Khodasevich on Gumilyov and Blok

Alexander Blok died on 7 August and Nikolay Gumilyov twenty days later, but for me they both died on August 3rd 1921. Why, I shall explain in what follows.

It is difficult to imagine two people more different than they: I think they were close only in age, with Blok the elder by six years. Although they belonged to the same literary era, they were people of different poetic generations. Blok was one of the purest Symbolists, who had rebelled against Symbolism. Gumilyov saw himself as Symbolism’s diehard enemy, but had never emerged from the shadow of Valery Bryusov, the father of the movement. Blok was a mystic and disciple of The Beautiful Lady, who wrote sacrilegious poetry, not only about her. Gumilyov was careful to cross himself whenever he passed a church, but I rarely met anyone with so little understanding of religion. For Blok, poetry was a momentous spiritual impulse that permeated his being. For Gumilyov, it was a form of literary activity. Blok was a poet always, every minute of his life. Gumilyov only when he was writing poetry.

All this (and much more) meant they could not abide each other and did not hide it. But in my memory they often appear together. The last year of their lives – the only year in fact that I knew them – ended with their almost simultaneous death. And in their deaths and the shock they provoked in St Petersburg, there was also a common thread.

Nikolay Gumilyov and I were born in the same year and began publishing poetry at the same time, but did not meet until much later: I was rarely in St Petersburg and it seems that he was never in Moscow. We were introduced to each other in the autumn of 1918 in St Petersburg at a session of a “World Literature” collegium. The pomposity with which Gumilyov “presided” at the meeting immediately reminded me of Valery Bryusov.

He invited me home, and entertained me as though it were an audience of two monarchs. There was something so unnatural about his attentiveness that at first I wondered if he was joking. I was obliged, however, to take a similar tone because anything less would have seemed like over-familiarity. St Petersburg was deserted, hungry and reeked of smoked fish, but we sat there in our threadbare jackets and worn-out shoes, skinny, starving and surrounded by the clutter of his freezing office, conversing with immense dignity. Recalling that I am from Moscow, Gumilyov thought he should offer me tea, but did so in such a hesitant voice (because probably he had no sugar) that I refused, and evidently saved him embarrassment. I, meanwhile, could not take my eyes off his office. The writing table, the three-doored book case, the long mirrors between door and windows, the armchairs and so on – everything looked extraordinarily familiar. At last I asked tentatively if he had lived there long. 

-Actually, it is not my flat – Gumilyov answered. – It belongs to M. 

Now it all made sense. Gumilyov and I were sitting in my old office! About 10 years earlier part of the furniture had belonged to me. It had an interesting history of its own. Admiral Fyodor Matyushkin, one of Pushkin’s pals at the Lycee outside St Petersburg, had taken it from some ship to furnish the house on his lakeside estate near Bologoye. The estate was called “Zaimka”. According to local lore, Pushkin often visited and there was even an armchair in green goatskin that was supposed to be his favourite. As often happens, this was pure myth. Pushkin had never been in the area and it was thirty years after his death that Matyushkin bought the estate. After Matyushkin died, it was passed from hand to hand and re-named “Lidino”, but the inside of the old house remained unchanged. Even the contraptions in the kitchen, specially designed for storing crockery in rough seas, were not replaced with shelves. In 1905 I became by chance part-owner of this furniture and moved it to Moscow, and then it got shipped over to St Petersburg. And when the revolution had turned everyone and everything upside down, I came across Gumilyov sitting in its midst! Its current owner was in Crimea.

After I had sat as long as necessary for such an uncomfortable visit, I got up to go. As Gumilyov took me to the door, a pale skinny boy wearing a stained tunic top and felt boots, with a face as long as Gumilyov’s, jumped out of a side door. He had an Ulan cap on his head and was waving a toy sabre and shouting something. Gumilyov immediately told him to go away in the voice of a king dispatching the dauphin to his day nurse. I had the feeling, however, that other than Gumilyov and his son there was no one in this damp chilly flat.

Two years later I moved to St Petersburg and we saw more of each other. There was a lot of good in Gumilyov. He had perfect literary taste: a little superficial, but impeccable in the conventional meaning of that word. He approached poetry from a formal point of view, but was here both perceptive and subtle. He could analyse the way a poem worked in a way few people could, and with more depth and perception, I think, even than Valery Bryusov. He worshipped poetry and when he passed judgement on it he tried to be fair.

