Velimir Khlebnikov

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Velimir Khlebnikov
Vélimir Khlebnikov.jpg
BornViktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov
9 November [O.S. 28 October] 1885
Malye Derbety, Astrakhan Governorate, Russian Empire
Died28 June 1922(1922-06-28) (aged 36)
Kresttsy, USSR
Pen nameVelimir Khlebnikov
Literary movementRussian Futurism

Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov, better known by the pen name Velimir Khlebnikov[1] (Russian: Велими́р Хле́бников, IPA: [vʲɪlʲɪˈmʲir ˈxlʲɛbnʲɪkəf]; 9 November [O.S. 28 October] 1885 – 28 June 1922), was a Russian poet and playwright, a central part of the Russian Futurist movement, but his work and influence stretch far beyond it.


Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov was born in 1885 in Malye Derbety, Astrakhan Governorate, Russian Empire (in present-day Kalmykia). He was of Russian, Armenian and Zaporozhian Cossack descent.[2] He moved to Kazan, where he attended school. He then attended school in Saint Petersburg. He eventually quit school to become a full-time writer.[3]

Velimir Khlebnikov, painted in 1910 by M. Larionov

Khlebnikov belonged to Hylaea, the most significant Russian Futurist group (along with Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksei Kruchenykh, David Burliuk and Benedikt Livshits), but had already written many significant poems before the Futurist movement in Russia had taken shape. Among his contemporaries, he was regarded as "a poet's poet" (Mayakovsky referred to him as a "poet for producers") and a maverick genius.[citation needed] Khlebnikov was involved in the publication of A Slap in the Face of Public Taste in 1912, which was a critical component of the Russian futurism poetry.[3]

Khlebnikov is known for poems such as "Incantation by Laughter", "Bobeobi Sang The Lips", “The Grasshopper” (all 1908-9), “Snake Train” (1910), the prologue to the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun (1913), dramatic works such as “Death’s Mistake” (1915), prose works such as “Ka” (1915), and the so-called ‘super-tale’ (сверхповесть) “Zangezi”, a sort of ecstatic drama written partly in invented languages of gods and birds.[citation needed] He published Selected Poems with Postscript, 1907–1914 circa 1914. Kazimir Malevich and Pavel Filonov co-illustrated it.[3]

In his work, Khlebnikov experimented with the Russian language, drawing upon its roots to invent huge numbers of neologisms, and finding significance in the shapes and sounds of individual letters of Cyrillic. Along with Kruchenykh, he originated zaum.

He wrote futurological essays about such things as the possible evolution of mass communication ("The Radio of the Future") and transportation and housing ("Ourselves and Our Buildings"). He described a world in which people live and travel about in mobile glass cubicles that can attach themselves to skyscraper-like frameworks, and in which all human knowledge can be disseminated to the world by radio and displayed automatically on giant book-like displays at streetcorners.

Although Khlebnikov had supported the 1917 Russian Revolution and shared many of its utopian visions, his works were criticized by the Soviets for not conforming to the strictures of socialist realism.[4]

In his last years, Khlebnikov became fascinated by Slavic mythology and Pythagorean numerology, and drew up long "Tables of Destiny" decomposing historical intervals and dates into functions of the numbers 2 and 3.

Khlebnikov died while a guest in the house of his friend Pyotr Miturich near Kresttsy, in June 1922. There has been no medical diagnosis of his last illness; he suffered from gangrene and paralysis (he seems not to have recovered the use of his legs after his 1920 hospitalization in Kharkov), and it has been suggested that he died of blood poisoning or toxemia.[5]

A minor planet 3112 Velimir discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1977 is named after him.[6]

Wingletting with the goldenscrawl
Of its finest sinews,
The grasshopper loaded its trailer-belly
With many coastal herbs and faiths.
     "Ping, ping, ping!" tra-lah-ed the zingzinger.
O, swanderful!
O, illuminate!

Кузнечик/Grasshopper (1908-1909)

Publishing history[edit]

Long poems
  • 1912: The Little Devil[7]
  • 1912: Teacher and Student. Conversation[8]
  • 1914: Roar! Gauntlets, 1908–1914[9]
  • 1915: Death’s Mistake[10]
  • 1921: "Washerwoman & other poems [10]
  • 1922: Zangezi (сверхповесть)
Radio Project
  • 1921: The Radio of the Future[11]
Short Stories


  1. ^ Also romanized Velemir and Chlebnikov, Hlebnikov, or Xlebnikov.
  2. ^ James R. Russell, "The Black Dervish of Armenian Futurism," Journal of Armenian Studies, 10
  3. ^ a b c "Selected Poems with Postscript, 1907–1914". World Digital Library. 1914. Retrieved 2013-09-28.
  4. ^ Cooke, Raymond (1987). Velimir Khlebnikov: A Critical Study. Cambridge University Press. p. 2.
  5. ^ Collected Works of Velimir Khlebnikov: Letters and Theoretical Writings (Harvard University Press, 1987; ISBN 0674140451), p. 33, n. 98.
  6. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "Creations, 1906–1908". World Digital Library. 1912. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  8. ^ "Teacher and Student. Conversation". World Digital Library. 1912. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  9. ^ "Roar! Gauntlets, 1908–1914". World Digital Library. 1914. Retrieved 2013-09-28.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ "Velimir Khlebnikov — The Radio of the Future (radio project, 1921) — Listen and discover music at". Retrieved 2016-04-12.
  12. ^ Brown, Clarence (1993-01-01). The Portable Twentieth-century Russian Reader. Penguin. ISBN 9780142437575.
  13. ^
  • Khlebnikov, Velimir, Snake Train: Poetry & Prose, translated by Gary Kern, Richard Sheldon, Edward J. Brown, Neil Cornwell & Lily Feiler. Edited by Gary Kern, with an introduction by Edward J. Brown. (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1976), 338 pages ISBN 0-88233-177-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-88-233-178-7 (paperback).
  • Khlebnikov, Velimir, The King of Time (Schmidt, Paul, trans.; Douglas, Charlotte, ed.) Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-674-50516-6
  • MacKay, John. Inscription and Modernity: From Wordsworth to Mandelstam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-253-34749-1

External links[edit]