Blok, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich
Born Nov. 16 (28), 1880, in St. Petersburg; died Aug. 7,1921, in Petrograd. Russian poet.
Blok’s father was a professor of law at the University of Warsaw, and his mother, A. A. Beketova, was a writer and translator. He spent his childhood in St. Petersburg and the estate of Shakhmatovo near Moscow. He graduated from the Slavic-Russian division of the philology department of the University of St. Petersburg in 1906. In 1903 he married L. D. Mendeleeva, the daughter of D. I. Mendeleev. During the same period, Blok became acquainted with Andrei Belyi and V. Briusov. He began writing poetry as a child and first published in 1903. In 1904 he published the collection Verses About the Beautiful Lady, where he appeared as a lyricist and symbolist, having been under the influence of the mystical poetry of V. Solov’ev since 1901. In 1903 the theme of the misanthropic city of slave labor and abject misery (a section of “Crossroads,” 1902–04) entered Blok’s abstract romantic poetry. The Revolution of 1905–07 opened for the poet, in his words, “the face of an awakened life.” From this time on, the theme of the homeland was always present in Blok’s poetry. His works became tragic and very deep, pervaded with a sense of the catastrophic nature of the epoch and a foreboding of the gathering, purifying storm (the cycle The Field of Kulikovo, 1908, sections of the cycle Free Thoughts, 1907, and Iambs, 1907–14). The unfinished narrative poem Retribution (1910–21) is full of revolutionary presentiment. Hatred for the world of “sated people” and for the horrifying, inhuman aspects of life are persistently and strongly expressed in Blok’s work (a section of The City, 1904–08, and Terrible World, 1909–16). Blok’s love lyrics are romantic; along with rapture and ecstasy they contain fatalistic, tragic elements (sections of the cycle The Snowy Mask, 1907, Faina, 1907–08, Retaliation, 1908–13, and Carmen, 1914). The mature poetry of Blok is free of abstract mystical and romantic symbols and has a vitality and concreteness, with all elements in harmony and vivid imagery (Italian Verses, 1909, the narrative poem The Nightingale Garden, 1915, and others). Many of the ideas of Blok’s poetry are developed in his dramatic work, which includes the plays The Unknown Woman, The Puppet Show, and The King in the Square (all 1906); Song of Fate (1907–08); and The Rose and the Cross (1912–13). Blok’s poetic fame solidified after the publication of the collections Unexpected Joy (1906), The Snowy Mask (1907), Land Under Snow (1908), Lyric Dramas (1908), The Hours of Night (1911), and collected verse (Musaget Publishing House, vols. 1–3, 1911–12).
From the beginning of the 1900’s, Blok published critical and journalistic articles, sketches, and speeches. His prose deals with troubling questions and is socially and aesthetically significant; it is in essence lyrical and deals with general questions of culture, literature, and art (“Colors and Words,” 1906; “Hard Times,” 1906; “On Lyricism,” 1907; “On Theater,” “Letters on Poetry,” “The People and the Intelligentsia,” “The Elements and Culture,” 1908; “Lightning Flashes of Art,” 1909; “On the Present Condition of Russian Symbolism,” 1910; “The Fate of Apollon Grigor’ev,” 1916; and reviews of verse by A. Belyi, V. Briusov, K. Bal’mont, and E. Verhaeren).
Blok enthusiastically greeted the overthrow of tsarism in February 1917 and was one of the editors of the stenographic account of the Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of former tsarist ministers; this work was the source of his book The Last Days of Imperial Power (1921). The Great October Socialist Revolution caused an increase in Blok’s creative powers. In the article “The Intelligentsia and Revolution” (January 1918) he wrote: “We Russians are living in a period whose greatness has rarely been equalled.... With your whole body, with your whole heart, with your whole consciousness—listen to the Revolution.” (Soch, vol. 2, 1955, pp. 220, 228). In 1918, Blok wrote the narrative poem The Twelve, about the decline of the old world and its clash with the new one; the poem is built on semantic antitheses and sharp contrasts. The poem “The Scythians” of the same year is dedicated to the historical mission of revolutionary Russia. In the last years of his life, Blok carried on a great deal of literary and civic activity; he worked in the State Commission for the Publication of the Classics, in the Theatrical Division of the People’s Commissariat on Education, in the Union of Literary Figures, in World Literature Publishing House, and in the Union of Poets. In April 1919 he was appointed chairman of the board of producers of the Bol’shoi Dramatic Theater in Petrograd. He gave reports and speeches and wrote articles (“Katilina,” 1918; “The Fall of Humanism,” 1919; “Heine in Russia,” 1919; “On the Purpose of the Poet,” 1921; “Without Deity, Without Inspiration,” 1921, published in 1925). The works of Blok are related to the poetic traditions of V. A. Zhukovskii, M. Iu. Lermontov, A. A. Fet, and N. A. Nekrasov. Blok was a romantic whose poetry, in subject matter, became Russian reality and the real man. Characteristic are the diversity, rebelliousness, and emotional tension of his lyric hero and the multicolored and innovative artistic methods that he employs, such as the maximum blending of the cadence of the rhythm with the finest shades of meaning, his use of imperfect rhymes and free verse, and his work on tonic poems (especially the dol’nik).
The poetic works of Blok have been translated into many languages.
WORKSSobr. soch., vols. 1–12. Leningrad [1932–36].
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960–63.
Zapisnye knizhki: 1901–1920. Moscow, 1965.
Pis’ma Aleksandra Bloka k rodnym, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1927–32. [Foreword by V. A. Desnitskii, notes by M. A. Beketova.]
Aleksandr Blok i Andrei Belyi: Perepiska. Moscow, 1940.
REFERENCESZhirmunskii, V. M. Poeziia A. Bloka. Petrograd, 1922.
Chukovskii, K. Aleksandr Blok kak chelovek i poet. Petrograd, 1924.
Chukovskii, K. “Aleksandr Blok.” In lz vospominanii. Moscow, 1959.
Beketova, M. Aleksandr Blok. Leningrad, 1930.
Nemerovskaia, O., and Ts. Vol’pe. Sud’ba Bloka. Leningrad, 1930.
Miasnikov, A. S.A. A. Blok. Moscow, 1949.
Orlov, VI. Aleksandr Blok. Moscow, 1956.
Orlov, VI. Poema Aleksandra Bloka “Dvenadtsat’,” 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.
Timofeev, L. I. Aleksandr Blok. Moscow, 1957.
Timofeev, L. I. Tvorchestvo Aleksandra Bloka. Moscow, 1963.
Remenik, G. Poemy Aleksandra Bloka. Moscow, 1959.
Vengrov, N. Put’ Aleksandra Bloka. Moscow, 1963.
Turkov, A. Aleksandr Blok. Moscow, 1969.
Ashukin, N. Aleksandr Blok, Sinkhronisticheskie tablitsy zhizni i tvorchestva: 1880–1921. Bibliography 1903–1923. [Moscow] 1923.
Kolpakova, E., P. Kupriianovskii, and D. Maksimov. “Materialy k bibliografii Aleksandra Bloka za 1928–1957 gody.” Uch. zap. Vil’niusskogo pedagogicheskogo in-ta, 1959, vol. 6.
A. A. SAAKIANTS