Anatoly Lunacharsky On Literature and Art 1932
Every writer speaks for one class or another.
This does not mean that every writer is the spokesman for his own particular class, the adequate and unadulterated expression of the whole plentitude of its content – its traditions, culture and interests. The classes themselves have each, as one might say, their own social biography. They go through various stages and may be at any given moment at their conception, nearing their prime or on the decline. The biography of a class may even comprise several such peaks and declines. Class background is not always the same for corresponding classes from one country (society) to another. In one country a class may express itself more markedly than in another. However, if a class be taken at some specific epoch, it is possible to find among those who may be accounted its spokesmen (usually, of course, more than one, even many different people) some whose work is indeed more or less adequate to express its essence – who seem to have grown out of the very heart of the class in question, whereas others appear rather on its periphery, where they are more subject to the influence of other classes.
It is essential to take into account all those shifts and modifications in that subsoil of class which – in social time and social space – is the breeding-ground of ideology, and at all costs to avoid the pitfalls of oversimplified Marxism or, more exactly, anti-Marxism, which automatically considers class as an indivisible and unchangeable formation and which, for this reason, has difficulty in defining the true social essence of this or that ideology (in relation, for instance, to the works of any particular artist). In this way, a whole series of such artists can be assigned to the same generalised class category and the differences between them are no longer seen as having their origin in social causes. This approach leads either to such differences being ignored or to their being explained by transient and socially fortuitous elements.
Blok is a spokesman of the nobility (the dvoryanstvo). He should be regarded as a scion of the line of the nobility’s ideologists and his place is – to extend the metaphor – at the end of that line. With certain reservations he may be considered the last great artist of the Russian nobility.
In so far as his place is at the end of the line of the nobility’s historical development, Blok reflects the nadir of its disintegration. Profoundly infected by the traditions of the nobility, he is, at the same time, a bearer of anti-bodies. He is charged with hatred for his milieu and for his class. In so far as he finds these in a state of enfeeblement, of disintegration, and is himself a product of such disintegration, Blok is debarred from seeking salvation in the (seemingly) hard core of reactionary bureaucrats and firmly entrenched landed gentry.
One of the characteristic features of the decline of the nobility was, incidentally, that its more or less progressive representatives tended to break away from this central core.
In Russian literature we find a whole series of authors belonging to the nobility who are consciously or half-consciously defending their culture against the most terrible immediate foe of their class – against the bourgeoisie, against capitalism. Nonetheless it is no longer possible for these defenders of aristocratic culture openly to champion the “Black-Hundred”  platform of the nobility as a class. On the contrary, they are well aware that this kind of aristocratic traditionalism is the most vulnerable joint in the armour of their class. Morally, they shun this hard core of their own class as though it were a black, dirty smear on its face. To this moral revulsion is added a frequently vague but nevertheless anxious premonition that such mechanical, violent, “Black-Hundred” methods of self-defence are doomed to defeat, and that the more ruthless the defence, the more ruthlessly will it be defeated.
In essence, all the nobility’s Narodism was rooted in the desire to defend their culture from the advances of capitalism and from those inevitable results of the development of capitalism, which the representatives of the nobility at least partially foresaw. To this end, they sought to bring into play not so much the attitudes of the landowners as those of the peasantry, which were complementary to them.
Truth and justice, as the peasant understood them, were in many ways akin to the ideals of his master and came to be adopted by the latter as if they had been his own. The landlord hid behind the peasant, tucking his estate away behind the village, and, from this point of departure, proceeded to work out his own “peasant” ideology according to the promptings of his own class-consciousness. Bakunin, for instance, interpreted the peasant in a spirit of elemental romanticism; Herzen stressed his inborn affinity with certain home-grown germs of socialism; Tolstoi approached him from a lofty moral angle in an exceptionally disinterested religious spirit, and so forth.
Blok came upon the scene to find his own class in a state of extreme disintegration (its central core dominated by Pobedonostsev or post-Pobedonostsev  attitudes). The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, were at the height of their power and vigour, although, at the same time, uneasily aware of mortality in face of the unexpectedly rapid, tidal advance of their antipode – the proletariat.
For all his hatred of the bourgeois world, Blok feared the end of the bourgeoisie and the onset of a new era without historical precedent. Nevertheless, even he managed to construct something resembling a personal philosophy out of the tatters of aristocratic tradition, a romanticised conception of the peasantry (the element of “the people”), and a confused, harsh, anxious, burning sympathy for the forces of revolution – a philosophy in which he tried to find the solution to the growing storminess of the social scene.
Class (at a distinct stage of its development and in a distinct subsection of the class as a whole) was the determining factor of Blok’s general platform as a citizen, as a political thinker (in so far as he can be considered from this aspect), and as a philosopher (again within his own limits). This particular subsection consisted of the most educated members of the ruined, semi-déclassé landed gentry who were at that time having to seek a living from other sources than the land and rapidly becoming indistinguishable from the professional petty bourgeoisie (as, for instance, a poet earning a living by his pen).
The fact that Blok happened to be a poet, however, and that, as a poet, he achieved wide recognition and became the mouthpiece of fairly considerable circles of the Russian intelligentsia was, to a considerable extent, the result of his own, strictly individual qualities.
Blok’s way of thinking, I repeat, is entirely conditioned by matters of class and time. Personal to him – at least to a considerable extent – is the fact that, although his thought found a more or less adequate medium, in his publicistic articles, his diaries, letters, etc., it was first and foremost in poetry that he achieved a supremely individual form of self-expression. Personal to him only to a certain extent, of course. Let us explain:
Blok became a poet because he was extraordinarily sensitive. A heightened sensitivity is a prerequisite of the artist’s calling, as of his success. It is possible, however, to imagine an artist in whom the process of thought is highly developed. The images such an artist creates are distinguished by clarity of outline. Almost as clearly as does the language of ideas only, of course, more immediately, vividly and emotionally, they offer an interpretation of that reality in contact with which the artist’s imagination brings them into being. However, the nobility had no need of such a poet in Blok’s time and, had such a poet in fact appeared at the same time as Blok, he would not have been greatly admired even given considerable talent. On the contrary, the extreme nervousness, the uncertainty, the shaky hold on reality and the failure to perceive a clearly defined way through this reality – all ensured a peculiarly enthusiastic reception for a poet such as Blok for whom poetic images are not so much an interpretation, not so much the expression of the artist’s profoundly poetical understanding of reality as, on the contrary, a manifestation of his inability to understand it, and, as a direct result of this inability, of his hostility towards it.
Hostility towards reality (covering, to a considerable extent, one’s own subjective awareness of things and one’s own psyche) leads, inevitably, to despair. Blok often came very close to despair. However, he was not a poet of unadulterated hopelessness. On the contrary, at almost all periods of his work he was trying to find – for himself as for his “flock” – some message of consolation.
Yes. Reality is incomprehensible and abhorrent, but there is always the hope that it is nothing but a filthy covering behind which is a high mystery. Perhaps the occasional glimpses of beauty in Nature, man and art are simply mysterious pointers towards something which exists eternally in some other sphere and beckons man to itself, filling him with hope? Perhaps it is possible to touch on these other worlds not only in a flight of white wings towards a dream of holiness, perceiving their blurred contours in the imagination “as in a glass, darkly,” as the Apostle Paul has it, but also amidst the dregs of vice, of all that is satanic in life, in the oblivion which comes of drink and debauch. Perhaps, in a word, it is possible, at the very bottom of the “abyss,” to enter into a similar communion with this same eternal power which, itself beyond good and evil, yet promises to whirl man away beyond all hard decisions, troublesome rules, hesitations and anxieties, and to plunge him into the flaming ocean of the supratemporal and supraspatial music of true being?
It may even be, finally (Blok’s third period), that the squall of revolution, whose approach can already be sensed, will, on closer inspection, turn out to be the onset of that very divine dance of the violent, wild and primitive element which is destined to burst like lava through the prosaic, boring crust of everyday life.
With regard to existence in its everyday manifestations, Blok is always a revolutionary. He tries to see this existence either as an obstacle to be overcome, or as a symbol, a hint at some other, radically different state of being. He cannot, however, find comfort in any definite religious system. For that matter, he could scarcely have “consoled” his sceptical and sophisticated contemporaries with the aid of any definite religious doctrine or of any pedantically constructed metaphysical system (whether Vladimir Solovyov’s or any one else’s). This hint of the inexpressible, however – now seen as a glimpse of whitish-blue heights, now of yellowish-black, now of burning red, devoid of all definite form but rich by virtue of its breadth and vast scope and beautiful with the beauty of the ill-defined – this alone might mount to the head like the wine of truth, even though that truth be revealed only to the prophetic mind. 
On the other hand, because Blok chose to play the part of a prophet who cannot, or will not, speak out clearly, but who uses the word as though it were a note of music, because he elected to become a musician, who operated words and images to suggest a yearning for that which is beyond speech and varied the approaches and the glimmering, half-caught visions in many keys, he became more than the spokesman and the seducer of those of his own class who felt as he did. He appealed not only to the degenerate, déclassé, nobility with their intensely refined culture, but also to wide circles of the bourgeois intelligentsia, for, at that time, the triumphant bourgeoisie – the detested enemy of the nobility – had itself begun to sing sad songs foreshadowing its own approaching end. It had itself begun to fear reality and, in its own, far clumsier manner, had begun to peer anxiously into the beyond in order to distract its own attention from uneasy contemplation of the historical prospects which were opening up before it.
