N. A. Berdyaev: In Defense of A. Blok


The article about A. Blok, by a Petrograd priest, already since dead, cannot be called a crude theological judgement of the poet. It was written not in the seminary style. The author was a man cultured and refined. In this article there is a great religious truth not only about Blok, but perhaps also about all the Russian poetry of the beginning of the XXth Century. But in this judgement of Blok moreover there is a great injustice and lack of pity. A genuine poet has a different path of justification, than does the ascetic and the spiritually enraptured. The article about Blok essentially and from a religious point of view posits the question of the very existence of both the poet and poetry. It may seem, that almost all the poetry of the world, even the without doubt greatest, is situated in a condition of “prelest’-bewitchment”, that there was not granted it a clear and pure contemplation of God and the world of intelligible entities, their contemplation almost always having been muddled by a cosmic allure. If an exception be made for Dante, then it is not because of Beatrice, but because of the Inferno, into which he dispatched so many. This is a very great and tortuous problem that involves poetry: it relates but to a small degree to the Logos, it relates rather to the Cosmos. Within the poetry of Blok, lyric verse has found itself a most pure and perfect expression. The Russian poetic renaissance of the beginning XXth Century contained within it the death-bearing hell and into it entered elements of an ontological dissoluteness (I tend to say ontological, and not moral). But about Blok there ought to be a completely special discussion. A. Blok was one of the greatest of lyric poets. When I happened to converse with Blok, I was always struck by an inarticulate aspect underlying his talk and thought. It was almost always impossible to understand him. His verses I do understand, but I could not understand what he said while speaking. For a proper understanding one had to be situated in the same condition, in which he happened to be situated at that instant. The Logos was completely absent in his words. Blok did not know any other sort of path of surmounting and enlightening his emotional chaos, besides the lyrical poetry. Within his conversational speech there did not as yet transpire that beautiful surmounting of chaos, which was wrought in his verses, and therefore his conversation was bereft of connection, of sense, of form, and it was all in some sort of shreds of the still tormenting emotional experiences. Blok could not transform the cosmic-soul chaos either intellectually, through thought and knowledge, or religiously, through faith, or mystically, through contemplation of the Divine light, or morally through moral distinction and evaluation; he transformed it exclusively through lyrical poetry. And this was an hopeless lyricism. It has always seemed to me, that Blok was altogether lacking in a mental sense, he is the most non-intellectual of Russian poets. This does not mean, that Blok had a mind quite poor and of low quality, as occurs with stupid people, no, he simply was outside of intellectuality and not wont to judgement from the point of view of intellectual categories. For the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which sees in the intellect the most noble part of man, conjoining him with authentic being, Blok would have been an enigma. He was perhaps of an higher mind, but the mind in him was nowise akin and was foreign to the principle of the Logos, he dwelt exclusively within the Cosmos, within the soul of the world. And his particular soul was completely defenseless, nothing in it was held back, it was completely vulnerable. He was very distinct from Pushkin and Tiutchev, both who had extraordinary minds and who knew other paths of ascent besides the lyrical. Blok was very distinct also from the other poets of the beginning XXth Century, from Vyacheslav Ivanov for example, who possesses not a poetic genius the equal of Blok's, but whose creativity is an event of mind, of refined intellectuality. The tragic and suffering fate of Blok is the fate of a defenseless and bared lyrical soul, which was capable of opposing the dark cosmic waves only by poetry. But also about it he says:

"For others thou be both Muse, and wonder.
For me -- thou be torment and hell".

© 2002 by translator Fr. S. Janos
berdyaev.com

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