History of Literature

Russian literature



Old Russian literature. (10th–17th centuries)

The 18th century

The 19th century

The Silver Age. (From the 1890s to 1917)

Post-Revolutionary literature

Thaws and freezes


Russian literature

The Silver Age. (From the 1890s to 1917)

Vladimir Solovyov
Dmitry Merezhkovsky
Konstantin Balmont
Valery Bryusov
Zinaida Gippius
Fyodor Sologub
Andrey Bely

Aleksandr Blok
"Dvenadtzat" ("The Twelve")  llustrations by Yuri Annenkov

Vyacheslav Ivanov

Nikolay Gumilyov "Poems"

Anna Akhmatova

Osip Mandelshtam

Velimir Khlebnikov

Vladimir Mayakovsky "Poesms"
Sergey Yesenin
Leonid Andreyev
Aleksandr Kuprin
Vladimir Korolenko
Ivan Bunin
Maksim Gorky



The Silver Age. (From the 1890s to 1917)

The period from the 1890s to 1917 was one of intellectual ferment, in which mysticism, aestheticism, Neo-Kantianism, eroticism, Marxism, apocalypticism, Nietzscheanism, and other movements combined with each other in improbable ways. Primarily an age of poetry, it also produced significant prose and drama. Russian Symbolism, which was influenced by French Symbolist poetry and the philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900), is usually said to have begun with an essay by Dmitry Merezhkovsky, “O prichinakh upadka i o novykh techeniyakh sovremennoy russkoy literatury” (1893; “On the Reasons for the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature”). A poet and propagator of religious ideas, Merezhkovsky wrote a trilogy of novels, Khristos i Antikhrist (1896–1905; Christ and Antichrist), consisting of Yulian otstupnik (1896; Julian the Apostate), Leonardo da Vinchi (1901; Leonardo da Vinci), and Pyotr i Aleksey (1905; Peter and Alexis), which explores the relation of pagan and Christian views of the world.

Vladimir Solovyov

Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov, Solovyov also spelled Soloviev (b. Jan. 16 [Jan. 28, New Style], 1853, Moscow, Russia—d. July 31 [Aug. 13], 1900, Uzkoye, near Moscow), Russian philosopher and mystic who, reacting to European rationalist thought, attempted a synthesis of religious philosophy, science, and ethics in the context of a universal Christianity uniting the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches under papal leadership.

He was the son of the historian Sergey M. Solovyov. After a basic education in languages, history, and philosophy at his Orthodox home, he took his doctorate at Moscow University in 1874 with the dissertation “The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists.” After travels in the West, he wrote a second thesis, a critique of abstract principles, and accepted a teaching post at the University of St. Petersburg, where he delivered his celebrated lectures on Godmanhood (1880). This appointment was later rescinded because of Solovyov’s clemency appeal for the March 1881 assassins of Tsar Alexander II. He also encountered official opposition to his writings and to his activity in promoting the union of Eastern Orthodoxy with the Roman Catholic church.

Solovyov criticized Western empiricist and idealist philosophy for attributing absolute significance to partial insights and abstract principles. Drawing on the writings of Benedict de Spinoza and G.W.F. Hegel, he regarded life as a dialectical process, involving the interaction of knowledge and reality through conflicting tensions. Assuming the ultimate unity of Absolute Being, termed God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Solovyov proposed that the world’s multiplicity, which had originated in a single creative source, was undergoing a process of reintegration with that source. Solovyov asserted, by his concept of Godmanhood, that the unique intermediary between the world and God could only be man, who alone is the vital part of nature capable of knowing and expressing the divine idea of “absolute unitotality” in the chaotic multiplicity of real experience. Consequently, the perfect revelation of God is Christ’s incarnation in human nature.

For Solovyov, ethics became a dialectical problem of basing the morality of human acts and decisions on the extent of their contribution to the world’s integration with ultimate divine unity, a theory expressed in his The Meaning of Love (1894).

* * *

Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (Russian: Влади́мир Серге́евич Соловьёв; January 28 [O.S. January 16] 1853 – August 13 [O.S. July 31] 1900) was a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer, literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century. Solovyov (the last name derives from "соловей", "solovey", Nightingale in Russian) played a significant role in the Russian spiritual renaissance in the beginning of the 20th century. Solovyov is said to have died a pauper, homeless.

Life and work
Vladimir Solovyov was born in Moscow on 16 January 1853, in the family of well-known Russian historian Sergey Mikhaylovich Solovyov (1820–1879). His mother, Polixena Vladimirovna, belonged to a Ukrainian-Polish family, having among her ancestors a remarkable thinker the 18th century Hryhori Skovoroda (1722–1794).

In his teens Solovyov renounced Orthodox Christianity for nihilism though later Solovyov changed his earlier convictions and began expressing views in line again with the Russian Orthodox Church. What prompted this radical change appears to be Solovyov's disapproval of the Positivist movement. In Solovyov's The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists he attempted to discredit the Positivists' rejection of Aristotle's essentialism or philosophical realism. In Against the Postivists, Solovyov took the position of intuitive noetic comprehension, noesis or insight stating consciousness, in being is integral (Russian term being sobornost) and has to have both phenomenon (validated by dianonia) and noumenon validated intuitively. Positivism according to Solovyov only validates the phenomenon of an object denying the intuitive reality people experience as part of their consciousness. Vladimir Solovyov was also known to be a very close friend and confidant of Fyodor Dostoevsky. In opposition to Dostoevsky's apparent views of the Roman Catholic church, Solovyov has been rumored to have converted to Roman Catholicism four years before his death. It could be said that he did this to engage in the reconciliation (ecumenism, sobornost) between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, a reconciliation that Solovyov outspokenly favored, but Solovyov himself always maintained that he was still a Russian Orthodox believer and that he had never left the Orthodox faith. Solovyov believed that his mission in life was to move people toward reconciliation or absolute unity or sobornost.

It is widely held that Solovyov was Dostoevsky's inspiration for the characters Alyosha Karamazov and Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov. Solovyov's influence can also be seen in the writings of the Symbolist and Neo-Idealist of the later Russian Soviet era. His book The Meaning of Love can be seen as one of the philosophical sources of Leo Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata (1889).

He influenced the religious philosophy of Nicolas Berdyaev, Sergey Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky, Nikolai Lossky, Semen L. Frank, the ideas of Rudolf Steiner and also on the poetry and theory of Russian symbolism, viz. Andrei Belyi, Alexander Blok Solovyov's nephew, and others. Hans Urs von Balthasar explores his work as one example of seven lay styles that reveal the glory of God's revelation, in volume III of the The Glory of the Lord (pp. 279–352).

Solovyov compiled a philosophy based partly on Hellenistic pagan philosophy (see Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus) and also early church Patristic tradition along with Buddhism and Hebrew Kabblahistic elements (i.e. Philo of Alexandra). Solovyov also studied Gnosticism and seemed to be heavily influenced by the gnostic works of Valentinus. Solovyov's religious philosophy was syncretic and fused many of the philosophical elements of various religious traditions with that of the Eastern Orthodox church and also Solovyov's own personal experience of the Sophia. Solovyov described his encounters with the entity Sophia in his works the Three Encounters and Lectures on Godmanhood among others. Solovyov's fusion was driven by the desire to reconcile and or unite with Eastern Orthodoxy these various traditions via the Russian Slavophiles' concept of sobornost. His Russian religious philosophy had a very strong impact on the Russian Symbolist art movements of his time. Solovyev's teaching on Sophia have been deemed a heresy by ROCOR and condemned as unsound and unorthodox by the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Solovyov sought through his works to create a form of philosophy, that could through his system of logic or reason, reconcile all various bodies of knowledge or disciplines of thought. It was Solovyov's goal to fuse all conflicting concepts into a single systematic form of reason. It was this complete form of philosophy that Solovyov presented as being Russian philosophy. That based on the central components of the slavophile movement, all forms of reason could be reconciled into one single form of logic. The heart of this reconciliation as logic or reason was the concept sobornost (organic or Spontaneous order through integration) which is also the Russian word for catholic. Solovyov sought to find and validate the common ground and or where various conflicts found common ground and by focusing on this common ground to establish absolute unity and or integral[9] fusion of opposing ideas and or peoples.

Solovyov is extensively criticized by Dmitry Galkovsky in the 1988 philosophical novel The Infinite Deadlock. Galkovsky cites Solovyov's early adoption of nihilist views, and later renunciation of them, as evidence of Solovyov's opportunism. He also characterizes Solovyov's writings on theocracy as a "parodic hybrid of slavophilic nationalism with Western nihilism." In Galkovsky's radical interpretation, Solovyov emerges as an impostor whose primary goal was to create a caricatured form of religious conservatism that would draw audiences away from more "authentic" nationalists such as Yuri Samarin.

"As long as the dark foundation of our nature, grim in its all-encompassing egoism, mad in its drive to make that egoism into reality, to devour everything and to define everything by itself, as long as that foundation is visible, as long as this truly original sin exists within us, we have no business here and there is no logical answer to our existence. Imagine a group of people who are all blind, deaf and slightly demented and suddenly someone in the crowd asks, "What are we to do?"... The only possible answer is, "Look for a cure". Until you are cured, there is nothing you can do. And since you don't believe you are sick, there can be no cure."



Dmitry Merezhkovsky

Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky, (b. Aug. 14 [Aug. 2, Old Style], 1865, St. Petersburg, Russia—d. Dec. 9, 1941, Paris), Russian poet, novelist, critic, and thinker who played an important role in the revival of religious-philosophical interests among the Russian intelligentsia.

After graduation from the University of St. Petersburg in history and philology, Merezhkovsky published his first volume of poetry in 1888. His essay O prichinakh upadka i o novykh techeniyakh sovremennoy russkoy literatury (1893; “On the Causes of the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature”), sometimes erroneously described as the manifesto of Russian Symbolism, was nevertheless a significant landmark of Russian modernism. At the beginning of the 20th century he and his wife, Zinaida Gippius, organized religious-philosophical colloquia and edited the magazine Novy put (1903–04; “The New Path”).

With his trilogy Khristos i Antikhrist (1896–1905; “Christ and Antichrist”), Merezhkovsky revived the historical novel in Russia. Its three parts, set in widely separated epochs and geographical areas, reveal historical erudition and serve as vehicles for the author’s historical and theological ideas. Another group of fictional works from Russian history—the play Pavel I (1908) and the novels Aleksandr I (1911–12) and 14 Dekabrya (1918; December the Fourteenth)—also form a trilogy. Merezhkovsky’s favourite method is that of antithesis. He applied it not only in his novels but also in his critical study Tolstoy i Dostoyevsky (1901–02), a work of seminal importance and enduring value. His Gogol i chort (1906; “Gogol and the Devil”) is another noteworthy critical work.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 had a radicalizing effect on Merezhkovsky. Together with Gippius and Dmitry Filosofov he published the anthology Le Tsar et la révolution (1907; “The Tsar and the Revolution”) while living in France. After Merezhkovsky returned to Russia in 1908, he became one of the most popular Russian writers. He published extensively in newspapers and became known as the advocate of a “new religious consciousness.”

Merezhkovsky enthusiastically welcomed the first phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917 but saw the Bolsheviks’ rise to power after its second phase as a catastrophe for Russia. He emigrated in 1920. After a short stay in Poland, he moved to Paris, where he lived until his death. His later works include the novels Rozhdenie bogov (1925; The Birth of the Gods) and Messiya (1928; “Messiah”) as well as biographical studies of Napoleon, Dante, Jesus Christ, and Roman Catholic saints. Merezhkovsky was of the opinion that Russia should be freed from Bolshevism at any cost, which is why he welcomed Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 during World War II. During his lifetime Merezhkovsky’s authority among Russian émigrés was great. His works began to be published in Russia again only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Soviet Union began to collapse.


The Symbolists saw art as a way to approach a higher reality. The first wave of Symbolists included Konstantin Balmont (1867–1942), who translated a number of English poets and wrote verse that he left unrevised on principle (he believed in first inspiration); Valery Bryusov (1873–1924), a poet and translator of French Symbolist verse and of Virgil’s Aeneid, who for years was the leader of the movement; Zinaida Gippius (1869–1945), who wrote decadent, erotic, and religious poetry; and Fyodor Sologub, author of melancholic verse and of a novel, Melky bes (1907; The Petty Demon), about a sadistic, homicidal, paranoid schoolteacher.