Certain individual features of Blok’s personality were, of course, a sine qua non of such popularity. However, even these purely personal traits were not without a class foundation. Also, they were subject to class control. I shall explain:
Blok was the scion of several noble families. There is no need to trace his pedigree back too far. His father was not altogether normal. He was a professor of some talent and an original thinker whose unbalanced, nervous temperament made itself felt even in his writings. That daemonic unease which is invariably mentioned in reminiscences of Alexander Lvovich Blok was undoubtedly inherited by his son. Together with a certain, perhaps typically German, physical toughness, kind-heartedness and sentimentality, truly Blokish traits in the full sense of the word (Blok’s ancestors were Germans who had been granted titles of hereditary nobility in Russia), Blok’s father, possibly through the Cherkasovs, his material ancestors, bequeathed to his son a slightly sadistic kink, an exaggerated sensuality, a tendency towards extremes, a tenseness always near to breaking-point. This daemonism was the basic factor of Blok’s paternal heredity. But neither can the Beketov line be considered altogether healthy. The Beketov style of living was profoundly ingrained in Blok, for, in his childhood and adolescence, he had grown up under the dominant influence of his mother’s family.
“Beketovism” might be described as a well-balanced, harmonious version of the way of life of the cultured nobility. The Beketovs – once rich but, by the time of Blok’s birth, considerably impoverished aristocrats – had found an outlet into the world of scholarship, where they were held in considerable esteem. Without breaking either with the traditions of religion or with their attachment to the homeliness and pleasant customs of the country-house idyll, the Beketovs seem to have experienced no difficulty in reconciling all this with a liberal outlook and a rosy belief in enlightenment in a spirit of respect for Art and Science with capital letters.
The Beketovs were thoroughly decent, gentle people with a social conscience. In spite of a certain measure of essentially harmless progressiveness, they were profoundly traditional. All this had the effect of strengthening in Blok those very aristocratic features which attached him to his class. At the same time, however, we know that Blok’s mother was inclined to mysticism, that she was an epileptoid, subject to more and more frequent attacks towards the end of her life. So, on the side of the Beketovs also, we find a heightened nervosity and pathological tendencies.
All this taken together and ploughed back into the stormy and bewildering life of the period went to form the subsoil from which grew Blok’s profoundly morbid dreams, the flowering of which was the reflection of that life in his own psyche.
On the one hand, Blok’s psycho-biological predispositions were in many ways just what might have been expected in a class such as the nobility of that time had come to be. On the other, the social milieu which forms the poet is
always on the look-out for a spokesman, for an instrument as perfectly adapted as possible to produce that music the creation of which is the peculiar task of its artists.
When a poet begins his service to society, when he publishes his first songs, and while he mounts the next few steps of the ladder, his fate is in the balance: he may either be rejected or acknowledged. Whether or not the poet is acknowledged by certain sections of society, which sections are the first to recognise him and the extent of this recognition, are all contributory factors of enormous importance to his further career and even to his development as a writer.
Blok had every qualification to become the prophet, dreamer and latter-day romantic of the nobility, a kind of Novalis singing the sunset of the landowning intelligentsia – and this is just what he did become. Had he not been burdened by his own specific psycho-biological preconditioning, had he been – healthier, let us say, more definite, more balanced, then his work would have passed more or less unheeded by his contemporaries, at any rate by those circles of the intelligentsia who were at that time to some extent the mentors of public taste and who, in fact, took up his poetry as their emblem.
If Blok’s way of thinking was the product of his class and his epoch, then his way of expressing his thoughts, or not even so much his thoughts as his emotional complexes, was preconditioned by his psycho-biological nature which, in its turn, was predetermined by a heredity that was itself a reflection of the psycho-biological instability of his class (the product of the growing uncertainty of its position in society). Added to this, his class (together, as we have already said, with the kindred masses of the bourgeois intelligentsia) accepted him as their spokesman in his own time, gave him fame, inspired him to become the poet of his epoch, that is, to express certain great and necessary truths. It was the very abnormality – or, to put it mildly, the extreme originality – of Blok’s psychological make-up which fitted him so excellently for the writing of that symbolist poetry which – wavering between the poetic arrogance of high despair and a dream which took many forms groping in the darkness after some kind of salvation from the horrors of life – was most suited to meet the requirements of his public.
Maria Beketova, who knew the poet intimately and well, says in her reminiscences of Alexander Blok that, in the generally accepted sense, he was not musical. He loved music, it affected him very strongly, but he himself could not have a good ear, i.e., he was simply not able to reproduce the music he heard. However, Maria Beketova adds immediately, Blok had a remarkable sense of rhythm. He himself confirms this statement to some extent in a letter to Andrei Bely: “I am hopelessly lacking in all understanding of music, Nature has given me absolutely no ear for it,” he writes. “I cannot discuss music as an art from any point of view whatsoever.” Here, however, he adds something more important than Beketova’s remark about his feeling for rhythm. “In this way,” he says, “I am condemned never to be able to exteriorise the singing which is always going on within me.”
By this, Blok is confirming that inside him lived a perpetual song, some kind of musical element which we can hardly think of as being melodically organised but rather as consisting of a rhythmical alternation of emotions, of their rising and falling away, in other words, of some dynamic more or less organised life of feelings, moods, fits of passion – very close, it may be assumed, to what Blok experienced when listening to music.
Since the real music that one hears with one’s ears makes its effect not so much through the actual material medium of sound and tone as through a dynamic interaction of the breaking-down and the establishment of repose, it is evident that Blok, for all his ill-developed aural apparatus (whether as listener or performer), was nevertheless equipped with an exceptionally fine-set, emotionally super-responsive, dynamic apparatus. Music aroused in him deep, varying, overwhelmingly powerful waves of feeling. He was subject to such waves even when he was not listening to music. They required an outlet but, not finding one through the purely tonal medium, found what they needed in words.
Goethe once made an extremely original, if not altogether accurate observation. He said that people with a great inner need to express themselves through art who lack plastic or musical talent, become poets and are reduced to describing in words those visual images or those worlds of sound which they would prefer to recreate more directly, without filtering them through the intellect, for the immediate delectation of eye and ear.
This is, on the whole, true of poets of the musical type. Blok, of course, is more than just a poet-musician. He is also artist and sculptor, playwright and thinker. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Blok’s visual descriptions and plastic imagery, as also his thoughts and his objective renderings of the clash of human passions and actions, lag far behind the musical impact of his poetry. To some extent, Blok’s poetry is a substitute for music. He would probably have been a happier man had Nature endowed him with a composer’s talent. At all events, the musical element in his work gains complete control over the word in its quality as the name given to a specific object, subordinates it to its own requirements, seeming to fade out sharp outlines, transforming them into fluid shadows which intertwine fantastically, merge and dissolve, obedient to the poet’s inner, lyrical and musical impulse.
Blok himself was fully aware of this particular characteristic of his poetry. Remembering Verlaine’s famous ars poetica with its demand that poetry should be “de la musique avant toutes choses” and its advice to the poet to “tordre le coup à l’éloquence,” Blok says of the earliest period of his work, which he refers to as “prehistoric”: “I was brought up in my mother’s family. Here, there was great love and understanding for the word; on the whole, traditional ideas on literary values and ideals dominated in the family. In popular terminology, as Verlaine would have had it, the preference was given to éloquence; only my mother was distinguished by a perpetual rebelliousness and an anxious interest in the new and, in her, my aspirations towards musique found a supporter... However, I shall be grateful till my dying day to that dear, old-fashioned éloquence for the circumstance that, for me, literature did not begin with Verlaine or, for that matter, with any form of decadence.”
Had it been merely a question of reaffirming the fact that, in Blok’s poetry, the emotional and rhythmic musical
elements are of more importance than the thought or the plastic image, it would not have been worth while to assign so important a place to the idea of Blok the musician in this brief attempt to define his essential sociological and artistic significance. The heart of the matter lies much deeper. Blok was a musician through and through and he apprehended the world in terms of music.
We have already discussed why Blok’s class and epoch required of their poet that he should provide them with a reflection of reality in which all the contours were blurred, a reflection which would not admit of any genuine realism, which emptied reality of true content, either seeking therein some symbolic clue to a world beyond, or else seeing it as a damnably opaque veil drawn over the essence of things to hide their ideal substance from the human eye.
This essence of things, this world beyond, this so-called real world offered a kind of feeble but nonetheless real hope of the possibility of appeal against those injustices which real life was inflicting upon the disintegrating class.
Blok’s symbolism would not have had the same power had it been based on dry allegory or on some such artificial system as Steiner’s which, for some strange reason, exercised such a prolonged and complete tyranny over Bely, a far more rational and metaphysical thinker than Blok. Blok’s power lay in the fact that he created symbols which were, above all, musical. Even judged by the canons of symbolist values, no single image of Blok’s, from whatever period of his work it might be taken, has the weight of something complete in itself, of a clearly minted cultural coin which could, under any circumstances, become a seriously accepted form of social “currency.” Yet, as these symbols combined to form a single weave, entering into the mainstream of the musical torrent of Blok’s poetic melodies, so they took on a quite extraordinary charm, a peculiar, hypnotic power, a tremendous charge (illusory, of course) of profound significance – particularly for the reader who was eagerly looking for such profound significance beyond the confines of real life.
In this respect, Blok’s meeting with the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov and with a group of his followers merely served to pour oil on a fire which was already well ablaze. Bely writes of the impression made on these symbolically-minded young people by Blok’s first volume of verse: “For us youngsters the Blok of the first volume was a unique phenomenon; at that time it was possible to come across ‘Blokites’, who saw in Blok’s poetry a turning-point in the fate of the Russian Muse; Blok had raised a corner of the veil which covered her face: this face was seen to be that of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom of the ancient Gnostics. In this poetry, the theme of earthly love was interwoven with the religious-philosophical themes of the Gnostics and of Vladimir Solovyov. The symbolism of that time found its ideal representative in the person of Blok...”
