Modern Russian Poetry/Konstantin Balmont

Konstantin Balmont

(Born 1867)

Balmont revived the tradition of the wandering minstrel. He traveled more widely than the old-fashioned troubadour and also more comfortably. His journeys carried him to Mexico and Egypt, to India and the South Seas, and winds from these exotic lands blow through his songs. His stay abroad was somewhat of an exile, as certain political poems written in 1906 barred him from Russia. This was a recrudescence of youthful political ardor, which, in his student years, sent him to prison for a short time, but which burned itself out early. He returned home in 1913, where he remained through the war and the revolution, till in 1920 he shook the dust of communism from his feet.

Of late years, his reputation, which was enormous about a decade ago, has been on the wane. Yet his place as a great poet and as the leader of Russian modernism is assured to him in the opinion of his compatriots. He brought to Russian literature a spontaneous lyricism and a didacticism of joy which, while emancipating poetry from its gloom and social bias, failed of intensity, imagery, and intellection. What impressed his public was his vociferous æstheticism and a prolific versatility in subject-matter. He has certainly contributed to the language by his rhythmic inventions. His range includes poems about the colors, children's verse, abstruse mythology, adaptations of Russian folk-songs and spells, hymns to the elements, and, above all, pure lyrics. He is a veritable Narcissus of the ink-pot, to use a bon-mot of Tyutchev's. The "Hymn to Fire" is given here, not for its quality, but solely as a typical example of Balmont's manner. He has done a rare service to Russian letters by translating the poetry of many languages, including the Scandinavian. He has practically made an anthology of English verse, and also gave to Russia a partial Whitman and a complete Shelley. Like Ezra Pound, he takes pleasure in flaunting an obscure linguistic erudition. His fecundity, one fears, has survived most of his other faculties.