The artistically, academically, and socially illustrious family into which Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok was born on November 28, 1880, contributed significantly to his poetic development and success. His maternal grandfather was Andrey Beketov, the prominent botanist and rector of St. Petersburg University, and his grandmother was an editor and translator—from English, French, and German—of artistic and scientific works. Blok’s mother, one of the prime influences on his life, wrote poetry herself and established a reputation as a translator of French literature. Several other female members of the family were also engaged in literary activity, especially the interpretation of French writers to the Russian public, thus exposing Blok early to the ideas of European literature. The Blok side of the family consisted of outstanding professional people, though tainted with a strain of insanity that affected Blok’s father, a law professor at Warsaw University. Blok believed that his father’s mental instability contributed to his own frequent despondency. Blok’s parents, highly individualistic and incompatible in personality, did not remain together for long. The poet was born in his mother’s ancestral home and reared by a household of solicitous women, who nourished both his physical and artistic development until age eleven, when he was finally enrolled in a boys’ school. By that time, he had already written poems, coedited an informal family journal, and taken part in domestic theatricals. Blok’s lifelong attachment to the feminine principle in his poetry and his first book of verse specifically devoted to that concept may well reflect the influence of the women in the Beketov household.
In 1898, Blok entered the law school of St. Petersburg, but changed three years later to the philology department, from which he graduated in 1906. In 1903, he published his first verses and married the daughter of the scientist Dmitry Mendelyev, a family friend. He had also become interested in mystic philosophy, contributing essays to the Religious-Philosophical Society, of which he was a member. By the time his first verses were printed, he had amassed more than six hundred poems, most of which found ready acceptance after his debut. From this point on, a...
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