All his life, Blok’s feeling for the world remained musical and he held serenely to the conviction that the inmost essence of being is musical – not tonal, that is, but essentially emotional and dynamic and, therefore, subject to its own system of laws.
Blok does not only hear those melodies and chords which round as a distant accompaniment to the events of his own and others’ private lives, to the boring and everyday as well as to the vivid experience, and which constitute the true value and meaning of all that happens. He sees the whole universe as a kind of crust, a cold and gloomy outer covering beneath which rages the element, the fire of the musical principle which has its own destiny and controls the fate of the outer world. For Blok, the history of mankind, too, was governed by this inner musical burning. He believed, however, that from time to time the flame of music would waver and sink, the crust would thicken and freeze, and musical epochs would result, epochs which Blok considered empty of talent, sombre, hateful.
Here, it is worth noting in passing that these ideas of Blok’s were far from exceptional, particularly during his lifetime. Spengler maintained something very similar. It is possible to find elements of an analogous view of the world in Nietzsche (his concept of Dionysius). Ideas of much the same sort play a tremendous part in the work and thought of Scriabin. Many other names might be mentioned here, among others – Bely’s. It was in a letter to Bely apropos of the latter’s article “Formy Iskusstva” (“Art Forms”) in Mir iskusstva (The World of Art) 1902, that Blok, calling this article a “revelation,” first clearly expounded his theory of music as the fundamental principle of being.
This whole philosophy of music, which, of course, far from being a whim or passing phase, was the key to Blok’s character both as man and poet, is set out in his diary for the spring of 1919. At that time, Blok was absorbed in the problem of the intelligentsia and in the related problem of humanism. It seemed to him that humanism was dead and that the intelligentsia itself had outlived its time. All the circumstances of the moment combined to constrain him to place all his hopes in the ability of the masses of the people to introduce some new kind of culture. This it was that led Blok to formulate a whole series of extremely interesting observations which he noted down in his diary.
The entry for March 27th reads: “The summit of humanism, its culminating point – is Schiller. A broad, dusty sunbeam beating down through a rose window to illumine an enormous baroque cathedral – the Europe of ‘the age of enlightenment’. It is because Schiller does illumine us in this way, because, for the last time, he united art with life and science and man with music, that he is so infinitely close to us now. Immediately after him, man and music were parted; mankind, of whom the Marquis of Posa sang in the full light of the dusty sunbeam, went on its own ways – ways of statecraft, politics, ethics, law and science.”
From then on, art, music “flowed on along a course of their own” and further: “Kant the Terrible established the limits of cognition. In response to this challenge flung down by a declining humanism, breaking the surface of the humanist world, come licking the first, flaming tongues of music which, in another hundred years’ time, will consume the whole European world with fire.”
Blok allows that the best artists (musicians in the true sense of the word or people with the gift of musical appreciation) have preserved some gleams from the musical fire which has shrunk far back and down beneath the crust and left mankind in darkness. Then, however, the showering sparks of revolution begin to break the surface. The element, majestic and untamable, is reminding us of its existence. “The face of Europe is illumined with a completely new light as the ‘masses’, the people, the unconscious bearer of the spirit of music, step out onto the arena of history. The features of this face are distorted by a foreboding which grows with the century.”
Later, Blok returned to this same theme.
On March 28, in an extremely interesting passage on whether or not an artist should be apolitical (at which we shall take a closer look under a separate heading), Blok stresses that politics, as he understands the word at present, i.e., as a synonym for the people’s revolution, are dear to him because they are “musical.” “No,” he writes, “we cannot remain ‘outside politics’ because in doing so we should be betraying that music which only becomes audible when we completely cease to hide. For instance, to take one particular case, the secret of a certain anti-musicality and reediness of tone which we find in Turgenev lies in his political apathy.”
Finally, on March 31 of the same year, Blok writes an entire philosophical treatise in miniature on the same subject:
“In the beginning was Music. Music is the essence of the world. The world grows in supple rhythms. Growth is retarded and then ‘comes on with a rush’. Such is the law of all organic life on the earth, of man also, and of mankind. Pressure-heads of volition. The growth of the world is culture. Culture is musical rhythm.”
Here Blok even attempts a sketch of the history of human culture from this point of view, which corresponds roughly to the briefly outlined thoughts of March 27 which we have already noted.
An extinct culture, no longer animated by the spirit of music, is civilisation, rationalism; and here Blok gives full rein to his hatred and contempt for rationalism, for the “brain” – which was not his own strongest point, and for which, as the last offspring of the nobility, he would, when one comes to think of it, have had little enough use. “Scientific progress takes on a positivist and materialist character; it breaks into hundreds of separate movements (methods, disciplines). The reason given is the manifold variety of the object of study – the world. But the hidden reason is the withdrawal of the spirit of music.”
Further, Blok goes on to demonstrate his total failure to understand the Marxist contention that “the idea without the masses is impotent, the masses without the idea are blind.” The contribution which science, transformed according to new class principles, has to make to the revolution, is beyond his comprehension. This “music” is a closed book to him. According to the picture painted by Blok, civilisation and its science have become the heritage of an exclusive circle of specialists, and he contrasts these with the masses of the people whom he imagines ignorant. Yet it is in this very ignorance that he perceives their sacred significance.
The aristocrat in Blok can appreciate art, but science, in his opinion, is a bourgeois affair, and the artistically-minded aristocrat, ignoring science, stretches out his hand towards the crowd which, to him, appears “sacred in its ignorance,” and in whose storms and tempests he acknowledges some thing akin to his own romantic spirit, to his own lack of self-discipline, to his own self-indulgent aristocratic whims.
But this is not what concerns us just now – we shall return to Blok and the revolution in the next chapter. What we are trying to establish here is that Blok saw this revolution as a supremely musical moment in the history of culture and in the cosmos. It is possible to catch Blok in the pose of a contemptuous aesthete, capable of such remarks as: When will our oafish fellow countrymen get it into their thick heads that art can have nothing in common with politics? But here, in 1919, when “politics had risen before him as an explosion of the musical element,” he writes: “I fear any manifestations whatsoever of the ‘art for art’s sake’ tendency, because this tendency runs contrary to the very essence of art and because following it we end by losing art; for art is born of the perpetual interaction of two kinds of music – the music of the creative personality and the music which sounds in the depths of the popular soul, of the soul of the masses. Great art is born only when these two electric currents are connected. Deliberate disregard for political values is the same old humanism, only turned inside out, the division of the indivisible; like a garden without a mixed border; a French park and not a Russian garden which always manages to unite the useful and the agreeable, the beautiful and the homely. Such a garden is lovelier than the finest of parks; the work of great artists is always a beautiful garden with flowers and weeds, and not a fine park with well-kept pathways.”
Blok remained essentially true to this musical, intuitive, side of his character throughout his life. Various critics, have tried, when writing about Blok, to represent him as torn between his mystico-romantic impulses and the search for realism. I reject this point of view on Blok outright. Of course, if under the heading of mysticism we are to understand a tendency towards the high-flown, a yearning for sanctity, purity and spirituality, then it is indeed indisputable that the domination of this particular type of idealistic, asetic mysticism over Blok was very short-lived. But what did Blok oppose to it? Elements of realism proper in Blok’s poetry are negligible, with the possible exception of a few thoughts and evocative phrases on the subject of coal and a new America, and one or two other things besides. On the whole, though, Blok, in reacting against the pink-and-blue type of mysticism, plunged straight into another drunken, sensual debauched mysticism. This has been noted by many students of his work.
Alexandra Ilyina, for instance, writes: “All Blok’s life was full of an inner desire to break away from mysticism and romanticism,” but adds immediately: “but, as time went on, every such break-away in the direction of realism (?) was expunged by a new wave of unconquered maximalism.” 
If by “maximalism” we are to understand those sensual orgies which Blok himself describes in his diaries and notebooks, the constant, hopeless drinking, the trips out of town in order to drink, etc., meditations on how he had reacted to the other “hundred, two hundred, three hundred women I have possessed” besides his wife, then all one can say is that the application of the term is most unusual. To Blok it seemed as though Bolshevism, committed to refashioning the world on entirely new foundations, was insufficiently “maximalistic,” but he could not even begin to formulate his own ideas as to what the truly maximalistic revolution should really be like. It is therefore quite out of order to balance the poet’s misguided Left Socialist-Revolutionary sympathies against his wild gropings for some kind of release through the lowest forms of depravity.
Blok did in fact begin with high-flown mysticism. Having been brought up in a fairly religious spirit and in the Beketov tradition of pure and chaste family relationships, Blok perceived his first love for his future wife through a prism of angelic wings. Added to this was the circumstance that the youthful disciples of Vladimir Solovyov wove a genuine cult about this romance, attributing allegorical significance to Blok’s love for Lyubov Mendeleyeva and declaring his bride to be the earthly reflection of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom. In the most ridiculous fashion, these young men would sit over their country-house breakfasts at Shakhmatovo  and, wide-eyed and mouths agape, follow her every movement, her walk, her speech, her gestures, investing them all with mystic significance. Even comparatively reasonable and sober people fell victim to this extraordinary self-deception. When you read the eloquent pages which Maria Beketova devoted to the description of Blok’s wedding and her assertion that a certain young Pole, overcome by so ecstatic an experience, eventually entered a monastery, it is impossible to keep a straight face. To any normal, sober man all this poetical mysticism must have seemed sheer farce from beginning to end.
