Konstantin Balmont

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Konstantin Balmont
Konstantin Balmont by Valentin Serov 1905.jpg
Portrait of Konstantin Balmont by Valentin Serov . 1905.
Born Konstantin Dmitrievich Balmont
15 June [O.S. 3 June] 1867
Shuya, Ivanovo Oblast, Russian Empire
Died 23 September 1942(1942-09-23) (aged 75)
Paris, France
Occupation Poet
Nationality Russian
Citizenship Russian Empire / France
Education Moscow University (dropped)
Period 1885–1937
Genre poetry • memoirs • political essay
Literary movement Russian symbolism
Notable works Burning Buildings (1900) • Let Us Be Like the Sun (1903)
Spouse Larissa Garelina • Yekaterina Andreeva • Elena Tzvetkovskaya
Children Nina (Niniko) Balmont, Mirra Balmont

Konstantin Dmitriyevich Balmont (Russian: Константи́н Дми́триевич Бальмо́нт; IPA: [kənstɐnˈtʲin ˈdmʲitrʲɪjɪvʲɪtɕ bɐˈlʲmont]; 15 June [O.S. 3 June] 1867 – 23 December 1942) was a Russian symbolist poet, translator, one of the major figures of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry.


Konstantin Balmont was born in village Gumnishchi, Shuya (then Vladimir Guberniya, now Ivanovskaya oblast), the third of the seven sons of a Russian nobleman, lawyer and senior state official Dmitry Konstantinovich Balmont and Vera Nikolayevna (née Le′bedeva) who came from a family of military men.[1] The latter knew several foreign languages, was enthusiastic about literature and theater and exerted strong influence on her son.[2][3] Balmont learned to read at the age of five and cited Alexandr Pushkin, Alexey Nekrasov, Alexey Koltsov and Ivan Nikitin as his earliest influences.[4] Later he remembered the first ten years of his life spent at the family's Gumnishchi estate with great affection and referred to the place as 'a tiny kingdom of silent comfort'.[5]

In 1876 the family moved to Shuya where Vera Nikolayevna owned a two-story house.[1] At age ten Konstantin joined the local gymnasium, an institution he later described as "the home of decadence and capitalism, good only at air and water contamination."[6]:9 It was there that he became interested in French and German poetry and started writing himself. His first two poems, though, have been panned by his mother in such a manner that for the next six years he made no attempt at repeating this first poetic venture.[7] At the gymnasium Balmont became involved with a secret circle (formed by students and some teachers) which printed and distributed Narodnaya Volya proclamations.[7] "I was happy and I wanted everybody to be happy. The fact that only a minority, myself included, were entitled to such happiness, seemed outrageous to me," he later wrote.[8]

Vera Nikolayevna transferred her son to a Vladimir gymnasium, but here the boy had to board with a Greek language teacher who took upon himself a duty of a warden. In the late 1885 Balmont made his publishing debut: three of his poems appeared in a popular Saint Petersburg magazine Zhivopisnoye Obozrenye. This event (according to the biographer Viktor Bannikov) "has been noticed by nobody except for his (tor)mentor" who forbade the young man to publish anything further.[7][9]

In 1886 Balmont graduated the much hated gymnasium ("It completely ruined my nervous system," he remembered in 1923)[10] and enrolled in the Moscow University to study law.[11] There he became involved with a group of leftist activists and was arrested for taking part in the students' unrest.[10] He spent three days in prison, was expelled from the University and returned home to Shuya.[12] In 1889 Balmont returned to the University but soon quit again, due to nervous breakdown. He joined the Demidov Law college in Yaroslavl but dropped out in September 1890 deciding he'd had enough of formal education.[3] "I simply couldn't bring myself to study law, what with living so intensely through the passions of my heart," he wrote in 1911.[10][13]


