Article abstract: Blok is one of Russia’s greatest poets. He was called the “last Romantic poet,” and his work in literature and drama reflected the profound changes that his country and its people experienced during the era of World War I and the Russian Revolution.
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on November 28, 1880, into a family of the gentry. His father, Aleksandr L. Blok, was a jurist, a professor of law at Warsaw University, and a talented musician. His mother, the former Aleksandra A. Beketova, was a writer. Blok’s parents divorced soon after he was born, and he spent much of his childhood in the family of his maternal grandfather, Andrei Beketov, a botanist and rector of the University of St. Petersburg, in St. Petersburg and at his estate, Shakhmatovo, near Moscow. Blok rarely saw his father. In 1889, Blok’s mother married an officer, F. F. Kublitsky-Piottukh, and the family moved back to St. Petersburg. After graduation from the Gymnasium, Blok entered the law school at the University of St. Petersburg, but in 1901 he transferred to the historical philology faculty. He was graduated in 1906. Blok had an early interest in drama and in becoming an actor, but by the age of eighteen he had begun to write poetry seriously and was almost immediately successful.
In 1903, Blok married Lyubova D. Mendeleyeva, the daughter of the famous chemist Dimitry Mendeleyev. She inspired much of his early poetry, but their marriage was always a turbulent one. In his later years, for example, Blok also developed strong relationships with the actress Natalia Volokhova and the singer Lyubov Delmas, who together inspired much of his work at the time.
Blok’s first published poetry appeared in the literary journal Novyi put’ (new path) in 1903, and his first volume of poetry, Stikhi o prekrasnoy dame (verses on a beautiful lady), appeared in 1904. These early works reflected the influence of the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, his nephew and Blok’s cousin Sergei Solovyov, Andrei Bely, and other Symbolists, and they were well received by them. Blok already showed some innovation by giving new meaning to old symbols. It was his second book of poems, Nechayannaya radost (inadvertent joy), in 1907 and his lyrical drama Balaganchik (The Puppet Show, 1963) in 1906 that first gained for Blok real fame.
At this time his poetry was profoundly lyrical and deeply interwoven with mysticism and religious decadence. Blok can thereby also be linked to the tradition of Afanasy Fet. Consequently, some literary critics have called him the “last Romantic poet” for his work during this early period, but it is a label that might also be applied to his entire career.
Yet, Nechayannaya radost and another volume, Zemlya v snegu (1908; land in snow), also heralded a change coming about in Blok’s worldview, brought on in part by the so-called Revolution of 1905 in Russia and its eventual failure. His classical mystical symbolism was beginning to collapse, and the breakdown of rhyme in these works anticipated Futurism.
Symbolism had its origins in France and had ramifications in several national literatures. It flourished in Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century, contributing significantly to what is known as the “silver age” of Russian poetry (as opposed to the “golden age,” presided over by Alexander Pushkin in the nineteenth century). Symbolism exhibited a resurgence of idealism and aestheticism and represented a neo-Romantic reaction against positivism and realism. Most Russian Symbolists were liberal supporters of reform and revolution. In the post-1917 era, the Futurists (who also drew inspiration from their counterparts in Italy) rejected the mysticism of the Symbolists but readily accepted their technical innovations.
In 1909, Blok traveled to Italy, and he also made a rare visit to Warsaw on the occasion of his father’s death....
(The entire section is 1,989 words.)