Three writers dominate the second wave of Symbolism. Eschatology and anthroposophy shaped the poetry and prose of Andrey Bely, whose novel Peterburg (1913–22; St. Petersburg) is regarded as the masterpiece of Symbolist fiction. Aleksandr Blok, who wrote the lyric drama Balaganchik (1906; “The Showbooth”), is best known for his poem Dvenadtsat (1918; The Twelve), which describes 12 brutal Red Guards who turn out to be unwittingly led by Jesus Christ. The principal theoretician of the Symbolist movement, Vyacheslav Ivanov (1866–1949), wrote mythic poetry conveying a Neoplatonist philosophy.

Konstantin Balmont

Konstantin Dmitriyevich Balmont (Russian: Константи́н Дми́триевич Ба́льмонт) (15 June [O.S. 3 June] 1867 — December 23, 1942) was a Russian symbolist poet, translator, one of the major figures of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry.

Balmont was born into a noble family near Vladimir. In 1886, he entered the Moscow University, but was expelled the next year. He started poetic activity in the end of the 1890s, and became famous in 1905 after having published several compilations of poems. In the end of 1905, he illegally left Russia for Paris, traveled extensively, and returned to Moscow only in 1916. He accepted the February Revolution enthusiastically, but was against the October Revolution of 1917, and left Russia for Germany, and subsequently for France in 1920. He spent the last twenty years of his life in emigration and in poverty. He died in 1942 in Noisy-le-Grand, a suburb of Paris.



Valery Bryusov

Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov (Russian: Вале́рий Я́ковлевич Брю́сов) (December 13 [O.S. December 1] 1873 – October 9, 1924) was a Russian poet, prose writer, dramatist, translator, critic and historian. He was one of the principal members of the Russian Symbolist movement.


Valery Bryusov was born on December 13, 1873 (recorded December 1, according to the old Julian calendar) into a merchant's family in Moscow. His parents had little do with his upbringing, and as a boy Bryusov was largely left to himself. He spent a great deal of time reading "everything that fell into [his] hands," including the works of Charles Darwin and Jules Verne, as well as various materialistic and scientific essays. The future poet received an excellent education, studying in two Moscow gymnasiums between 1885 and 1893.

Bryusov began his literary career in the early 1890s while still a student at Moscow State University with his translations of the poetry of the French Symbolists (Paul Verlaine, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Stéphane Mallarmé) as well at that of Edgar Allan Poe. Bryusov also began to publish his own poems, which were very much influence by the Decadent and Symbolist movements of his contemporary Europe.

At the time, Russian Symbolism was still mainly a set of theories and had few notable practitioners. Therefore, in order to represent Symbolism as a movement of formidable following, Bryusov adopted numerous pen names and published three volumes of his own verse, entitled Russian Symbolists. An Anthology (1894-95). Bryusov's mystification proved successful - several young poets were attracted to Symbolism as the latest fashion in Russian letters.

With the appearance of Tertia Vigilia in 1900, he came to be revered by other Symbolists as an authority in matters of art. In 1904 he became the editor of the influential literary magazine Vesy (The Balance), which consolidated his position in the Russian literary world. Bryusov's mature works were notable for their celebration of sensual pleasures as well as their mastery of a wide range of poetic forms, from the acrostic to the carmina figurata.

By the 1910s, Bryusov's poetry had begun to seem cold and strained to many of his contemporaries. As a result, his reputation gradually declined and, with it, his power in the Russian literary world. He was adamantly opposed to the efforts of Georgy Chulkov and Vyacheslav Ivanov to move Symbolism in the direction of Mystical Anarchism.

Though many of his fellow Symbolists fled Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bryusov remained until his death in 1924. He supported the Bolshevik government and received a position in the cultural ministry of the new Soviet state. Of his activities at this time, Clarence Brown writes:

Bryusov's review [of Osip Mandelstam's Second Book, 1923] is not so much a review as it is a subtle donos, an act of political informing. When one considers his infinitely superior gift as a poet, Bryusov is an even more distasteful personality than Sergey Gorodetsky. His embrace of Bolshevism and the new order of things was more fervent by far than that of Mayakovsky, the unofficial poet-laureate of the Revolution, and his personality incomparably more devious. ... He invents the name 'Neo-Acmeist' for 'certain circles' (not further specified) by whom Mandelstam had been made 'exceedingly famous,' and designates him as their teacher. ... No one without access to a large research library today could possibly discover the identity of these utterly unknown people, Mandelstam's 'disciples.' According to Nadezhda Yakovlevna, however, they were 'the most compromising people he could think of.' It was to be understood that Mandelstam was not an isolated antagonist of the 'new reality' - he stood at the head of a concerted effort. What Gumilyov [who had been executed for alleged participation in an anti-Soviet plot in 1921] had been, Mandelstam now was.

Bryusov most famous prose works are the historical novels The Altar of Victory (depicting life in Ancient Rome) and The Fiery Angel (depicting the psychological climate of 16th century Germany).

The latter tells the story of a scholar and his attempts to win the love of a young woman whose spiritual integrity is seriously undermined by her participation in occult practices and her dealings with unclean forces. It served as the basis for Sergei Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel.

As a translator, Bryusov was the first to render the works of the Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren accessible to Russian readers, and he was one of the major translators of Paul Verlaine's poetry.

His most famous translations are of Edgar Allan Poe, Romain Rolland, Maurice Maeterlinck, Victor Hugo, Jean Racine, Ausonius, Molière, Byron, and Oscar Wilde. Bryusov also translated Johann Goethe's Faust and Virgil's Aeneid.

During the 1910s, Bryusov was especially interested in translating Armenian poetry.



Zinaida Gippius

Zinaida Nikolaevna Gippius, (Russian: Зинаи́да Никола́евна Ги́ппиус; 1869, Belyov - 1945) was a Russian symbolist poet and author. She was married to philosopher Dmitriy Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky. Their union lasted 52 years (despite Gippius' probable lesbianism[citation needed]) and is described in Gippius' unfinished book Dmitry Merezhkovsky (Paris. 1951; Moscow., 1991). She was a freemason.


Merezhkovsky and Gippius hoped for the demise of the bolshevik rule, but after they learned of Kolchak's defeat in Siberia and Denikin's defeat in the south of Russia, they decided to flee Petrograd. On 24 December 1919 together with their friend Dmitry Filosofov, and secretary V. Zlobin, they left the city as if going to present lectures to the Red Army regiments in Gomel, while in actuality, in January 1920 they defected to the territory occupied by Poland and settled for a while in Minsk. Here the Merezhkovskys lectured to the Russian immigrants and wrote political pamphlets in the Minsk Courier newspaper.

The tragedy of the life and work of a writer, destined to live outside of Russia is a constant topic in the later works of Gippius. In exile she remained faithful to the aesthetic and metaphysical mentality that she acquired in the pre-revolutionary years while involved in the Religion and Philosophy Assembly and Religion and Philosophy Society. She was preoccupied by mystical and covertly sexual themes. She was also an alert, if harsh literary critic and connoisseur of poetry, who became known for dismissing many of the Symbolist and Acmeist Russian writers. This made her unpopular with the younger generation in her time, but she is now recognized as one of Russia's most important women writers.

In exile Gippius republished several works which had previously been published in Russia. A collection of stories Nebesnye slova was published in Paris in 1921, a book of poems Stikhi: Dnevnik 1911-1912 was published in 1922 in Berlin, while in Munich a book by four authors (Merezhkovsky, Gippius, Filosofov, and Zlobin) Tsarstvo Antichrista (The Kingdom of the Antichrist) came out, where the first two parts of Peterburgskiye dnevniki (St. Petersburg Diaries) were published for the first time, and with an introductory article by Gippius "The Story of my Diary."



Fyodor Sologub

Fyodor Sologub (Russian: Фёдор Сологу́б, born Fyodor Kuzmich Teternikov, Russian: Фёдор Кузьми́ч Тете́рников; March 1 [O.S. February 17] 1863 – December 5, 1927) was a Russian Symbolist poet, novelist, playwright and essayist. He was the first writer to introduce the morbid, pessimistic elements characteristic of European fin de siècle literature and philosophy into Russian prose.


Early life
Sologub was born in St. Petersburg into the family of a poor tailor, Kuzma Afanasyevich Teternikov, who had been a serf in Poltava guberniya, the illegitimate son of a local landowner. His father died of tuberculosis in 1867, and his illiterate mother was forced to become a servant in the home of the aristocratic Agapov family, where Sologub and his younger sister Olga grew up. Seeing how difficult his mother's life was, Sologub was determined to rescue her from it, and after graduating from the St. Petersburg Teachers' Institute in 1882 he took his mother and sister with him to his first teaching post in Kresttsy, where he began his literary career with the 1884 publication in a children's magazine of his poem "The Fox and the Hedgehog" under the name Te-rnikov.

Sologub continued writing as he relocated to new jobs in Velikiye Luki (1885) and Vytegra (1889), but felt that he was completely isolated from the literary world and longed to be able to live in the capital again; nevertheless, his decade-long experience with the "frightful world" of backwoods provincial life served him well when he came to write The Petty Demon. (He said later that in writing the novel he had softened the facts: "things happened that no one would believe if I were to describe them.") He felt sympathetic with the writers associated with the journal Severnyi vestnik (Northern Herald), including Nikolai Minsky, Zinaida Gippius, and Dmitry Merezhkovsky, who were beginning to create what would be known as the Symbolist movement, and in 1891 he visited Petersburg hoping to see Minsky and Merezhkovsky, but met only the first.

Early literary career
In 1892 he was finally able to relocate to the capital, where he got a job teaching mathematics, started writing what would become his most famous novel, The Petty Demon, and began frequenting the offices of Severnyi vestnik, which published much of his writing during the next five years. There, in 1893, Minsky, who thought Teternikov was an unpoetic name, suggested that he use a pseudonym, and the aristocratic name Sollogub was decided on, but one of the ls was omitted as an attempt (unavailing, as it turned out) to avoid confusion with Count Vladimir Sollogub. In 1894 his first short story, "Ninochkina oshibka" (Ninochka's Mistake), was published in Illustrirovanny Mir, and in the autumn of that year his mother died. In 1896 he published his first three books: a book of poems, a collection of short stories, and his first novel, Tyazhelye sny (Bad Dreams), which he had begun in 1883 and which is considered one of the first decadent Russian novels.

In April 1897 he ended his association with Severnyi vestnik and, along with Merezhkovsky and Gippius, began writing for the journal Sever (North). The next year his first series of fairy tales was published. In 1899 he was appointed principal of the Andreevskoe municipal school and relocated to their premises on Vasilievsky Island; he also became a member of the St. Petersburg District School Council. He continued to publish books of poetry, and in 1902 he finished The Petty Demon, which was published partially in serial form in 1905 (in Voprosy zhizni, which was terminated before the final installments). At this time his "Sundays," a literary group that met at his home, attracted poets, artists, and actors, including Alexander Blok, Mikhail Kuzmin, Alexei Remizov, Sergei Gorodetsky, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Leon Bakst, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, and Sergei Auslender. Teffi wrote of him at this period:

His face was pale, long, without eyebrows; by his nose was a large wart; a thin reddish beard seemed to pull away from his thin cheeks; dull, half-closed eyes. His face was always tired, always bored... Sometimes when he was a guest at someone's table he would close his eyes and remain like that for several minutes, as if he had forgotten to open them. He never laughed... Sologub lived on Vasilievsky Island in the small official apartment of a municipal school where he was a teacher and inspector. He lived with his sister, a flat-chested, consumptive old maid. She was quiet and shy; she adored her brother and was a little afraid of him, and spoke of him only in a whisper. He said in a poem: "We were holiday children, My sister and I"; they were very poor, those holiday children, dreaming that someone would give them "even motley-colored shells from a brook." Sadly and dully they dragged out the difficult days of their youth. The consumptive sister, not having received her share of motley shells, was already burning out. He himself was exhausted by his boring teaching job; he wrote in snatches by night, always tired from the boyish noise of his students...

