“That which is already not Blok”:
The Services for the Dead on
On the evenings of August eighth and ninth Blok’s friends, and even some strangers, visited 57 Ofitserskaya for the services for the dead. They came to see Blok’s body for the last time and to take part in the communal ritual of mourning the icon of the Silver Age. By nine o’clock, the line stretched along Ofitserskaya as people ascended the “narrow staircase” and, placing flowers on the coffin, moved along, making room for others. Maria Beketova, Blok’s aunt and first biographer, describes the heat in the apartment, the open windows, and the constant flow of people bringing flowers with which “the body of the poet was covered.” Artists sketched the corpse of the deceased, photographs were taken, and a plaster mask was made of Blok’s face and hands. The philharmonic choir sang quietly.
Many of those who attended the services for the dead held in Blok’s apartment on August eighth and August ninth left detailed descriptions of the experience, paying particular attention to the presence (or absence) and behavior of Petersburg’s literary personalities (many took note, for example, of Anna Akhmatova, who, according to accounts, stood near the wall and cried bitterly), and to the atmosphere of the space. Perhaps most dominantly, those who attended the services for the dead describe the aesthetic and material appearance of Blok’s corpse, which, according to accounts had changed to the point of no longer being recognizable. Descriptions of estrangement from Blok’s dead body are often used to emphasize a sense of estrangement from old Petersburg culture, the landscape of the city and everyday life. Many described Blok’s illness, as well as his literary silence after 1918, as his growing deaf to the “music” of History: in this sense, the mystery of his illness came to signify the symbolic degeneration of his life force. The death of the poet’s physical body—its slow decline and grotesque post-mortem transformation into an unrecognizable corpse—came to represent the effects of the revolution on a particular vision of Russia’s past and present. Blok’s body became the intelligentsia body writ large, his suffering transferred onto the bodies of the living, becoming the expression of their own martyrdom.
[See also: Voices of Contemporaries (Bely, Alyansky, Zorgenfrey, and Forsh)]