In 1912, Gumilev wrote in the literary monthly Apollon: “Many guesses were hazarded as to the true identity of Blok’s Most Beautiful Lady: people wished to see her now as the Woman clothed with the Sun, now as the Eternal Feminine, now as a symbol of Russia. However, if we were just to suppose that She were quite simply the young girl who was the poet’s first love, then, it seems to me, not one poem in the whole collection would prove incompatible with this supposition, and the actual image, having grown closer to us, will become even more wonderful and will gain immeasurably from the artistic point of view.”
I would not like to say whether or not Blok’s Verses About the Most Beautiful Lady do gain from such a realistic interpretation, but at least there can be no doubt that a real country-house romance was indeed at the bottom of all the incense-burnings, inspirations, mysteries and religious devotions which go to make up this book.
In Blok himself, however, a directly opposite principle was at work. Very probably this was – first and foremost – the manifestation of a certain healthy German sobriety which was one of his characteristics. Maria Beketova tells us that Blok enjoyed physical work: “Blok was very fond of physical work. He had great physical strength and a good, straight eye. Whether scything grass, felling trees or digging, he would do everything very neatly and always make a good job of whatever he had undertaken. He even used to say that work was always work, ‘whether it be laying fires or writing verses...’.”
There was a period of Blok’s life when he went through a craze for gymnastics and even attributed an enormous importance to them. He himself said of the time when he was writing the Verses About the Most Beautiful Lady: “The sober and wholesome people by whom I was at that time surrounded succeeded, it would seem, in protecting me from the infection of mystic charlatanism.”
Blok was losing faith in the doctrine of Vladimir Solovyov. He began to feel that these monkish, troubadour warblings were, in some way, hollow, emasculated.
Having wrenched himself free of all these pallid phantoms, however, Blok fell victim to the elements of his own sensuality. It was not the physical vitality of which we have already spoken, but an exaggerated sensuality only partly connected with natural energy and, in essence, pathological, which drove him to seek experience in the underworld of tavern night-life. Here, beyond doubt, was the source of inspiration for the second and longest period of Blok’s poetry with its burning evocative power, its all-pervading eroticism, its despair, its mystic aspiration to attain, through sin, to the very heart of Nature.
His erstwhile allies such as Bely exercised a biting irony in their assessment of Blok’s departure from the fold. Bely writes: “Blok’s verses came into bloom like silken roses, from behind them glimmered ‘a vision, beyond the scope of mind’. But, when the roses opened – in each rose there was a caterpillar, a pretty caterpillar, true, but nevertheless, a caterpillar; the caterpillars were transformed into all sorts of devil’s spawn and little priests of the bog  who fell hungrily on the petals of the poet’s sublime dawn; from that moment his verse began to mature. Blok, who had formerly seemed a true mystic, had turned into a poet of stature, a beautiful singer of caterpillars: on the other hand, as a mystic, he had turned out to be a fraud.”
Bely, of course, is quite wrong to say that the Blok of this period was a fraudulent mystic. Of course, Blok’s mysticism here was no longer monastic. Ironically, he recalled the well-known saying: “If you never sin, you will never repent; if you never repent, you will never be saved.” For Blok, the very vortex of excess, the burning of the flesh in the sweet torments of sensuality were, in some sort, a source of mystic experience. Drunken debauchery, spicy infatuations, wild affairs with easy women – all these phenomena seemed to bring him much nearer to the “essence of things” than a well-ordered life in his quiet, white country-house.
The duality which, at this stage, became evident in Blok – the contradiction between chivalrous, monastic aspirations largely absorbed from the outside and the gypsy poetry of the café-chantant which he represents as a distinct element in the make-up of the world at large – had already been noted in a shrilly discordant poem which somehow got slipped into his first book of verse:
To worship in the Lord’s high dwellings
With heart abased is my delight.
Where sacred canticles are swelling,
In shadowy throngs I merge from sight.
I fear my Janus-soul perfidious,
And keep the visored helm of Grace
Most carefully closed upon my hideous
And diabolic, second face.
But when, in prayerful superstition,
The sure defence of Christ I ask,
Then simulation and perdition
Smile to themselves behind the mask.
But Blok was already at the mercy of another duality. Again, he was torn not between the rival claims of drunken romanticism and realism, but between the quickly exhausted, and exhausting tarantella of the senses and a growing passion, not devoid of anguished foreboding, for Russia – a Russia perceived, on the one hand, through the base of all this clamour and debauch, and, on the other, wreathed in the flames of approaching revolution.
It is not my intention to provide here a more detailed analysis of the “pagan period” of Blok’s poetry. Much has already been said and written about it. Blok himself characterises the period when he cries of the “broken and piercing note of madness,” of the “shriek for salvation,” of how he “trod down despair, searching for truth in wine,” etc.
Bely, also at the very beginning of this period, found the right words to describe the turning-point:
“In 1903, Blok addressed ‘us’ with words of hope:
Let us join our hands in silence,
Fly away into the blue.
“In 1905 – he breaks off short: the hands had not been joined; no one had flown away into the blue; the ships had not come; we had been left behind; and we were left sitting there like fools on the damp tussocks of the marshes; we were ‘a disease’, ‘the playthings of the elements’.”
In a word, it was to a considerable degree, a personal break-down. The fantastically successful dream of perceiving something sacred and mysterious in the features of the Stranger, of the unknown woman glimpsed in a low tavern, could not soothe his profound uneasiness any more than the dream of perceiving Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, in his own beloved and perfectly real bride had been able to do.
Blok’s third period is most closely connected with the revolution. There, it is Blok’s love-affair with the revolution which is the dominating factor – a very strange romance which requires interpretation.
D. Blagoi, in his interesting article “Alexander Blok and Apollon Grigoriev,” having noted the inevitable stalemate of Blok’s daemonic quest, gives an excellent definition of the third way which then opened up before him (Blagoi calls it the second way, since he leaves out of account the service of the Most Beautiful Lady) in the following words:
“There is a second way which promises a radical cure – a way which, as was to be expected according to the historical dialectics of his class, exercised an invincible attraction over the poet, even as it attracted so many other ‘descendants of heroes’, representatives of the ‘rotten’, ‘dead’, ‘finally extinct’ Russian nobility (all Blok’s own epithets): ‘flight’ from the alien, unfamiliar, ‘terrible’, doom-laden town, back home, but not back home to their own small, tumble-down ‘white house’, to their ‘nest of gentlefolk’, but flight towards a roomier dwelling, ‘to the fields’, ‘to the boundless Russia plain’, to the people, to Russia. Blok clutches at the possibility of such a way with all his might.”
Blok’s third period, his blunderings along the ways of revolution, taken together with a kind of prologue inspired by the tempest of 1905 and the ensuing years of reaction, is at the same time the last period of his life and work.
Blok was very conscious of belonging to the nobility. His whole private life was closely connected with the traditions of the country gentry. He had received a sufficiently thorough education, particularly in the sphere of literature, to know the history of the culture of the aristocracy and to take pride in its most brilliant achievements. In many of Blok’s judgements on events and people there is a hint of aristocratic arrogance, although this is softened by his sincerely democratic principles and by a certain flavour of Bohemianism. However, Blok was also conscious of the curse which hung over his class. The official representatives of the nobility, those, that is, who were the prop and stay of the throne and who set the whole tone of the country’s political life, appeared to Blok as a dark, even criminal force. Blok was brought to this conclusion not only because he belonged, through the Beketovs, to the liberal and enlightened wing of the nobility, but also because he was half déclassé and, by the end of his life, had practically nothing left in common with the real landowners and became increasingly dependent on his pen and subject to all the troubles common to the professional intelligentsia and his brother writers.
Like Pushkin, Lermontov and Nekrasov, Blok was, on the one hand, passionately devoted to his native land and, on the other, acutely aware of the terrible state it was in, of its lack of culture, of the neglect of its rulers and leaders and of their guilt towards it. Without hesitating, he calls this Russia, to whom he openly declares his love (“My wife, my life”), an “unhappy” country – “befouled by bureaucrats, dirty, downtrodden, drivelling – the laughing-stock of the world.” Naturally, the blame for all this does not lie with the people but with the ruling classes.
In verse and prose, Blok looked back with hatred to the regime of Alexander III, to the days of Pobedonostsev, though he had sufficient experience of all the “delights” of reaction in his own lifetime. He was well acquainted with the Stolypin  administration and was to write of it: “Those were times when the autocracy had achieved what it wanted. Witte  and Durnovo  had the country roped in a stranglehold, Stolypin wound the end of the rope firmly round his sensitive, aristocratic hand... All this was of only a few years’ duration, but those few years lay heavily on us like long, sleepless, haunted night.”
Blok’s reference to the “sensitive, aristocratic hand” was no slip of the pen. In condemning that nucleus of his class which still retained its power, the official representatives of the nobility, Blok was not only totally unsympathetic towards their closest rivals, the bourgeoisie, but, on the contrary, felt the utmost aversion towards them from the top of the social scale right down to the bottom.
In the depths of the trough which divided one revolutionary epoch from another, in the year 1908, Blok asserted with profound sorrow: “The Russian nobility has finally died out. A new ruling class has appeared in place of the Russian nobility.”
But Blok understood very well that this ruling class had brought no relief to the country, that it implemented its rule through the same landowners, the same bureaucrats, the same autocratic machinery of state, but that it had not the strength in itself to produce such people as Pushkin, Tolstoi, Turgenev. On the contrary, throughout all its own hierarchy from the upper middle class down to the petty bourgeoisie, it was scarcely capable of producing a higher cultural ideal than that of Artsybashev’s Sanin.
Blok demands bitterly: “Is there or is there not a class in Russia capable of carrying on the splendid work of the nobility?”
For Blok no doubt existed but that neither the tradesmen and industrialists nor the professional intelligentsia, nor yet the artistic intelligentsia had the necessary strength. If the nobility had collapsed, then everything had collapsed. The only hope lay in the mysterious “people.”