So Sologub lived in his little official apartment with little icon lamps, serving his guests mint cakes, ruddy rolls, pastila [fruit candy], and honey cakes, for which his sister went across the river somewhere on a horsecar. She told us privately, "I'd love to ride on the outside of the horsecar sometime, but my brother won't let me. He says it's unseemly for a lady."... Those evenings in the little apartment, when his close literary friends gathered, were very interesting.

Fame and marriage
At the time of the 1905 Revolution his politically critical skazochki ("little tales") were very popular and were collected into a book, Politicheskie skazochki (1906). The Petty Demon was published in a standalone edition in 1907 and quickly became popular, having ten printings during the author's lifetime. Sologub's next major prose work, A Created Legend (1905-1913) (literally "the legend in the making," a trilogy consisting of Drops of Blood, Queen Ortruda, and Smoke and Ash), had many of the same characteristics but presented a considerably more positive and hopeful description of the world. "It begins with the famous declaration that although life is 'vulgar . . . stagnant in darkness, dull and ordinary,' the poet 'creates from it a sweet legend . . . my legend of the enchanting and beautiful.'"

His increasing literary success was tempered for him by his sister's tuberculosis; in 1906 he traveled with her to Ufa Guberniya for treatment, and in June 1907 he took her to Finland, where she died on June 28. The next month he returned to St. Petersburg and retired after 25 years of teaching. In the autumn of 1908 he married the translator Anastasia Chebotarevskaya (born in 1876), whom he had met at Vyacheslav Ivanov's apartment three years before. Teffi wrote that she "reshaped his daily life in a new and unnecessary way. A big new apartment was rented, small gilt chairs were bought. The walls of the large cold office for some reason were decorated with paintings of Leda by various painters... The quiet talks were replaced by noisy gatherings with dances and masks. Sologub shaved his mustache and beard, and everyone started to say that he resembled a Roman of the period of decline." He continued publishing poems, plays, and translations; the next year he traveled abroad for the first time, visiting France with his wife, and in September the dramatized version of The Petty Demon was published.

Between 1909 and 1911 The Complete Works of Fyodor Sologub were published in 12 volumes, and in 1911 a collection of critical works appeared, containing over 30 critical essays, notes, and reviews by famous writers. In 1913 he presented a lecture, "The Art Of These Days," that was so successful in St. Petersburg he took it on tour all over Russia. In 1914 he started a magazine, Dnevniki pisatelei (Writers' Journals), and went abroad with his wife, but the outbreak of World War I put an end to the magazine. In 1915 two collections of his stories and tales were published in English, and in 1916 The Petty Demon, all translated by John Cournos.

Sologub continued touring and giving lectures, and in 1917 he welcomed the February Revolution. During the summer he headed the Soyuz Deyatelei Iskusstva (Union of Artists) and wrote articles with a strong anti-Bolshevik attitude. He was opposed to the October Revolution but remained in Petrograd and contributed to independent newspapers until they were terminated. In 1918 he spoke on behalf of the Union Of Artists; published Slepaia babochka (The Blind Butterfly), a collection of new short stories; had a play produced in Yalta; and joined the Petersburg Union of Journalists. But by the end of the year, because of Bolshevik control of publishing and bookselling, he did not have any outlets for his writing. Lev Kleinbort wrote of that period: "Sologub did not give lectures, but lived by selling his things."

Even though he was in principle opposed to emigration, the desperate condition in which he and his wife found himself caused him to apply in December 1919 for permission to leave the country; he did not receive any response. Half a year later he wrote to Lenin personally, again without result. In mid-July 1921 he finally received a letter from Trotsky authorizing his departure, and he made plans to leave for Reval on September 25. But on the evening of September 23 his wife, weakened by privation and driven to despair by the long torment of uncertainty, threw herself off the Tuchkov Bridge and drowned. His wife's death grieved Sologub for the rest of his life, and he referenced it often in his subsequent writing. (A poem dated November 28, 1921, begins "You took away my soul/ To the bottom of the river./ I will defy your wishes/ And follow you.") He gave up any thought of leaving Russia and relocated into an apartment on the banks of the Zhdanovka River, in which his wife had drowned.

In 1921 the New Economic Policy was begun, and from the end of the year his books (which had been published abroad with increasing frequency, notably in Germany and Estonia) began to appear in Soviet Russia. In December Fimiamy (Incense), a collection of poems, was published; the next two years more poetry collections and translations were published (Balzac's Contes drolatiques, Paul Verlaine, Heinrich von Kleist, Frédéric Mistral), and in 1924 the fortieth anniversary of Sologub's literary activities was celebrated at the Alexandrinsky Theater in Petersburg, with speeches by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Mikhail Kuzmin, Andrei Bely, and Osip Mandelstam, among others. In April of that year he was elected the honorary chairman of the Division of Translators in the Petersburg Union Of Writers, and two years later he became the chairman of the board of the Union. He had literary gatherings in his apartment, attended by such writers as Anna Akhmatova and Korney Chukovsky. His new poems, which had a classic simplicity, were appreciated by those to whom he read them, but they were not printed anymore.

Death and legacy
In May 1927 Sologub became seriously ill, and by summer he could leave his bed only rarely; his last poem was dated October 1. After a long struggle, he died on December 5. Two days later he was buried next to his wife in Smolensk Cemetery.

While Sologub's novels have become his best-known works, he has always been respected by scholars and fellow authors for his poetry. The Symbolist poet Valery Bryusov admired the deceptive simplicity of Sologub's poetry and described it as possessing a Pushkinian perfection of form. Innokenty Annensky, another poet and contemporary of Sologub, wrote that the most original aspect of Sologub's poetry was its author's unwillingness to separate himself from his literature.

The Petty Demon
The Petty Demon attempted to create a description of poshlost', a Russian concept that has characteristics of both evil and banality. The antihero is a provincial schoolteacher, Peredonov, notable for his complete lack of redeeming human qualities. The novel recounts the story of the morally corrupt Peredonov going insane and paranoid in an unnamed Russian provincial town, parallel with his struggle to be promoted to governmental inspector of his province. The omniscient third-person narrative allowed Sologub to combine his Symbolist tendencies and the tradition of Russian Realism in which he engaged throughout his earlier novels, a style similar to Maupassant's fantastic realism.

Realistic elements of The Petty Demon include a vivid description of 19th-century rural everyday life, while a fantastic element is the presentation of Peredonov's hallucinations on equal terms with external events. While the book was received as an indictment of Russian society, it is a very metaphysical novel and one of the major prose works of the Russian Symbolist movement.[citation needed] James H. Billington said of it:

The book puts on display a Freudian treasure chest of perversions with subtlety and credibility. The name of the novel's hero, Peredonov, became a symbol of calculating concupiscence for an entire generation... He torments his students, derives erotic satisfaction from watching them kneel to pray, and systematically befouls his apartment before leaving it as part of his generalized spite against the universe.



Andrey Bely


Andrey Bely, pseudonym of Boris Nikolayevich Bugayev, Bugayev also spelled Bugaev (b. Oct. 14 [Oct. 26, New Style], 1880, Moscow, Russia—d. Jan. 7, 1934, Moscow, Russian S.F.S.R., U.S.S.R.), leading theorist and poet of Russian Symbolism, a literary school deriving from the Modernist movement in western European art and literature and an indigenous Eastern Orthodox spirituality, expressing mystical and abstract ideals through allegories from life and nature.

Reared in an academic environment as the son of a mathematics professor, Bely was closely associated with Moscow’s literary elite, including the late 19th-century philosopher-mystic Vladimir Solovyov, whose eschatological thought (concerning the world’s purpose and final resolution) he absorbed. Carried by his idealism from harsh reality to speculative thought, Bely completed in 1901 his first major work, Severnaya simfoniya (1902; “The Northern Symphony”), a prose poem that represented an attempt to combine prose, poetry, music, and even, in part, painting. Three more “symphonies” in this new literary form followed. In other poetry he continued his innovative style and, by repeatedly using irregular metre (the “lame foot”), introduced Russian poetry to the formalistic revolution that was brought to fruition by his aesthetic colleague Aleksandr Blok.

Bely’s first three books of verse—Zoloto v lazuri (1904; “Gold in Azure”), Pepel (1909; “Ashes”), and Urna (1909; “Urn”)—are his most important contributions to poetry. Each of them stands out for an original view of the world: the first generates a new mythology; central to the second are images of the despair of Russian life; a somewhat ironic philosophical lyricism is used in the third. In 1909 Bely completed his first novel, Serebryany golub (1910; The Silver Dove). His most celebrated composition, Peterburg (published serially 1913–14; St. Petersburg), is regarded as a baroque extension of his earlier “symphonies.” In 1913 he became an adherent of the Austrian social philosopher Rudolf Steiner and joined his anthroposophical colony in Basel, Switz., a group advocating a system of mystical beliefs derived from Buddhist contemplative religious experience (see anthroposophy). While in Switzerland Bely began writing his Kotik Letayev (1922; Kotik Letaev), a short autobiographical novel suggestive of the style of James Joyce. Eventually, Bely left Steiner’s group for personal reasons, but he remained attached to anthroposophical ideas to the end of his life.

In 1916 Bely returned to Russia, where he witnessed the entirety of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Initially, like Blok, he welcomed the Bolsheviks’ ascent to power. His enthusiasm was reflected in Khristos voskrese (1918; “Christ Is Risen”), a novel in verse in which Bely renders contemporary life in mystical terms as a “revolution of the spirit.” Between 1918 and 1921 he worked in Soviet cultural organizations, and during that time he helped found the nonpartisan Free Philosophical Association (Volfila). The novel in verse Pervoye svidaniye (1921: The First Encounter) resurrects the events of his youth.

In 1921 Bely traveled to Berlin, where his already strained marriage collapsed and where he was subjected to Steiner’s enmity. Bely also began writing his memoirs, which were published later in three volumes: Na rubezhe dvukh stolety (1930; “On the Boundary of Two Centuries”), Nachalo veka (1933; “The Beginning of the Century”), and Mezhdu dvukh revolyutsy (1934; “Between Two Revolutions”). In 1923 Bely returned to Moscow, where he wrote a trilogy of novels set in Moscow, ; he also wrote literary criticism and revised his early works. Bely’s prose of the 1920s reflects his interest in form and in complex plot construction. In the early 1930s he tried to become a “true” Soviet author by writing a series of articles and making ideological revisions to his memoirs, and he also planned to begin a study of Socialist Realism. In 1932 he became a member of the Organizational Committee of the Writers’ Union of the U.S.S.R. Yet in an idiosyncratic way he managed to combine these activities with his attachment to anthroposophy and Russian Symbolism.



Yuri Annenkov
Illustration for the Poem "Dvenadtzat" by Alexandr Blok


Aleksandr Blok

("The Twelve")

llustrations by Yuri Annenkov

Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok (Russian: Алекса́ндр Алекса́ндрович Блок, 28 November [O.S. 16 November] 1880 – 7 August 1921) was one of the most gifted lyrical poets produced by Russia after Alexander Pushkin.

Family and influences
Blok was born in Saint Petersburg, into a sophisticated and intellectual family. Some of his relatives were men of letters, his father being a law professor in Warsaw, and his maternal grandfather the rector of Saint Petersburg State University. After his parents' separation, Blok lived with aristocratic relatives at the Shakhmatovo manor near Moscow, where he discovered the philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov, and the verse of then-obscure 19th-century poets, Fyodor Tyutchev and Afanasy Fet. These influences would be fused and transformed into the harmonies of his early pieces, later collected in the book Ante Lucem.

He fell in love with Lyubov (Lyuba) Dmitrievna Mendeleeva (the great chemist's daughter) and married her in 1903. Later, she would involve him in a complicated love-hate relationship with his fellow Symbolist Andrey Bely. To Lyuba he dedicated a cycle of poetry that brought him fame, Stikhi o prekrasnoi Dame (Verses About the Beautiful Lady, 1904). In it, he transformed his humble wife into a timeless vision of the feminine soul and eternal womanhood (The Greek Sophia of Solovyov's teaching).

