Aleksandr Blok Poetry: World Poets Analysis
Aleksandr Blok sought to give a metaphysical dimension to his poetry by creating a persona that pays homage to a supernatural ideal, in his own words “an essence possessed of an independent existence.” This ideal is usually represented by the concept of the Eternal Feminine, which takes on a range of embodiments in the various stages of Blok’s development. Initially, he depicted an ephemeral, distant spirit, the Beautiful Lady, whose presence the poet perceives in almost every poem, but who is never made manifest. As Blok matured, his mental discipline, inquiring mind, and sensuous disposition prompted him to alter the image, until it became more of a literary device and less of a religious inspiration. While the vision retained some of its ethereal, purifying characteristics in later works, it also assumed demoniac, physically alluring aspects. In many other poems, desperate city women, whose misfortunes Blok ascertained from newspapers, represent the feminine ideal, as do the poet’s female friends and relatives. The persona’s attitude to the changing image is ambiguous. He is inexplicably and fatally drawn to some embodiments, observing others wistfully and indifferently. Eventually, social pressures, war, and revolution drew Blok further from the transcendental sphere, causing him to blend his vision with the concept of Mother Russia. Blok then saw the Beautiful Lady in the lined faces of praying peasant women and urban prostitutes, and even in the Russian landscape. A final attempt to revive the religious dimension of the image occurs in the revolutionary poem The Twelve, in which an effeminate, Christ-like ghost silently and gently accompanies marauding Bolshevik revolutionaries.
Blok was the forerunner of modern Russian poetry. He replaced the realistic, low-quality verse of the second half of the nineteenth century with a new lyricism, to which he gave a mystical dimension. Technically, he freed Russian verse from rigid meter and led the way to modern tonic patterns. The social upheavals of his era are reflected in his work but are always subordinate to artistic requirements. Blok appealed to all segments of the public and continues to be popular at home and abroad.
“Gorod” and “Arfy i skripki”
Although the Eternal Feminine is a constant in Blok’s work, it does not exhaust his poetic themes. After witnessing the bloodbath of the unsuccessful 1905 uprising in St. Petersburg, he devoted an entire cycle, “Gorod,” to his hometown. Only a few of these poems express political observations; most of them deal with the darker aspects of street life. Feelings of impending catastrophe, both personal and societal, pervade the poetic atmosphere. The later cycle “Strashny mir” (a terrible world) extends this theme of urban degradation and misery. In one of the sections of the cycle, “Plyaski smerti” (dances of death), which echoes Charles Baudelaire’s “Danse Macabre,” Blok evokes the disintegration of his society, which the persona views in the shape of a corpse, no longer believing in transcendence, while soulless St. Petersburg citizens dance their own deaths through empty lives. In the seventy-two-poem cycle “Arfy i skripki” (harps and violins), Blok endeavors to link poetry to music, and several of his verses were later set to music. He manages to reproduce the rhythm of ballads, romances, and factory and folk songs in these and many other poems. Finally, the unfinished epic “Vozmezdie” is a lyrical chronicle of his family’s and nation’s destiny. Blok’s general poetic mood ranges from mystical belief and idealistic expectation to false rapture, skeptical, even cynical visions of life, and eventually sadness, despair, and critical aloofness.
Stylistically, Blok stands between the traditional syllabic meter and modern tonic patterns. In his earlier work, metric regularity and exact rhyme dominate, to be followed by syllabotonic verse and experiments with vers libre. His rhymes become approximate, until he evolves a very modern, conversational style. Typically, his line has three stresses, interrupted by one or two unstressed syllables, but his rather extensive output shows great stress and syllable diversity within the line. He favors lexical repetition and occasionally repeats the first stanza as the last, with slight lexical change, to achieve a musical effect. Not the least of his skills is to transform vague, mystical notions into concise, elegant verse. Blok’s poetry is more accessible than the linguistic experiments of the Futurists and other innovators, and theme or thought are not as completely subordinated to technique. This accessibility, achieved with no loss of artistic quality, and the generally held belief that he re-created the great poetic traditions of the nineteenth century, give him a fame and exposure not matched by other modern Russian poets.
Celebration of the Eternal Feminine
Blok’s celebration of a feminine ideal is a twentieth century version of earlier cults, encompassing the Gnostic image of Holy Sophia, the adoration of the Virgin Mary in its various guises, Dante’s devotion to Beatrice, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s evocation of the Eternal Feminine in Faust: Eine Tragödie (pb. 1808, 1833; The Tragedy...
(The entire section is 2178 words.)