Passing of an Age

On August 7, 1921 a very sad moment occurred in Russian history as the great Russian poet, Aleksandr Blok (11/28/1880-8/7/1921)  passed away. He was the last of the Russian poets of the traditional genre, before the Soviet culture began to really set in. Blok was a very philosophical thinker during his time even though he his primary calling was poetry. He was a rather eccentric man and believed very peculiar things regarding his marriage and idolized his wife to the point that he would have extramarital affairs so as not to spoil her (Russiapedia).

Where Blok really was important regarding the revolution was with his death came the death of tradition in Russia (Seventeen Moments). By this I mean that he was a symbol of the old St. Petersburg and many of the nuances of the Imperial Age. St. Petersburg was on the decline as the capitol moved to Moscow and his death only seemed to seal this. He was greatly loved by many people in Russia especially many of the commoners because he was a great proponent and greeter of the 1917 Revolution. He saw it as a an expression of creative power which greatly influenced some of his later works such as The Twelve and The Scythians both of which were written in 1918.

However, his fondness of the Revolution and the Bolsheviks didn’t last and he soon stopped composing poetry because he felt that the creativity was gone. He had become jaded with how the Bolsheviks were handling rule and their lack of fulfillment on promise made. This was likely one of the primary causes for his possible depression. He did hold other jobs in the literary field between 1918 and his death in 1921, but the spark was all but extinguished for Alexsandr Blok. His last remarkable and moving public speech came in February 1921 entitled “On the Poet’s Calling” which called for a unification of the Bolsheviks and White Russians to come to peace and end the fighting.

Sadly, Blok died at the young age of 41. The causes of his death are mysterious and possibly involve deep depression, physical exhuastion, and possibly syphilis. His doctors pleaded to get him a visa to leave the country and seek medical attention elsewhere yet it was not granted until three days after his death. I find it ironic that this incident became emblematic of the the bureaucratic nightmare that caused the Soviet Union to collapse under its own weight. Even in the very early years of the government the problems were there.

There was an extremely moving tribute composed about him by Anna Akhmatova entitled Today is the Nameday of Our Lady of Smolensk only a few days after his death. The last lines of the poem due the most justice to one of Russia’s brightest stars:

Today is the nameday of Our Lady of Smolensk,
Dark blue incense drifts over the grass,
And the flowing of the Requiem
Is no longer sorrowful, but radiant.
And the rosy little widows lead
Their boys and girls to the cemetery
To visit father’s grave.
But the graveyard–a grove of nightingales,
Grows silent from the sun’s bright blaze.
We have brought to the Intercessor of Smolensk,
We have brought to the Holy Mother of God,
In our hands in a silver coffin
Our sun, extinguished in torment–
Alexander, pure swan.


Akhmatova, Anna. Today is the Nameday of Our Lady of Smolensk. St. Petersburg: 1921. (accessed September 22, 2013).

Russiapedia, “Prominent Russians: Alexsandr Blok.” Last modified 2011. Accessed September 22, 2013.

von Geldern, James. 1921: Death of a Poet. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, (accessed September 22, 2013).

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4 Responses to Passing of an Age

  1. Kelsey Shober says:

    I read about Blok on the Seventeen Minutes site as well. I’m glad that someone chose to do a post on him. I liked the extra information that you added in the post about him because there was plenty of information included that I didn’t know about. I like that you made connections here about the bureaucratic deficiencies that the Soviets possessed. I also think its cool to point out that Blok was a supporter of the Bolsheviks in the beginning and became disillusioned when their promises were not realized. I’m sure that a ton of people shared his sentiments.

  2. Ben Midas says:

    Blok is a very interesting figure. Poetry and the Revolution is an interesting topic. It is interesting to compare poetry, and any art forms really, from before and after the revolution. How did poetry change with the revolution after Blok died? Were there significant changes in themes?

  3. Connor Balzer says:

    Awesome job pulling together the life and work of Aleksandr Blok and the rise of the Bolsheviks. This post stuck out to me because I felt like it brought an alternate perspective to the major focus of my post this week; the Bolsheviks inability to keep the promises they made on their rise to power. I told the story mostly from the perspective of Lenin and the Bolsheviks but your post provides the view of the people on the matter. It is interesting to see how Blok, and many other Russian citizens, saw through and reacted to Lenin’s illusion of fulfilling the promises he made during his time as a revolutionary. The Bolsheviks were forced to resort to more forceful methods of control because individuals like Blok were not easily fooled by insincere attempts at reform and you did a great job of providing some evidence leading up to this shift in Bolshevik mentality.

  4. bfulcer says:

    The death of Aleksandr Blok definitely had a profound effect on Russian culture, particularly in St. Petersburg. The Seventeen Moments in Soviet History site described him as believing “that his duty as an intellectual was to give expression to the inchoate feelings of the people.” I think there’s a lot to be said about a person who accepts the responsibility of becoming the written voice of a generation and that seems to be just what Blok was.

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