Journal Put', Feb. 1931, No. 26, p. 109-113.
N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
IN DEFENSE OF A. BLOK 1
(1931 - #358)
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".
Blok belonged to an epoch and a medium, which idealised the defenselessness, and which was prepared to see in it an higher condition. It is characteristic for the lyricism of Blok, that it is not narrow as regards its scope, as obtains with certain second rate poets, on the contrary rather, this is an all-encompassing universal lyricism. This lyricism is connected not only with experiences of love, but also with the fate of Russia, and with the seeking of God and of the Kingdom of God. The whole world and everything in the world is rendered the material for a lyrical transformation and to everything there exists but a lyrical reply. The fate of Blok posits a very deep metaphysical problem. Blok had a poet's genius of individuality, but not of person. Person is already a defense, it can withstand the Cosmos, it makes distinctions and disarms its seductions. Person partakes of the Logos, it cannot be merely in the Cosmos. The Cosmos itself per se does not create person, it creates but individuality. Person is created but by the Logos. Blok however was completely immersed in the elements of the Cosmos, he saw everything in it and through it. Therefore, lacking in person as rooted in the Logos, he sees only tormented countenances in the Cosmos. The soul of Blok was exclusively a feminine cosmic soul, in him was completely absent the masculine spirit. He was a romantic in the sense, that in him the spirit was completely immersed in the soul-cosmic element and was captivated by it. He did not know freedom. Least of all can it be said for Blok, that in him there was a demonic principle. But he was defenseless afront the demonic principles. Strange as this may seem, but in him there was a particularly skittish moralism, not at all masculine. He was, for example, moralistically afraid of the "demonic" principle in Vyach. Ivanov. He could be captivated and charmed by the delusions of evil, but he did not desire evil and he was afraid of evil. Abnormality and non-being appeared to him often as deceptive forms of beauty, but he wanted to behold face to face the beauty of the Cosmos. With this was connected the motif of the Beautiful Lady. It is noteworthy, that Blok was always stubbornly opposed to all dogmatic teachings and theories, to the dogmatics of Orthodoxy and the multitudes, to the dogmatics of Merezhkovsky, to the dogmatics of Steiner, and to the extensive dogmatics of V. Ivanov. Opposition to dogmatics entered into his concept of integrity. But he was defenseless before the seductions and deceptions of cosmic life. Blok idealised the defenselessness. With Blok there was a great anguish as regards the cosmic transformation into beauty. There was a moment, when during the Bolshevik revolution he attempted to see there the principle of cosmic transformation and the Beautiful Lady. He later recoiled with terror at its ugliness. He had not the gift of discerning spirits, but there was a passive prophetic gift peculiar to his poetry, and he knew, what would be with the cosmos, but he did not know, what would come of the Logos. He was bereft of spiritual bravery, his soul was eternally atremble with the cosmic whirlwinds, he was enraptured in snowstorms. A. Bely too was giddy with the cosmic whirlwinds. But A. Bely was not exclusively of a lyrical nature, he eternally was making judgements, he had thoughts, he constructed theories, either occult or philosophic, he loved schemes, was full of intellectual interests, he was more composite a phenomenon, less pure and less vulnerable, than Blok.
Can there be a religious judgement pronounced over Blok, and of what sort would this judgement be? The possibility of a religious judgement over a poet is a very complex problem. It would be easy to condemn all poets and all poetry. Vl. Solov'ev attempted to do this regarding Pushkin and it was quite in vain. He abrogated to himself prerogatives of the judgement of God. But herein essentially is posited and dealt with the question about the meaning not only of poetic and artistic creativity, but also of all human creativity. Creativity is nowise bound up with sanctity. Creativity is bound up with sin. Like the Platonic Eros, it is the child of two parents -- of poverty and of wealth; of impairment, insufficiency, restlessness, of exhaustion and yet still of a superabundance of powers, a liberality, a sacrificial giving away of oneself. The creative individual is distinct from one contemplating the Divine light and the orb of the hidden repose in God. This is an other path, an other calling, an other gift. The nature of the creative act is like something nuptial, in it man is not alone, he encounters and interacts with an other, with God, with the world and with the devil, with angels, with people and with demons. In this nuptial creative encounter man can be either active or passive, masculine or feminine, in him can prevail the principle of the Logos or the principle of the Cosmos. But always there is something entering in beforehand from the primordial, preworldly freedom of man, in the transfiguration of the world, in the preparation of a new heaven and a new earth. Creativity is necessary not for the salvation of the human soul, but for the preparation of the kingdom of God, for its fullness. The creative searchings and wanderings of man per se have significance also for the preparation of the transfiguration of the world, for the new heaven and the new earth. The creative anguish of the poet as regards cosmic transformation and cosmic beauty serves towards the preparation of the new heaven and the new earth, though the poet may not see the final results. Into the transfigured world will enter the creative imagination and vision of the poet, there will enter in his images, as a special sort of reality. The soul of Russia and the Russian people has been just as vulnerably defenseless, as was the soul of Blok, and in this soul the Logos has not prevailed over the Cosmos. Will Russia in the new heaven and the new earth be suchlike, as Blok saw and proclaimed it in his tormentive verses? The poet's vision of the dark demonic serves however to the discovery of light. How sorrowful has been the past path of Russian creativity from Pushkin to Blok, from our first poetic renaissance in the Alexandrine epoch up to our second poetic renaissance of the beginning XXth Century! Pushkin knew many a woe and sorrow, but he knew also creative joy, paradisical spriteness. Blok knew only the woe, the sorrow, the anguish and the hell. But can one cast the stone at him for this? He likewise belongs to the eternal, transfigured Russia, the Russia of a new heaven and a new earth, just like Pushkin. It has its preparation not only by the saints, the ascetics, those having cleansed themselves and beholding the Divine light, but also by those dragging themselves along, tormented and seduced and fallen, but striving towards the heights, towards a life transfigured in beauty.
© 2002 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1931 - 358 -en)
V ZASCHITU A. BLOK. Journal Put', Feb. 1931, No. 26, p. 109-113.
1 The "Diary" of A. Blok, touching in its veracity, its simplicity and modesty, fully supports my characterisation.
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