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  Philologica 3 (1996)  


(A Poem About “Golubinaia Kniga”: Text, Context and Subtext)

Afterword by A. L. Grishunin
(Appendix: unpublished memoirs of L. D. Blok)


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This article is devoted to the discussion of the circumstances of Blok’s literary début: on 19 March 1903, in the third issue of the magazine, The New Way, ten pieces by the young poet were published, under the general title From Dedications. No positive responses to Blok’s debut appeared, while vilifiers came forward at once: an anonymous reviewer (The Banner); Victor Burenin (New Time); the theologian and member of the Chancellery of the Synod, Nikolaj Griniakin (Missionary Review). This unusual reaction from a representative of a government institution was prompted by the critical attitude of The New Way to official Orthodox Christianity and church asceticism. In the first issue of the magazine a phrase is found which could serve as an epigraph on the title page: “according to the word of the Apostle, heresies also must exist”; this is a quotation, ingeniously pulled out of context, from St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians (11. 19).

The underlying reason for Griniakin’s review was apparently the following. In the third issue of The New Way, a laconic announcement, unaccompanied by any commentary, is placed, informing the reader that Fr. Ioann (John) of Kronshtadt said in his sermon: “Ignorant know-alls, like Tolstoj and his followers, want to find another way <...> and even have invented the magazine, The New Way <...> It is Satan who opens those new ways; and wild mad people, who do not understand what they are talking about, ruin both themselves and the nation, for they disseminate their satanic ideas amongst the people”. It was this particular quotation that became, to contemporaries, the most conspicuous publication in the magazine: The New Way was threatened with prohibition.

Blok was not much interested in the vicissitudes of journalism, but he was not indifferent to the activities of the god-seekers. His natural inclinations, his reading, his milieu — all this prepared him to be perceptive to Vladimir Solov’ev ideas. It is necessary to take them into consideration for an understanding of the mystical motifs in one of the most enigmatic poems from Blok’s debut collection: the one about the Princess-Bride and the queen who reads the Golubinaia kniga (‘the Book of the Dove’, or, according to the accepted etymological explanation, ‘the Book of the Depths’). This piece, finished on 14 December 1902, was characterized thus in Blok’s letter to his fiancee: “At last I have managed to write some really good poem”. After the declaration of his love, Blok experienced a catharsis, which prepared him for the “perfect” marriage (in the Solov’evian sense of the word). The main personage in Solov’ev’s gnostic mysticism was Sophia the Wisdom of God; she was his only queen, and it is her palace that he described in his poem: My queen has a high palace // With seven golden pillars. These lines unequivocally refer to the biblical verse: “Wisdom hath builded her house (lit. : temple), and she hath hewn out (lit. : established) her seven pillars” (Proverbs 9. 1). It is no surprise that Blok’s bride was at times afraid of her future husband’s mystical visits to this kind of queen, and she got angry, expressing her anxiety by such remarks as: “No mysticism, please!”

The deciphering of the colour code in Blok’s poem is facilitated if we consult the works of a Russian sophiologist, which are not overtly connected with Blok’s poetry. This philosopher — Pavel Florenskij — wrote that gold is “a conventional attribute of the heavenly world”; all other colours from Blok’s poem turn out to pertain to Sophia and differ from one another depending on the direction of contemplation.

The image of the Meek Virgin, to whom the queen prays in Blok’s poem, is linked to his investigations in the field of the iconography of the Virgin Mary (as a student of Petersburg University, Blok gathered materials for an assessed essay on this subject). The idea of giving this name to an icon in the poem about the Golubinaia kniga arose under the impression of the miniature which Blok found in Charle Rohault de Fleury’s book, La sainte Vierge: Études archéolog³ques et iconographiques (1878) in October 1902: “Adoration of the Magi, the tenth century (the Vatican). This is magnificent: the angel with fluttering wings moves in front of the kings who are pressing forwards. Their garments flap. The Meek Virgin is near the entrance of the cave” (from Blok’s notebooks).

The image of the Golubinaia kniga itself is not a mere borrowing from folklore; rather it is connected with the legend of the xlysty (a sect practising castration and flagellation) that neither new nor old books are helpful for salvation, but only The golden book, // The animal book, // The book of the Dove (Kniga Golubinaia): // The Holy Spirit itself, my Sir. It is against the background of the interest in xlystovstvo (the heresy of the xlysty), which was common among the intelligentsia at that time, that the interpretation of Blok’s contemporary (Andrej Belyj) should be perceived: “<...> in Blok, the revival of the Byzantine Image does not take place from above, but from below; this is a revival within xlystovstvo, within sectarianism”. Belyj called “the Beautiful Lady of Blok’s poetry” “the Virgin of the xlysty”.

The general title of the debut collection published in The New Way is: From Dedications. To whom, or rather to what, is the poem about the Golubinaia kniga dedicated? I believe that I have revealed the meaning of this dedication: it is deciphered by the calendar date marking the day the poem was finished, 14 December. This day is inscribed in cultural history as an event which was, I suppose, of particular importance to the Solov’evians. 14 December, AD 537 the principal temple of the Byzantine Empire — Saint Sophia’s cathedral in Constantinople — was consecrated.

There is a striking fact: the Solov’evians’ meeting which was dedicated to the 10th anniversary of their teacher’s death, did not take place on 31 July (when Solov’ev actually died), but on 14 December (at this meeting Blok presented a paper, The Knight-Monk). Next year Blok wrote in his diary: “14 December <...> Today I visit Poliksena Sergeevna <Vladimir Solov’ev’s sister> <...> Mother is there”. The entry in the 1914 notebook, made on the eve of 14 December and related to Blok’s friend, Evgenij Ivanov, is enigmatic: “Zhenia’s name day (‘Sophia’ — to him). He is going to confess”. What could “Sophia” mean in this context? Apparently, on 14 December every year something happened in the “closed order” of the Solov’evians, and it is quite possible that the start of this mystery was in 1902, with Blok’s poem discussed in this article: it was Blok whom his friends considered the direct spiritual heir of Solov’ev, and he was proudly aware of the cultural mission of his poetic gift. This is, to all appearance, the occult, esoteric meaning of the supreme symbol in the poem about the Golubinaia kniga — the meaning of the date when it was finished.

* * *

In his Afterword, A. L. Grishunin gives a general outline of Mixail Fedorovich Mur’ianov’s scholarly legacy and expresses certain doubts about some controversial points in Mur’ianov’s hypothesis which is placed before the readers of Philologica. The Appendix comprises previously unpublished fragments from Liubov’ Mendeleeva-Blok’s memoirs.


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