Konstantin Balmont - Biography


Konstantin Dmitriyevich Balmont was born on 3 (15) June 1867 in Gumnishchi Village of Shuisk District, Vladimir Province. He started writing poetry when a child yet. His first book of poetry Collected Poems was published at the author’s own expense in Yaroslavl in 1980. After the release of the book the young poet burnt down almost all the copies, which were not many in number.
A decisive period for formation of Balmont’s poetic outlook was the mid1890s. Balmont was fated to become one of the pioneers of the new literature movement of symbolism. Out of all symbolist poets Konstantin Balmont was the one who most consistently elaborated the impressionist side. His poetic realm is the realm of subtlest transient observations and fragile sensations.
According to Balmont himself his forerunners in poetry were Vasily Zhukovsky, Mikhail Lermontov, Afanasi Fet, P.B. Shelley and Edgar Poe.
Konstantin Balmont became widely famous rather late, whereas in the late 1890s he was more known as a talented translator.
The late 1890s to early 1900s was the time of very fruitful poetic work for Balmont. He created a great number of romantic verses, including outright erotic ones.
The poet travelled much. In June 1920 he left Russia forever.
On 23 December 1942 he died of pneumonia and was laid down to rest in the neighborhood Noisy-le-Grand under Paris, where he had spent his last years.

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Konstantin Balmont was a Russian poet, critic and translator. He was one of the first symbolist poets of the Silver Age of Russian literature.

Balmont was born on June 15, 1867 in the village of Gumnishchi, near the city of Vladimir, into the family of a nobleman. His childhood was typical for the son of a country landlord. He wrote in his autobiography, “My best teachers of poetry were our estate, the orchard, the creeks, the swamps, the rustling of leaves, the butterflies, the birds and the sunrises.” 

Like hundreds of other boys of his generation, Balmont caught the rebellious and revolutionary spirit of the times. In 1884 he was expelled from his gymnasium for being part of a revolutionary group. He finished the course two years later in Vladimir and then entering the Law Faculty of the Moscow University. 

The free student atmosphere of the university only nurtured his rebellion; he took part in a student riot and soon after was expelled. A little while later he was restored back to his studies, but never finished the law course – he quit university in 1889 in favor of literature. 

He wrote that any knowledge of history, philosophy, literature and philology he possessed he owed to self-education. He followed the example of his elder brother, who was obsessed with philosophy. Unfortunately his brother went mad and died at the age of 23. 

As for the major influences in his life, Balmont wrote: “It is hard to single out experiences that shaped my life, but I will try. The reading of “Crime and Punishment” when I was 16, and then the “Brothers Karamazov” at 17. The latter book gave me more than any other book in the world. My first marriage (when I was 21, which ended in divorce five years later), my second marriage (when I was 28). The suicides of several of my friends when I was young. My own suicide attempt (age 22), when I threw myself out of the 3rd storey window on to the rocks (I ended up with multiple fractures and years of being bedridden, which resulted in an unprecedented revival of my mind and will to live. Writing poems (first at the age of nine, then at 17 and 21) and traveling through Europe (I was especially impressed by England, Spain and Italy)

His suicide attempt left him with a life-long limp, something that became one of his trademarks. It appears Balmont was genetically inclined towards mental illness. It started affecting him at a young age and had an influence on him throughout his life. Arguably, some historians and biographers say that Balmont partly owed his genius to his mental instability. 

Balmont’s debut as a poet coincided with many misfortunes. No magazines wanted to publish his poetry for several years. Finally he took matters into his own hands and published his own book of poetry in 1890. It had no success whatsoever – the book wasn’t even liked by Balmont’s family and friends. He was so hurt by the public rejection that he destroyed practically the whole edition.

Instead of writing, Balmonst focused on translating foreign writers and poets. He possessed an amazing linguistic capacity, mastering over a dozen foreign languages. This allowed him to read European literature and translate it into Russian. He worked with Spanish and English poetry and translated the works of Poe, Ibsen, Calderon, Whitman, as well as Armenian and Georgian poets. In 1893, he published the full works of Percy Shelly in Russian. He worked with many other languages, including Baltic and Slavic languages, Indian and Sanskrit. 

Translating paid off much more than writing – Balmont’s translations of Edgar Allen Poe were published in virtually every Russian magazine. This gave him the courage to publish his own works once again. “Under Northern Skies” in 1894 followed by “Silence” in 1898 finally brought him the recognition and fame he had sought for so long. Besides the obvious content, Balmont’s symbolist poetry carried a hidden message, expressed through hints and melodious rhythms. He became the impressionist of poetry, his world made of fine observations and fragile sentiments. 

At the turn of the century Balmont reached the height of his career. The books "Let Us Be Like the Sun" (1903) and "Love Alone" (1903) represent Balmont at his finest. He was at the top of his writing game, extremely popular with the public and practically ruled the world of Russian literature. He brought a moral and almost physical liberation from the old school of mournful poetry, which lamented the troubles of Russian life. His proud optimism and life-affirming pathos encouraged freedom from the restrictions imposed by society. Balmont’s poetry became the new philosophy marking the beginning of the Silver Ager of Russian literature.

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