Binary Oppositions in Russian Language Poetry of XXth XXIst Centuries (a Case Study of Hyphenated Substantival Binomials)

 © The Editorial Council and Editorial Board of Linguistic Studies

Linguistic Studies
Volume 33, 2017, pp.  140-144

Binary Oppositions in Russian Language Poetry of XXth   XXIst Centuries (a Case Study of Hyphenated Substantival Binomials)

Skorobohatova Olena, Buvalets Olena

Article first published online: September 1, 2017 

Additional information

 Author Information: 

Skorobohatova Olena, Doctor of Philology, Associate Professor, Head of Slavonic Languages Department of H. S. Skovoroda Kharkiv National Pedagogical University. Correspondence:

Buvalets Olena, Candidate of Philological Sciences. Correspondence:

Skorobohatova, O, Buvalets, O. Binary Oppositions in Russian Language Poetry of XXth   XXIst Centuries (a Case Study of Hyphenated Substantival Binomials) [Text] // Linhvistychni Studiyi / Linguistic Studies : collection of scientific papers / Donetsk National University; Ed. by Anatoliy Zahnitko. Vinnytsia : Vasyl' Stus DonNU, 2017. Vol. 33. Pp. 140-144. ISBN 966-7277-88-7

Publication History:

Volume first published online: September 1, 2017
Article received: March 15, 2017, accepted: April 10, 2017 and first published online: September 1, 2017


На прикладі дефісних субстантивних біномів, що функціонують у російськомовному поетичному тексті XX XXI століть, розглянуто основні бінарні опозиції, що пов’язані з універсальними архетипними протиставленнями. Виявлено загальні та індивідуально-авторські особливості реалізації універсальних бінарних опозицій в дефісних субстантивних біномах.

Keywords: binary oppositions, archetypical oppositions, substantival binomials, space, time, ‘us’ vs ‘them’, repetitiveness, cyclicity, poetic text.


Functional categorical number of nouns: typology and parameters

Anatoliy Zahnitko

Department of Ukrainian Language and Applied Linguistics, Donetsk National University, Donetsk, Ukraine

Available 17 November 2011




Last years (at the end of XXth c. – beg. of XXIth c.) are present comprehension of questions about grammatical number of nouns in the light of functional, pragmatic, communicative, functional-cognitive, synergetic and other approaches with use of proper methods and techniques. Such conceptual explanations of either grammatical (morphological, syntactical, word-formative) forms with display of it functional-semantic paradigms and inside differentiation of morphological, morphosyntagmatical, semantic, diversion, textual are arise as important, because they are make impossible the investigation of grammatical appearance in the it system ↔ usage ↔ individual-occasional exhibitions. The consideration of evolutional tendency in the system of morphological forms, significances, categories is considerable. The use of functional-cognitive methods for parsing of morphological number is meaningful. All of it is witness the actuality of morphological categorical number of nouns research in it wider range exhibition with following of main and peripheral sphere of semantics number implementation.


Gawelko, M. (1985). Semantyczne aspekty pluralizacji w języku franzuskim i polskim. Język i obce w szkole, 29, 195-200.



Anatoliy P. Zahnitko, Doctor of Philology, Professor, Head of Department of Ukrainian Language and Applied Linguistics in Donetsk National University. His areas of research interests include functional linguistics, cognitive linguistics, comparative linguistics, categorical linguistics, lexicographic linguistics, and text linguistics.


Олена Скоробогатова, Олена Бувалець

УДК 811.161.1’367.622


(a case study of hyphenated substantival binomials)


На прикладі дефісних субстантивних біномів, що функціонують у російськомовному поетичному тексті XXXXI століть, розглянуто основні бінарні опозиції, що пов’язані з універсальними архетипними протиставленнями. Виявлено загальні та індивідуально-авторські особливості реалізації універсальних бінарних опозицій в дефісних субстантивних біномах.

Ключові слова: бінарні опозиції, архетипні опозиції, субстантивні біноми, простір, час, свій – чужий, повторюваність, циклічність, поетичний текст.


The problem of binary universe categorisation which is based on revealing the unity of the contraries has been under discussion in many historico-philosophical, culturological, anthropological, literary research papers. Shaping and reflecting such notions as good and evil, heavens and earth, life and death in the language dates back to ancient linguistic consciousness and is attributable to universal archetypical oppositions that are based on “the system of binary distinctive features the set of which is the most universal means of world semantics description” (Toporov 1: 37). In our opinion, dialectic nature of the dual entity which comprises the overlap of binate fundamental notions influencing each other and being polar points on a certain notional scale is best expressed by the term binary opposition which is widely used in modern humanities, especially in philological works.