Here, I would like to go rather more deeply into Blok’s hatred for the “detestable victor” – the bourgeoisie. Blok had inherited this hatred from his class and, in particular, from that group which had suffered more than others from the advance of capital. In this respect Blok has much in common with his father.
V. D. Izmailskaya in her article “The Problem of Retribution” describes the elder Blok’s attitude in the following terms:
“It would be quite useless to look for scholarly impartiality on the pages of this book about Russia, which is a scathing denunciation of the vices of the bourgeois system. A. (lexander) L. (vovich) brings a publicistic impressionism to the expression of his contempt for the ‘boring mediocrity’, the ‘bourgeois narrow-mindedness’ and the ‘bourgeois morality’ of the European middle classes, whom he considered to be devoid of high ideals. Their ideals he thought fit only for the attainment of some special ‘English happiness’ (ridiculed by Tolstoi). Most certainly, he saw no connection between them and the ‘universal happiness’ dreamt of by Dostoyevsky.”
His son goes further. His conception of the bourgeois age is given in the long poem Retribution. So felicitously and completely is Blok’s judgement on this epoch pronounced here, that we take the liberty of quoting a lengthy extract.
O nineteenth century, O age of iron;
In very truth a cruel century!
Into the darkness of a starless night
Has man, from trouble free, been cast by you!
Along with you, succeeding other plagues,
There entered neurasthenia, boredom, spleen.
The age of foreheads beating on the wall,
The age of economic theories,
The age of meetings, federations, banks,
Of dinner speeches, phrases smartly turned,
The age of shares, annuities and bonds,
And but a little live intelligence...
It is the age of wealthy bourgeoisie,
Of evil growing by unseen degrees
Despite equality and brotherhood
As watchwords, dark affairs have ripened here.
And what of man? He lived bereft of will;
Not man was master but machines and towns!
So bloodlessly and painlessly has “life"
Now racked his spirit, as ne’er happ’d before
But he who with his guiding hand controls
The figured marionettes of every land,
He knew what he was doing, when he spread
The mists of humanistic reasonings;
There, in the leaden mist with dampness sodden,
The flesh is withered and the spirit quenched;
Even the angel of the sacred strife
Seems from our presence to have taken flight...
The Twentieth Century’s more homeless still,
And still more terrible its gloomy life;
For even blacker and with vaster reach
The shadow spreads from wing of Lucifer...
The ceaseless roar outpouring from machines,
That forge destruction through the day and night,
The fearful knowledge of the fraud that marks
Our petty thoughts and all our past beliefs,
The first ascent of aeroplane in flight
Into the void of undiscovered spheres
And a revulsion from this life of ours
And yet a frenzied love for life itself,
And passion and a hate of fatherland... 
Like the nobility of old, Blok felt an intense repugnance for any kind of financial transactions, for buying and selling, for hiring out his labour. “I was at the bank today,” he notes in his diary. “The very touch of money corrupts the soul.”
The landowner, thrown out of his idyllic country life, has long since forgotten his own natural economy. He is déclassé; he has lost his last possession, his home, his country-estate, the “beloved earth,” so assiduously sung by good, bad and indifferent literary luminaries of the nobility.
Blok felt this very poignantly. In 1906, immediately after the revolution, he wrote in the article “Stagnation”: 
“I see a sight to make the gods laugh: the world lies green and blossoming, but on her bosom the towns – corpulent spiders – are sucking in the growing things all about them and exuding din, fumes and stench...
“What is to be done then? What is to be done? There are no homes left... Chaste customs, serene smiles, quiet evenings – all these are coated with cobwebs... Joy has decreased, hearths are cold... Doors stand open to the snowy square... We live in an era of doors standing open into the square, of dead hearths... Tramps are appearing among us. Idle and homeless loiterers are to be met within the public squares of the town...”
Several journeys abroad provided Blok with a great deal of pleasure by bringing him into contact with old cultures of a more or less vividly expressed aristocratic or patrician character. All bourgeois Europe, on the other hand, filled him with horror and revulsion. He writes of the “monstrous meaninglessness to which civilisation has been reduced.” He says that, in Europe, “everything is over.” He senses there a “moribund inertia.”
A feeling of profound aversion for the triumphant bourgeoisie aroused in him something approaching physiological disgust. In the autumn of 1911 he wrote home from France: “No person in the least fastidious would agree to settle down in France.”
During the war, long before his famous Scythians, he prophesied gleefully: “Let Europe go on fighting, let her, the unhappy, bedraggled cocotte! All the wisdom of the world will run out through her fingers, stained as they are with war and politics, and other people will come and will carry her ‘whither she would not’.”
He made no exception for the intelligentsia, the Russian intelligentsia included. It was, he maintained, caught up in the life of the time as a whole, it was in a state of decomposition, it was not musical in the metaphysical sense of the term. Blok begins his diary with a whole series of remarks on the distressing thoughts aroused in him by his nearest neighbours – the intelligentsia: “Literary circles in Petersburg are in a state of final decomposition. The stench is already appreciable.” He is constantly warning himself against having too much to do with professional writers: “Keep literary friendships down to a minimum – you will only poison yourself and fall ill.”
Despairingly, he adds after these words: “And I myself am no better than those who I am writing about.”
His penetrating artist’s eye notes the depravity of the “leaders” of the intelligentsia. He writes: “Milyukov, who was recently seen edging his way to the front with a candle at Stolypin’s memorial service... in whom and what are we here to place our trust?”
For the reader who wishes to acquaint himself further with the depths of Blok’s malice towards the intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie, we would recommend a study of the vividly described episode noted in his diary for the 14th November, 1911: “All the crowd on the Nevsky Prospect is like that,” Blok concludes. “The ugly mug of Anatoly Kamensky is like that.”
Evidently Anatoly Kamensky, an insolent writer who always played for easy popularity, seemed to Blok a kind or arch-type of the bourgeois intelligentsia.
“Everything is giving at the seams,” Blok wrote at that time. “The stitches are rapidly rotting from within (‘decaying’), but the outer appearance is still preserved. It would be enough to give a little pull, though, and the Persian lambskins would fall apart – and reveal the dirty, filthy, animal face of a bloodless, exhausted and violated corpse.”
From this it is evident that, in Blok’s view, things were in no better shape “with us” than “in the West.”
The war, which Blok was able to observe from comparatively close at hand, increased his distaste for all that was happening. He saw it altogether as an element of the bourgeois civilisation he so detested.
“Why is it that up till this day no one will believe me that the world war is nonsense... Some day that will be understood. I do not say this only because I myself am rotting away in all this nonsense.
“Europe has gone mad. The flower of humanity, the flower of the intelligentsia, have been sitting about in bogs for years now, have been sitting, with the utmost conviction (is not that symbolic?), along the whole 1,000-verst length of a narrow strip which is known as ‘the front’... It is hard to say which is the more repulsive: the bloodshed or the idleness, boredom and vulgarity all of which carry the titles ‘The Great War’, ‘The War for the Fatherland’, ‘The War for the Liberation of the Oppressed Peoples’ – and how many more? No, under this emblem we shall liberate no one.”
We see that Blok was charged with a colossal energy of negation against the established order. He was occasionally reduced to complete despair. In a letter sent from Milan in the spring of 1909 he says: “More than ever before, I see that I shall never until I die accept anything of the modern way of life, that I shall never knuckle under to it. Its shameful order fills me with nothing but disgust. It is too late to change anything – no revolution on earth would have the power to change it.”
It is clear on the basis of all this that Blok, exhausted by his tavern-type mysticism, having found nothing – either on his heavenly or his infernal mystic quests – but “charlatanism” and “terrible weariness and boredom,” was maturing towards a great readiness to throw himself to meet the oncoming tidal wave of revolution, in the belief that here he would be able to wash himself clean, that here all the world would be able to wash away its uncleanness.
Blok did not believe that the period of reaction was destined to last for long. 1917 found him ready and waiting. In his extraordinarily powerful address “Culture and the Element” (end of 1908), he prophesied that the bomb was due to go off in our time, although it was generally taken to be nothing but an innocent orange: “All of us are imbued with a feeling of sickness, alarm, catastrophe, rupture.”
“Russia, having heaved herself out of one revolution, is already gazing avidly into the eyes of another, perhaps more terrible still.”
From these words, it is clear that Blok himself fears this bomb, this advancing element, but, unlike many others, he is prepared to welcome it.
Here we must make an attempt to sort out Blok’s attitudes to the revolution, both positive and negative, on the basis of his own expressed opinions from 1905 onwards.
The revolution of 1905 made a great and positive impression upon Blok. We know that he even got himself mixed up in one of the demonstrations and carried a red flag at its head.
However, the period of reaction which came after the great splash of the revolution produced a still greater impression on him. Unlike many other representatives of the intelligentsia who sank back into various reactionary moods and dark philosophies, Blok, whose reaction to the explosion had been extremely morbid and had led to an intensification of his “gypsy,” “daemonic” element, still, at the same time, found strength in himself to meet with the utmost indignation the gaze of the Gorgon of political reaction which was threatening his country and, from time to time, to raise his voice against it in resounding, ireful lines which are among the best political verses in Russian poetry.
The period of reaction was, for him, a “long, sleepless, haunted night.”
In 1907 he writes of suffocation and notes: “Even among the young it is only very seldom one meets with one single person who is not mortally bored and unhappy, hiding his true face under the sickeningly familiar grimace of pampered delicacy, refinement, exclusive self-love.”
At that time, Blok was himself close to this kind of state, which he described as “Russian dandyism.” He was, however, very well aware that such attitudes were the product of political reaction.
