Interesting Facts About Russia’s Top Silver Age Poets

Russia is a highly cultured nation. What I mean by that is that Russians are well familiar with the arts, and the quality of the arts produced in this country have been just phenomenal! Russians have gifted the world with amazing music, ballets, literature and more! For these talented artists, it hasn’t always been an easy road for them. Silver Age poets of the 19th and 20th centuries were heavily surveyed and criminalized if they wrote anything not approved by the state, but they continued to do what they loved and fought the system to leave behind some of the greatest masterpieces of all time.  Here are some interesting facts about the most popular poets of that time.

Alexander Blok

  1. He married Dmitry Mendeleev’s daughter in 1903, actress Lyubov Mendeleeva. His poems dedicated to her made him famous.
  2. In 1917, he was appointed to be the stenographer to transcribe the interrogations of those who knew Rasputin.
  3. Blok was a major poet of the Russian Symbolism style.
  4. He was often compared to Pushkin and considered to be one of the most influential poets of the Silver Age. Many consider the Silver Age of Russian poetry to have started with his verses, ‘To the Beautiful Lady’.
  5. His work greatly influenced the next Silver Age poet, Anna Akhmatova.
Alexander Blok Museum (Spb)
His Poems

Anna Akhmatova

  1.  Her father didn’t want any of her poems to be printed under his ‘respectable’ name, Govenko, so she chose her grandma’s (Tatar origin) last name, Akhmatova, and it became her pen name.
  2. Her aristocratic manners and integrity won her the people’s titles, Queen of the Neva and Soul of the Silver Age.
  3. Many people left the country after the revolution and she likewise could have at the time but decided to stay and was proud of her decision.
  4. Her first husband was considered a ‘conspirator of the Kronstadt Revolution’ so he was shot and killed by the state. This situation forever marked her and her son as enemies of the state too. Her apartment was bugged and under constant surveillance by the secret police who had detailed files on her comings and goings. Her son and second husband were also arrested numerous times and spent many years in the gulags, where her second husband died. One of her most famous poems, Requiem, is written about the Stalinist Terror and her experience with it. Closely watched by the state and forbidden to circulate any anti-Soviet poems, she would write her poems on scrap papers for close friends who would come to visit and burn those poems in her stove before her friends left. Her friends would memorize her poems and circulate them orally to a close group of people and trusted friends.
  5. She mentored Joseph Brodsky (See below).
Anna Akhmatova Museum (Spb)
Requiem Poem

Marina Tsvetaeva

  1. Her mother wanted her to be a pianist but she refused and took up poetry instead. Tsvetaeva’s mom wasn’t happy about that and constantly criticized Marina about how bad her poetry was.
  2. Marina lived through both the revolution and the Moscow famine. At the time of the famine, she had two daughters and both were dying of starvation. In an attempt to try to save them, she sent them to an orphanage where she hoped they would receive more food. One of the girls got sick, so she took her out of the orphanage. The other died there of starvation.
  3. She was enamoured with Blok and Akhmantova’s work.
  4. While living in France, Marina’s husband and daughter (Alya) began to get homesick and developed Soviet sympathies. Her husband was recruited by the NKVD at that time and started to spy for them. When the family came back to the USSR, they were thought to have been turn coat agents sent to spy on the USSR. Her husband was arrested and shot. Alya’s fiancé turned out to be an NKVD agent who was assigned to spy on the family. Alya was arrested and sentenced to 8 years in jail.
  5. In August of 1941, Tsvetaeva reportedly hung herself. However, there are rumors that the NKVD was involved. Rumor has it that they tried to force her to work for them as an informant and she refused.
Marina Tsvetaeva Museum (Moscow)
Her Poems

Vladimir Mayakovsky

  1. Made his first appearance in 1912 at the Stray Dog cellar in St. Petersburg (a hangout for writers, poets and any other artists in the underground).
  2. Mayakovsky volunteered for WWI but was rejected because he was considered ‘too politically unreliable’.
  3. He once received 20 minutes of standing ovation at the Bolshoi theater after reading his poem about Vladimir Lenin.
  4. Not only was he a poet, but he was also an artist and good friends with Ilya Repin (one of Russia’s most famous artists).
  5. Mayakovsky also ‘committed suicide’. What’s strange about his death is that the bullet pulled from his body didn’t match the one from his pistol. The officer investigating his death also mysteriously ‘committed suicide’ 10 days later. After his death, Stalin named him “the best and most talented poet of the Soviet era”. His funeral on April 17, 1930 was the biggest mourning event in Soviet history. To give you an idea, his funeral topped both Lenin and Stalin’s funerals.

State Mayakovsky Museum (Moscow)
Address: Lubyanskiy Proyezd, 3/6, Moscow

Stray Dog Cellar
His Poems

Sergei Esenin

  1. He wrote his first poem at 8 years old.
  2. Although he heavily criticized Mayakovsky and vice versa, they both respected the talent each other had.
  3. In 1912, he worked in Moscow as a proofreader where he began to translate Christian materials and became increasingly interested in the topic.
  4. He briefly married an American actress, Isadora Duncan, although they could barely understand each other. They divorced quickly.
  5. Esenin ‘committed suicide’ at the Angleterre Hotel (room #5) on December 28, 1925. There is a lot of evidence that suggests it was the work of the NKVD: Although prone to depression, he was working on new material that he was enthusiastic about. When he was found, his room was in total disarray which is weird because he was always organized, but also the room looked as if there had been in a fight there. There were fresh wounds on his shoulder and forehead and a bruise under his eye. No close friends were allowed to go to the hotel room where he was found.
Esenin Museum (Moscow)
His Poems