Binary oppositions as a linguocultural phenomenon have been under detailed consideration in scientific works of M. Bakhtin, K. Claude Lévi-Strauss, V. Toporov, S. Averintsev, Viach. Vs. Ivanov. Specific issues of binary oppositions studies have been described by such modern researchers as R. Gzhegorchikova, T. Grigoryeva, K. Gudkova, S. Karpenko, A. Sazonova, T. Tsivyan and others. Notwithstanding the vast covering of the binary oppositions problem in modern science some aspects of their typology and functioning still remain unstudied. One of such aspects is binary oppositions’ representation by means of substantival binomials which function in the Russian language poetic text.

By a substantival binomial we understand a grammatical binomial expression representing graphical and grammatical merger of two independent substantival units existing in lexicon. As a result of this merger we have the overlap / superposition of their meanings (ref. Buvalets “Substantivnye Binomy” 2930). For instance, маг-алхимик, клен-старик, хлеб-соль, кормилица-земля. The substantival binomials and polynomials are widely represented in the Russian poetry (Skorobogatova “Dvoynye Substantivnye Sochetaniya”), (Skorobogatova “Grammaticheskiye Znacheniya” 183190). The core corpus of substantival binomials is formed by binomials with a noun in apposition as a modifier, however, there have been singled out other types and subtypes of grammatical binomial expressions such as: substantival binomial groups “with synonymic, antonymic, syncretical hyponymic-and-hyperonymic and quasisynonymic components along with constructions with spatial relations between the components” (Buvalets “Dvoynye Substantivnye Konstruktsii” 83). Hyphenation is one of the main criteria for singling out the substantival binomials as a special grammatical unit in the modern Russian language. Hyphenation of a considerable number of substantival binomials and polynomials in poetry testifies the hyphen role as a uniting symbol, that is the sign indicating the close grammatical and semantic interaction of two appositional nouns.

Among the variety of substantival binomials we single out the constructions conveying a binate notional structure and reflecting “the simplest classification form” (Bikerton 295), for example, конец-начало, выдох-вдох, чет-нечетThe aim of the article is to describe the characteristic features of the notional structure and poetic functioning of hyphenated substantival binomials which represent universal archetypical binary oppositions used in the Russian language poetry of XXthXXIst centuries.

Binary oppositions are related to archaic binary world categorisation and they are a specific set of “universal oppositeness” (Toporov 1: 15), which contrtibute to “world modelling … according to a certain criteria” (Tsivyan 244). First and foremost, such oppositions include the oppositeness “счастьенесчастье (or долянедоля), жизнь – смерть and their most abstract numerical value: четнечет” (Toporov 1: 15). V. Toporov claims that all the other oppositeness can be considered as “alloelements” in regard to the universal oppositions (Toporov 1: 15). Such alloelements include oppositeness elements related to characterisation of space (верхниз, небоземля, правыйлевый, востокзапад, северюг), time  (день – ночь, весна (лето)осень (зима)), nature forces (огоньвода), biological and social division (мужскойженский, старшиймладший, свойчужой, близкийдалекий), and more generic oppositeness defining “the whole set mode” (сакральныймирской) (Toporov 1: 1516, 38). The specific feature of binary oppositions is synonymous with “all left and respectively right members” of oppositions (Toporov 1: 16), as well as “the ambivalency” that is the simultaneous assertion and negation in their semantic structure (Bakhtin 28).

It is worth to emphasize  that the analysis of substantival binomials as binary oppositions implementation in poetry is topical as the given oppositeness (which are underlying universal complexes) arise “in the bosom of mythopoetic tradition” (Toporov 1: 39) rather than anywhere else. The number of that kind of binomials is not large but their analysis is of the utmost interest for both the research of binary oppositions and well-balanced comprehensive study of the poetic cognitive resource.

Among the binomials functioning in the poetic text we single out, first and foremost, a group of substantival pairs in which we can observe the realisation of either a complete stage of any cycle or the rhythmicality / recurrence of actions or movements.

The beginning and the end as the starting point and the finale of a closed cycle are implemented in the binary opposition конец-начало. Let us consider the example: Внутри тебя запутанный клубок, / Тем нитям не найти конца-начала(Olefir 30). In this poetic fragment we can observe the poetical reflection of the coincidence of the beginning and end essence. “Poetical philology” (Ya. Gin’s term (Gin 125)) studies the object primarily from the inner viewpoint [Gin 125], the real unity of the beginning and the end of the thread in a clew (the characterisation depends on the hearer’s point of view) was poetically reflected and distinctly represented.

The universal oppositeness вдох-выдох (выдох-вдох) conveys the meaning of life rhythmicality, its permanent motion, alternation of events: Лупят, не жалея ног, / Чередуя выдох-вдох, / Чтоб по жизни прогреметь, / Как первый гром!   (Vl. Vasil’yev) (Antologiya 123).

