Poet of post-Stalin thaw Voznesensky dies at 77

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky, who rose to prominence during the thaw which followed dictator Josef Stalin’s death and never bowed to the Kremlin, died in Moscow on Tuesday. He was 77.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) presents a state award to poet Andrei Voznesensky at the Yekaterininsky Hall of the Kremlin in Moscow, June 25, 2004. REUTERS/Itar-Tass/Kremlin Press Service/Files

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the much-loved poet had “truly become a person of dominant influence” in a telegram sent to Voznesensky’s widow on Tuesday.

“His poetry and prose became a hymn to freedom, love, nobility and sincere feelings”, Putin said.

Voznesensky, an architect by education with a passion for painting, finally chose to become a poet, and his works -- first published in 1958 -- fast made him famous in the Soviet Union.

“Your entrance into literature was swift and turbulent. I am glad I’ve lived to see it,” Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, a future Nobel Prize winner who was oppressed in his own country, wrote to Voznesensky when he was 14. The teenage poet had sent him early verses asking for his opinion.

He had been a recluse over the last few years and Voznesensky’s friends said he was suffering from an unidentified illness.

Voznesensky, like many other talented young writers, poets and painters from the so-called “generation of the 1960s”, enjoyed a whiff of freedom amid the political thaw after three decades of Stalin’s brutal rule.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev released hundreds of thousands of political prisoners from Gulag camps, and in 1956 he denounced Stalin’s personality cult during a party congress.

But by the early 1960s the official line had hardened again.

In December 1962, Voznesensky was among a group of young Russian intellectuals invited by Khrushchev to a Communist Party reception hall for what effectively became their public flogging in front of the gloating party elite.

Gruff and poorly educated, Khrushchev made no effort to understand fresh trends in Soviet art, choosing instead to threaten intellectuals with persecution and exile.

Berating Voznesensky -- who stood pale during the tirade -- as a capitalist agent, a fiery Khrushchev shouted: “Just look at this new Pasternak!”

“You want to get a (foreign) passport tomorrow? You want it? And then go away, go to the dogs! Go, go there,” the party boss shouted to rapturous applause from his communist retinue.

“I am a Russian,” Voznesensky whispered.

But despite periods of disgrace, his poems were published in huge volumes in Soviet days and were invariably a success.

Public and critics alike treated him as a living classic, who fearlessly experimented with eccentric metaphors, intricate rhythmical systems and audio effects.

Some of his works were turned into theatre productions, such as “Juno and Avos” -- an opera and a perennial hit at Moscow’s Lenkom Theater. Others have been put on in Russia and abroad. (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Steve Addison)