and IA--meshchanin (I--a petty bourgeois). Both books were issued by the New England Publishing Company in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The first shows not only how deeply he was attracted and captured by Mexico, but also his extensive knowledge of the history, culture, and people of the country. The second, attractively printed on green paper, appeared shortly before his death. The poems are dated between 1970 and 1984. One of them, from 11-12 December 1979, is dedicated to Emily Dickinson, whose work Ivask avidly read. Another, dated October 17, 1978 and dedicated to the Pope John Paul II, appears also in its Polish translation and was first printed in Paris, in the Polish journal Kultura . On October 1, 1980, Ivask was presented to the Pope in an audience in St. Peter's Square. On that occasion, Ivask bestowed on the Pope his poem Privetstvie pravoslavnogo (Salute from the [Russian] Orthodox).
Ivask wrote hundreds of articles, essays of literary criticism, lectures, addresses, and reviews. He also contributed to numerous publications including Nov' (Soil), Chisla (Numbers), Mech (Sword), Mir (World), Sovremennye zapiski (Contemporary annals), IAkor' (Anchor), Novyi grad (New city), Novyi zhurnal (New review), Kovcheg (Ark), Put' (Road), Vozrozhdenie (Renaissance), Opyty (Experiments), Grani (Borders), and Mosty (Bridges).
Ivask also edited books, or provided them with introductions and notes. Examples are K. N. Leont'ev's Egipetskii golub (Egyptian Dove), published in New York in 1969; Against the Current, selected works of the same author; V. V. Rozanov's Izbrannoe (Selections), New York, Izdatel'stvo im. Chekhova, edited in 1956; and Temnyi lik (Dark Countenance) of 1975, a reprint of the 1911 edition.
Pokhvala rossiiskoi poezii (Praise of Russian poetry) is Ivask's survey of Russian poets and their work. It appeared at intervals in the Novyi zhurnal between 1983 and 1986.
Shortly before his death, Ivask was working on a historical fantasy-novel Esli by (If it were). He also wanted to reissue his Igraiushchii chelovek (Playing man), which appeared in Vestnik R.Kh.S.D.
Ivask's wife died on August 24, 1981, and Ivask passed away on February 13, 1986, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The funeral took place on a cold day, February 16, at the old campus cemetery of the University of Massachusetts.
In an obituary published in Novyi zhurnal, V. Perelishin writes: "Byl on chelovekom, kotorogo mnogoletnee izgnanie nauchilo byt' vezde 'kak doma' - i vezde ostavat'sia samim soboi, to est' russkim i pravoslavnym." (He was a man whose many years of exile taught him to feel everywhere at home--and to remain everywhere himself, that is Russian and Orthodox). Sources used: Valerii Blinov, "Pamiati IU. P. Ivaska," Novyi zhurnal, 163 (June, 1986): 289-92. Dmitrii Bobyshev, "Slovo ob Ivaske," Novyi zhurnal, 163 (June, 1986): 282-88. Igor' Chinnov, "Pamiati Ivaska," Novoe russkoe slovo, (March 2, 1986). Ludmila A. Foster, Bibliografiia russkoi zarubezhnoi literatury, 1918-1968 (Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1970). Z. N. (Zinaida Nikolaevna) Gippius, Intellect and Ideas in Action . . . comp. [by] Temira Pachmus (München: W. Fink, 1972). George Ivask, "Poslednee slovo," Novoe russkoe slovo, (March 2, 1986). George Ivask, "Pokhvala rossiiskoi poezii," Novyi zhurnal, 161-62 (December 1985, March 1986): 103-127, 104-44. Arkadii Nebol'sin, "IUrii Pavlovich Ivask (1907-1986)," Novoe russkoe slovo (March 2, 1986). Valerii Pereleshin, "IUrii Ivask," Novyi zhurnal, 163 (June 1986): 292-95.
From the guide to the George Ivask papers, 1913-1963, 1940-1960, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
- Authors, Russian--United States