Born in Warsaw, the son of an eccentric leather manufacturer steeped in German and Jewish culture and a cultured mother who was fond of music. Grew up in St Petersburg, where he was educated at the distinguished Tenishev school and received a classical education. Visited Paris in 1907, where he became interested in the French Symbolist poets. Studied Old French Literature at Heidelberg University in 1910, during which year he made two visits to Italy and spent some time at the Sorbonne. A student of Romance and German philology at St Petersburg University in 1911. Famous in Petersburg literary circles after the publication of his first volume Stone (1913), reprinted three years later. Employed by the authorities in Moscow in 1918; in 1919 in Kiev, where he met his wife. Briefly arrested in Feodosia during the confusion of the Civil War; jailed in Georgia on suspicion of being a Bolshevik spy. Returned to Petrograd, then briefly in Moscow, having reunited with his wife in Kiev. In Tiflis in the Caucasus for six months. Employed as a translator on returning to Leningrad. Resident in Tsarskoye Selo with his wife and Anna Akhmatova from 1925 onwards, with summer spells in the Crimea. Accused of plagiarism in 1928. Journeyed to Armenia in 1930-31. Wrote a poem in denunciation of Stalin in 1934, news of which reached the authorities through the agency of an informer. Arrested and interrogated in 1934; exiled for three years to Voronezh. Arrested on 1 May 1938 and never seen again. Presumed to have died of ill-health or been murdered by camp guards in Vladivostok in December of the same year.