Konstantin Balmont in the late 1880s

In 1890 Balmont released a self-financed book called Collection of Poems (Sbornik stikhotvoreny),[14] which included some of the pieces published in 1885.[15] Instrumental in helping the publication was Vladimir Korolenko, by then an established writer who two years earlier received a handwritten notebook (sent to him by Konstantin's classmates) and replied with a letter providing the serious and favourable critical analysis. He praised the schoolboy's eye for detail, warned against the occasional lack of concentration and advised to "trust this unconscious part of human soul which accumulates momentary impressions."[16] "Should you learn to concentrate and work methodically, in due time we'll hear of your having developed into something quite extraordinary", were the last words of this remarkable letter.[7] Balmont was greatly impressed with the famous writer's magnanimity and later referred to Korolenko as his 'literary godfather'.[6]:10 The publication, though, proved to be a failure.[17] Disgusted with it, Balmont purchased and burnt all of its copies.[2] In 1888–1891 he published several poems he translated from German and French.[4]

In Мarch 1890 a near fatal accident occurred: Balmont attempted suicide by jumping off the third floor window. He survived, but broke his leg and received injuries which left him bed-ridden for a year. The immediate impulse has been provided apparently by Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, but the reasons behind it were the falling apart of his year-long marriage (to Larisa Garelina, daughter of a local factory owner), alcohol abuse and financial difficulties (his parents, who disliked Larisa, have left the couple without support).[7] A year of recuperation served a turning point for Balmont, who, in his words, experienced 'extraordinary mental agitation' and envisaged his 'poetic mission.'[9][18]

For a while none of the literary journals showed interest in Balmont's work. "My first book, of course, was a total failure. People dear to me have made this fiasco even less bearable with their negativism," he wrote in 1903,[19]:376 meaning apparently Larisa, but also his university friends who considered the book 'reactionary' and scorned its author for 'betraying the ideals of social struggle'. Again, Korolenko came to help. "The poor guy is very shy; a mere attention to his work would make great difference," he wrote to Mikhail Albov, one of Severny Vestnik's editors, in September 1891.[20]

Some crucial practical help came from the Moscow University professor Nikolai Storozhenko. "Were it not for him. I would have died of hunger," Balmont latter remembered.[12] The professor accepted his essay on Percy Bysshe Shelley and in October 1892 introduced him to the authors of Severny Vestnik, including Nikolay Minsky, Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Zinaida Gippius, as well as the publisher Kuzma Soldatyonkov, who commissioned him to translate two fundamental works on the history of the European literature. These books, published in 1894–1895, "were feeding me for three years, making it possible for me to fulfill all my poetic ambitions," Balmont wrote in 1922.[21] All the while he continued to translate Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. The lawyer and philanthropist Prince Alexander Urusov, an expert in West European literature, financed the publication of two of the Poe's books, translated by Balmont.[17] These translations are still held by Russian literary scholar as exemplary.[6]:11 In 1894 Balmont met Valery Bryusov, who, impressed by the young poet's "personality and his fanatical passion for poetry," soon became his best friend.[22]


In December 1893 Balmont informed Nikolai Minsky in a letter: "I've just written a series of my own verse and I am planning to start the publishing process in January. I anticipate my liberal friends to be outraged for there's not much liberalism in this, while 'corrupting influences' are aplenty."[23] Under the Northern Sky (Под северным небом) came out in 1894 and marked the starting point in his literary career, several critics praising the young author's originality and versatility.[6]:12 The second collection, In Boundlessness (В безбрежности, 1895) saw Balmont starting to experiment with the Russian language's musical and rhythmical structures. Mainstream critics reacted coolly,[6]:12 but the Russian cultural elite of the time hailed the author as gifted innovator.[9]

In 1895 Balmont met and became close friend with Sergey Poliakov, Knut Hamsun's Russian translator and an influential literary entrepreneur (who in 1899 would launch the Scorpion publishing house).[24] In 1896 Balmont married Yekaterina Andreyeva, and the couple went abroad that year to travel through Western Europe.[6]:12 All the while Balmont was engaged in an intensive self-education: he learned several languages and became an expert in various subjects like the Spanish art and the Chinese culture.[7] In the spring of 1897 Oxford University invited Balmont to read lectures on Russian poetry.[25] "For the first time ever I've been given the opportunity to live my life totally in accord with my intellectual and aesthetic interests. This wealth of arts, poetry and philosophy treasures I'll never get enough of," he wrote in a letter to critic Akim Volynsky.[26] These European impressions have formed the basis for Balmont's third collection Silence (Тишина, 1898).[7]


After two years of continuous travelling Balmont settled at Sergey Polyakov's Banki estate to concentrate on his next piece of work. In the late 1899 he informed the poet Lyudmila Vilkina in a letter:

