Alexander Alexandrovich Blok (1880 - 1921), poet and playwright, was born in a family of the gentry. His father, A L Blok,was a jurist, professor of Warsaw University, and a talented musician. His mother, A. A. Beketova, was a writer. His parents separated soon after his birth. Blok spent his childhood in the family of his grandfather A. N. Beketov, a botanist and Rector of Petersburg University, in Petersburg and the Beketov's estate Shakhmatovo, near Moscow. In 1889 Blok's mother obtained a formal divorce and married F. F. Kublitsky-Piottukh, an officer, whereupon she and her son moved to his apartment in an industrial section of Petersburg. Having graduated from a Gymnasium in 1898, Blok entered law school at Petersburg University, but transferred to its Historical-Philological Division in 1901, from which he graduated in 1906. In his early youth he had developed an interest in the theater (he played Hamlet, Romeo, and Chatsky in Griboedov's Woe from Wit) and intended to become an actor, but at 18 he began to write poetry seriously. In 1903 Blok married L. D. Mendeleeva, daughter of the famous chemist D. I. Mendeleev. This marriage, hardly successful in a conventional sense, proved important for Blok's inner development: L. D. Mendeleyeva inspired almost all of his early and much of his later verse. Blok's rapprochement to Andrei Bely, Sergei Solovyov, and other Symbolists occurred at the same time. In 1903 Blok's verses were first published in Novyi put', a journal edited by Dmitri Merezhkovsky and Zinaida Hippius.
In 1904 Blok's first book of verse appeared: Verses on a Beautiful Lady (Stikhi o Prekrasnoi Dame) was received with enthusiasm by the young symbolists. Blok's second book of verse, Inadvertent Joy (Nechayannaya radost', 1907), and his lyric drama The Fair Show Booth (Balaganchik), staged in 1906, made him famous. It was then that Blok became a professional man of letters, moving in the circles of the literary-philosophic intelligentsia and the theatrical Bohemia. His personal life and creativity were affected by his relations with the actress N. N. Volokhova (his cycles of verse, "Snow mask" [Snezhnaya maska], "Faina," and the play Song of Fate [Pesnya sud'by]) and the singer L. A. Del'mas (his cycle of verse, "Carmen"). Blok made several trips abroad, of which his journey to Italy in 1909 was particularly significant (his cycle "Italian Verses" and his series of essays, Lightning Flashes of Art [Molnii iskusstva]). His trip to Warsaw, occasioned by the death of his father in 1909, gave Blok the impulse for his verse epic Retribution (Vozmezdie, 1910-21). After the appearance of his books Land in Snow (Zemlya v snegu, 1907), Lyric Dramas (1908), Nocturnal Hours (Nochnye chasy, 1911), a three-volume collection of his poems (1911-12), the play Rose and Cross (Roza i krest, 1913), and the verse epic Garden of Nightingales (Solovlnyl sad, 1915) Blok's fame had spread all over Russia. He published many articles and gave many public lectures ("The People and the Intelligentsia" - Narod i intelligentsiya, 1908). In 1916 Blok edited and wrote an introduction to a collection of the poetry of A. Grigoriev, who influenced his late poetry in many ways.
Drafted in 1916, Blok was appointed, through the influence of friends, to serve as a record keeper with an engineering unit. He was stationed at the front near Pskov until March of 1917. He greeted the February Revolution with enthusiasm. Starting in May of 1917 he edited testimony given by former ministers of the Tsar before the Extraordinary Investigative Commission of the Provisional Government, which provided him with material for his book, The Last Days of the Old Regime (Poslednie dni starogo rezhima, 1919). The October Revolution initially also gave Blok much hope this article, "Intelligentsia and Revolution," 1918). He worked for Soviet institutions, participated in the publishing house Vsemirnaya literatura (World literature), the Bolshoi dramatic theatre, and the Vol'naya filosofskaya assotsiatsiya (Vollfila, Free Philosophic Association), which he helped to organize. In 1920 he was elected chairman of the Petrograd division of the All-Russian Union of Poets. Blok was close to the Left Social Revolutionaries' Party at the time. In February of 1919 he was briefly arrested in connection with the so-called "conspiracy of the Left SR's." The last two years of Blok's life were marked by his profound disappointment in the Revolution. Apathy, despair, hard living conditions, and a mysterious (possibly venereal) disease led to his mental illness and early death.
Blok's early poetry is linked to the traditions of Zhukovsky, Polonsky, Fet, as well as to the epigonic lyrics of the 19th century.
Blok's mature poetry (the poems of his "third volume," 1907-16), enriched by new accomplishments, returns to classical models. Blok now moves close to Pushkin, whose level of artistry he almost reaches. As before, motifs of heartache, despair, cosmic dissonance, and chaos (the cycle Terrible World - Strashnyi mir), the absurdity of human existence (a group of poems entitled Danse macabre - Plyaski smerti) stand out. The cycle Retribution contains some magnificent penitential verse ("Of valor, feats, and glory" - "O doblestyakh, o podvigakh, o slave", "The Commander's Steps" - Shagi Komandora). Blok now looks back to his second period as to a fall, a substitution of modern decadence for living and creative symbolism; ecstatic transcendence beyond the limits of the mundane turned to sin. An ever present memory of his earlier symbolic systems imparts a metapoetic character to Blok's poetry of this kind. A striving emerges to leave lyric isolation for more objective genres. The cycle Iambs (Yamby) is imbued with political and social themes. In Blok's Italian Verses a vivid sense of history, a picturesque plasticity, and lively narrative appear; here Blok achieves an unsurpassed harmony of composition, rhythm, and sound symbolism ("Ravenna"). His short poema "Garden of Nightingales" in many ways resembles his Italian Verses.
Blok had a huge influence on Russian poetry, including schools that were hostile to him, Acmeism and Futurism. Akhmatova and Mayakovsky learned from him directly. He has entered history as a poetic witness of great changes and cataclysms, as a poet who transformed the Russian poetic idiom, and as one of the most controversial and remarkable Russian writers, "a monument to the beginning of a century" (Anna Akhmatova).