The creative response of Russian poets to the political, ideological, and cultural changes unleashed by the October Revolution is unprecedented in modern literature. Whether Symbolist or Futurist, traditional or avant-garde in style, poets greeted the October Revolution with astonishment at the course of events leading from February 1917 to the fall of the Provisional Government and establishment of the Bolshevik state. Like photographic snapshots, even the briefest lyrics written in the heat of the moment reflected the speed and chaos of upheaval. Poets across the entire political spectrum and across generations, from aging Symbolists to the leaders of the avantgarde, lent vocal support to the positive revolutionary ideals of political freedom, economic equality, and parliamentary democracy, and welcomed the abolition of autocratic privilege, the eradication of poverty, the release of political prisoners, and improvement of labour conditions for the proletariat. Their lyrics spoke to these issues and at times espoused class warfare as a means to these ends.
Since the 1905 Revolution, Alexander Blok (1880–1921) had anticipated a historical cataclysm that would purge Russia of its old structures and leave it ripe for renewal. The most famous of the younger Symbolists and cynosure of younger writers like Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva, Blok feared that a negative resolution of the tensions between the country’s European and Asiatic heritages might leave Russia vulnerable to collapse. In 1918, the spectacle of increasing violence inspired ‘The Scythians’, a poem that frames the conflict of brewing Civil War between the Reds and Whites as the playing out of the irreconcilable fissures in Russian history in which infinite waves of Mongolian hordes overwhelm Russia’s European stock.
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