I write non-stop. My love of life grows and now I want to live forever. You won't believe how many new poems I've written: more than a hundred! It's madness, it's fantasy and it's something new. The book I'm going to publish will be different. It will raise many eyebrows. My understanding of the state of things has totally changed. It may sound funny, but I'll tell you: now I understand how the world works. For many years [this understanding] will stay with me, hopefully forever.[6]:15[27]

K. Balmont. A portrait by Nikolai Ulyanov (1909)

The book in question, Burning Buildings (Горящие здания, 1900), a collection of innovative verse aimed at "inner liberation and self-understanding," in retrospect came to be regarded as an apex of Balmont's legacy.[3] In 1901 Balmont sent Leo Tolstoy a copy of it, saying in a letter: "This book is a prolonged scream of a soul caught in the process of being torn apart. One might see this soul as low or ugly. But I won't disclaim not a single page of it as long I keep in me this love for ugliness which is as strong as my love of harmony."[28] Burning Buildings made Balmont the leader of the Russian Symbolism. "For a decade he was a towering presence in Russian poetry. Others either meekly followed or were struggling painfully to free themselves from his overbearing influence," wrote Valery Bryusov later.[29] Despite continuous partying (in the company of Sergey Polyakov and friends) Balmont's flow of creative output at the time was ceaseless. "I churn out one page after another, hastily... How unpredictable one's soul is! One more look inside, and you see the new horizons. I feel like I've struck a goldmine. Should I keep on this way, I'll make a book that will never die," he wrote to Ieronim Yasinsky in 1900.

In March 1901 Balmont took part in the student demonstration on the Kazansky Sobor square which was violently disrupted by the police and Cossacks units.[6]:14 Several days later at a literary event in the Russian State Duma he recited his new poem "Little Sultan", a diatribe against Tsar Nicholas II the hand-written version of it became quite popular.[7] As a result, Balmont was deported from the capital and banned for three years from living in the University cities. He departed to Paris and spent 1902 lecturing in several West European countries.[9]

In 1903 Let Us Be Like the Sun. The Book of Symbols (Будем как Солнце. Книга Символов) came out to great acclaim.[30] Alexander Blok called it "unique in its unfathomable richness."[6]:15 In 1903 Balmont moved to the Baltic Sea shore to work on his next book, Only Love (Только любовь, 1903) which failed to surpass the success of the two previous ones, but still added to the cult of Balmont.[31] "Russia was passionately in love with him. Young men whispered his verses to their loved ones, schoolgirls scribbled them down to fill their notebooks," Teffi remembered.[32] Established poets like Mirra Lokhvitskaya, Valery Bryusov, Andrey Bely, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Maximilian Voloshin and Sergey Gorodetsky treated him (according to biographer Darya Makogonenko) as a "genius… doomed to rise high above the world by submerging himself totally into depths of his soul."[6]:5

In 1904–1905 Scorpion published the two-volume set of Balmont's best work. It was followed by Lithurgy of Beauty. Hymns for Elements (Литургия красоты. Стихийные гимны) and Fairy's Fairytales (Фейные сказки, both 1905). The first one dealt mostly with his impressions of the Russian-Japanese War,[10] the second was a children's book written for daughter Nina Balmont. Back from his trip to Mexico and California, Balmont became involved in the 1905 street unrest, reciting poems on barricades and (according to Yekaterina Andreeva) "carrying a pistol in the pocket wherever he went." Now friends with Maxim Gorky, he contributed both to the latter's New Life (Novaya zhizn) and Paris-based Red Banner (Krasnoye znamya) radical newspapers.[25] On December 31, 1905, he flew to Paris so as to avoid arrest.[7] Balmont's posturing as political immigrant was ridiculed in Russia at the time, but years later researchers found evidence that the Russian secret police considered the poet a 'dangerous political activist' and tried to spy on him abroad.[3]


