Other Literary Forms
Aleksandr Blok was the best poet in the second wave of Russian Symbolists at the beginning of the twentieth century. His early poems are included in the collections Stikhi o prekrasnoy dame (1904; verses about the beautiful lady) and Ante lucem (1909; before light), which express his adoration of mythical Sophia, in fact his later wife. His exuberance later changed to a more somber mood, the beautiful lady being replaced by a stranger (neznakomka), in Puzyri zemli (1916; earth’s bubbles), Gorod (1916; the city) Snezhnaya maska (1907; the masque of snow), and Faina (1916). World War I brought a patriotic fervor to his poetry, in Na pole Kulikovom (1908; on the field of Kulikovo) and Vozmezdie (1922; retribution). His masterpiece, Dvenadtsat (1918; The Twelve, 1920), expresses his reaction to the Russian Revolution, which seems to be both receptive and skeptical. Blok also wrote essays about literature, theater, music, and culture.
Aleksandr Blok received no awards for his dramatic works, but his plays were highly praised by critics and appreciated by the theater public. In addition to his plays, he wrote several notable essays about drama. His reputation will always be based on his poetry; however, even though his plays are more closet dramas than effectively staged plays, they remain significant achievements in Russian literature during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Other literary forms
Aleksandr Blok wrote three lyrical plays, the first of which, Balaganchik (pr., pb. 1906; The Puppet Show, 1963), was staged immediately and widely. The second, Korol’ na ploshchadi (pb. 1907; The King in the Square, 1934) was never staged, although its material was absorbed into other works. Roza i krest (pb. 1913; The Rose and the Cross, 1936) was popular in print and had more than two hundred rehearsals at the Moscow Art Theater, but was never publicly staged. Several additional dramatic monologues failed before presentation. Blok also wrote critical essays on poetry and drama as well as a series of articles dealing with the role of the intelligentsia in Russian cultural development, translated several plays from French and German for stage production, and edited his mother’s translation of the letters of Gustave Flaubert. Much of his work was reissued in various collections during his lifetime, and posthumous editions, including diaries, letters, and notebooks, have appeared regularly. A scholarly collected works in nine volumes has been completed in the Soviet Union.
Aleksandr Blok was the leading Russian Symbolist and is universally regarded as one of the most important Russian poets of the twentieth century. The Symbolists were interested in poetic reform to reshape the partly sentimental, partly social-oriented poetic idiom of the second half of the nineteenth century. They favored a return to mysticism, albeit with modern overtones, free from the rational tenor of the scientific age. The movement’s early exponents, notably Konstantin Balmont and Valery Bryusov, incorporated French Symbolist ideas into their work, but when Blok began to write at the turn of the century, Symbolism was no longer a single unit. It had disintegrated into literary factions that reflected the movement’s precepts in their own way. Though Blok paid homage to the search for spiritual values, his mysticism owes as much to the writings of his uncle, the religious philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, as to Stéphane Mallarmé, with whom he shared the striving to give shape to the “music of the spheres,” the elusive entities beyond reality.
In contrast to his eccentric fellow Symbolists and the equally whimsical linguistic experimenters of other movements, Blok stood out as a contemplative, sincere individual whose philosophical concerns were as important as the language used to express them. He attached an almost metaphysical significance to the creative power of the poet, and this belief in the transcendental quality of art led him to reach beyond...
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