In those years the intelligentsia really did inspire him with the most acute distaste. He was a genuine rebel in their ranks. Alongside his “café-chantant mysticism” he felt the pull of active citizenship, awoken in 1905, the same sense of citizenship which, later, when the “revolutionary element” was to ring out again as the dominant musical theme of existence, was to reveal its face so fully and to show some features of great nobility and others more blurred in outline and less easy to define.
Very characteristic of Blok at this time, disillusioned but filled with contempt for the misleading stability which was settling down over the country, was an article he wrote in October 1908 for the newspaper Rech (Speech).
“The verses of any one of our new poets are unnecessary and, almost always, harmful reading... It is wrong to foster admiration for writers who lack the social halo, who have not yet earned the right to consider themselves heirs of the sacred literature of Russia. This is harmful, taken by and large, not only because it produces an atmosphere of commonplace vulgarity – worse than that: the soirees devoted to the new art... are coming to resemble centres of social reaction.”
While he was taking part in the religious-philosophic debates of the intelligentsia’s “élite” he wrote of their significance – more truly, of their lack of significance – with exhaustive virulence: “Now they have started up this chattering once again; yet all these highly educated and embittered men of culture, going quietly grey over their arguments about Christ, all their wives and wives’ female relatives in high-necked blouses, all these hard-thinking philosophers and all these priests with their oily shine of self-satisfaction know that the poor in spirit, whose need is for deeds, are standing outside the doors. Instead of deeds – a monstrous juggling with words... All this is now becoming fashionable, within the grasp of university lecturers’ wives and charitable ladies... But outside – the wind blows, prostitutes shiver, men are hungry, they are being hung; and reaction broods over the country, and life in Russia is hard, cold, vile. Why, even if all those chatterers were to wear themselves away to shreds in their searching, of no use to anyone on this earth other than to ‘refined natures’, nothing m Russia would be one jot the worse or the better for it!”
Blok’s poetry attained maximum political significance towards 1914, in his Iambi. True, these verses were not published together as one book until much later, in 1919, but they represented a powerful undercurrent in Blok’s poetry. We shall limit ourselves here to reminding the reader of one poem, written in 1911:
Here then the call of inspiration;
Albeit my soaring muse is free
She’s drawn towards humiliation
And dirt, and dark, and poverty.
Drawn further, further, humbler, lower –
That Other World’s best seen from here...
Have you seen beggars, though, in winter?
Or children in a Paris square?
On life’s impenetrable horror
Come open, open wide your eyes
Before the holocaust arise
To devastate your home for ever.
Prepare for work. Roll up your sleeves.
Let righteous wrath mature and smoulder,
You cannot? – then let mount and moulder
Your spleen and boredom’s seared leaves.
But call no truce with this existence!
She’s false. Rub off her greasy rouge!
Adopt the timid mole’s resistance –
Get you to ground. Nor breathe, nor move,
But nurse your hatred of life’s horror
Not heeding how the world may go...
Though you may not behold the morrow
Say to the present – firmly: No!
Blok’s just anger and his sympathy for the masses, born of his disillusionment with a society which had no place for him, and his “metaphysical” hope in that new music which, he believed, would be brought into being by the advance of the lower orders, were, therefore, at their height during the period of reaction. Blok really did string his lyre with brass. However, although he tells us how cruelly he hates and despises life as it is, he admits that he “may not behold the morrow.” It had seemed to him that, from the crest of the next wave of revolution, he had caught a glimpse of some hazy but radiant future; but Blok’s eyes were so constructed that it was impossible for them to see the real contours of the actual great revolution which was in fact to take place, of the completely new future which was in fact approaching.
Full of doubts, anxieties, bitterness, vague hopes, Blok, even in these moments of his life, during the years of reacttion when he was most actively occupied by questions of social change and upheaval, still did not feel that his personal fate was bound up with the fortunes of that class from whom he awaited regeneration. He was always aware of himself as a representative of that same intelligentsia which he so abhorred. In the article “Russia and the Intelligentsia” this admixture of real dismay in the face of revolution is expressed with an extreme sharpness.
In 1908 he wrote: “In casting ourselves upon the neck of the people, we are casting ourselves under the hoofs of a runaway troika, to certain destruction.” In 1913, speaking of Pushkin, he noted, “...yet again we experience this shock of fear, remembering that our rebellion may also prove to be ‘insensate and ruthless’.”
The mood which descended on Blok during the revolutionary days of 1917, in February and after October, has been described often enough. It is a prolongation of what went on before, although in a different, more vivid outward form, corresponding to the grandiose quality of events. Blok is very explicit on this period and his position at that time is quite clear. It is clear in its very lack of clarity.
It seemed to Blok that his ideas corresponded to those of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries because they too believed in the “elemental,” were extremely diffuse and liked to speak of Revolution with a capital “R” and to think of it as something immensely lofty while remaining completely alien to its class essence and its real aims.
Of course, one might say that Ivanov-Razumnik, who became a friend of the poet’s at about that time, had a bad influence on him. But such ideas should be put aside, for the truth was that Blok simply found in Ivanov-Razumnik confirmation of his own attitudes.
The revolution, when it came, was tempestuous and magnificent – and Blok, in a series of remarkable articles,
called on the intelligentsia to put off their “a-musicality” and to appreciate the sublimity of this great symphony. He defended the revolution against charges of isolated though frequent cases of vandalism and violence. He spoke of the great flood which was bearing a mass of flotsam along with it on the surface, but which, in itself, was great and fruitful. The intelligentsia, he said, must accustom its overrefined ear to the musical roar of this flood.
It is as though the déclassé professional writer of noble origin, Blok, were trying to forget himself in this musical storm and to wash away all memory of the unclean and tormenting experiences which he had undergone in the degenerate rotten life of the last years of the Old World.
Recalling his hatred of the bourgeoisie and of bourgeois Europe, he was able to draw out impressive notes in his address to her (the famous poem The Scythians). He contrasted the immensity and world-wide significance of what was going on in the Eurasian plains of Russia to the narrow reaches of bourgeois ideology.
He turned to the West with love and threats in the name of his extraordinary people in whom he had long since, as he believed, described traits of furious energy and incipient greatness beneath the outer shell of apparent wretchedness.
I remember an extremely characteristic incident when, having just arrived in Paris in 1923, I had occasion to meet up with a group of surrealists, representatives of the déclassé intelligentsia, who nurtured a particularly virulent dislike of the bourgeoisie. Naturally, these people who, at that time, were on the verge of joining the Communist Party and were planning to take over Barbusse’s organ Clarté, had no knowledge of Blok, but their whole attitude was so extraordinarily akin to his that it was a living illustration of the similar social foundation of both phenomena.
While we were talking, the surrealists whose leaders at that time were Breton and Aragon, addressed me with a declaration which went something like this.
“We, surrealists, are first and foremost anti-bourgeois. The bourgeoisie is dying, but it is dying slowly and poisoning the air about us with the reek of decomposition. Which feature of the bourgeoisie do we, the intelligentsia, consider the most detestable, the most deadly? Bourgeois rationalism. The bourgeoisie believes in reason. It looks upon itself as reasonable and considers that the whole world is built on principles corresponding to its own colourless, prosaic and terribly narrow rationalism. It is as though the world itself had submitted to bourgeois rationalism. But, in actual fact, under the outer shell of reason there is a huge and mysterious elemental sphere, which one has to have eyes to see, but which cannot be seen with the eyes of reason. This is why we defend the principle of intuition. The artist can and should see things in their surreal significance. We need the revolution in order to overthrow the sovereignty of the bourgeoisie and with it the sovereignty of reason, to recall the great sovereignty of elemental life, so that the world may dissolve in the true music of intense being. We honour Asia as a continent which, up till now, has drawn the life force only from these true springs and has not been poisoned by European reason. Come, you Muscovites, and bring in your wake countless detachments of Asiatics, tread our European ‘after-culture’ into the ground. Even if we ourselves are to die beneath the hoofs of the wild steppe horses, then let us die! Only let reason die with us, and calculation and the deadly, stifling principle of bourgeois life!”
This is an almost exact transcription of the sense of what was said and of the images in which the young French poets clothed their thoughts at that time. It cost me a great deal of trouble to overcome their astonishment and even their indignation, when I answered that they had got a completely wrong idea of the revolution; that the revolution was the champion of the cause of reason; that we looked for support from European civilisation, that we considered Marxism but as its best gift, as the apogee of reason – true, not of logical, but of dialectic reason; that we seek to absorb all that is best in European culture, all that the European bourgeoisie has rejected; and, finally, that not only are we ourselves seeking to build up our country on the basis of this highest form of learning, but we wish to spread the light of this same reason in Asia also, and have no intention of becoming the bearers of the influence of Asiatic mystic metaphysics in Europe.
All this most probably seemed very unpoetical to them. Had Blok been there in my place, he would almost certainly have come to an understanding with the surrealists at once; they would have found that they spoke the same language.
However, even as Blok hearkened to the storm of revolution as he understood it, admiring the vast scale on which events were proceeding, and expecting, as a result, some sudden metaphysical changes for the better which would transform all the foundations of being, he still felt the old intellectual fear.
On June 19, 1917, Blok wrote: “I shall not be surprised if the people, clever, calm, and gifted with an understanding of something the intelligentsia will never understand (that is to say, with a socialist psychology, completely, diametrically different), should suddenly begin (though not, perhaps, very soon), just as calmly and majestically, to hang and to despoil the intelligentsia (so as to establish order, so as to clear the brain of the country of rubbish).”
On the 30th of June he adds: “If the proletariat comes to power, then we shall have a long wait for ‘order’, it may not even be established in our lifetime, but let the proletariat wield power, for only children could make anything new and interesting out of that ancient toy.”
