One Less Hope: Essays on Twentieth-Century Russian Poets

By Constantin V. Ponomareff | Go to book overview

Alexander Blok’s The Twelve210

Prerevolutionary Poems

Blok’s spiritual biography, the pilgrimage of his soul, is contained in his poetry. And all his prerevolutionary poetry, prior to his writing The Twelve in the beginning of 1918, was an expression of an almost mystic yearning for a cosmic female presence who came to haunt his entire poetic output in the forever fleeting form of a beautiful woman, whom he called the Beautiful Lady.

His earliest work Ante Lucem211 (1898-1900) was in search and anticipation of his Beautiful Lady, who was at first identified as a “Someone” (I, 29), but took on an increasingly feminine shape until, at one point in the cycle, Blok referred to her as “The Eternally Youthful One” (Vechnoyunnaya, I, 53).

His Poems About the Beautiful Lady (Stikhi o prekrasnoy dame, 1901-2), an outpouring of some 160 poems, continued his romantic adventure. But the lady of his poetic dreams remained a protean presence that haunted his restless nights as sounds and whispers, mocking laughter and tempting lights.

Her otherworldly and sacred nature was also suggested by her being associated with Christian symbolism, with churches and cathedrals, with burning candles, but also with nature, all of which made her into a ubiquitous presence.

A new and significant symbolization was her association with the snowy whirlwind (vikhor’ snezhnyy, I, 154, 213). Sometimes she was presented as an empress wed to the cold of winter (I, 147), or appeared as a sorceress in the middle of a blizzard, becoming almost the blizzard itself:

Ty v beloy v’yuge, v snezhnom stone
Opyat’ volshebnitsey vsplyla,
I v vechnom svete, v vechnom zvone
Tserkvey smeshalis’ kupola. (I, 143)

(You have again surfaced as a sorceress/ in the white blizzard, in the snowy wailing,/ And in
the eternal light, in the eternal ringing of the churches/ The cupolas have become merged.)

210 This essay is based on my article “Aleksandr Blok’s The Twelve: A New Interpretation,” in
Canadian Slavonic Papers, Volume XIV, No. 3 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 465-88. It is much
revised.

211 See Aleksandr Blok, Sobranie sochineniy v vos’mi tomakh, op. cit., I, 3-73. Further page
references to this edition will be given in the text. The translations are mine.

-139-

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