For all that, I rarely found his conversation or poetry “nourishing”. He was astonishingly young in spirit and, perhaps, in mind, and to me he always seemed like a child. There was something juvenile about his clippered head and more of the school-boy than the soldier in his ramrod posture. The same boyishness surfaced in his obsession with Africa, and war, but most of all in his mask of self-importance. It had amazed me when we first met, but would suddenly slip off and fly away somewhere until he grabbed hold of it and put it back on again. Like all children, he liked playing at grown-ups. He liked playing at being the “maitre”, the literary authority for all his “Gumilyov-lets” , i.e. the little poets and poetesses that surrounded him. The poets’ playground loved him very much. Sometimes, after he had lectured them on poetry, he would join them in blindman’s bluff – in the most literal, not metaphorical, sense of that word. I saw him do it more than once. Gumilyov at those times was like a nice fifth-year having fun with the first years. It was amusing to see him half an hour later playing at adults, in grave conversation with the Supreme Court judge, A.F. Koni. Koni was no match for Gumilyov’s dignified bearing.

Around the Christmas of 1920 a ball was held in the Institute of Art History. I can remember now the dim lighting and clouds of icy breath in the huge frozen halls of what had been Prince Zubov’s mansion on St Isaac’s Square. Damp logs smoulder in the fireplaces and give off an acrid smell. The whole of literary and artistic St Petersburg is there. Loud music is playing. People are circulating in the gloom and crowding round the fireplaces. My God, the things they are wearing! Felt boots, sweaters, mangy fur coats they cannot part with in the ballroom. And then Gumilyov appears, fashionably late, with a lady on his arm who is trembling with the cold and wearing a black dress with a plunging neckline. Straight-backed in a frock coat Gumilyov processes haughtily through the rooms. He is shaking with cold, but bows to the right and left with majestic courtesy. He exchanges words in a sociable tone with people he knows. He is playing at going to the ball. His whole demeanour says: “Nothing has happened. A revolution? I hadn’t heard.”

OOO

That winter Alexander Blok was avoiding people and, of course, was not at the ball. I remember him from another evening. The House of Writers, one of the last refuges of our crowd, had thought to organise annual festivities across the country to mark the anniversary of Pushkin’s death. (These were later moved to the date he was born and were forerunners of the “Days of Russian Culture”, that were held abroad.) The first took place on 11 February 1921, and speeches had been requested from A.F.Koni, A.N. Kotlyarevsky, Alexander Blok and me. Kuzmin was supposed to read some of his poems. I was ill and could not prepare a speech in time, so turned down the request but went along to the evening. Representatives of the House of Writers were on the platform – N.M. Volkovsky, B.I.Khariton, and V.Ya.Iretsky – and Kotlyarevsky presided at the table with Anna Akhmatova, Shcheglov and me on his right, and on his left, Koni, Kuzmin and at the end of the table – Blok, who sat with his head deeply bowed throughout.

The speeches were preceded by short proposals from various organisations for how the Pushkin Days should be celebrated in future. Among the delegates was a government official, a Mr Kristi, whose job was to run a so-called academic centre. Writers and academics were always having to have dealings with him. He was an elderly man; easygoing and well meaning, and visibly ill at ease under the unsympathetic gaze of the packed hall. When he was given the floor he stood up, blushed, and not being a public speaker by nature, immediately got his tongue twisted. He mixed up his double negatives and said:

“Russian society must not assume that its efforts to immortalise Pushkin’s memory, will notmeet with obstacles on the part of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.”

Laughter rippled round the hall. Someone said loudly “and we do not”. Blok raised his face and glanced at Kristi with a mocking smile.

His own inspirational address about Pushkin he gave last. He was wearing a black jacket over a white sweater with a high collar. Sinewy and thin, with a reddish wind-burned face, he looked like a fisherman. He spoke abruptly in rather a monotonous voice with his hands stuffed in his pockets, and occasionally turned his head in Kristi’s direction as he said with great emphasis: “ Bureaucrats are blood-suckers. They sucked our blood yesterday and they suck it today…. And they can expect to be called worse than that, the bureaucrats who want to steer poetry down some bye ways of their own, to impinge upon its secret freedom and thwart its mysterious purpose…” Poor Kristi was visibly suffering and squirming in his seat. I was told that as he put on his coat to go, he said loudly in the hallway: I never expected such lack of tact from Blok.

