Denis Vasilyevich Davydov (Russian: Дени́с Васи́льевич Давы́дов; 27 July [O.S. 16 July] 1784 – 4 May [O.S. 22 April] 1839) was a Russian soldier-poet of the Napoleonic Wars who invented a specific genre – hussar poetry noted for its hedonism and bravado – and spectacularly designed his own life to illustrate such poetry.
Davydov stemmed from a great family of Russian nobility. After gaining celebrity as an indefatigable guerrilla leader of the Russian Patriotic War, he became one of the most popular men in the country. Young men of Pushkin's circle viewed him as a model romantic hero and the Decembrists prized his company as well.
Davydov's poems read like a diary of the hussar and bon-vivant that he was. Admired by Belinsky for their organic quality and Russianness, they address such themes as courage in battle, harlots, vodka, and the value of true friendship. In them he sings the praise of reckless valor, on the field of battle as well as before the bottle. The diction in some of his poems is rather unconventional, and occasionally his words have to be replaced by dots, but it is always full of spirit and great rhythmical go. His later poems are inspired by a late love for a very young girl. They are passionately sentimental and as vivid and alive in diction and rhythmical elasticity as his hussar verses. Pushkin had a high opinion of his poetry and used to say that Davydov showed him the way to be original.
The literary mask of a dashing hussar is belied by some of Davydov's lesser known writings, such as the anti-absolutism' poem 'Head and Feet', there he described the 'Tsar-Chevalry' relationes as the possibility of head to live its life only on and with feet.
He brought out an Essay towards a Theory of Guerilla Warfare (1821) and Some events from the life of Denis Vasilievich Davydov, a series of recollections on military life, used by Leo Tolstoy in writing War and Peace. Davydov even makes an appearance in Tolstoy's novel in the person of Vasily Denisov. According to D.S. Mirsky, "in his autobiography he indulges in a veritable orgy of puns and jokes not always in the best of taste. His military writings are fresh, vigorous, and racy; and his memoirs contain some of the best military reading in the language".
The grave of Denis Davydov with his statue right above it is situated next to the exit door (left from outside) of the katholikon of the Novodevichy Convent.
- This article incorporates text from D.S. Mirsky's "A History of Russian Literature" (1926-27), a publication now in the public domain.
- Books by Davydov
- Denis Davidov (1999). In Service of the Tsar Against Napoleon, 1806–1814. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-373-0.
- Denis Davidoff,. Essai sur la guerre de partisans, Traduction d'Héraclius de Polignac, Avant-propos du général Fortuné de Brack, Editions Astrée, 2012, 140 p.,ISBN 979-10-91815-00-0.
- Poems (Russian)
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