Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

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The main theme of The Twelve is the Russian Revolution of October, 1917. Although written by a nonrevolutionary who was not even a real sympathizer, it is considered to be the definitive poem of the revolution, the best poetic rendition of this monumental event.

Yet, it was not perceived as such at first. The opponents of the revolution refused to accept this blatant glorification of it, especially because the poem was written by a poet whose predominantly spiritual, even religious, attitudes in the past were not attuned to the revolutionary way of thinking and were even opposed to it. The revolutionaries themselves rejected Blok’s nebulous, pseudospiritual, and basically incorrect interpretation of the revolution. More objective critics were puzzled by the ambiguities and inconsistencies, which they found hard to reconcile not only with the author himself but also with actual events (if anything, the revolutionaries were against all forms of religion).

The controversy primarily concerned the appearance of Christ at the end of the poem. To make matters worse, the poet himself had difficulties explaining it; it seems that the more he tried to explain, the less clear it became. In his diaries and letters, Blok attempted to shed some light on these incongruities. He was convinced that Christ goes before the revolutionaries but was himself astounded that He appears with them again—apparently referring to the often-repeated notion that Christ was the first communist.

Blok was not surprised by the storm of criticism that ensued, for if the church were real and, in his opinion, not merely a class of morally dull professionals, it would have realized long ago that Christ is with the Bolsheviks. Blok believed that all who read the Bible should see this “obvious” truth. Yet, he compounded the confusion further by saying that sometimes he despised the “womanish phantom” of Christ; that the Bolsheviks were right in being afraid of The Twelve; and that he did not like the ending of the poem either, wishing for a different ending, although the closer he looked into it, the clearer he saw Christ.

The controversy can be partially explained by Blok’s interest in the phenomenon of Christ in the last years of his life. He had intended to write a play about Him and to that end read much of what had been written on Christ, particularly Ernest Renan’s treatment of Christ primarily as a historical figure, stripped of religious and supernatural elements. Furthermore, Blok was indeed confused by the revolution. An opponent of the czarist autocratic...

(The entire section is 647 words.)