In one of poetical compositions by Victor Sosnora the idea of poetical perception of life cycle is represented by means of a substantival binomial вдох-выдох along with other means of the language expressiveness:

Д е в у ш к а:


Там – дождь идет? (Смеется). Куда?


А н г е л:


Не знаю.

Идет, как все мы – сверху вниз,

Вдох-выдох, время – мех кузнечный…

Конец… ни страха и ни сил…

(Sosnora “Vozvrashcheniye k Moryu” 196)

The dialogue between the Girl and the Angel is founded on poetic actualisation of the dead metaphor – дождь идет, время идет, жизнь идет and the direct meaning of the verb идти contrasted with the metaphorical meaning – мы идем (Идет, как все мы…). This piece of poetry has a multifaceted overlapping of spatiotemporal markers. The life flow is represented by the rhythmic recurrence of the life cycle of the living being. The rhythmicality of these movements is presented by means of a substantival binomial вдох-выдох, as well as by the image of current of time like blacksmith's bellows, expressed by metaphor времямех кузнечный, in which temporal parameters of the stream of life are represented by similar (patterned, recurring) actions, similar to the movements of blacksmith’s bellows as well as temporal duration of these rhythmical backward-and-forward actions. The rain motion trajectory in space in the vertical direction is compared to the direction of the stream of human being’s life which has been stated by the author: Идет, как все мы сверху вниз. The motion orientation vertically down indicates that the author imagines the stream of life moving from the top and heyday to decline and end alternatively to the opposite bottom-up orientation which symbolises the process of growth, development and perfection.  The up-downwards motion in this fragment leads to the inevitable cycle ending: Конецни страха и ни сил

In our opinion, the complex interaction of spatiotemporal markers, which is represented in the poetic fragment given above, is an example of the author’s idea of a part of a cyclical time model as “the event-related time and qualitative” (Panova 78); the events “happen as they are meant to be” (Panova 78). In other words, the represented cycle with its beginning and end recurs in time thus showing the constant repetitiveness of certain events although the persona focuses his attention to the specified segment of a temporal and spatial cycle (сверху вниз), and its demonstration is connected with the specific poetic objective implementation. 

The substantival binomial чет-нечет in general terms is the abstract designation of parity and oddness. In Russian poetry this lexical pair is most commonly represented by the collocations with the conjunction и: чет и нечет. According to Russian National Poetic Corpus (Natsionalny Korpus), the above-mentioned collocation is used on a regular basis in the context of game: Меня переполнял простор летящих волн, / Как будто синева играла в чет и нечет (V. Blazhenny); Сколько, сколько в чет и нечет / Промотали вы годов! (D. Samoylov). The contextual unification of the binomial opposition elements чет/нечет can denote a choice of either one thing or the other: Ставить все на нечет или чет (I. Bem); Чёт, нечет, лапушка иль данник? (N. Klyuev). Besides that, this universal opposition is used for expressing contrary notions, situations or origins: Полынь горька, а мята горе лечит; / игра в тепло и в холод –  в чет и нечет. (N. Aseyev); Полдень ранит, полночь лечит… / Полночьполдень – чет и нечет… / Час добычи, час потери, / Все по прихоти и мере… (Yu. Baltrushaytis). Чет и нечет in the poetic context conveys the meaning of rhythmical repetitive movement:  Сарая ветошная кровля / дождем играла: чет и нечет. (L. Aronzon).

In some lyrical texts the hyphenated substantival binomial has been coined to show a closer unity of components in comparison with the conjunctional one: 1. Щелчками колеса играют в чет-нечет / Ах, сколько прочитано строчек рельс. (B. Zemenkov); 2. За чет-нечет / творил триптих… (SosnoraVozvrashcheniye k Moryu 148). It is either the name of the game (example 1) or the definition of principle (example 2).

The rhythmicality of dance movements which is supported by a substantival binomial чет-нечет is represented in a poem by V. Vysotsky “Che‑chetka‑” («Че-чет-ка») (Vysotsky 2: 207‑209). The sound matching of the word чет and part of the word чечетка, which is graphically emphasized by the author via hyphenating the word in a strong position of the poem, i.e. the title, becomes the rhythmical basis of the poetic representation of the particular dance: Все это корежит / Чечетка, калечит, / Нам нервы тревожит / Чёт-нечет, чёт-нечет! The substantival binomial чет-нечет in most cases conveys the unity of universal binary opposition of parityoddness, whereas in this context it delivers the rhythmicality of position change ‘toe ‑heel‑’ during beating the rhythm of tap-dancing. “Poetic etymology” in this case does not coincide with the scientific one (the dance name roots back to the bird nomination  which in its turn  has the onomatopoetic nature (Chernykh 2: 389)), however, it possesses the poetic sense and participates in the creation of imagery. 