In this setting, however, and in Blok’s mouth, the speech sounded less tactless than profoundly tragic, and perhaps a little penitential. The author of “The Twelve”, a poem that seemed to welcome the Bolshevik revolution, was willing Russian society and Russian literature to safeguard Pushkin’s last bequest – freedom – if only “secretly”. While he was speaking one could feel the wall between him and the audience gradually dissolving, and the applause that greeted his speech contained the pure joy that always accompanies reconciliation with someone one loves.

While Blok was on the podium, Gumilyov appeared. He had the same lady on his arm as at the ball and solemnly processed down the aisle the length of the hall, but this time there was something distasteful in his lateness for the Pushkin evening and his frock coat (perhaps compared to Blok’s sweater) and his companion’s decolletage. A place had been prepared for him on the stage and he was just putting one foot on the creaking step when Kotlyarevsky waved him away with a sharp gesture, and he sat down somewhere in the audience then left a few minutes later.

The evening was repeated three times. I finally wrote my speech (“The swaying tripod“) and delivered it. “Off stage” as we waited our turns, Blok and I chatted. Those were actually the only times that he and I spoke more or less in private. The last time was in the University building, where we ended up sitting for about one and a half hours in a deserted room at a table covered in cold oil-cloth. We began with Pushkin and went on to early Symbolism. Blok spoke with fond amusement about that period and his obsession with mysticism, and about Andrey Bely and S.M.Solovyov – the way people recollect their childhood. He confessed that he no longer understood a lot of the poems he had written then. “I’ve forgotten what many of the words meant then; and you know, they seemed so sacramental. Now I read them as though they were written by someone else, and I do not always remember what their author was trying to say.”

That evening – 26 February – he was sadder than ever before. He spoke a lot about himself with great self-restraint, at times half-hinting at things and rambling unclearly, as though he was talking to himself and looking deep inside. But behind his words I sensed stark, biting honesty. It seemed that he was seeing the world and himself in tragic nakedness and simplicity. Honesty and simplicity are for me always associated with the memory of Blok. 

oOo

Gumilyov understood poetic mastery too well to dismiss Blok out of hand, but that did not stop him disliking him as a person. I do not know how they had got on earlier, but by the time I arrived in St Petersburg I found mutual enmity. I do not think the grounds were trivial, although Gumilyov was so conscious of his status in the poetical hierarchy that he might have been jealous of Blok. The problem probably lay in more serious differences. Their views of the world were incompatible and their priorities as writers diametrically opposed. The main thing in Blok’s poetry was its “hidden impulse” and its spiritual meaning, things that were bound to be alien to Gumilyov. For Gumilyov the invidious and rather unintelligible aspects of Symbolism must have loomed large in Blok’s poetry. Not for nothing had the Acmeist movement made Alexander Blok and Andrey Bely its number one targets. And for Blok the “emptiness”, “superfluity” and “superficiality” of Gumilyov’s poetry must have been tedious.

Had the problem only been Gumilyov’s poetry, Blok could probably have come to terms with it, or at least come to tolerate it. But there were two complicating factors. Blok was venting on Gumilyov the pupil, the years of pent-up hostility he had felt towards the teacher, Valery Bryusov: a hostility all the more intense because it arose from admiration gone sour. Acmeism and all that later came to be known as “Gumilyovism” seemed to Blok to be “Bryusovism” writ large. Secondly, Gumilyov was not alone. Every year his influence over young writers was growing and Blok considered this spiritually and poetically destructive.

