Vladimir Markov

Markov photo

1920 – 2013

The UCLA community mourns the passing of UCLA Professor Emeritus Vladimir Fedorovich Markov, who died at his home in Los Angeles on January 1, 2013 after a long illness. A preeminent scholar who pioneered the study of Russian modernism, he authored such now classic studies as The Longer Poems of Velimir Khlebnikov (1962), Russian Futurism: A History (1968), Russian Imagism, 1914–1924 (1980) and Kommentar zu den Dichtungen von K. D. Bal’mont (2 vols., 1998-1992). He also published numerous anthologies of Russian verse and prose, both in Russian and in English translation, and together with Professor John Malmstad of Harvard University wrote the first comprehensive monograph on the Russian Silver Age poet Mikhail Kuzmin. Vladimir Markov is also remembered as a poet in his own right, whose verse occupies a permanent place in the canon of twentieth-century Russian literature.

A 1993 Festschrift in Vladimir Markov’s honor titled Readings in Russian Modernism documents an extraordinary life:

“Vladimir Fedorovich was born in 1920 and spent the first two decades of his life in Leningrad. He belongs to the generation that bore the fullest brunt of the Stalinist terror. He lost both his father and his grandfather to the great purges of 1937. His mother was arrested and sent to a labor camp, from which she was released only after the war. In the midst of these horrors he matriculated at Leningrad State University, where he majored in Germanic languages. His instructors included some of the most illustrious figures in the Russian academy, among them Viktor Zhirmunskii (who was head of the German Department at the time), Igor’ Eremin, Grigorii Gukovskii, Stefan Mokul’skii, Aleksandr Smirnov and Ivan Tolstoi.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 Vladimir Fedorovich volunteered for military service and was assigned to an infantry artillery battalion in the Leningrad home guard. Only three months into the war, while serving as a courier between infantry units positioned around Novyi Peterhof, he was severely wounded by enemy fire and taken prisoner. He survived, thanks largely to the conscientiousness of a Russian doctor named Godunov, who cared for him at the German POW hospital where he was taken. Eventually he was removed to Germany, where he remained a prisoner of war until 1945.

Following the conclusion of hostilities Vladimir Fedorovich settled in Regensburg, where he married Lydia Ivanovna Yakovleva, a well-known actress at the Aleksandrinsky Theater in Leningrad. While serving as a supply officer in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration he launched a career as a poet and critic. During his four years in Regensburg he published his first book of verse (Stikhi, 1948), a translated anthology of American novellas and an article on Emily Dickinson, the latter particularly remarkable for its translations of her verse, the first to appear in Russian.

The unsettled situation in Europe—in particular the tensions associated with the Berlin blockade—prompted him to explore the possibilities of emigration to the New World. An unlikely opportunity arose in the form of sponsorship by the Lutheran Church, whose relief efforts in the post-war period included settling displaced persons in the United States. Under their aegis Vladimir Fedorovich and Lydia Ivanovna sailed to American in 1949. Lutheran Relief Services found employment for them in the citrus groves of Ventura County, California, picking lemons alongside migrant workers from Mexico. The job lasted approximately eight months. A letter from Vladimir Fedorovich to Mikhail Karpovich, Editor-in-Chief of Novyi zhurnal, explaining that he did not have sufficient funds to continue subscribing to the journal, initiated a chain of events that brought the Russian field hand into contact with Gleb Struve at the University of California, Berkeley. On the latter’s advice Vladimir Fedorovich applied for a position as instructor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. He taught there for six years. During this period he was also admitted to graduate study at Berkeley, where he received his doctorate in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1957. His dissertation, a study of Velimir Khlebnikov’s longer poems eventually published in the University of California’s Publications in Russian Philology, established him as a leading authority on twentieth-century Russian modernism. Upon receiving his degree Vladimir Fedorovich was invited to join the faculty at UCLA, where he worked until his retirement in 1990.”

Vladimir Markov was not only a remarkable scholar and poet, but also a devoted and inspiring instructor. Students who wrote their doctoral theses under his direction continue to be active in the field in universities across the country. Many who did not formally study under his direction, including the author of these lines, nonetheless benefitted enormously from his generosity as an adviser and mentor. Even in his declining years he brightened our lives with his wit and wisdom and, above all, an unparalleled dedication to the literary arts. He will be deeply missed.

Ronald Vroon, Chair

Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of California, Los Angeles