Balmont lecturing. Natan Altman's caricature, 1914

Balmont's next two books collected the poetry written during and in the wake of the First Russian revolution events. All the copies of Poems (Стихотворения, 1906) were immediately confiscated by the police. Songs of the Avenger (Песни мстителя, 1907), containing direct calls for the assassination of the Tsar were banned in Russia and came out in Paris. Vile Charms (Злые чары, 1906) was banned for its allegedly anti-religious sentiments. Both critics and fellow poets (close friend Bryusov among them) saw these post-1905 books as failures.[10] Russian folklore-orientated Firebird. Slav's Svirel (Жар-птица. Свирель славянина, 1907), Green Vertograd. Words Like Kisses (Зелёный вертоград. Слова поцелуйные, 1909) and Ancient Calls (Зовы древности, 1909), even if radically different, bore the same sign of crisis, of which the poet himself was, apparently, unaware.[2] Balmont's three best-received books of this decade, Mountain Peaks (Горные вершины, 1904), White Heat Lightnings (Белые зарницы, 1908) and Luminous Sea (Морское свечение, 1910), collected his essays on Russian and foreign authors.[3]

In 1907–1912 Balmont travelled continuously. Ethnic folklore and esoteric beliefs formed the basis for his next books, Snakes' Flowers (Zmeinyie tsvety. 1910), White Architect (1914) and The Osiris Land (1914). The 1913 political amnesty (declared in time for the House of Romanov' 300 years Jubilee) made it possible for Balmont to return home and enjoy rapturous welcome.[7] In 1914 the publication of the Complete K. D. Balmont in ten volumes started, and continued for the next seven years.[25]

The outbreak of the World War I found Balmont in France and he had to make a long trip through United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden to return home in May 1915.[6]:18 There he published Ash. Vision of a Tree (Ясень. Видение древа, 1916) and 255 sonnets under the title Sonnets of the Sun, the Honey and the Moon (Сонеты Солнца, мёда и Луны, 1917). Both books were received warmly by the public, but the majority of critics found them monotonous and banal.[25]


Balmont welcomed the February Revolution; he joined the Constitutional Democratic Party and praised Lavr Kornilov in one of his articles.[6]:18 The October revolution made Balmont repudiate many of his past beliefs. He condemned the dictatorship of proletariat doctrine as destructive and suppressive.[3][4] Still, in his autobiographical essay called A Revolutionary: Am I or Am I Not? Balmont argued that a poet should keep away from political parties and keep "his individual trajectory which is more akin to that of a comet rather than a planet."[17]

Ivan Shmelyov and (above him) Konstantin Balmont. 1926

1918–1919 were the years of severe hardship for Balmont who, living in Petrograd (with his third wife Yelena Tsvetkovskaya and their daughter Mirra)[33] had also to support Yekaterina Andreeva and their daughter Nina, in Moscow.[12] He struck friendship with Marina Tsvetayeva, another poet on the verge of physical collapse.[6]:18 Unwilling to collaborate with the Bolsheviks (whose "hands were smeared with blood," as he declared openly at one of the literary meetings) he still occasionally had to. In 1920 Anatoly Lunacharsky (under pressure from Jurgis Baltrushaitis, then the head of Lithuanian diplomatic mission in Moscow) granted Balmont the permission to leave the country. Boris Zaitsev later opined that what Baltrushaitis did was actually save Balmont's life. According to the Sergey Litovtsev (a Russian critic who lived in immigration) at one of the Cheka secret meetings the fate of Balmont was discussed, "...it's just that those demanding him being put to a firing squad happened to be in the minority at the time."[34] On May 25, 1920, Balmont and his family left Russia for good.[6]:19

In Paris Balmont found himself unpopular. Radical Russian emigres took his safe and easy departure as a sign of him being a Communist sympathizer.[34] Lunacharsky with his apologetic article ensuring the public at home that Balmont's stance wasn't in any way anti-Bolshevik, played up to these suspicions. On the other hand, the Bolshevik press accused of 'treacherousness' the poet, who "having been sent to the West on a mission to collect common people's revolutionary poetry abused the trust of the Soviet government." Condemning repressions in Russia, Balmont was critical of his new environment too, speaking of many things that horrified him in the West.[34] What troubled him most though, was his longing for Russia. "Not a single other Russian poet in exile suffered so painfully from having been severed from his roots," the memoirist Yuri Terapiano later argued.[35] For Balmont his European experience was the "life among aliens." "Emptiness, emptiness everywhere. Not a trace of spirituality here in Europe," he complained in a December 1921 letter to Yekaterina Andreeva.[25]