Blok's few relatives currently live in Moscow, Riga, Rome and England.


Blok's early poetry
The idealized mystical images presented in his first book helped establish Blok as a leader of the Russian Symbolist movement. Blok's early verse is impeccably musical and rich in sound, but he later sought to introduce daring rhythmic patterns and uneven beats into his poetry. Poetical inspiration came to him naturally, often producing unforgettable, otherworldly images out of the most banal surroundings and trivial events (Fabrika, 1903). Consequently, his mature poems are often based on the conflict between the Platonic vision of ideal beauty and the disappointing reality of foul industrial outskirts (Neznakomka, 1906).

The image of St Petersburg he crafted for his next collection of poems, The City (1904–08), was both impressionistic and eerie. Subsequent collections, Faina and the Mask of Snow, helped augment Blok's reputation to fabulous dimensions. He was often compared with Alexander Pushkin, and the whole Silver Age of Russian Poetry was sometimes styled the "Age of Blok". In the 1910s, Blok was almost universally admired by literary colleagues, and his influence on younger poets was virtually unsurpassed. Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak, and Vladimir Nabokov wrote important verse tributes to Blok.


Revolution in rhythm
During the later period of his life, Blok concentrated primarily on political themes, pondering the messianic destiny of his country (Vozmezdie, 1910-21; Rodina, 1907-16; Skify, 1918). Influenced by Solovyov's doctrines, he was full of vague apocalyptic apprehensions and often vacillated between hope and despair. "I feel that a great event was coming, but what it was exactly was not revealed to me," he wrote in his diary during the summer of 1917. Quite unexpectedly for most of his admirers, he accepted the October Revolution as the final resolution of these apocalyptic yearnings.

The Twelve (1918)- Fragment

Night is charcoal.
Snow is white.
Squall after squall
Makes it harder to keep one upright.
Squall after squall
Is over the whole world!

The wind sweeps up flurries, white crumbs of rice,
Under the snow is ice.
How treacherous -
Each passer-by
Is slipping, poor wretched!

Blok expressed his views on the revolution in the enigmatic The Twelve (1918). The long poem, with its "mood-creating sounds, polyphonic rhythms, and harsh, slangy language" (as the Encyclopædia Britannica termed it), is one of the most controversial in the whole corpus of Russian poetry. It describes the march of twelve Bolshevik soldiers (likened to the Twelve Apostles who followed Christ) through the streets of revolutionary Petrograd, with a fierce winter blizzard raging around them. The Twelve alienated Blok from a mass of his intellectual followers (who accused him of appallingly bad taste), while the Bolsheviks scorned his former mysticism and aesceticism.

Yuri Annenkov. Blok on his deathbed

Disillusionment and death
By 1921 Blok had become disillusioned with the Russian Revolution. He did not write any poetry for three years. Blok complained to Maksim Gorky that he had given up his "faith in the wisdom of humanity". He explained to his friend Korney Chukovsky why he could not write poetry any more: "All sounds have stopped. Can't you hear that there are no longer any sounds?".

In a few days Blok became sick. His doctors requested him to be sent for medical treatment abroad, but he was not allowed to leave the country. Gorky pleaded for a visa. On 29 May 1921, he wrote to Anatoly Lunacharsky: "Blok is Russia's finest poet. If you forbid him to go abroad, and he dies, you and your comrades will be guilty of his death". Blok received permission only on 10 August, the night before he died.

Several months earlier, Blok had delivered a celebrated lecture on Pushkin, whom he believed to be an iconic figure capable of uniting White and Red Russia. His death and the execution of his fellow poet Nikolai Gumilev by Cheka in 1921 were seen by many as the end of the entire generation of Russians. Nina Berberova, then a young girl, recalled about the mood at his funeral: "I was suddenly and sharply orphaned... The end is coming. We are lost."

Symbolism of Alexander Blok
Alexander Blok, on all accounts one of the most important poets of the 20th century, envisioned his poetical output as composed of three volumes. The first volume contains his early poems about the Fair Lady; its dominant colour is white. The second volume, dominated by the blue colour, comments upon the impossibility of reaching the ideal he craved for. The third volume, featuring his poems from pre-revolutionary years, is steeped in fiery or bloody red.

In Blok's poetry, colours are essential, for they convey mystical intimations of things beyond human experience. Blue or violet is the colour of frustration, when the poet understands that his hope to see the Lady is delusive. The yellow colour of street lanterns, windows and sunsets is the colour of treason and triviality. Black hints at something terrible, dangerous but potentially capable of esoteric revelation. Russian words for yellow and black are spelled by the poet with a long O instead of YO, in order to underline "a hole inside the word".

Following on the footsteps of Fyodor Tyutchev, Blok developed a complicated system of poetic symbols. In his early work, for instance, wind stands for the Fair Lady's approach, whereas morning or spring is the time when their meeting is most likely to happen. Winter and night are the evil times when the poet and his lady are far away from each other. Bog and mire stand for everyday life with no spiritual light from above.

Musical Settings
Blok has been an inspiration to many Russian composers. For example, Dmitri Shostakovich made a late song-cycle for soprano and piano trio, Seven Romances of Alexander Blok, and Arthur Lourié a choral cantata, In the Sanctuary of Golden Dreams. Alexander Blok was one of the most favourite poets of Georgy Sviridov, such things as "Petersburg" (a vocal poem), "Nightly Clouds" (cantata), "Songs From Hard Times" (concerto) were written on the Blok`s poetry.



Vyacheslav Ivanov

Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (Russian: Вячеслав Иванович Иванов) (February 16 (28), 1866–July 16, 1949) was a Russian poet and playwright associated with the movement of Russian Symbolism. He was also a philosopher, translator, and literary critic.


Early life
Born in Moscow, Ivanov graduated from the First Moscow Gymnasium with a gold medal and entered the Moscow University where he studied history and philosophy under Sir Paul Vinogradoff. In 1886 he moved to the Berlin University to study Roman law and economics under Theodor Mommsen. During his stay in Germany, he absorbed the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche and German Romantics, notably Novalis and Friedrich Hölderlin.

In 1893 Ivanov met Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal, a poet and translator. Having both received an Orthodox ecclesiastical divorce, they married 5 years later, first settling in Athens, then moving to Geneva, and making pilgrimages to Egypt and Palestine. During that period, Ivanov frequently visited Italy, where he studied the Renaissance art. The rugged nature of Lombardy and the Alps became the subject of his first sonnets, which were heavily influenced by the medieval poetry of Catholic mystics.

Poet and Classicist
At the turn of the 20th century, Ivanov elaborated his views on the spiritual mission of Rome and the Ancient Greek cult of Dionysus. He summed up his Dionysian ideas in the treatise The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God (1904), which traces the roots of literary art in general and the art of tragedy in particular to ancient Dionysian mysteries.

Somov's frontispiece for Ivanov's book Cor Ardens (1907)

Ivanov's first collection, Lodestars, was published in 1903. It contained many of his pieces written a decade earlier and was praised by the leading critics as a new chapter in the Russian Symbolism. The poems were compared to Milton's and Trediakovsky's on account of their detached, calculated archaism.

In 1905 Ivanov made his triumphant return to St Petersburg, where he was much lionized as a foreign curiosity. A turreted house where he and Zinovieva-Annibal settled became the most fashionable literary salon of the era, and was frequented by poets (Alexander Blok), philosophers (Nikolai Berdyayev), artists (Konstantin Somov), and dramatists (Vsevolod Meyerhold). The latter staged Calderon's Adoration of the Cross in Ivanov's house. The poet exerted a formative influence on the Russian Symbolist movement, whose main tenets were formulated in the turreted house.

According to James H. Billington,

"Viacheslav the Magnificent" was the crown prince and chef de salon of the new society, which met in his seventh floor apartment "The Tower," overlooking the gardens of the Tauride Palace in St. Peterburg. Walls and partitions were torn down to accommodate the increasing numbers of talented and disputatious people who flocked to the Wednesday soirees, which were rarely in full swing until after supper had been served at 2 A.M.

Beyond widowhood
His wife's death in 1907 was a great blow to Ivanov. Thereafter the dazzling Byzantine texture of his poetry wore thin, as he insensibly slipped into theosophy and mysticism. The poet even claimed to have had a vision of his late wife ordering him to marry the daughter by her first marriage. Indeed, he married this stepdaughter in 1910; their son Dmitry was born 2 years later.

Anna Akhmatova
According to an autobiographical sketch written by Anna Akhmatova, Ivanov first met her in 1910. At the time, Akhmatova was still married to Nikolai Gumilev, who first brought her to the turreted house. There, Akhmatova read some of her verse aloud to Ivanov, who ironically quipped, "What truly heavy romanticism. A short time later, Gumilev left his wife for a big game hunting holiday in Ethiopia. In the aftermath, Ivanov tried very hard to persuade Akhmatova to leave her immature husband, saying, "You'll make him a man if you do." Moreover, Akhmatova indignantly recalled that Ivanov would often weep as she recited her verse at the turreted house, but would later, "vehemently criticize," the same poems at literary salons. Akhmatova would never forgive him for this. Her ultimate evaluation of her former patron was as follows, "Vyacheslav was neither grand nor magnificent (he thought this up himself) but a 'catcher of men.'"

Translator and scholar
Upon their return from an Italian voyage (1912-13), Ivanov made the acquaintances of art critic Mikhail Gershenzon, philosopher Sergei Bulgakov, and composer Alexander Scriabin. He elaborated many of his Symbolist theories in a series of articles, which were finally revised and reissued as Simbolismo in 1936. At that time, he relinquished poetry in favour of translating the works of Sappho, Alcaeus, Eschylus, and Petrarch into the Russian language.

After 1917
In the abysmal years following the October Revolution, Ivanov concentrated on his scholarly work and completed a treatise on Dionysus and Early Dionysianism (1921), which earned him a Ph.D. degree in philology. The new Communist government didn't allow him to travel outside the Soviet Union until 1924.


Blok has Died

A collapsed door in the deaf wall,
And the heaps of overturned stones,
And piled upon them scrap metal,
And the depths that unfurl below.
And white ashes fanned by the wind –
That's all: God's voice, “The dead will rise.”

Vyacheslav Ivanov. 10 August 1921


From Azerbaijan he proceeded to Italy, where he settled in Rome. In Rome, Ivanov found employmen as professor of Old Church Slavonic at the Russicum. Ivanov was received into the Russian Catholic Church in 1937. In an interview for the Russicum's newspaper, Ivanov argued that, prior to their Great Schism, Latin and Byzantine Christianity were "two principles that mutually complement each other." He climaxed with the words, "The Church must permeate all branches of life: social issues, art, culture, and just everything... The Roman Church corresponds to such criteria and by joining this Church I become truly Orthodox." His last collections of verse were the Roman Sonnets (1924) and the Roman Diary (1944). Many other poems appeared posthumously.

Ivanov died in Rome in 1949 and was interred at the Cimitero Acattolico, not far from the graves of Karl Briullov and Alexander Ivanov.

Acmeists and Futurists

In the second decade of the 20th century, Symbolism was challenged by two other schools, the Acmeists, who favoured clarity over metaphysical vagueness, and the brash Futurists, who wanted to throw all earlier and most contemporary poetry “from the steamship of modernity.” Among the Acmeists, Nikolay Gumilyov (1886–1921), who stressed poetic craftsmanship over the occult, was executed by the Bolsheviks. Already an accomplished creator of superb love lyrics in these years, Anna Akhmatova produced densely and brilliantly structured poems in the Soviet period, including Poema bez geroya (written 1940–62; A Poem Without a Hero) and Rekviyem (written 1935–40; Requiem), which was inspired by Soviet purges and was therefore unpublishable in Russia. From 1923 to 1940 she was forced into silence, and in 1946 Akhmatova and Zoshchenko became the target of official abuse by the Communist Party cultural spokesman Andrey Zhdanov (1896–1948). Some consider Osip Mandelshtam (1891–1938), who died in a Soviet prison camp, to be the greatest Russian poet of the 20th century. Many of his difficult, allusive poems were preserved by his wife, Nadezhda Mandelshtam (1899–1980), whose memoirs are themselves a classic.