At the beginning of 1921 their hostility surfaced. To touch on some other incidents, I shall start a little further back. Four years before the war began in 1914, a poets’ community had formed in St Petersburg known as “The Poetry Workshop”. Its participants included Alexander Blok, Sergey Gorodetsky, Georgy Chulkov, Yury Verkhovsky, Nikolay Klyuev, Nikolay Gumilyov and even Aleksey Tolstoy, who still wrote poetry at that time. The younger poets were represented by Osip Mandelshtam, Georgy Narbut and Anna Akhmatova, then Gumilyov’s wife. The original association was “non-party” in the literary sense, then the Acmeists began taking over and the people who did not sympathise with them – like Blok – gradually stopped coming. During the war and the War Communism period immediately after it, Acmeism came to an end and “The Poetry Workshop” petered out. In early 1921 Nikolay Gumilyov thought to resurrect it, and invited me to join him. I asked if this would be the first workshop, ie the non-party one, or the second, Acmeist, one. Gumilyov said the first, so I agreed. That evening there was due to be a meeting, their second. I lived in those days in the House of Arts, was often ill, and hardly ever saw anyone, but before the meeting I stopped by my neighbour, the poet Osip Mandelshtam, and asked him why he had never said anything about the revival of “The Poetry Workshop”. Mandelshtam burst out laughing:

  • Because there isn’t one. Blok, Sologub and Akhmatova refused to join. Gumilyov just wants to chair something. He loves playing at soldiers and you fell for it. Noone goes except Gumilyov-lets.
  • Then what may I ask are you doing there? I asked, irked.

Mandelshtam put on a very serious expression: “drinking tea and eating sweets.”

I found five people at the meeting, apart from Mandelshtam and Gumilyov, and they were reading out poems and discussing them. “The Poetry Workshop” seemed futile but harmless. At its third meeting, however, I had a nasty surprise coming. They were initiating a new member, a young poet called Neldichen, who was reciting some of his own verse. It was really prose poetry and in its own way quite remarkable for the inane whimsicality that graced it from the first to last line. The “I” of Neldichen’s poem was a prize idiot, and a roaringly happy, self-satisfied one at that. Neldichen read:

Women standing like six-foot dolls,

Skirling, bumpy-bodied,

Soft-lipped, crystal-eyed,chestnut-haired

Women wrapped in loose blouses, wearing

rough dangly-earrings and

Wild for my high-voiced propositions

Women who make lousy housewives –

O, how these women excite me!

People walk all round in pairs,

Everyone has a wife or a lover

But I have found no match;

Although I am no way freaky,

And with a few more pounds on my face

I can even pass for Byron…

He goes on to tell how some Zhenka or Sonya finally turns up to whom he gives a torch, but once she starts being unfaithful to him with the book-keeper, he takes revenge by stealing it back when she is out of the house. All this was recited slowly and in total earnest. The audience smiled. They did not laugh only because they knew the torch story nearly by heart: Neldichen’s outpourings already had a reputation and his reading at “The Poetry Workshop” was just a formality, the kind that Gumilyov adored. When he had finished, Gumilyov as the “shop steward” welcomed him in, observing before he did so that stupidity had hitherto been underrated and unfairly ignored by poets, but now it was time for it to find its own voice in literature. Stupidity was just as natural as intelligence, and could be developed and cultivated, he said. Recalling that Balmont had written:

The face of an idiot is unacceptable to my heart

and stupidity a thing I cannot fathom

Gumilyov called him cruel, and in Neldichen’s person welcomed abject stupidity’s entry into the “Poetry Workshop”.

After the meeting I asked Gumilyov if it had been necessary to mock Neldichen and why he was needed in the “Workshop” at all. To my surprise, Gumilyov said there had been no mockery.

It is not my business – he said – which poet thinks what; I only assess how they express their thoughts or their stupidity. I myself would not like to be a fool, but I have no right to demand brains from Neldichen. He expresses his stupid ideas with a skill that is not given to many clever people, and poetry is skill. That means that Neldichen is a poet and it is my duty to welcome him into the “Workshop”.

Shortly afterwards the “Workshop” was due to give a public performance with Neldichen taking part. I sent Gumilyov a letter of resignation, but did so not because of Neldichen. I had another, far more important reason.

Some time before I moved to St Petersburg a branch of the All-Russian Union of Poets had formed there, administered from Moscow virtually by Lunacharsky, the education minister, himself. I do not remember who was on the Board, but Blok was its Chairman. One night Osip Mandelshtam came round and told me that the “Blok Board” had been overthrown an hour ago and replaced by one consisting entirely of members of the “Poetry Workshop” – including me – and Gumilyov had been elected Chair. It had been rather a strange coup. Invitations were sent out barely an hour before the meeting and not everyone received one. I disliked all this very much and said they should not have involved me without asking. 

