Vox Dei, vox populi: Blok and V.I. Ivanov

Mark Knighton, University of Manitoba

This paper reinterprets aspects of the relationship between Aleksandr Blok and Viacheslav Ivanov (Bel'kind, 1972) as attested in the poems each dedicated to the other. Discussions of the two poets’ attitudes to one another often cite Ivanov’s poem “The God in the Brothel” (Bog v lupanarii, 1909) on the one hand, and Blok’s ostensible reply “Viacheslavu Ivanovu” from 1912, on the other. “The God in the Brothel,” extremely influential in the development of Blok’s public image, has been interpreted as a reproach to Blok for squandering his gifts (Bazarelli, 1984), although nothing in the tone of the poem supports such a view. While the theme of Dionysian possession is explicit in Ivanov’s poem, one can go further and interpret it as praise for Blok’s art as the successful reconciliation of Apollonian and Dionysian artistic principles, and thus as a union of the popular and the elevated. I argue that a direct influence on Ivanov in writing his poem was Pushkin’s analogous work “To Gnedich” (Gnedichu, 1832), in which the older poet is seen as an “Apollonian” or Olympian figure (with Mosaic features) who descends to the common level and reconciles the elevated and the popular genres as a civilizing force that does not spurn the demotic. In his remarks on the poem to Gnedich, Ivanov observed that Pushkin was in fact describing himself. (Pushkin’s poem might also serve as a description of Ivanov’s aspirations, bringing together tragedy, lyric, and even folkloric elements.)

In turn, Blok’s poem to Ivanov, in which the two poets are contrasted as, respectively, “beggar” and “emperor,” has a “horizontal” orientation and unresolvable opposition in contrast to Ivanov’s “vertical” reconciliation of high and low. Blok’s imagery of wealth and poverty, however, might ultimately derive from Ivanov’s “Eros” (1906), in which the central figure appears both as King Midas, oppressed by his wealth, and as a holy beggar, shriven by his ecstatic experience of the divine.


Bazzarelli, Eridano. “Blok et Ivanov: quelques reflexions.” Cahiers du monde russe et sovietique, 25, 1, jan.-mar. 1984 pp. 49-59.

Bel?kind, E.L. “Blok i Viacheslav Ivanov.” Blokovskii sbornik II. Tartu, 1972. pp. 365-384.

Ermilova, E.V. “Zatochnik vol?nyj” (simvol “svobody” i “nishchety” u Viacheslava Ivanova i Bloka)” in Viacheslav Ivanov: Materialy i issledovaniia. M., Nasledie. 1996. pp. 232-246.

Aleksandr Blok: Novye materialy i issledovaniia. Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 92 5 vols. 1982. kn. 3, 550-551.