And so the proletariat is represented as an irrational force, as an unthinking, inexperienced child, incapable of establishing order; but this is all to the good; perhaps, in playing, he will succeed in creating a new world.
The revolution, meanwhile, went its own way. Professor Tsingovatov gives an excellent analysis of Blok’s attitude towards it in his valuable book A. A. Blok. He writes:
“Blok accepted the October Revolution as a long-desired way out from a dead end – personal, social, European and international – but he accepted one particular aspect of it, seen in the light of Left-wing Narodnik dreams of utopia and mystic, apocalyptic ravings. The way out – quite real in itself – was perceived so subjectively, that it turned out to be a hopeless delusion – a mixture of Christian communism and Scythian Pan-Mongolism. This incurable poet-symbolist saw many things in the revolution: Christ and the Twelve Apostles, Scythians and Asiatic hordes, and orange-groves – and Catilina arose before him in the guise of a ‘Roman Bolshevik’. Only one thing did Blok fail to see, something it was impossible that he should have seen through his romantic spectacles: the real October, the real workers’ and peasants’ revolution, governed by the inevitable laws of the class struggle, which had come into being as a stage in the process of the development of the means of production and socio-economic relationships.”
In the meantime, the revolution had begun to assume certain features of this same order which Blok had not believed the working class capable of establishing. True, it fell to Blok’s lot to live through those years (and he did not live to see better) when the proletariat was at grips with the most stringent shortages which made themselves felt in every branch of activity as the result of ruinous wars. Blok’s most immediate experience was, therefore, this immense destitution which invaded his own private life as well. True, Blok bore these unavoidable hardships heroically enough. To carry wood up to the top storey, to have to think of ways to make ends meet, of how to obtain food was all in the day’s work, but it went on for so long that all this disorganisation of everyday life, to which Blok could foresee no end, could not but have inclined him towards pessimism. The main factor here was that Blok had absolutely no understanding of the economic aspect of the revolution. Although he dreamt of a Russian America and began writing some work or other which was to centre on coal, etc., he was still so completely alien to economic questions that the task of building socialism as a new economic system seemed to him something remote and academic – failed, fact, to make any impression on him whatsoever.
Blok overlooked Lenin. He heard no “music” in Lenin’s speeches. On the contrary, it seemed to him that even the Bolsheviks were simply one of many kinds of flotsam on the surface of the profoundly disturbed masses of the people. Lenin and his reasonableness evidently seemed to Blok a mere offshoot of the intelligentsia’s cult of reason, trying to graft its plans on to the great, mysterious tree which had suddenly shot up from the depths of the people.
This is why Blok’s last years passed in an atmosphere of immense bewilderment. It seemed to him that the music was again draining out of the revolution, that the only sounds now were the wild discords of an unsettled day-to day existence and isolated outbursts of open rebellion. He felt that the revolution was gradually being overcome by the element of Soviet statesmanship and commitment to the Party. In this element Blok heard no music. Rather, he distinguished a near-bureaucratic, near-bourgeois spirit, although, as it were, turned upside down.
Blok’s whole character, everything about him which made him the beloved and desired singer of the doomed, everything which enabled him to see and to show the bitterness of life and to bring comfort with confused symbolic prophesies – all this became a hindrance to him, something which had to be overcome if he were to understand the revolution.
Revolution, of course, requires passion and enthusiasm, but it requires these qualities in a particular, cooled and tempered form, which does not for one moment cloud the reason of the scientific socialism under whose banner the very element which Blok adored had come into being. To understand this doctrine requires the utmost mental effort. The true greatness of the Bolshevik revolution lay in the fact that, while exercising the maximum influence over the course of the element of revolution as such, it at the same time directed it into clearly defined creative channels so that its course became more and more harmonious.
But Blok had no ear for this kind of harmony. He no longer recognised it as music. Only in the indefinite, only in the chaotic, only in the blinding splendour of high-flown and imprecise mystic light or in the dubious flickering of infernal flames could Blok perceive anything akin to his own nature. In this was his condemnation.
All that has just been said can be most clearly understood on the example of the history of Blok’s famous poem The Twelve.
Maria Beketova tells us that in January 1918, when The Twelve was being written, Blok was in a state of joyful, extremely high tension. Blok was not worried that people like Merezhkovsky considered The Twelve to be a betrayal of culture and a glorification of the Bolsheviks. Demonstrative snubs of this sort there were in plenty, but there was also no lack of demonstrations of enthusiasm.
Bolshevik circles, naturally, accepted The Twelve with certain reservations. In the first place, it was quite clear that Blok was again approaching the revolution from the wrong angle. His heroes were purely elemental bearers of the revolutionary principle. The revolutionary element raises them very high in their quality of the true, plebeian “advance guard” of the revolution but, according to Blok, this element is heavily soiled by hooligan tendencies of a near criminal character. There can be no doubt that such figures did get themselves mixed up with the revolution, and, at one time, even made a certain contribution, but, of course, they did not represent the strength of the revolution.
The Twelve could scarcely be further removed from the spirit of the Communist Party, because Blok felt allegiance to the Party to be something quite unrevolutionary, some thing alien to his whole make-up, whereas in fact, as the whole future went to show, it was the true leading principle of the revolution. Apart from this, the sudden appearance of Christ at the head of the Twelve, that mystic touch which Blok himself did not fully understand, came as a shock.
Chukovsky writes in his reminiscences that Blok, in answer to Gumilev’s remark that the mystic finale appeared to be artificially tacked onto the end of The Twelve, had said: “I don’t like the end of The Twelve either. I wish the end had been different. When I finished it, I was surprised myself: Why Christ? Was it really Christ? But the more I looked, the more distinctly I saw Christ...”
So it appeared that Blok had created his Christ “in a wreath of white roses” quite involuntarily, almost as though under the influence of a revelation. It seems to me that the main motive force here was a combination of childhood memories which taught him to identify Christian religious concepts with the idea of the highest conceivable morality, sanctity, inviolability and – more important – of Dostoyevsky, who loved to finish off his utopian visions of a future which, in his books, is always the work of atheists, by the irruption of Christ into their world, returning to man in an unexpected moment to hallow the just “lay” order of life which they have established.
It is, however, typical that Blok had no intention of lowering or even of diluting the revolutionary tension of The Twelve by the introduction of this figure. In his notebook for January 29, 1918, we read the very significant lines: “That Christ is going on before them is beyond doubt. It is not so much a matter of whether or not ‘they are worthy of Him’, but the terrifying thing is that, once again, it is He who is with them and that there is still no other; should there not be Another – ?”
These lines show that somewhere in Blok’s creative laboratory thoughts were fomenting as to the importance of raising the revolutionary principle above the “wreath of white roses,” but that he could not find the required synthesis.
Probably, Blok would have opened his eyes wide in astonishment and fear had anyone suggested to him that this “Other” was already living; that he was the great teacher and leader of the proletariat, at once a real man and the true embodiment of the greatest ideas which had ever developed on this earth and which made the sayings of Christianity look naive and old-fashioned; that he was that very Vladimir Ilyich Lenin whom, perhaps, he had occasionally encountered at meetings or in the street.
At least, it is clear that, in the poem The Twelve, Blok wished to give a true picture of the real might of revolution, fearlessly to point out its hostility towards the intelligentsia, to show the wild, almost criminal forces which served it, and at the same time, to bless them with the greatest blessing at his command. What Blok wrote about The Twelve in April 1920 for the Volfila (Free Philosophic Association), therefore, represents a great falling away from this height.
Here, he completely denies the political significance of The Twelve. He says that he “does not disown” what was written “in tune with the element,” but that “only the blind” could see “politics” in his poem.
Blok continues: “At the same time it would be wrong to deny all connection between The Twelve and politics. The truth is that the poem was written in that extraordinary and always brief moment, when the revolutionary cyclone which is passing overhead whips up a storm in every sea – in Nature, life and art; in the sea of human life there is also a smallish creek – something like the Marquise’s Pond  – which is known as politics; and there was a storm raging in that teacup, too. It is easy to talk: they were discussing putting an end to the diplomatic service, a new legal code, stopping the war, which at that time had already been going on for four years! – The seas of Nature, life and art were running high, the spray flew up to form a rainbow over us. I was looking into the rainbow when I wrote The Twelve, that is how a drop of politics remained in the poem. We shall see what time will do with it. It may be that every kind of politics is so dirty that one drop will cloud and spoil all the rest; it may be that it will not destroy the sense of the poem; it may be – who knows after all? – that it will prove to be that fomenting agent thanks to which The Twelve will still be read in some time not our own. I myself can only speak of that now with irony; but do not let us take upon ourselves to pass final judgement just now.”
This tirade is horrifying. That same Blok who once in a gesture not devoid of grandeur had declared that to retire from politics was to betray the most profound essence of poetry and to leave out of account a most important part of it, now, in the face of the greatest events which the world has ever seen, announces that politics is a “Marquise’s Pond,” reduces all politics – including, that is, the revolutionary politics of the proletariat – to some kind of “dirty principle,” etc. What we have here is a manifestation of complete political idiocy.
Although Blok, in his best moments, had been able to perceive the greatness of the political movements through the customary mists wreathing about him and making all the objects of the outside world lose their sharpness of contour in contact with his poetry and take on the outlines of fantasy, now, weary and not understanding what was going on around him, he was ready flatly to deny all connection with the storms of politics. For him, the revolution remained nothing but an elemental cosmic manifestation.
True, he does not turn his back on his past ties with the revolution. He even puts the question of whether such a poem as The Twelve will be of value in the future because of or in spite of its political message – but this is cold comfort.