Nikolay Gumilyov


Nikolai Gumilev during his senior years in gymnasium

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (Russian: Никола́й Степа́нович Гумилёв, April 15 NS 1886 – August 1921) was an influential Russian poet who founded the acmeism movement.

Early life and poems
Nikolai was born in Kronstadt, into the family of Stepan Yakovlevich Gumilev (1836–1920), a naval physician, and Anna Ivanovna L'vova (1854–1942). His childhood nickname was Montigomo the Hawk's Claw. He studied at the gymnasium of Tsarskoe Selo, where the Symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky was his teacher. Later, Gumilev admitted that it was Annensky's influence that turned his mind to writing poetry.

His first publication were verses I ran from cities into the forest (Я в лес бежал из городов) on September 8, 1902. In 1905 he published his first book of lyrics entitled The Way of Conquistadors. It comprised poems on most exotic subjects imaginable, from Lake Chad giraffes to Caracalla's crocodiles. Although Gumilev was proud of the book, most critics found his technique sloppy; later he would refer to that collection as apprentice's work.

From 1907 and on, Nikolai Gumilyov traveled extensively in Europe, notably in Italy and France. In 1908 his new collection Romantic Flowers appeared. While in Paris, he published the literary magazine Sirius, but only three issues were produced. On returning to Russia, he edited and contributed to the artistic periodical Apollon. At that period, he fell in love with a non-existent woman Cherubina de Gabriak. It turned out that Cherubina de Gabriak was the literary pseudonym for two people, a disabled schoolteacher and Maximilian Voloshin, and on November 22, 1909 he had a duel with Voloshin over the affair.

Like Flaubert and Rimbaud before him, Gumilyov was fascinated with Africa and travelled there almost each year. He hunted lions in Ethiopia and brought to the Saint Petersburg museum of anthropology and ethnography a large collection of African artifacts. His landmark collection The Tent (1921) collected the best of his poems on African themes.

Guild of Poets

In 1910, Gumilyov fell under the spell of the Symbolist poet and philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanov and absorbed his views on poetry at the evenings held by Ivanov in his celebrated "Turreted House". His wife Anna Akhmatova accompanied him to Ivanov's parties as well. Gumilyov and Akhmatova married on April 25. On September 18, 1912, their child Lev was born. He would eventually become an influential and controversial historian.

Dissatisfied with the vague mysticism of Russian Symbolism, then prevalent in the Russian poetry, Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky established the so-called Guild of Poets, which was modeled after medieval guilds of Western Europe. They advocated a view that poetry needs craftsmanship just like architecture needs it. Writing a good poem they compared to building a cathedral. To illustrate their ideals, Gumilyov published two collections, The Pearls in 1910 and the Alien Sky in 1912. It was Osip Mandelstam, however, who produced the movement's most distinctive and durable monument, the collection of poems entitled Stone (1912).

According to the principles of acmeism (as the movement came to be dubbed by art historians), every person, irrespective of his talent, may learn to produce high-quality poems if only he follows the guild's masters, i.e., Gumilev and Gorodetsky. Their own model was Théophile Gautier, and they borrowed much of their basic tenets from the French Parnasse. Such a program, combined with colourful and exotic subject matter of Gumilyov's poems, attracted to the Guild a large number of adolescents. Several major poets, notably Georgy Ivanov and Vladimir Nabokov, passed the school of Gumilyov, albeit informally.

War experience
When World War I started, Gumilyov hastened to Russia and enthusiastically joined a corps of elite cavalry. For his bravery he was invested with two St. George crosses (December 24, 1914 and January 5, 1915). His war poems were assembled in the collection The Quiver (1916). In 1916 he wrote a verse play, Gondla, which was published the following year; set in ninth-century Iceland, torn between its native paganism and Irish Christianity, it is also clearly autobiographical, Gumilyov putting much of himself into the hero Gondla (an Irishman chosen as king but rejected by the jarls, he kills himself to ensure the triumph of Christianity) and basing Gondla's wild bride Lera on Gumilyov's wife Akhmatova. The play was performed in Rostov na Donu in 1920 and, even after the author's execution by the Cheka, in Petrograd in January 1922: "The play, despite its crowd scenes being enacted on a tiny stage, was a major success. Yet when the Petrograd audience called for the author, who was now officially an executed counter-revolutionary traitor, the play was removed from the repertoire and the theatre disbanded." (In February 1934, as they walked along a Moscow street, Osip Mandelstam quoted Gondla's words "I am ready to die" to Akhmatova, and she repeated them in her "Poem without a Hero.")

During the Russian Revolution, Gumilyov served in the Russian expedition corps in Paris. Despite advice to the contrary, he rapidly returned to Petrograd. There he published several new collections, Tabernacle and Bonfire, and finally divorced Akhmatova (August 5, 1918), whom he had left for other woman several years prior to that. The following year he married Anna Nikolaevna Engelhardt, a noblewoman and daughter of a well-known historian.

Later poems and death
"Despite the hard experiences of real travels and battles, he remained, to the end of his life, a schoolboy entranced by the Iliad of childhood - the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He never outgrew the influence of Mayne Reid, Alexandre Dumas, père, Jules Verne, Gustave Aimard and others." In 1920 Gumilyov co-founded the All-Russia Union of Writers. Gumilyov made no secret of his anti-communist views. He also crossed himself in public and didn't care to hide his contempt for half-literate Bolsheviks.

On August 3, 1921 he was arrested by Cheka on allegation of participation in monarchist conspiracy. Most literary historians agree that it was not a Cheka fabrication, and Gumilyov was a likely conspirator. On August 24 Petrograd Cheka decreed execution of all 61 participants of the Tagantsev Conspiracy, including Nikolai Gumilev. The exact dates and locations of their execution and burial are still unknown.

According to Rayfield's book 'Stalin and his Hangmen', the murder of Gumilev grew out of the consequences of the Kronstadt Rebellion. The sailors of Kronstadt, in Petrograd, had protested against the new Bolshevik state in 1921. Rayfield asserts that the Cheka blamed the intellectuals of the city. A Chekist named Iakov Agranov came up with a plan to attack them. He tricked a local professor into performing dissident acts, then arrested the professor and forced him to name 300 'conspirators'. Agranov told him none of the named people would be killed. However, 100 were killed, and Gumilev was one of these. After appeals from Gorky and others, Lenin agreed to pardon a small number of the condemned, but the Cheka officer in charge carried out the execution order so quickly that the pardon came too late.

Hayward, in an introduction to a book of Akhmatova's poetry, writes that the execution placed a stigma on Anna and her son with Nikolai, Lev. Lev's arrest in the purges and terrors of the 30s were based simply on his being his father's son.

Gumilyov's direct influence on Russian poetry was short lived. The sentiment is best expressed by Nabokov, who once remarked that Gumilyov is the poet for adolescents, just like Korney Chukovsky is the poet for children. His most durable verse, written in mystical strain, appeared in the collection The Pillar of Fire (1921).

Although "banned in the Soviet times, Gumilyov was loved for his adolescent longing for travel and giraffes and hippos, for his dreams of a fifteen-year-old captain" and was "a favorite poet among geologists, archaeologists and paleontologists." His "The Tram That Lost Its Way" is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

When Mikhail Sinelnikov was asked to study the archives of the late Mikhail Zenkevich, the last of the Acmeists - his teacher - he "found piles of secreted verse, an unpublished novel, manuscripts which Pasternak brought to the old master to be critiqued, the poems and letters of his friends. According to Sinelnikov, "at the bottom of a wide box lay a copy of Izvestia Petrosovieta with a list of people executed in connection with the Tagantsev case. The type was barely legible, more like wisps of old wool. Some names, those of Zenkevich's acquaintances, were ticked off. Gumilyov's name was underlined in red."



Anna Akhmatova




born June 11 [June 23, New Style], 1889, Bolshoy Fontan, near Odessa, Ukraine, Russian Empire
died March 5, 1966, Domodedovo, near Moscow

pseudonym of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko Russian poet recognized at her death as the greatest woman poet in Russian literature.

Akhmatova began writing verse at the age of 11 and at 21 became a member of the Acmeist group of poets, whose leader, Nikolay Gumilyov, she married in 1910 butdivorced in 1918. The Acmeists, through their periodical Apollon (“Apollo”; 1909–17), rejected the esoteric vagueness and affectations of Symbolism and sought to replace them with “beautiful clarity,” compactness, simplicity, and perfection of form—all qualities in which Akhmatova excelled from the outset. Herfirst collections, Vecher (1912; “Evening”) and Chyotki (1914; “Rosary”), especially the latter, brought her fame. While exemplifying the best kind of personal or even confessional poetry, they achieve a universal appeal deriving from their artistic and emotional integrity. Akhmatova's principal motif is love, mainly frustrated and tragic love, expressed with an intensely feminine accent andinflection entirely her own.

Later in her life she added to her main theme some civic, patriotic, and religious motifs but without sacrifice of personal intensity or artistic conscience. Her artistry and increasing control of her medium were particularly prominent in her next collections: Belaya staya (1917; “The White Flock”), Podorozhnik (1921; “Plantain”), and Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922). This amplification of her range, however, did not prevent official Soviet critics from proclaiming her “bourgeois and aristocratic,” condemning her poetry for its narrow preoccupation with love and God, and characterizing her as half nun and half harlot. The execution in 1921 of her former husband, Gumilyov, on charges of participation in an anti-Soviet conspiracy (the Tagantsev affair) further complicated her position. In 1923 she entered a period of almost complete poetic silence and literary ostracism, and no volume of her poetry was published in the Soviet Union until 1940. In that year several of her poems were published in the literary monthly Zvezda (“The Star”), and a volume of selections from her earlier work appeared under the title Iz shesti knig (“From Six Books”). A few months later, however, it was abruptly withdrawn from sale and libraries. Nevertheless, in September 1941, following the German invasion, Akhmatova was permitted to deliver an inspiring radio address to the women of Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. Evacuated to Tashkent soon thereafter, she read her poems to hospitalized soldiers and published a number of war-inspired lyrics; a small volume of selected lyrics appeared in Tashkent in 1943. At the end of the war she returned to Leningrad, where her poems began to appear in local magazines and newspapers. She gave poetic readings, and plans were made for publication of a large edition of her works.

In August 1946, however, she was harshly denounced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for her “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference.” Her poetrywas castigated as “alien to the Soviet people,” and she was again described as a “harlot-nun,” this time by none other than Andrey Zhdanov, Politburo member and the director of Stalin's program of cultural restriction. She was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers; an unreleased book of her poems, already in print, was destroyed; and none of her workappeared in print for three years.

Then, in 1950, a number of her poems eulogizing Stalin and Soviet communism were printed in several issues of the illustrated weekly magazine Ogonyok (“The Little Light”) under the title Iz tsikla “Slava miru” (“From the Cycle ‘Glory to Peace' ”). This uncharacteristic capitulation to the Soviet dictator—in one of the poems Akhmatova declares: “WhereStalin is, there is Freedom, Peace, and the grandeur of the earth”—was motivated by Akhmatova's desire to propitiateStalin and win the freedom of her son, Lev Gumilyov, who had been arrested in 1949 and exiled to Siberia. The tone of these poems (those glorifying Stalin were omitted from Soviet editions of Akhmatova's works published after his death) is far different from the moving and universalized lyrical cycle, Rekviem (“Requiem”), composed between 1935 and 1940 and occasioned by Akhmatova's grief over an earlier arrest and imprisonment of her son in 1937. This masterpiece—a poetic monument to the sufferings of the Soviet peoples during Stalin's terror—was published in Moscow in 1989.

In the cultural “thaw” following Stalin's death, Akhmatova was slowly and ambivalently rehabilitated, and a slim volume of her lyrics, including some of her translations, was published in 1958. After 1958 a number of editions of her works, including some of her brilliant essays on Pushkin, were published in the Soviet Union (1961, 1965, two in 1976, 1977); none of these, however, contains the complete corpus of her literary productivity. Akhmatova's longest work, Poema bez geroya (“Poem Without a Hero”), on which she worked from 1940 to 1962, was not published in the Soviet Union until 1976. This difficult and complex work is a powerful lyric summation of Akhmatova's philosophy and her own definitive statement on the meaning of her life and poetic achievement.

