Blok's Kolomna

Map: Vasilievsky/Kolomna

Blok, April 1921

For the last twelve years of his life, Blok had lived in the Kolomna region of Petersburg, a part of the city that had often been characterized as a liminal zone between the center of Petersburg and its periphery. Blok had mythologized this quiet part of the city in his poetry, and many who came to his apartment for the services associated it with the poet himself, often taking note of a neighborhood street lamp or pharmacy that had been immortalized in his verse. Klara Arseneva, a young poet, recollected:

In those days, his magic for us was tied with the fantastical of that northern city. We often wandered down Ofitserskaya. Once, in the evening, walking past his windows, we saw him leaning on the wall, reading, through the translucent curtain. His shadow fell on the door and seemed very tall. Across from our apartment was a pharmacy. It always seemed to us that it was that same one: Night, a street, a lamp, a pharmacy [Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека]…

Even those who knew Blok intimately described him as an almost material part of the city. Indeed, the writer Chukovsky, who, like Zamyatin, had seen Blok almost daily at the many meetings and committees of Civil War Petrograd—begins his own recollections with an allusion to the poet’s material connection to the city:

Each time, as I leaf through his collected poetry, I am overcome by various minute, old-mannish […] everyday memories about him. Reading, for example, his famous lines: Night, a street, a lamp, a pharmacy—I recall a Petersburg pharmacy, owned by the pharmacist Vipnikov, on Ofitserskaya Street, not far from the Priazhka embankment. Alexander Aleksandrovich walked or rode past this pharmacy every day, probably even several times each day. It was on his way home and is referred to twice in his poem ‘Dance of Death’ [Пляски смерти].

For many, Blok was coupled with Petersburg, and the estrangement highlighted during his final trip to Moscow confirmed the poet’s intimacy with the former Russian capital: “Blok is all made of the Neva, the fog of the white nights, the Bronze Horseman. Florid, corporal, mercantile Moscow is alien to him, just as he is alien to Moscow. His readings in Moscow—in May of 1921—made this evident.” The sense of estrangement that enveloped Blok in his final days was tied not only to the geographic space of Moscow, but also to the historical trajectory of post–revolutionary Russia.

Antsiferov, a founding member of the excursionist and preservationist movement and “the most influential figure in early-twentieth-century St. Petersburg studies,” considered Blok to be the poet closest to the “city of double existence” that combined the prosaic and the fantastical, the ordered and the chaotic, the corporeal and the ghostly. In an essay on Petersburg in Blok’s poetry Antsiferov writes that, despite the fact that none of Blok’s poems is wholly devoted to the city, no other poet has afforded it such importance of place: “A. Blok had experienced his city. The hours of the changing years, the snowy winter nights, the pale sunrises, were all familiar to him. All parts of the city—its harbor, outskirts, houses, the avenues through which the city is entered—found an echo in his poetry, and assumed a new life in his art.” Over the course of Blok’s life, the city had become an essential part of his poetry, and of course the poet, with his famous endless walks through Petersburg, was inscribed into the city’s streets.

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