The revolution had dealt Blok himself some extremely painful blows. It had finally dispersed the last remnants of the landowner which had still clung to him. It had subjected him – a matter of bitter regret to all of us – to long months of real need. But, more than all this, it had not brought him satisfaction. Instead of cosmic wonders and Left-S.-R.-cum-aristocratic surprises, instead of grandiose romantic pathos, it had begun to show its constructive aspect. Perhaps if Blok had lived until such time as this aspect really began to be clearly distinguishable, when its features took on more distinct outlines even for those who were standing afar off, he might have found some return bridges back to the revolution. But at that time, with revolution in its embryo forms of constructive work and given Blok’s essential socio-psychological qualities, there was no hope of that.
While we are on the subject, when Blok was told of the sack of his beloved Shakhmatovo where he had passed the happiest and “most sacred” years of his life, he reacted with something like indifference. In 1919 he wrote: “Now nothing remains of that home where I spent the happiest times of my life. Perhaps the old limes are still whispering there all alone in the wind, if no one had stripped off their bark.” But he considered this event a manifestation of “historical retribution.” “A poet should not possess anything – it’s as it should be,” he replied to those who offered him their sympathy.
In the article “The Intelligentsia and the Revolution,” he develops the following courageous ideas under the influence of this event.
“Why do the people befoul the treasured estates of the landowners? – Because peasant girls were raped here, and thrashed; if not at this landowner’s, then at his neighbour’s.
“Why are they cutting down parks which have stood for centuries? – Because, for centuries, the masters have been making their power felt under the spreading limes and maples: have flaunted their purses under the noses of paupers, and their education under the noses of bumpkins...
“I know what I am talking about. There is no getting round this. – It’s no use trying to pretend this was not the way things were; yet this is just what everyone is trying to pretend...
“After all, are we not answerable for the past? We are links of a single chain. Or are the sins of our fathers not to be visited upon us? If this is not felt by all, it should, at least, be within the comprehension of the ‘best people’.”
Blok maintained that he had always been aware of the doom hanging over the estates of the nobility: “That all
is not well there, that the catastrophe is approaching, that, the storm is already battering at the doors, is something I have known for a very long time, since before the first revolution.”
At the same time, it would be extremely superficial to assume that this final destruction of Blok’s material link with the nobility and with its whole way of life passed him by painlessly. On December 12, 1918, he wrote: “Why was it that tonight I woke from dreams of Shakhmatovo with my face bathed in tears?”
Before us, therefore, is a poet of erratic personality. His social position is extremely unstable and tormenting. He feels that his class, his type of man – is doomed. He detests the reality around him and his immediate conqueror – the bourgeoisie and all it stands for. From early youth he strives to oppose dream to this reality. He seeks a way of life in high-minded mysticism into which he channels the youthful experience of a pure, ardent love. But in the depths of these “white roses” a caterpillar is already hidden. The hussar element of wild debauchery, the element of aristocratic rakishness emerges in a peculiar form. These ravings of the blood are experienced as a quest for truth at the bottom of a glass, as an attempt to arrive at some special meaning of life through sin, as an orgiastic search for Dionysius, perhaps even for Christ.
These aspects of Blok make him a particularly suitable vehicle to express the moods not only of all those who belonged, like him, to the moribund aristocratic intelligentsia, but also of the bourgeois intelligentsia who, at that time, were already standing on the edge of the precipice which was to prove the terminus of their social existence – so short-lived in our country. The “music of revolution” sounds through all this. In this music Blok seeks something profoundly akin to his own elemental searchings, to his desire to look beyond the bounds of being. This revolution of the Russian peasant, of the Russian rebel, this peasant principle of revolution, this peasant justice had, of old,
served the Herzens, Bakunins and Tolstois as a refuge from the despair of a doomed aristocracy. Blok romanticises the revolution. He “ennobles” it in the sense that he gives it kinship now with his “sacred” quest, now with his sinful searchings. He finds both in the inebriated emotional sweep of The Twelve and in the accompanying figure of Christ. With these elements he interweaves and confounds the revolutionary principle.
Unable to see any other way out, Blok was ready to believe that the way out was the revolution, specially prepared and taken with a stiff dose of romanticism. He admitted the idea that this romantic revolution, like a runaway troika, might finally crush his class, and perhaps, himself, but Blok was ready to bestow his blessing on this forward rush, for he could see no possibility of his own social group advancing in any way.
Thus, the poet, in his own way, cried, “Morituri to salutant.”  But what it was exactly for which Blok was prepared to lay down his life became less and less comprehensible as time went on. Blok saw only – on the one side – a kind of grey disorganisation, neglect, untidiness of life and – on the other – the incomprehensible and alien plans of the Bolshevik Party which had taken the wheel of events firmly into its own strong hands. Blok was almost ready to curse this revolution which, according to him, had become an “unmusical” revolution, having lost not only its aristocratic features but what he thought of as its tremendous, Razin-like  features, a revolution which becoming more and more “European” before his eyes had become prose.
Blok’s works and, therefore, his whole personality are of considerable significance for us, an object-lesson in history. Here we have a perfect specimen-product of the last, decadent stages of the culture of the nobility and, to a certain extent, of the whole of pre-revolutionary Russian culture (aristocratic and bourgeois). At the same time, it is interesting to note a profoundly positive and admirable feature – the ability of this last child of a long line to perceive and to understand something of the greatness of the revolution, to greet it with full courtesy, to be ready to cast all the values of the world which, though his own, he had grown to hate, at the feet of the wild horses of the revolution, galloping he knew not whither. No less instructive, however, is the evidence of the limits which Blok’s class consciousness imposed on his understanding of the revolution.
The last poet of the landed gentry might sing praises to the red cock,  even though it were his own house that was aflame. Senseless and cruel riots, however much they might horrify him, could nevertheless command his blessing in the name of some utterly vague perspective, of some kind of purification by fire from an uncleanness which he knew only too well and from only too intimate experience. But the proletarian revolution, its iron revolutionary logic, its clear ideas of enlightenment, its grasp of the laws governing social phenomena, its stubborn and intense work to lay the foundations for a new, planned economy – none of this could possibly hold any immediate appeal to the heart and mind of the last poet of the gentry. All this seemed to him to be part and parcel of that bourgeois world which he had so deeply hated.
And why should that be thought surprising? Tolstoi, battling powerfully against the onset of the capitalist element in the name of the nobility, dissolved his nobility in the peasantry almost without residue – yet the genuinely revolutionary forces were on the other side of the barricades. He might occasionally say a few words of sympathy for the disinterested heroism of the revolutionaries, but they were profoundly alien to him. Their philosophy of life seemed to him an abomination, seemed nothing but a new mask for the same old daemon of civilisation, which provoked all his conservative, aristocratic hatred. These same aesthetic, rebellious principles had been responsible for Herzen’s revulsion from Marx, for Bakunin’s having become the declared enemy of socialism. All this was in the order of things.
Blok, at the moment of the physical death of his class, exhibited the maximum revolutionary impulse of which the consciousness of the nobility was capable. This maximum was enough to produce a few brilliant, interesting, though turgid and confused works of art. Nevertheless, it left Blok on the threshold of the true revolution, amazed, bewildered, unable to appreciate the real rhythms of its march, the “music” of which had remained inapprehensible to him because already sounding through it could be heard elements of a great and reasonable spirit of organisation, a spirit utterly alien to that past in which Blok’s whole nature was so deeply rooted.
1. The Black Hundreds were monarchist gangs organised by the tsarist police to fight the revolutionary movement. They assassinated revolutionaries, attacked progressive intellectuals and perpetrated Jewish pogroms. – Ed.
2. Pobedonostsev – reactionary tsarist statesman, Procurator-General of the Synod, actually head of the government and chief inspirer of the savage feudal reaction under Alexander III. He continued to play a prominent part under Nicholas II. – Ed.
3. Lunacharsky is referring here to one of Blok’s best-known poems, The Stranger, in which the poet plays on the tag: in vino veritas. – Ed.
4. Alexandra Ilyina, “On Blok,” Literary Saturdays at Nikitina’s. – Ed.
5. The Beketov family estate in the country north of Moscow, the management of which devolved upon Blok after the death of his grandparents in 1902. – Ed.
6. Bely is here referring to a poem by Blok from the series Bubbles of the Earth, entitled Bolotny Popik (The Little Priest of the Bog). – Tr.
7. Stolypin – chairman of the Council of Ministers, 1906-11, an extreme reactionary. The suppression of the revolution of 1905-07 and the period of severe political reaction that followed are connected with his name. – Ed.
8. Witte – an influential minister in tsarist Russia; was for many years (1892-1903) Minister of Finance. The measures he adopted in the sphere of finance, customs, policy, railway construction, etc., were in the interests of the big bourgeoisie and promoted the development of capitalism in Russia. – Ed.
9. Durnovo – one of the most reactionary statesmen of tsarist Russia. In 1905 he was Minister of the Interior and took drastic steps to crush the first Russian revolution. – Ed.
10. This extract is taken from the late Sir Cecil Kisch’s unrhymed translation of Retribution. Sir Cecil Kisch, Alexander Blok, Prophet of Revolution, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1960, pp. 164-67. – Ed.
11. In Russian Bezvremenye, a term indicating that times are so dull – or so hard – that all the clocks appear to have run down. – Tr.
12. A part of the Gulf of Finland. – Ed.
13. “Dying, we salute thee” (Lat.) – Roman gladiators’ greeting to the emperor from the arena. – Ed.
14. Stepan Razin – leader of a peasant revolt in the seventeenth century. – Ed.
15. The red cock – Russian folklore appellation of fire much dreaded in a country where wood was the principal building material. – Tr.