Akhmatova executed a number of superb translations of the works of other poets, including Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi, and various Armenian and Korean poets. She also wrote sensitive personal memoirs on Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok, the artist Amedeo Modigliani, and fellow Acmeist Osip Mandelshtam.

In 1964 she was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize, an international poetry prize awarded in Italy, and in 1965 she received an honorary doctoral degree from Oxford University. Her journeys to Sicily and England to receive these honours were her first travel outside her homeland since 1912. Akhmatova's works were widely translated, andher international stature continued to grow after her death. Atwo-volume edition of Akhmatova's collected works was published in Moscow in 1986, and The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, also in two volumes, appeared in 1990.



Osip Mandelshtam 




Osip Mandelstam


Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam, Mandelshtam also spelled Mandelstam (b. Jan. 3 [Jan. 15, New Style], 1891, Warsaw, Pol., Russian Empire [now in Poland]—d. Dec. 27, 1938?, Vtoraya Rechka, near Vladivostok, Russia, U.S.S.R. [now in Russia]), major Russian poet and literary critic. Most of his works went unpublished in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era (1929–53) and were almost unknown outside that country until the mid-1960s.

Mandelshtam grew up in St. Petersburg in a cultured Jewish household. After graduating from the elite Tenishev School in 1907, he studied at the University of St. Petersburg as well as in France at the Sorbonne and in Germany at the University of Heidelberg.

His first poems appeared in the avant-garde journal Apollon (“Apollo”) in 1910. Together with Nikolay Gumilyov and Anna Akhmatova, Mandelshtam founded the Acmeist school of poetry, which rejected the mysticism and abstraction of Russian Symbolism and demanded clarity and compactness of form. Mandelshtam summed up his poetic credo in his manifesto Utro Akmeizma (“The Morning of Acmeism”). In 1913 his first slim volume of verse, Kamen (“Stone”), was published. During the Russian Civil War (1918–20), Mandelshtam spent time in the Crimea and Georgia. In 1922 he moved to Moscow, where his second volume of poetry, Tristia, appeared. He married Nadezhda Yakovlevna Khazina in 1922.

Mandelshtam’s poetry, which was apolitical and intellectually demanding, distanced him from the official Soviet literary establishment. His poetry having been withdrawn from publication, he wrote children’s tales and a collection of autobiographical stories, Shum vremeni (1925; “The Noise of Time”). A second edition of this work, augmented by the tale “Yegipetskaya marka” (“The Egyptian Stamp”), was published in 1928. That year, a volume of his collected poetry, Stikhotvoreniya (“Poems”), and a collection of literary criticism, O poezii (“On Poetry”), appeared. These were his last books published in the Soviet Union during his lifetime.

In May 1934 he was arrested for an epigram on Joseph Stalin he had written and read to a small circle of friends. In addition to describing Stalin’s fingers as “worms” and his moustache as that of a cockroach, the draft that fell into the hands of the police called Stalin “the murderer and peasant slayer.”

Shattered by a fierce interrogation, Mandelshtam was exiled with his wife to the provincial town of Cherdyn. After hospitalization and a suicide attempt, he won permission to move to Voronezh. Though suffering from periodic bouts of mental illness, he composed a long cycle of poems, the Voronezhskiye tetradi (“Voronezh Notebooks”), which contain some of his finest lyrics.

In May 1937, having served his sentence, Mandelshtam returned with his wife to Moscow. But the following year he was arrested during a stay at a rest home. In a letter to his wife that autumn, Mandelshtam reported that he was ill in a transit camp near Vladivostok. Nothing further was ever heard from him. Soviet authorities officially gave his death date as Dec. 27, 1938, although he was also reported by government sources to have died “at the beginning of 1939.” It was primarily through the efforts of his widow, who died in 1980, that little of the poetry of Osip Mandelshtam was lost; she kept his works alive during the repression by memorizing them and by collecting copies.

After Stalin’s death the publication in Russian of Mandelshtam’s works was resumed.

The two most important Futurist poets were Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky. Khlebnikov hoped to find the laws of history through numerology and developed amazingly implausible theories about language and its origins. His verse, which is characterized by neologisms and “trans-sense” language, includes “Zaklyatiye smekhom” (1910; “Incantation by Laughter”) and Zangezi (1922). Mayakovsky epitomized the spirit of romantic bohemian radicalism. Humour, bravado, and self-pity characterize his inventive long poems, including Oblako v shtanakh (1915; A Cloud in Trousers). After the Russian Revolution in 1917, which he ardently supported initially, Mayakovsky “stepped on the throat” of his song to produce propaganda poems. But he also satirized Soviet bureaucracy in the witty “Razgovor s fininspektorom o poezii” (1926; “Conversation with a Tax Collector about Poetry”). As a dramatist, he is best known for Vladimir Mayakovsky (1913), in which he played the lead role, and Klop (1929; The Bedbug), in which a philistine, along with a bedbug, is resurrected into the banal communist future of 1979. Having written a poem about the suicide of the peasant poet Sergey Yesenin (1895–1925), Mayakovsky later shot himself, leaving a brilliantly ironic suicide note with a poem explaining that “love’s boat has smashed against daily life.”

Velimir Khlebnikov

Velimir Khlebnikov (Russian: Велими́р Хле́бников; first name also spelled Velemir; last name also spelled Chlebnikov, Hlebnikov, Xlebnikov), pseudonym of Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov (9 November 1885 (28 October 1885 (O.S.)) – 28 June 1922), was a central part of the Russian Futurist movement, but his work and influence stretch far beyond it.

Khlebnikov belonged to the most significant Russian Futurist group Hylaea (along with Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksei Kruchenykh, David Burliuk, and Benedikt Livshits), but had already written many significant poems before the Futurist movement in Russia had taken shape. Among his contemporaries, he was regarded as "a poet's poet" (Mayakovsky referred to him as a "poet for producers") and a maverick genius.

Khlebnikov is known for poems such as "Incantation by Laughter", "Bobeobi Sang The Lips", “The Grasshopper” (all 1908-9), “Snake Train” (1910), the prologue to the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun (1913), dramatic works such as “Death’s Mistake” (1915), prose works “Ka” (1915), and the so-called ‘super-tale’ (сверхповесть) “Zangezi”, a sort of ecstatic drama written partly in invented languages of gods and birds.

Khlebnikov's book Zangezi (1922).In his work, Khlebnikov experimented with the Russian language, drawing upon its roots to invent huge numbers of neologisms, and finding significance in the shapes and sounds of individual letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Along with Kruchenykh, he originated zaum.

He wrote futurological essays about such things as the possible evolution of mass communication ("The Radio of the Future") and transportation and housing ("Ourselves and Our Buildings"). He described a world in which people live and travel about in mobile glass cubicles that can attach themselves to skyscraper-like frameworks, and in which all human knowledge can be disseminated to the world by radio and displayed automatically on giant book-like displays at streetcorners.

In his last years, Khlebnikov became fascinated by Slavic mythology and Pythagorean numerology, and drew up long "Tables of Destiny" decomposing historical intervals and dates into functions of the numbers 2 and 3.

Khlebnikov died of paralysis while a guest in the house of his friend Pyotr Miturich near Kresttsy.

A minor planet 3112 Velimir discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1977 is named after him.



Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, (b. July 7 [July 19, New Style], 1893, Bagdadi, Georgia, Russian Empire—d. April 14, 1930, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.), the leading poet of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the early Soviet period.

Mayakovsky, whose father died while Mayakovsky was young, moved to Moscow with his mother and sisters in 1906. At age 15 he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party and was repeatedly jailed for subversive activity. He started to write poetry during solitary confinement in 1909. On his release he attended the Moscow Art School and joined, with David Burlyuk and a few others, the Russian Futurist group and soon became its leading spokesman. In 1912 the group published a manifesto, Poshchochina obshchestvennomu vkusu (“A Slap in the Face of Public Taste”), and Mayakovsky’s poetry became conspicuously self-assertive and defiant in form and content. His poetic monodrama Vladimir Mayakovsky was performed in St. Petersburg in 1913.

Between 1914 and 1916 Mayakovsky completed two major poems, “Oblako v shtanakh” (1915; “A Cloud in Trousers”) and “Fleyta pozvonochnik” (written 1915, published 1916; “The Backbone Flute”). Both record a tragedy of unrequited love and express the author’s discontent with the world in which he lived. Mayakovsky sought to “depoetize” poetry, adopting the language of the streets and using daring technical innovations. Above all, his poetry is declamatory, for mass audiences.

When the Russian Revolution of 1917 broke out, Mayakovsky was wholeheartedly for the Bolsheviks. Such poems as “Oda revolutsi” (1918; “Ode to Revolution”) and “Levy marsh” (1919; “Left March”) became very popular. So too did his Misteriya buff (first performed 1921; Mystery Bouffe), a drama representing a universal flood and the subsequent joyful triumph of the “Unclean” (the proletarians) over the “Clean” (the bourgeoisie).

As a vigorous spokesman for the Communist Party, Mayakovsky expressed himself in many ways. From 1919 to 1921 he worked in the Russian Telegraph Agency as a painter of posters and cartoons, which he provided with apt rhymes and slogans. He poured out topical poems of propaganda and wrote didactic booklets for children while lecturing and reciting all over Russia. In 1924 he composed a 3,000-line elegy on the death of Vladimir Ilich Lenin. After 1925 he traveled in Europe, the United States, Mexico, and Cuba, recording his impressions in poems and in a booklet of caustic sketches, Moye otkrytiye Ameriki (1926; “My Discovery of America”). In the poem “Khorosho!” (1927; “Good!”) he sought to unite heroic pathos with lyricism and irony. But he also wrote sharply satirical verse.

Mayakovsky found time to write scripts for motion pictures, in some of which he acted. In his last three years he completed two satirical plays: Klop (performed 1929; The Bedbug), lampooning the type of philistine that emerged with the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union, and Banya (performed in Leningrad on Jan. 30, 1930; The Bathhouse), a satire of bureaucratic stupidity and opportunism under Joseph Stalin.

Mayakovsky’s poetry was saturated with politics, but no amount of social propaganda could stifle his personal need for love, which burst out again and again because of repeated romantic frustrations. After his early lyrics this need came out particularly strongly in two poems, “Lyublyu” (1922; “I Love”) and “Pro eto” (1923; “About This”). Both of these poems were dedicated to Lilya Brik, the wife of the writer Osip Maksimovich Brik. Mayakovsky’s love for her and his friendship with her husband had a strong influence on his poetry. Even after Mayakovsky’s relationship with Lilya Brik ended, he considered her one of the people closest to him and a member of his family. During a stay in Paris in 1928, he fell in love with a refugee, Tatyana Yakovleva, whom he wanted to marry but who refused him. At the same time, he had misunderstandings with the dogmatic Russian Association of Proletarian Writers and with Soviet authorities. Nor was the production of his Banya a success. Disappointed in love, increasingly alienated from Soviet reality, and denied a visa to travel abroad, he committed suicide in Moscow.

Mayakovsky was, in his lifetime, the most dynamic figure of the Soviet literary scene. His predominantly lyrical poems and his technical innovations influenced a number of Soviet poets, and outside Russia his impress was strong, especially in the 1930s, after Stalin declared him the “best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.” In the 1960s, young poets, drawn to avant-garde art and activism that often clashed with communist dogma, organized poetry readings under Mayakovsky’s statue in Moscow. In the Soviet Union’s final years there was a strong tendency to view Mayakovsky’s work as dated and insignificant, yet, on the basis of his best works, his reputation was later revived.



Sergey Yesenin


Sergey Aleksandrovich Yesenin, Yesenin also spelled Esenin (b. Oct. 3 [Sept. 21, Old Style], 1895, Konstantinovo, Ryazan province, Russia—d. Dec. 27, 1925, Leningrad), the self-styled “last poet of wooden Russia,” whose dual image—that of a devout and simple peasant singer and that of a rowdy and blasphemous exhibitionist—reflects his tragic maladjustment to the changing world of the revolutionary era.

