Voices of Contemporaries

Blok and Chukovsky

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Andrey Bely made his way down Ofitserskaya, past young women with flowers in the courtyard of Blok’s apartment. Upon entering the apartment, Bely, emotionally unable to place flowers on the body on the dining room table, retreats into a corner of the room. He notes Anna Akhmatova’s presence—her dark clothing and “distressed” appearance. The academician Wilhelm Zorgenfrey describes her “quiet weeping” as part of the overall silence of the apartment. Indeed, Forsh writes that this silence became the wake’s most memorable element—a silence “unplanned, and suddenly decided upon,” a silence she likens to Blok’s silent poetry.

Perhaps most prominently, those who attended the services describe the appearance of Blok’s corpse, which death had transformed to the point of unrecognizability. Interestingly, contemporaries converge in their unwillingness to aestheticize Blok’s dead body. For Bely, for instance, this transformation severs the connection between the living and the dead.

I walked up to bid farewell to that, which is already not Blok; this “something” —has changed: wax fingers, a dark face, slightly overgrown with a beard (it seems that he has not shaved this last week); he is lying there —in a frock-coat; his face - has changed: dark-yellow, stern, mourning, aged; in one word— “not Blok”…I understood, that Blok—was not here, but he was within us; and I walked away.

Bely’s alienation from Blok’s corpse is echoed by others: Alyansky notes quite simply that, “the face of the deceased had in the course of the illness changed so much, that in the coffin it was impossible to recognize him,” while Forsh writes that while it is likely that Blok resembled “all deceased,” she was struck by the appearance of his face—the “narrow nostrils and the unclosed mouth, torn by unheard screams.” The poet Sergey Bernshtein notes that “in the coffin he did not look like his portraits, his face expressed only a deep apathy, an absolute emptiness of the soul.” Zorgenfrey remarks on the anonymity of Blok’s corpse and underscores the sense of estrangement evident in Bely’s account:

A. A. was lying in the attire of the dead with an emaciated, pale-yellowish face; above the lips and along the cheeks grew short, dark hairs; the eyes had sunk deeply; the straight nose became pointed and grew a protuberance; the body, dressed in a dark suit, straightened and dried out. In death his look of greatness had wasted away, and he had taken on the image of suffering and decay, typical of any dead person.

For Zorgenfrey, Blok’s “pale-yellowish” face, the sunken eyes and pronounced nose, make the poet assume an anonymity “common to any dead man.” The post-mortem transformation not only changed Blok’s face, but his entire body: he notes the lightness of Blok’s corpse as he lifts it into the coffin—a lightness “incommensurate” with the deceased’s height and frame. Indeed, for Zorgenfrey, this serves as evidence that “death clearly indicated its triumph over the beauty of life.” These descriptions of estrangement from Blok’s dead body emphasize a sense of estrangement from old Petersburg culture, the landscape of the city and everyday life.

Back to Path 1: Funeral Procession

Back to Path 2: The Services for the Dead