Vertical space parametrisation which represents the universal space opposition ‘top – down’  and “indicates that the object is lower, i.e. closer to the ground surface or higher, i.e. further from the ground” (Gzhegorchikova 79), has been found in the poetry as a substantival binomial горы-долины: Крик идет петушиный / В первой утренней мгле / Через горы-долины / По широкой земле (Tarkovsky 1: 345). Vertical space горы-долины intersects the horizontal one – по широкой земле, so that the image of three-dimensional space arises in the poem.

The universal oppositeness related to time characterisation is represented by a substantival binomial the components of which designate celestial bodies which directly influence day-and-night time distribution on the Earth: Доля декад! – / календарные солнце-луна. / Дождь и декабрь. / Вся Финляндиябоже! – больна. (Sosnora “Pesn’ Lunnaya” 50).

In Vysotsky lyric poetry we can observe the universal existential opposition representing continuum, for example: Вы мне не поверите и просто не поймете: / В космосе страшней, чем даже в дантовском аду / По пространству-времени мы прём на звездолете / Как с горы на собственном заду… (Vysotsky 1: 100). In the poetic text which reflects mythopoetic way of thinking acknowledging “inhomogeneity of space and time” (Toporov 1: 30), space and time can be perceived both as an indivisible unity and as separate concepts: “I cannot imagine Space without Time but I can easily imagine Time without Space. “Space andTime” is a dying hybrid in which even a hyphen looks like a cheater” (Nabokov V. V. Sobraniye Sochineny Amerikanskogo Perioda 4: 519, cited by Lyapon 250). In Visotsky’s poem a scientific belief in space and time unity is reflected which is considered to be a feature of the XXth century.

The oppositeness based on the characteristics ‘us’ vs ‘them’ is actualised in Bella Akhmadulina’s poetry: Опрятные крыла вдоль родинычужбины / влекущий, поспешай в град, не скажу: какой(Akhmadulina “Sobraniye Proizvedeny” 403). Logically opposed notions ‘native country’ – ‘non-native country’ united in this binomial assert simultaneous co-existence of two contrary entities on the grounds of ‘native’ – ‘strange’.

In Brodsky’s poem “The Fifth Eclogue (Summer)” (Ekloga 5-ya (Letnyaya)) we can observe a whole set of universal binary oppositions expressed not only by hyphenated substantival binomials with syntactic words (which is a feature of I. Brodsky individual style) but also by binate noun constructions:

Вслушайся, как шуршат метелки

синеют от близости эмпирея.

Салют бесцветного болиголова

петушка-или-курочки! что лепечет

ромашки отрывистой чет и нечет!

как мать-и-мачеха им перечит,

как болтает, точно на грани бреда…

(Brodsky “Chast’ Rechi” 128)

The plant kingdom objects description is represented as the oppositeness of two entities: the male and the female ones – петушок-или-курочка, good and evil – мать-и-мачеха, ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ connected with the ritual of camomile fortunetelling – ромашки отрывистой чет и нечет. Ambivalency of the opposed entities is actualised in the eclogue by other binary oppositions as well: Сумма красивых и некрасивых; пора зубрежки / к экзаменам, формул, орла и решки; расползаются вправо-влево; где вправо сворачиваешь не без риска / вынырнуть слева: все далеко и близко (Brodsky “Uraniya” 129, 131, 132, 128). In Brodsky’s poetry we can observe different graphical presentation of binary opposites which testifies both a different level of the elements cohesion and the poetic search for the oppositions implementation (мать-и-мачеха is a set phrase; вправо-влево is rather frequent, it is opposed to the two-part representation of ‘far from’ and ‘close to’). A binate hyphenated adverbial construction вправовлево refers to the archetypical universal oppositeness indicating spatial parameters of the things being described. Similar constructions characterising the basic human spatial orientations such as вправо-влево, взад-вперед, вверх-вниз, are encountered in other poetic individual styles: Помнювсех главнее королева: /  Ходит взад-вперед и вправо-влево, – /  Ну а кони вродебуквой «Г». (Vysotsky 1: 305); Все в мире бренно – но не сын, / вверх-вниз гоняющий качели. (Akhmadulina “Utro Posle Luny” 234).

The research of the substantival binomials actualising universal binary oppositions in poetry allowed us to find out some specific features of their functioning in the Russian language poetry. Among the identified hyphenated constructions the binary oppositions represent a complete stage of any cycle, rhythmicality / repetitiveness of movements, space and temporal characteristics, ‘us’ vs ‘them’ opposition. In a number of cases the substantival binomials, representing universal archetypical oppositeness and being in close contact with other structural elements of the poetic text, form the whole complex of binary oppositions which are expressed both by binate substantival hyphenated and non-hyphenated constructions and by adjectival and adverbial constructions. 

The prospect of the future research implies poetic representation studies of binary oppositions in other Slavic languages, in an individual style or a poetic school.



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