The son of a peasant family of Old Believers, he left his village at 17 for Moscow and later Petrograd (subsequently Leningrad, now St. Petersburg). In the cities he became acquainted with Aleksandr Blok, the peasant poet Nikolay Klyuyev, and revolutionary politics. In 1916 he published his first book, characteristically titled for a religious feast day, Radunitsa (“Ritual for the Dead”). It celebrates in church book imagery the “wooden Russia” of his childhood, a world blessed by saints in painted icons, where storks nest in chimneys and the sky above the birch trees is a bright blue scarf.

Yesenin welcomed the Revolution as the social and spiritual transformation that would lead to the peasant millennium he envisioned in his next book, Inoniya (1918; “Otherland”). His roseate utopian view of Otherland was still informed by a simple ethos—the defense of “wooden things” against the vile world of iron, stone, and steel (urban industrialization). In 1920–21 he composed his long poetic drama Pugachyov, glorifying the 18th-century rebel who led a mass peasant revolt during the reign of Catherine II. In 1919 he signed the literary manifesto of the group of Russian poets called the Imaginists (see Imaginism). He was soon the leading exponent of the school. He became a habitué of the literary cafés of Moscow, where he gave poetry recitals and drank excessively. A marriage to Zinaida Reich (later the wife of the actor-director Vsevolod Meyerhold) ended in divorce. In 1922 he married the American dancer Isadora Duncan and accompanied her on tour, during which he smashed suites in the best hotels in Europe in drunken rampages. They visited the United States, their quarrels and public scenes duly observed in the world press. On their separation Yesenin returned to Russia. For some time he had been writing the consciously cynical, swaggering tavern poetry that appeared in Ispoved khuligana (1921; “Confessions of a Hooligan”) and Moskva kabatskaya (1924; “Moscow of the Taverns”). His verse barely concealed the sense of self-depreciation that was overwhelming him. He married again, a granddaughter of Tolstoy, but continued to drink heavily and to take cocaine. In 1924 he tried to go home again but found the village peasants quoting Soviet slogans, when he himself had not been able to read five pages of Marx. Tormented by guilt that he had been unable to fulfill the messianic role of poet of the people, he tried to get in step with the national trend. In the poem “Neuyutnaya zhidkaya lunnost” (1925; “Desolate and Pale Moonlight”), he went so far as to praise stone and steel as the secret of Russia’s coming strength. But another poem, “The Stern October Has Deceived Me,” bluntly voiced his alienation from Bolshevik Russia. His last major work, the confessional poem “Cherny chelovek” (“The Black Man”), is a ruthless self-castigation for his failures. In 1925 he was briefly hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Soon after, he hanged himself in a Leningrad hotel, having written his last lines in his own blood.

Yesenin and Duncan

A prolific and somewhat uneven writer, Yesenin had a true gift of song. His poignant short lyrics are full of striking imagery. He was very popular both during his lifetime and after his death. Frowned on by Communist critics and party leaders, who feared the debilitating effect of “Yeseninism” on the civic dedication of the young, he was long more or less out of official favour. Editions of his work that became available (1956–60) attested to his continued popularity. His complete works were published in 1966–68.


Celebrated in their day, the fiction writers Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919), Aleksandr Kuprin (1870–1938), and Vladimir Korolenko (1853–1921) now have faded reputations. But Ivan Bunin, who became the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1933), wrote superb works both before the Revolution and as an émigré after it. Especially noteworthy are his dark novella Derevnya (1910; The Village), which is relentlessly critical of Russians, and his Zhizn Arsenyeva (1930; The Life of Arseniev, or The Well of Days), a fictionalized autobiography. Maksim Gorky became the official founder of Socialist Realism. Western readers now appreciate his three-volume autobiography Detstvo (1913–14; My Childhood), V lyudyakh (1915–16; In the World, or My Apprenticeship), and Moi universitety (1923; My Universities) and his Vospominaniya o Lve Nikolayeviche Tolstom (1919; Reminiscences of Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy). His highly tendentious novel Mat (1906; Mother), a model for Socialist Realism, and many other works divide characters simplistically into two groups—progressive and virtuous or reactionary and vicious.


Leonid Andreyev

Leonid Nikolaievich Andreyev (Russian: Леонид Николаевич Андреев, 21 August [O.S. 9 August] 1871 – September 12, 1919) was a Russian playwright and short-story writer who led the Expressionist movement in the national literature. He was active between the revolution of 1905 and the Communist revolution which finally overthrew the Tsarist government.

Born in the Oryol province of Russia, Andreyev originally studied law in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but abandoned his unremunerative law practice to pursue a literary career. He became police-court reporter for a Moscow daily, performing the routine of his humble calling without attracting any particular attention. His first story published was About a Poor Student, a narrative based upon his own experiences. It was not, however, until Gorky discovered him by stories appearing in the Moscow Courier and elsewhere that Andreyev's literary career really began.

Andreyev, by Ilya Repin, 1904

From that day to his death he was one of the most prolific writers in Russia, producing short stories, sketches, dramas, etc., in frequent succession. His first collection of stories appeared in 1901, and sold a quarter-million copies in short time. He was hailed as a new star in Russia, where his name soon became a by-word. He published his short story, "In the Fog" in 1902. Although he started out in the Russian vein he soon startled his readers by his eccentricities, which grew even faster than his fame. His two best known stories may be "The Red Laugh" (1904) and "The Seven Who Were Hanged" (1908). His dramas include the Symbolist plays The Life of Man (1906), Tsar Hunger (1907), Black Masks (1908), Anathema (1909), and He Who Gets Slapped (1915). The Life of Man was staged by both Stanislavski (with his Moscow Art Theatre) and Meyerhold (in Saint Petersburg), the two giants of Russian theatre of the twentieth century, in 1907.

Idealist and rebel, Andreyev spent his last years in bitter poverty, and his premature death from heart failure may have been hastened by his anguish over the results of the Bolshevik Revolution. Unlike his friend Maxim Gorky, Andreyev could not make peace with the new order. From his house in Finland he addressed manifestos to the world at large against the excesses of the Bolsheviks.

Aside from his political writings, Andreyev published little after 1914. A play, The Sorrows of Belgium, was written at the beginning of the War to celebrate the heroism of the Belgians against the invading German army. It was produced in the United States, as were the plays, The Life of Man (1917), The Rape of the Sabine Women (1922), He Who Gets Slapped (1922), and Anathema (1923). A popular and acclaimed film version of He Who Gets Slapped was produced by MGM Studios in 1924.



Aleksandr Kuprin

Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin, (b. Sept. 7 [Aug. 26, old style], 1870, Narovchat, Russia—d. Aug. 25, 1938, Leningrad), Russian novelist and short-story writer, one of the last exponents of the great tradition of Russian critical realism.

Educated in military schools, he served as an officer in the army, a career he soon abandoned for a more lively and diversified life as a journalist, hunter, fisherman, actor, and circus worker. Literary fame came with Poyedinok (1905; The Duel), a realistically sordid picture of the emptiness of life in a remote military garrison. Its appearance during the Russo-Japanese War coincided with and confirmed a national wave of antimilitary sentiment. Kuprin wrote prolifically; his subjects might be best described by the title of one of his best known stories, Reka zhizni (1906; “The River of Life”). He is a fascinated and an undiscriminating observer of the stream of life and especially of any milieu that constitutes a world of its own—a cheap hotel, a factory, a house of prostitution, a tavern, a circus, or a race track. His best known novel, Yama (1909–15; Yama: The Pit), deals with the red-light district of a southern port city. It dwells with enthusiasm on the minutiae of the everyday life of the prostitutes, their housekeeping, economics, and social stratification. As Kuprin’s spokesman in the novel puts it, “all the horror is just this—that there is no horror! Bourgeois work days—and that is all. . . .”

Kuprin’s style is extremely natural. He picks up the slang and argot that is peculiar to his subject and describes everything with zest and colour and with a goodness of heart that compensates for any shortcomings he may have in originality or intellectual depth. After the Revolution, Kuprin became one of the many Russian émigrés in Paris, where he continued to write, although exile was not fruitful for his essentially extroverted, reportorial talent. In 1937 he was allowed to return to the Soviet Union.



Vladimir Korolenko

Vladimir Galaktionovich Korolenko, (b. July 27 [July 15, Old Style], 1853, Zhitomir, Ukraine, Russian Empire—d. December 25, 1921, Poltava, Ukraine), Russian short-story writer and journalist whose works are memorable in showing compassion for the downtrodden.

Korolenko was expelled from two colleges for his revolutionary activities. In 1879 he was exiled to the Yakut region (now in Sakha republic) of Siberia, where he encountered the tramps, thieves, pilgrims, and social outcasts who were to figure prominently in his stories. Released after five years, he published his best-known story, “Son Makara” (1885; “Makar’s Dream” ), which conveys with sympathetic insight the world of a Yakut peasant. During his editorship (c. 1900) of the influential review Russkoe Bogatstvo, Korolenko championed minorities and befriended younger writers, including Maksim Gorky. Unwilling to cooperate with the Bolshevik government, he retired after the October Revolution in 1917 to Ukraine, where he worked on an unfinished autobiography, Istoriya moyego sovremennika (1905–21; “The History of My Contemporary”).



Ivan Bunin


Russian author

born Oct. 10 [Oct. 22, New Style], 1870, Voronezh, Russia
died Nov. 8, 1953, Paris, France

poet and novelist, the first Russian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1933), and one of the finest of Russian stylists.

Bunin, the descendant of an old noble family, spent his childhood and youth in the Russian provinces. He attended secondary school in Yelets, in western Russia, but did not graduate; his older brother subsequently tutored him. Bunin began publishing poems and short stories in 1887, and in 1889–92 he worked for the newspaper Orlovsky Vestnik (“The Orlovsky Herald”). His first book, Stikhotvoreniya: 1887–1891 (“Poetry: 1887–1891”), appeared in 1891 as a supplement to that newspaper. In the mid-1890s he was strongly drawn to the ideas of the novelist Leo Tolstoy, whom he met in person. During this period Bunin gradually entered the Moscow and St. Petersburg literary scenes, including the growing Symbolist movement. Bunin’s Listopad (1901; “Falling Leaves”), a book of poetry, testifies to his association with the Symbolists, primarily Valery Bryusov. However, Bunin’s work had more in common with the traditions of classical Russian literature of the 19th century, of which his older contemporaries Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov were models.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Bunin had become one of Russia’s most popular writers. His sketches and stories Antonovskiye yabloki (1900; “Antonov Apples”), Grammatika lyubvi (1929; “Grammar of Love”), Lyogkoye dykhaniye (1922; “Light Breathing”), Sny Changa (1916; “The Dreams of Chang”), Sukhodol (1912; “Dry Valley”), Derevnya (1910; “The Village”), and Gospodin iz San-Frantsisko (1916; “The Gentleman from San Francisco”) show Bunin’s penchant for extreme precision of language, delicate description of nature, detailed psychological analysis, and masterly control of plot. While his democratic views gave rise to criticism in Russia, they did not turn him into a politically engaged writer. Bunin also believed that change was inevitable in Russian life. His urge to keep his independence is evident in his break with the writer Maksim Gorky and other old friends after the Russian Revolution of 1917, which he perceived as the triumph of the basest side of the Russian people.

Bunin’s articles and diaries of 1917–20 are a record of Russian life during its years of terror. In May 1918 he left Moscow and settled in Odessa (now in Ukraine), and at the beginning of 1920 he emigrated first to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and then to France, where he lived for the rest of his life. There he became one of the most famous Russian émigré writers. His stories, the novella Mitina lyubov (1925; Mitya’s Love), and the autobiographical novel Zhizn Arsenyeva (The Life of Arsenev)—which Bunin began writing during the 1920s and of which he published parts in the 1930s and 1950s—were recognized by critics and Russian readers abroad as testimony of the independence of Russian émigré culture.