In 1921 Balmont moved out of Paris into the province where he and his family rented houses, mostly in Brittany, Vendee, Bordeaux and Gironde.[4] In the late 1920s his criticism of both the Soviet Russia and the leftist Western elite (Romain Rolland in particular) who were indifferent, as he saw it, to the plight of the Russian people, became more pronounced. Great Britain's acknowledgement of the legitimacy of (in Balmont's words) "the international gang of bandits who seized power in Moscow and Saint Petersburg" rendered "a fatal blow to the last remnants of honesty in the post-War Europe."[36] Still, unlike his conservative friend Ivan Shmelyov, Balmont was a liberal: he detested fascism and right-wing nationalist ideas. All the while, he shied the Russian Socialists (like Alexander Kerensky and Ilya Fondaminsky) and expressed horror at what he saw as France's general 'enchantment' with Socialism. His views in many ways were similar to those of Ivan Bunin; the two (who rather disliked each other personally) were speaking in one voice on many occasions.[37]

Balmont by Voloshin

In emigration Balmont published several books of poetry, including A Gift to Earth (Дар Земле), Lightened Hour (Светлый час, both 1921), The Haze (Марево, 1922), From Me to Her. Poems of Russia (Моё — ей. Стихи о России, 1923), Beyond Stretched Horizons (В раздвинутой дали, 1929), Northern Lights (Северное сияние, 1933), Blue Horseshoe (Голубая подкова) and Serving the Light (Светослужение, both 1937). He released autobiographies and memoirs: Under the New Sickle (Под новым серпом), The Airy Path (Воздушный путь, both 1923) and Where Is My Home? (Где мой дом?, Prague, 1924). Balmont's poetry in emigration was criticized by Vladimir Nabokov who called his verse "jarring" and "it's new melodies false."[38] Nina Berberova argued that Balmont exhausted his muse while in Russia and none of his later work was worthy of attention. Modern Russian critics assess Balmont's last books more favourably, seeing them as more accessible and insightful, even if certainly less flamboyant than his best-known work. The poet and biographer Nikolai Bannikov called poems "Pines in Dunes" (Дюнные сосны) and "Russian Language" (Русский язык) "little masterpieces". In the late 1920s Balmont was still touring, reading lectures (in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Lithuania) and translated a lot.[7]

In the early 1930s life for Balmont became hard, as the financial support from the Czech and Yugoslav governments ceased. The poet who had to support three women fell into poverty. Ivan Shmelyov could give him mostly moral support, professor Vladimir Zeeler regularly provided financial help. In 1932 it became clear that Balmont was suffering from mental illness, triggered at least to some extent by his alcohol abuse in the 1920s.[39] In April 1936 the group of Russian writers and musicians abroad celebrated the 50th anniversary of Balmont's literary career by staging a charity event; among organizers and contributors were Ivan Shmelyov, Ivan Bunin, Boris Zaitsev, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Mark Aldanov.[37]

Konstantin Balmont died on December 23, 1942 in the Russian House asylum, due to complications of pneumonia. He is interred in Noisy-le-Grand's Catholic cemetery, four words engraved on a grey tomb: "Constantin Balmont, poete russe". Just several people turned up at the funeral, among them Boris Zaitsev, daughter Mirra and Jurgis Baltrushaitis' widow.[24][40]


Balmont and Sergey Gorodetsky with respective wives (Andreyeva to the right), Saint Petersburg, 1907.

Konstantin Balmont has been characterized variously as theatrical, pretentious, erratic and egotistical.[7] Boris Zaitsev, ridiculing good-humouredly his best friend's vain eccentricities, remembered episodes when Balmont "could be altogether different person: very sad and very simple."[24] Andrey Bely spoke of Balmont as of a lonely and vulnerable man, totally out of touch with the real world. Inconsistency marred his creativity too: "He failed to connect and harmonize those riches he's been given by nature, aimlessly spending his spiritual treasures," Bely argued.[41]

Duality was intrinsic to the way Balmont acted and looked. "His whole image was a kaleidoscope of contradictory features: arrogance and weakness, majestic posturing and languid apathy, cheekiness and fear – those were flickering on and on, making his pale, emaciated face ever changing," Bely remembered.[41]

