Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Alexander Blok (Александр Александрович Блок, 1880-1921) was probably the most gifted lyrical poet that Russia produced since Alexander Pushkin. A powerful influence on the pre-revolutionary Russian society, he is sometimes compared with William Butler Yeats for the visionary quality of his lush, sonorous verse.
Early life and influences
Blok was born on Nov. 16th, 1880 in St Petersburg into a highly polished and intellectual family. Some of his relatives were men of letters, his father was a law professor at Warsaw, and his maternal grandfather was the rector of St Petersburg University. After the parents' separation, Blok lived with his aristocratic relatives at the Shakhmatovo manor near Moscow, where he discovered the philosophy of his uncle Vladimir Solovyov, and the verse of then little-known 19th-century poets, Fyodor Tyutchev and Afanasy Fet. All these influences would be fused and transformed into the harmonies of his early pieces, later collected in the book Ante Lucem.
He fell in love with Lyuba Mendeleyeva (the great chemist's daughter) and married her in 1903. Later, she would involve him into complicated love-hate relationship with his fellow Symbolist Andrey Bely. To Mendeleyeva he dedicated a cycle of poetry that brought him fame, Stikhi o prekrasnoi Dame (Verses upon the Fair Lady, 1904). His down-to-earth wife was transformed there into a timeless vision of feminine soul and eternal womanhood (Greek sophia, in terms of Solovyov's teaching).
The most exquisite of poets
Idealizied mystical images of the first book established Blok as a leader of the Russian Symbolist movement , which had little in common with the French Symbolism, however. The early verse of Blok is impeccably musical and rich in sound, but later he sought to introduce into his poetry daring rhythmic patterns and uneven beats. Unlike other Symbolists, poetical inspiration came to him naturally, often producing unforgettable, otherwordly images out of the most banal surroundings and trivial events (Fabrika, 1903). Consequently, his mature poems are often based on the conflict between Platonic vision of ideal beauty and the disgusting reality of dirty industrial outskirts (Neznakomka, 1906).
The image of St Petersburg he crafted for his next collection of poems, The City (1904-08), was both impressionistic and eerie. Further collections, Faina and the Mask of Snow, helped augment Blok's reputation to fabulous dimensions. He was often compared with Alexander Pushkin, and the whole Silver Age of Russian Poetry was sometimes styled the Age of Blok. In the 1910s, Blok was universally admired by literary colleagues, and his influence on younger poets was paramount. Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak, and Vladimir Nabokov wrote important verse tributes to Blok the master.
Revolution in rhythms and subject matter
During the later period of his life, Blok concentrated primarily on political themes, pondering upon the messianic destination of his country (Vozmezdie, 1910-21; Rodina, 1907-16; Skify, 1918). In keeping with Solovyov's doctrines, he was full of vague apocalyptic apprehensions and often passed from hope to despair. Throughout the summer of 1917, for example, he was vexed with distant lightnings and smokiness of air. "I feel that the great event is coming, but what exactly is not revealed to me", he wrote in his much-read diary. Quite unexpectedly for most of his admirers, he accepted the October Revolution as the final resolution of these apocaliptic yearnings.
Blok expressed his views on the revolution in the enigmatic ballad The Twelve (1918). The long poem, with its "mood-creating sounds, polyphonic rhythms, and harsh, slangy language" (as the Britannica termed it), is one of the most controversial in the whole bulk of the Russian poetry. It describes the march of 12 raping and killing Bolsheviks (obviously likened to the 12 Apostles who follow Christ) through the streets of revolutionary Petrograd, with a fierce winter blizzard raging around them.
The Twelve promptly alienated Blok from the mass of his intellectual followers (who accused him of appalingly bad taste), whereas the Bolsheviks scorned his former mysticism and aesceticism. He insensibly slid into a state of melancholic withdrawal, which was termed the lack of air by his friends. True causes of his death are still disputed; some say that he died from the civil-war famine. Actually, Blok faded away gradually, and several months before his death delivered a celebrated lecture on Pushkin, who, he believed, was the iconic figure capable of uniting white and red Russia.
One of Blok's poems (1912)
Night, street, lamp, drugstore,
A dull and meaningless light.
Go on and live another quarter century -
Nothing will change. There's no way out.
You'll die, then start from the beginning,
It will repeat, just like before:
Night, icy ripples on a canal,
Street, lamp, the same drugstore.
- Alice Koonen reading Blok's poem
- Leon Trotsky's article on Alexander Blok
- In Defense of A. Blok by Nikolai Berdyaev
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