Bunin lived in the south of France during World War II, refusing all contact with the Nazis and hiding Jews in his villa. Tyomnye allei (1943; Dark Avenues, and Other Stories), a book of short stories, was one of his last great works. After the end of the war, Bunin was invited to return to the Soviet Union, but he remained in France.Vospominaniya (Memories and Portraits), which appeared in 1950. An unfinished book, O Chekhove (1955; “On Chekhov”; Eng. trans. About Chekhov: The Unfinished Symphony), was published posthumously. Bunin was one of the first Russian émigré writers whose works were published in the Soviet Union after the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.



Maksim Gorky

Maksim Gorky, also spelled Maxim Gorki, pseudonym of Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov (b. March 16 [March 28, New Style], 1868, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia—d. June 14, 1936), Russian short-story writer and novelist who first attracted attention with his naturalistic and sympathetic stories of tramps and social outcasts and later wrote other stories, novels, and plays, including his famous The Lower Depths.

Early life.
Gorky’s earliest years were spent in Astrakhan, where his father, a former upholsterer, became a shipping agent. When the boy was five his father died; Gorky returned to Nizhny Novgorod to live with his maternal grandparents, who brought him up after his mother remarried. The grandfather was a dyer whose business deteriorated and who treated Gorky harshly. From his grandmother he received most of what little kindness he experienced as a child.

Gorky knew the Russian working-class background intimately, for his grandfather afforded him only a few months of formal schooling, sending him out into the world to earn his living at the age of eight. His jobs included, among many others, work as assistant in a shoemaker’s shop, as errand boy for an icon painter, and as dishwasher on a Volga steamer, where the cook introduced him to reading—soon to become his main passion in life. Frequently beaten by his employers, nearly always hungry and ill clothed, he came to know the seamy side of Russian life as few other Russian authors before or since. The bitterness of these early experiences later led him to choose the word gorky (“bitter”) as his pseudonym.

His late adolescence and early manhood were spent in Kazan, where he worked as a baker, docker, and night watchman. There he first learned about Russian revolutionary ideas from representatives of the Populist movement, whose tendency to idealize the Russian peasant he later rejected. Oppressed by the misery of his surroundings, he attempted suicide by shooting himself. Leaving Kazan at the age of 21, he became a tramp, doing odd jobs of all kinds during extensive wanderings through southern Russia.

First stories.
In Tbilisi (Tiflis) Gorky began to publish stories in the provincial press, of which the first was “Makar Chudra” (1892), followed by a series of similar wild Romantic legends and allegories of only documentary interest. But with the publication of “Chelkash” (1895) in a leading St. Petersburg journal, he began a success story as spectacular as any in the history of Russian literature. “Chelkash,” one of his outstanding works, is the story of a colourful harbour thief in which elements of Romanticism and realism are mingled. It began Gorky’s celebrated “tramp period,” during which he described the social dregs of Russia. He expressed sympathy and self-identification with the strength and determination of the individual hobo or criminal, characters previously described more objectively. “Dvadtsat shest i odna” (1899; “Twenty-Six Men and a Girl”), describing the sweated labour conditions in a bakery, is often regarded as his best short story. So great was the success of these works that Gorky’s reputation quickly soared, and he began to be spoken of almost as an equal of Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov.

Plays and novels.
Next Gorky wrote a series of plays and novels, all less excellent than his best earlier stories. The first novel, Foma Gordeyev (1899), illustrates his admiration for strength of body and will in the masterful barge owner and rising capitalist Ignat Gordeyev, who is contrasted with his relatively feeble and intellectual son Foma, a “seeker after the meaning of life,” as are many of Gorky’s other characters. From this point, the rise of Russian capitalism became one of Gorky’s main fictional interests. Other novels of the period are Troye (1900; Three of Them), Ispoved (1908; A Confession), Gorodok Okurov (1909; “Okurov City”), and Zhizn Matveya Kozhemyakina (1910; “The Life of Matvey Kozhemyakin”). These are all to some extent failures because of Gorky’s inability to sustain a powerful narrative, and also because of a tendency to overload his work with irrelevant discussions about the meaning of life. Mat (1906; Mother) is probably the least successful of the novels, yet it has considerable interest as Gorky’s only long work devoted to the Russian revolutionary movement. It was made into a notable silent film by Vsevolod Pudovkin (1926) and dramatized by Bertolt Brecht in Die Mutter (1930–31). Gorky also wrote a series of plays, the most famous of which is Na dne (1902; The Lower Depths). A dramatic rendering of the kind of flophouse character that Gorky had already used so extensively in his stories, it still enjoys great success abroad and in Russia. He also wrote Meshchane (1902; The Petty Bourgeois, or The Smug Citizen), a play that glorifies the hero-intellectual who has revolutionary tendencies but also that explores the disruptions revolutionaries can wreak on everyday life.

Marxist activity.
Between 1899 and 1906 Gorky lived mainly in St. Petersburg, where he became a Marxist, supporting the Social Democratic Party. After the split in that party in 1903, Gorky went with its Bolshevik wing. But he was often at odds with the Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin. Nor did Gorky ever, formally, become a member of Lenin’s party, though his enormous earnings, which he largely gave to party funds, were one of that organization’s main sources of income. In 1901 the Marxist review Zhizn (“Life”) was suppressed for publishing a short revolutionary poem by Gorky, “Pesnya o burevestnike” (“Song of the Stormy Petrel”). Gorky was arrested but released shortly afterward and went to the Crimea, having developed tuberculosis. In 1902 he was elected a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but his election was soon withdrawn for political reasons, an event that led to the resignations of Chekhov and the writer V.G. Korolenko from the academy. Gorky took a prominent part in the Russian Revolution of 1905, was arrested in the following year, and was again quickly released, partly as the result of protests from abroad. He toured America in the company of his mistress, an event that led to his partial ostracism there and to a consequent reaction on his part against the United States as expressed in stories about New York City, Gorod zhyoltogo dyavola (1906; “The City of the Yellow Devil”).

Leo Tolstoy and Gorky

Anton Chekhov and Gorky

Stalin and Gorky

Exile and revolution.
On leaving Russia in 1906, Gorky spent seven years as a political exile, living mainly in his villa on Capri in Italy. Politically, Gorky was a nuisance to his fellow Marxists because of his insistence on remaining independent, but his great influence was a powerful asset, which from their point of view outweighed such minor defects. He returned to Russia in 1913, and during World War I he agreed with the Bolsheviks in opposing Russia’s participation in the war. He opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and went on to attack the victorious Lenin’s dictatorial methods in his newspaper Novaya zhizn (“New Life”) until July 1918, when his protests were silenced by censorship on Lenin’s orders. Living in Petrograd, Gorky tried to help those who were not outright enemies of the Soviet government. Gorky often assisted imprisoned scholars and writers, helping them survive hunger and cold. His efforts, however, were thwarted by figures such as Lenin and Grigory Zinovyev, a close ally of Lenin’s who was the head of the Petrograd Bolsheviks. In 1921 Lenin sent Gorky into exile under the pretext of Gorky’s needing specialized medical treatment abroad.

Last period.
In the decade ending in 1923 Gorky’s greatest masterpiece appeared. This is the autobiographical trilogy Detstvo (1913–14; My Childhood), V lyudyakh (1915–16; In the World), and Moi universitety (1923; My Universities). The title of the last volume is sardonic because Gorky’s only university had been that of life, and his wish to study at Kazan University had been frustrated. This trilogy is one of the finest autobiographies in Russian. It describes Gorky’s childhood and early manhood and reveals him as an acute observer of detail, with a flair for describing his own family, his numerous employers, and a panorama of minor but memorable figures. The trilogy contains many messages, which Gorky now tended to imply rather than preach openly: protests against motiveless cruelty, continued emphasis on the importance of toughness and self-reliance, and musings on the value of hard work.

Gorky finished his trilogy abroad, where he also wrote the stories published in Rasskazy 1922–1924 (1925; “Stories 1922–24”), which are among his best work. From 1924 he lived at a villa in Sorrento, Italy, to which he invited many Russian artists and writers who stayed for lengthy periods. Gorky’s health was poor, and he was disillusioned by postrevolutionary life in Russia, but in 1928 he yielded to pressures to return, and the lavish official celebration there of his 60th birthday was beyond anything he could have expected. In the following year he returned to the U.S.S.R. permanently and lived there until his death. His return coincided with the establishment of Stalin’s ascendancy, and Gorky became a prop of Stalinist political orthodoxy. Correspondence published in the 1990s between Gorky and Stalin and between Gorky and Genrikh Yagoda, the head of the Soviet secret police, shows that Gorky gradually lost all illusions that freedom would prevail in the U.S.S.R., and he consequently adjusted to the rules of the new way of life. He was now more than ever the undisputed leader of Soviet writers, and, when the Soviet Writers’ Union was founded in 1934, he became its first president. At the same time, he helped to found the literary method of Socialist Realism, which was imposed on all Soviet writers and which obliged them—in effect—to become outright political propagandists.

Gorky remained active as a writer, but almost all his later fiction is concerned with the period before 1917. In Delo Artamonovykh (1925; The Artamonov Business), one of his best novels, he showed his continued interest in the rise and fall of prerevolutionary Russian capitalism. From 1925 until the end of his life, Gorky worked on the novel Zhizn Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin”). Though he completed four volumes that appeared between 1927 and 1937 (translated into English as Bystander, The Magnet, Other Fires, and The Specter), the novel was to remain unfinished. It depicts in detail 40 years of Russian life as seen through the eyes of a man inwardly destroyed by the events of the decades preceding and following the turn of the 20th century. There were also more plays—Yegor Bulychov i drugiye (1932; “Yegor Bulychov and Others”) and Dostigayev i drugiye (1933; “Dostigayev and Others”)—but the most generally admired work is a set of reminiscences of Russian writers—Vospominaniya o Tolstom (1919; Reminiscences of Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy) and O pisatelyakh (1928; “About Writers”). The memoir of Tolstoy is so lively and free from the hagiographic approach traditional in Russian studies of their leading authors that it has sometimes been acclaimed as Gorky’s masterpiece. Almost equally impressive is Gorky’s study of Chekhov. He also wrote pamphlets on topical events and problems in which he glorified some of the most brutal aspects of Stalinism.

Some mystery attaches to Gorky’s death, which occurred suddenly in 1936 while he was under medical treatment. Whether his death was natural or not is unknown, but it came to figure in the trial of Nikolay I. Bukharin and others in 1938, at which it was claimed that Gorky had been the victim of an anti-Soviet plot by the “Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites.” The former police chief Genrikh Yagoda, who was among the defendants, confessed to having ordered his death. Some Western authorities have suggested that Gorky was done to death on Stalin’s orders, having finally become sickened by the excesses of Stalinist Russia, but there is little evidence of this except that it was characteristic of Stalin to frame others on the charge of accomplishing his own misdeeds.

Viktor Govorov.
A.M.Gorky Reads on October 11, 1931 to J.V.Stalin, V.M.Molotov and K.E.Voroshilov His Fairy Tale "A Girl and Death"

After his death Gorky was canonized as the patron saint of Soviet letters. His reputation abroad has also remained high, but it is doubtful whether posterity will deal with him so kindly. His success was partly due, both in the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent abroad, to political accident. Though technically of lower-middle-class origin, he lived in such poverty as a child and young man that he is often considered the greatest “proletarian” in Russian literature. This circumstance, coinciding with the rise of working-class movements all over the world, helped to give Gorky an immense literary reputation, which his works do not wholly merit.

Gorky’s literary style, though gradually improving through the years, retained its original defects of excessive striving for effect, of working on the reader’s nerves by the piling up of emotive adjectives, and of tending to overstate. Among Gorky’s other defects, in addition to his weakness for philosophical digressions, is a certain coarseness of emotional grain. But his eye for physical detail, his talent for making his characters live, and his unrivaled knowledge of the Russian “lower depths” are weighty items on the credit side. Gorky was the only Soviet writer whose work embraced the prerevolutionary and postrevolutionary period so exhaustively, and, though he by no means stands with Chekhov, Tolstoy, and others in the front rank of Russian writers, he remains one of the more important literary figures of his age.

Ronald Francis Hingley



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