stop 3 - Blok and Gippius

From Nevsky along Sadovaya: Zinaida Gippius's last encounter with Aleksandr Blok

Aleksandr Blok and Zinaida Gippius

Aleksandr Blok's (1880-1921) long poem, Dvenadtsat' (The Twelve) was published on March 5 1918. Twelve Bolsheviks, evocative of the twelve Apostles, walk the streets of Revolutionary Petrograd in a raging blizzard. Blok's own flânerie resides in the poem's composition: it incorporates sounds of the street and snatches of conversation, fragments inspired by those Blok collected as he walked the city in the months prior to writing the poem.

A great and profoundly ambiguous artistic achievement, the poem is also a watershed moment in the definition of positions and relationships - political, personal and artistic - for the course of Russian Modernism after the Revolution.

Zinaida Gippius (1869-1945), a one-time close acquaintance of Blok, could not condone or reconcile herself to the attitude expressed towards the Revolution in The Twelve. The publication of the poem signaled an end to their public association.

In 1922, in the entry on Blok in her memoir-like text Zhivye litsa (Living Figures), Gippius describes her last meeting with the poet, where this public severing of association is stated in no uncertain terms. This meeting occurs on a tram traveling from Nevsky along Sadovaya.

The trams were still running at this time, Gippius notes, despite the impact of the Civil War on the city. Other facets of material culture did not enjoy the same uninterrupted presence; there were no books or magazines to be had, and only state-sponsored newspapers. The commercial life of the city was braked; from the tram window Gippius sees the boarded-up side of Gostinyi Dvor facing Sadovaya.

The tram is full. From close by, a voice which Gippius cannot fail to recognize greets her. It is Aleksandr Blok. Aboard the tram, the snatches of their own intense conversation now audible to the fellow passengers, Gippius reiterates the inevitability of their public dissociation:

"Publicly - the bridges between us are broken. You know that... No more... But privately... as we were before..."

Gippius gets off the tram. From the dusty pavement, she sees Blok, still standing aboard, carried away from her. "Our last meeting on earth," she concludes.

This episode has become well-inscribed in the narratives of Russian Modernism. It owes its status to a chance encounter between individuals moving through the city at large, but momentarily brought into close proximity in the narrow crowded confines of the tram-car.

Illustration to The Twelve by Iu. P. Annenkov (1918)
Zinaida Gippius