Aleksandr (Aleksandrovich) Blok 1880–1921
Russian poet, dramatist, essayist, critic, and autobiographer.
The leading figure of the Russian symbolist movement, Blok is considered the outstanding poet of the final years of Imperial Russia. While Blok's early poems reveal his efforts to find the true essence of reality in beauty, his later poetry is more concrete, frequently focusing on Russia, its history, and its future. Despite the shifting focus of his poetry, however, Blok retained the visionary outlook characteristic of the symbolists, and his ultimate source of inspiration remained constant as well. All of his poetry is infused with what he called the "spirit of music": an emotional and intellectual sense of exaltation and vivacity, and the fount of all creativity. Blok is today best remembered as the creator of the controversial Dvenadsat' (1918; The Twelve), praised as the greatest poetic celebration of the October Revolution.
Born on the grounds of St. Petersburg University, Blok spent his childhood at Shakhmatovo, a small estate outside Moscow that belonged to his maternal grandfather. His parents, Alexandra Andreyevna and Alexander L'vovich, a brilliant lawyer, separated shortly before his birth, and Blok had slight contact with his father throughout his life. Raised in a cultured and literary atmosphere, first at Shakhmatovo and later in St. Petersburg, Blok was a mediocre student who much preferred the intellectual stimulation he found at home to his school work. At his father's insistence, he entered the School of Law at St. Petersburg University in 1898, the same year he fell in love with Lyubov Dmitrevna Mendeleeva, his future wife. Eventually changing his course of study from law to philology, Blok devoted much of his college years to composing poetry and studying the writings of the mystical philosopher and poet Vladimir Soloviev. For Blok, Lyubov was the incarnation of Soloviev's concept of the Eternal Feminine—Sophia, who represented eternal love and wisdom. Blok became the center of an admiring coterie of rising symbolist poets who worshipped his wife as the "Beautiful Lady," a figure Blok apotheosized in his poems of the early 1900s. However, by the time Blok's first collection of verse, Stikhi o prekrasnoi dame (1905), was published, his marriage had deteriorated. Lyubov had fallen in love with Andrey Biely—Blok's friend and a fellow symbolist. From this point on, the rarefied wonder of Blok's early verse gave way to earthbotind pessimism: his poetry, as well as his dramas, revealed his self-destructive bitterness. During the last decade of his life, Blok gradually abandoned mortal women in his search for Sophia, and he began to turn to Russia itself as his new ideal. His verse increasingly evidenced his concern for his country's culture and destiny, most strikingly in The Twelve.
Critics often divide Blok's poetic career into three periods. His earliest poems were inspired by Soloviev's writings on Sophia, as well as by his wife, in whom he found Sophia reborn. In these works, which were written primarily between 1898 and 1904, Blok addresses a "Beautiful Lady" who is the incarnation of the divine and the object of ideal love. The imagery of the poems—twilight skies, delicate rains, wispy clouds, and golden landscapes—reinforces the ethereal qualities Blok perceived in his beloved. By the time Stikhi o prekrasnoi dame was published, Blok was suffering from an emotional crisis that had a significant impact on the direction his poetry was to take. Disillusioned by his inability to reconcile his ideal visions with the coarse nature of reality, Blok sought an outlet for his frustrations in St. Petersburg night life. Drinking escapades with gypsies, womanizing, and reckless passion became the new subjects of his poetry. Like the poems of the first period, these verses reveal...
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