August 30, 2014

Valery Bryusov

Valery Bryusov [Russia / USSR]

Valery Bryusov was born on December 13, 1873 (December 1, on the old Julian calendar) in Moscow, the son of a merchant. Growing up, his parents did little to educate the child, with Bryusov, nonetheless, reading “everything that fell into his hands,” including the works of Darwin and Jules Verne.     He attended two Moscow high schools in 1885 and 1893.

     While still a student at Moscow State University, the young poet translated the works of various French symbolists, including Paul Verlaine, Maurice Materlinck, and Stéphane Mallarmé into Russian. He also translated works by the American Edgar Allan Poem, soon after publishing some of his own poems, influenced by the Decadent and Symbolist movements of Europe.

      Although Russia had theoretically embraced Symbolism at the time, there were few actual practitioners of what would soon become the Russian Symbolist movement. Adopting several pen names, Bryusov published three volumes of his own verse as Russian Symbolists: An Anthology in 1894-95, attracting several younger poets to the then-non-existent movement.

      Over the following years he published two new volumes, Chefs d’oeuvre (1895) and Me eum esse (1897).

      In 1900, he published Tertia Vigilia, which established him as the central Russian symbolist. He published another major collection, Urbi et Orbi (The City and the World) in 1903.

     In 1904 he became the editor of the major literary magazine, Vesy (The Scales), which helped to further his literary ambitions. His poems were celebrated for their sophisticated uses of forms, including the acrostic and carmen figuratum (a pre-concretist form in which the shape of the poem paralleled its subject). He also wrote a major study of Armenian poetry.

      Among the central Russian Symbolist poets, known as exponents of the Silver Age, were Konstantin Balmont, Aleksandr Blok, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Andrei Bely, and Dimitry Merezhkovsky.      By 1910, however, to some contemporary Russian figures his poetry began to seem strained, and his reputation declined and he opposed the efforts of Georgy Chulkov and Vyacheslav Ivanov to more Symbolism in the direction of Mystical Anarchism, which attempted to abandon the pure symbolist and decadent roots to embrace the social-political and spiritual experiments of everyone from Nietzsche, Ibsen, and Byron to Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism.

     Several of his fellow Symbolists also escaped from Russia after the 1917 Russian Revolution, while Bryusov remained there, supporting the Bolshevik government until his death in 1924.

     Increasingly, Bryusov turned to prose, writing his major work, The Fiery Angel (later adapted by composer Sergei Prokofiev as an opera) in 1908.

     Bryusov also continued his work as a translator, translating the works of Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren into Russian and continuing with Verlaine’s poetry. He also published works by Victor Hugo, Jean Racine, Oscar Wilde, Johann Goethe and Virgil’s Aeneid.  His collection of stories, The Republic of the Southern Cross, was published in English in 1918 and 1919.        

     From 1910 to 1912, he became the literary editor to the popular Russian magazine Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought), serving as its war correspondent during World War I.


Russian Symbolists (1894); Chefs d’oeuvre (Moscow: E. Lisserna I Iu. Romana, 1896); Me eum esse (Moscow: A. I. Mamontova, 1897); Tertia Vigilia (1900); Urbi et Orbi (1903); Stephanos (1905); Neizdannye stikhi, 1914-1924 (Moscow: Gos, izd-vo, 1928); Izbrannoe: stikhotvoreniia, liricheskie poemy (ed. By N. A. Trifonov) (Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1983 ©1979)

For another biography and a selection of three poems by Bryusov, go here:

For a larger selection of poems, click here:

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