The Russian poet Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok (1880-1921) was a prominent figure in the Russian Symbolist movement. His strongly rhythmic poetry is characterized by metaphysical imagery, dramatic use of legend and sensitivity to history and social life.
Aleksandr Blok was born in St. Petersburg on 28 November 1880. His father was a professor of law and his mother a writer and translator; Blok grew up in a higher class intellectual environment. Summers were spent in Shakhmatovo, the Blok country house near Moscow. There the famous chemist D. I. Mendeleev was a neighbor, and in 1903 Blok married Mendeleev’s daughter.
Bryusov, the publisher of Balance and one of the leading symbolist theorists and poets, strongly influenced Blok in 1903 and 1904. Under Bryusov’s guidance, Blok turned to the themes of city life and began to use new rhythmic patterns and images that expressed the mysterious power of sensual love. Among his remarkable poems of this period are “The Swamp Demon”, “The Unknown Lady”, “The Violet of the Night”, “The Snow Mask”, “The Factory” and “From the Newspapers”. The last two indicate Blok’s growing social awareness.
In 1906, when he graduated from the Faculty of Philology at the University of St. Petersburg, Blok was a recognized poet. That year Vsevolod Meyerhold directed and acted in Blok’s one act drama in verse, The Puppet Show. Although admired in literary circles, the drama was never a popular success. Blok wrote several other plays, including the feature film The Rose and the Cross (1913), based on medieval French novels. Although rehearsed by Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, this comedy was not presented.
In 1907-1908 Blok was a reviewer of the magazine Golden Fleece. His articles combined assessments of contemporary literature with a longing for the Russian past and for a vital connection between the intelligentsia and the people. In “Russia” and “On the Kulikovo Field” (both 1908), he sought a way to bring national history into the present.
In spite of his feelings of personal failure, from 1909 to 1916 Blok wrote poems of high artistic level. “The terrible world”, “At the restaurant”, “Night hours” and “Dances of death” are particularly indicative of his spiritual ferment. Blok and his wife had a stormy marital relationship, but during a temporary reconciliation they travelled to Italy in 1909. This trip inspired the exquisite cycle of Blok Italian poems (1909).
During the First World War Blok worked as an employee at an advanced engineering company. He greeted the 1917 revolution with sympathy. In fact, his poem The Twelve (1918), a combined lyric and narrative about 12 Red Guards patrolling the city, summarizes Christian values and reformist principles. It brought Blok even greater popularity and lasting fame. Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky observed that although Blok was not “one of us,” The Twelve was “the most significant work of our time. In his long and unfinished autobiographical poem Retribution, Blok summarized social change at the beginning of the century.
under the Soviet government Blok was a member of the state theatre board and president of the Petrograd section of the Union of Poets. Hard times, political bitterness and his confused life made him 40 years old. In one of his last published works, The Decline of Humanism (1921), he lamented the dissipation of the European style and the loss of heroes who could persuade men to act rationally in the true personal interest. Blok died in Petrograd on August 7, 1921.
More Readings on Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok
Lately many studies of Blok in Russian and a new edition of his complete works have appeared. The studies in English are Cecil Kisch, Alexander Blok, Prophet of the Revolution: A Study of His Life and Work (1960); Franklin D. Reeve, Alexander Blok: Between Image and Idea (1962); and Robin Kemball, Alexander Blok: A Study in Rhythm and Metre (1965). See also Renato Poggioli, The Poets of Russia, 1890-1930 (1960).Other biographical sources
Berberova, Nina Nikolaevna, Aleksandr Blok: A Life,New York: George Braziller, 1996.
Chukovskaeei, Korneaei, Alexander Blok as man and poet, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1982.
Forsyth, James, Listen to the wind: an introduction to Alexander Blok, Oxford Eng: W. A. Meeuws, 1977.
Mochulskiaei, K. (Konstantin), Aleksandr Blok, Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1983.
Orlov, Vladimir Nikolaevich, Hamayun, the life of Alexander Blok,Moscow: Progress, 1980.
Pyman, Avril, The Life of Aleksandr Blok, Oxford Eng.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1979-1980.