"Balmont was a poseur and reasons for this were obvious. Ever crowded by worshippers, he was trying to bear himself in a manner he saw as befitting a great poet, head cast back, brow furrowed... It was laughter that gave him away… Just like a child, he was always moved by a momentary impulse," wrote Teffi.[32] "He lives his everyday life as a poet, trying to discover each moment's full richness. That is why one shouldn't judge him by common criteria," Valery Bryusov argued.[42]

Pyotr Pertsov who knew Balmont from teenage years, characterized him as "very nice, friendly and considerate young man." Marina Tsvetayeva insisted that he was "a kind of man who'd give a needy one his last piece of bread, his last log of wood." Mark Talov, a Soviet translator who in the 1920s found himself penniless in Paris, remembered how often, after having left Balmont's house he would find money in a pocket; the poet (who was very poor himself) preferred the anonymous way of help so as not to confuse a visitor.[7]

Bohemian habits notwithstanding, Balmont was a hard worker, proficient and prolific. Eccentric to many, he seemed rational and logical to some. The publisher Sergey Sabashnikov remembered Balmont as "accurate, punctual, pedantic and never slovenly… Such accuracy made Balmont a very welcome client," he added.[18]


There is an element of controversy as to Konstantin Balmont's (and his second name's) origins. Most sources mention his father Dmitry Konstantinovich Balmont (1835—1907) as a nobleman of Scandinavian (probably Scottish) ancestry.[3][9] In his 1903 short autobiography the poet wrote:

According to our family legend, my ancestors were sailors, either Scottish or Scandinavian, who came to Russia and settled there. My father's father was a Navy officer and a hero of Turkish War praised by Tsar Nicholas the First for bravery. My mother's ancestors were Tatars, the first in the line being Prince Bely Lebed (White Swan) of the Golden Horde. That was where two of her distinctive qualities, unruliness and tempestuousness which I inherited, have come from.[19]:375

According to Yekaterina Andreyeva's Memoirs,[43] Balmont's paternal grand-grandfather Ivan Andreyevich Balamut (Баламут, the Ukrainian surname, translated literally as "trouble-maker") was a landowner in Kherson, Southern Ukraine, who served as a cavalry sergeant in Catherine the Great's Imperial Guard regiment (Andreyeva insisted she had seen the proof of it in an original parchment-written document kept in the family archives).[25][44] This second version has its own detractors. "It would have been logical for a foreign name to be transformed by common people of a rural area into a folkish, recognizable version, but certainly not vice versa," Tatyana Alexandrova, an authority on Mirra Lokhvitskaya and Balmont, argued.[12]

Dmitry Konstantinovich, Vera Nikolayevna and all of their relatives pronounced the surname with the first syllable stressed. The poet insisted that he personally (and officially) changed his surname into Balmont and asked everybody to pronounce it accordingly. He cited "a certain woman's whimsy" as the only reason for his decision to make this change.[12]

Private life[edit]

Yekaterina Andreyeva, Balmont's second wife.

In 1889, ignoring his mother's warnings, Balmont married Larisa Mikhaylovna Garelina, a daughter of Shuya-based factory-owner, described as a neurasthenic who "gave [the poet] the love of a truly demonic nature".[6]:10 This led first to Balmont's ties with his family being severed,[12][45] then his March 13, 1890, suicide attempt.[7] The couple's first son died in infancy; the second, Nikolai, suffered from mental illness.[12] Later some critics warned against demonizing Larisa Garelina, pointing to the fact that years later she married the well-known Russian journalist and literature historian Nikolai Engelgardt and enjoyed perfectly normal family life with him. Their daughter Anna Engelgardt became the second wife of poet Nikolai Gumilyov.[12]

On 27 September 1896 Balmont married Yekaterina Alekseyevna Andreyeva (1967–1952), a well-educated woman who came from the rich merchants' family, related to the well-known Moscow publishers' clan of Sabashnikovs.[12] Andreyeva and Balmont had much in common; they formed a tandem of translators and worked together on the works of Gerhart Hauptmann and Oscar Wilde.[7] Andreyeva, a strong-minded woman, was a leading force in the family, and in her 'strong, healthy and loving hands' (as the family friend Boris Zaitsev put it) Balmont led a 'disciplined, working man's life.'[24] In 1901 their daughter Nina Balmont (Bruni in marriage, died in Moscow in 1989) was born.[6]:284

Balmont and Shmelyov (second and third to the right respectively) with relatives and friends. Leftmost: Mirra Balmont, rightmost: Yelena Tsvetkovskaya.

