Nikolay Gumilev was a poet of the Russian “Silver Age” (a period in Russian poetry in the beginning of the 20th century), the founder of the acmeist movement, a critic and a traveler.
He was born in Kronstadt near St. Petersburg, to a family of a naval medic. Soon after his birth, his father moved the family to Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin Town, located south of St. Petersburg). For two years, starting from 1900, their family lived in Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia). When Gumilev was six years old, the “Tiflis Leaflet” (“Tiflisskiy listok”) published his first poem, named “I Fled from Cities to the Forest” (“Ya v les sbezhal iz gorodov”).
The following year, his family returned to Tsarskoye Selo, where the young poet started studying in the Nikolayevskaya male gymnasium. The gymnasium’s headmaster was Innokenty Annensky, a famous poet of the time, who had a great influence on the students. Gumilev was not particularly studious, and only received his school certificate when he was 20.
A year before graduating from the gymnasium, he published his first poetry collection “The Conquistadors’ Way” (“Put’ konkvistadorov”), which he later called an “immature experience”. The characters of the collection’s poems seemed to have come straight from the pages of adventure novels about the pioneers of America, of which Gumilev was an avid reader. The collection attracted the attention of Valery Bryusov, one of the founders of the Russian symbolism poetry movement. A year later, Gumilev started work on his drama “King Batinyol’s Jester” (“Shut korolya Batinyola”), which he never finished.
After graduating Gumilev moved to Paris to continue his education in Sorbonne, where he listened to lectures on French literature. He followed the life of French artists, while maintaining correspondence with Valery Bryusov. There he also became the publisher of the magazine “Sirius”. In 1908 in Paris his second collection was published, named “Romantic Flowers” (“Romanticheskie tsvety”), which again was full of literary and historical exotic material, while some poems were touched with slight irony, moving romanticism’s figures to a playful angle and thus outlining the author’s unique stance. Gumilev worked hard on every poem, striving to make them both “flexible” and “steadily restrained”. The collection was published with his own money and was dedicated to his fiancée Anna Akhmatova (who would later become a world-famous Russian poet herself).
The same year he returned to Russia and entered the University of St. Petersburg. He first studied at the law faculty, then moving to the faculty of history and philology, but he never finished the entire course. He traveled a lot during that period of his life, feeling especially attracted to Africa (where he went thrice during his life, each time bringing back lots of exotic items to the Ethnography Museum of the Academy of Sciences).
In 1910, Gumilev’s collection “Pearls” (“Zhemchuga”) was published. It was dedicated to his “teacher” Valery Bryusov. The famous poet answered with a review that said that Gumilev “lived in an imaginary, almost ghostly world… creating his own countries and populating them with his own creations: people, animals and demons”. In the collection, Gumilev didn’t abandon the characters of his earlier works. However, they had changed significantly. His poetry started showing psychologism, with characters displaying their unique principles and passions, instead of “masks”. “Pearls” helped Gumilev become famous.
In April 1910, Gumilev married Anna Akhmatova. They spent their honeymoon in Paris. He then left for Africa. In autumn 1912 their son Lev was born. After Gumilev returned to Russia in 1918, they divorced.
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