Born in Moscow; his father was a celebrated painter and his mother a distinguished musician. Took piano lessons with the composer Scriabin, but gave up his ambition to be a composer on discovering that he did not possess perfect pitch. Spent a term in the summer of 1912 at the University of Marburg studying philosophy under Hermann Cohen before returning home by way of Italy. Joined the group of Futurist poets who gathered around Mayakovsky and composed several prose works before and after the Revolution of 1917, in which he took no active political part. Divorced his first wife and remarried in 1930. Made friends with the Georgian poets who were to perish during Stalin's purges and translated them into Russian. Began to make translations of Shakespeare and other writers as his own creative spirit increasingly proved anathema to the authorities in the 1930s. Profoundly moved by the suicide of Marina Tsvetaeva in 1941, with whom he had corresponded during her years of emigration. Repudiated what he took to be the stylistic excesses of his early work and strove for a greater simplicity of utterance in poetry. In 1946 began a liaison with Olga Ivinskaya which was to last until his death and which partially influenced the novel he had begun to think of in the 1930s, Doctor Zhivago; awarded the Nobel Prize but not permitted to go to Stockholm to receive it. In poor health and subject to persistent harassment in his last years. Died in the seclusion of his summerhouse in Peredelkino after a succession of heart attacks, in official disgrace.