In the early 1900s, while in Paris, Balmont met Yelena Konstantinovna Tsvetkovskaya (1880–1943), general K.G. Tzvetkovsky's daughter, a student of mathematics at the University of Paris and the poet's ardent fan. Balmont, as some of his letters suggested, wasn't in love with her, but soon found himself in many ways dependent upon the girl who proved to be a loyal, devoted friend. Balmont's family life got seriously complicated in 1907 when Tsvetkovskaya gave birth to a daughter Mirra, named so by her father in the memory of the poet Mirra Lokhvitskaya, who died in 1905 and with whom he had passionate platonic relations.[6]:19 Torn apart between the two families, in 1909 Balmont attempted suicide for the second time (jumping out a window) and again survived. Up until 1917 he lived in Saint Petersburg with Tsvetkovskaya and Mirra, occasionally visiting Yekaterina and Nina in Moscow.[6]:19 While in France Balmont continued to correspond with Andreyeva until 1934 when transnational links between relatives were banned in the USSR.[44]

Balmont and Tsvetkovskaya, according to Teffi, communicated in a bizarrely pretentious manner. "She was always calling him 'a poet', never – 'my husband'. A simple phrase like 'My husband asks for a drink' in their special argot would turn into something like: 'A poet is willing to appease his thirst'." [32] Unlike Andreyeva, Yelena Tsvetkovskaya was helpless in domestic life and had no influence over Balmont whatsoever.[32]

In the 1920s Balmont was romantically linked with the Estonian baroness Dagmar Shakhovskaya (1893–1967). They met rarely, but had two children: George (1922–194?) and Svetlana (b. 1925).[46] Balmont wrote her almost daily; in all, 858 of his letters and postcards survived.[44] It was Yelena Tsvetkovskaya, though, who remained with Balmont till his dying day. She died in 1943, surviving her husband by a year. Mirra Balmont (in her first marriage Boychenko, in the second Ayutina) was a published poet, who used the pseudonym Aglaya Gamayun. She died in Paris in 1970.[37]

In music[edit]

Among the Russian composers who set Balmont's poetry to music were Mikhail Gnessin, Nikolai Myaskovsky, Nikolai Obukhov, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maximilian Steinberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Taneyev. His free Russian translation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells formed the basis for Rachmaninoff's choral symphony of the same name, Op. 35.

Selected works[edit]

Poetry collections[edit]

  • Collection of Poems (Сборник стихотворений, 1890)
  • Under the Northern Sky (Под северным небом, 1894)
  • In Boundlessness (В безбрежности, 1895)
  • Silence (Тишина. Лирические поэмы, 1898)
  • Burning Buildings. The Lyric of the Modern Soul (Горящие здания. Лирика современной души, 1900)
  • Let Us Be Like the Sun. The Book of Symbols (Будем как солнце. Книга символов, 1903)
  • Only Love (Только любовь. Семицветник, 1903)
  • Liturgy of Beauty (Литургия красоты. Стихийные гимны, 1905)
  • Fairy's Fairytales (Фейные сказки (детские песенки), 1905)
  • Vile Charms (Злые чары, 1906)
  • Poems (Стихотворения, 1906)
  • Firebird. Slavic Svirel (Жар-птица. Свирель славянина, 1907)
  • Songs of the Avenger (Песни мстителя, 1907)
  • Three Blossoms. Theatre of Youth and Beauty (Три расцвета. Театр юности и красоты, 1907)
  • Runaround of Times (Хоровод времён. Всегласность, 1909)
  • Birds in the Air (Птицы в воздухе. Строки напевные, 1908)
  • Green Vertograd (Зелёный вертоград. Слова поцелуйные, 1909)
  • White Architect. Mystery of Four Lanterns (Белый Зодчий. Таинство четырёх светильников, 1914)
  • Ash. Visions of a Tree (Ясень. Видение древа, 1916)
  • Sonnets of Sun, Honey and Moon (Сонеты Солнца, Мёда и Луны, 1917; published in 1921 in Berlin)


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