Mandelshtam began cautioning me against “making a scandal” and antagonising Gumilyov. From what he said, I understood that the new “election” had been staged by some members of the “Workshop” who needed to get control of the Union’s printing press to finish off illegal commercial business. To do so they had used Gumilyov’s name and reputation as cover and lured him in like a child with the title of Chairman. In the end, I promised formally not to leave the Board, but not to take part in its meetings or have anything to do with the Union. It was this that prompted me to resign from the “Poetry Workshop”.

Blok, of course, did not hold his Chairmanship of the Union dear, but he disliked the blatantly rigged election and was unhappy that Gumilyov’s literary influence would now be reinforced by pressure from the Union administration. And so he decided to move into action.

It was just then that a weekly paper called ‘ The Literary Gazette’ had been given permission to publish, under the editorship of A.N.Tikhonov, E.I.Zamyatin and K.I. Chukovsky. Blok gave them an article attacking Gumilyov and the “Poetry Workshop” for its first issue, called: “Without God or inspiration”. The ‘Literary Gazette’ closed down before it could reach the stands, its first issue confiscated at the printers’ on the instructions of Grigory Zinoviev, Chair of the Northern Commune, because of a story by Zamyatin and a leader by me. I read Blok’s piece only years later in a book of his collected works and to be honest, I found it lifeless and hard to understand like many of Blok’s articles. But at the time it was rumoured to be very scathing. Blok himself told me so at one of our meetings around that time. He said with irritation that Gumilyov was making poets “out of nothing”.

That was the last time I spoke to Blok, but I saw him once more in the distance. On 1 March there was to be an evening of his poetry at the Maly Theatre. It was nearly 8 in the evening according to the Soviet clock, but actually it was 5 and I was sauntering along Theatre Street, in no hurry because I love that time of day. It was light and deserted. In Chernyshev Square, I heard light, hurrying steps behind me and a small voice chivvying: Hurry up, hurry up, or you’ll be late!

It was Blok’s mother. Small and shrunken, her wrinkled cheeks burning hot, she all but ran beside me, panting with the effort, and keeping up a constant stream of talk: how she was nervous for Sasha; how we were going to be late; how she was scared that Korney Chukovsky would say something tasteless (he was supposed to introduce the evening). Then how I had, just had, to go and see Sasha backstage; and how Sasha’s leg hurt; but how the main thing, the main thing, was not to be late! Our seats were next to each other, but after twisting this way and that, and having a little panic, she jumped up and ran off – presumably backstage.

In the second half after the interval Blok came out. Calm and pale, he took up a position mid-stage and began to read, slipping one hand then the other into his pocket, as always. He read only a few poems, with transparent simplicity and great seriousness most aptly described by Pushkin as reading “with gravity”. He spoke the words very slowly, connecting them with a scarcely perceptible rhyme that was audible perhaps only to someone able to grasp the inner progress of a poem. He read distinctly and clearly, pronouncing every letter while scarcely moving his lips or opening his mouth. When the audience applauded, he expressed no gratitude, or false modesty. With his face immobile he lowered his eyes, looked at the floor and waited patiently for silence. He ended with “Before the Court”, one of his bleakest poems:

Why do you hang your head in embarrassment?

Look at me, the way you did before.

See what you have become – in humiliation,

In the harsh, unforgiving light of day!

I myself am not what I once was,

Aloof, proud, pure, enraged.

I look with kindness and despair

On the world’s simple and tedious journey…

The audience kept calling for “The Twelve!” “The Twelve!”, but he seemed not to hear. He just looked more and more gloomy and clenched his teeth. Although he read splendidly – and I have never heard poetry read better – it became increasingly obvious that he was doing it automatically, repeating familiar cadences he had worked out long ago. The audience wanted to see the old Blok, as they knew or imagined him to be, and with some effort, like an actor, he was pretending to be a Blok who no longer existed. Perhaps I did not see all this so clearly in his face at the time but only later, when I remembered the occasion, and death had closed and given meaning to the final chapter of his life. But I do remember very vividly how suffering and alienation gripped his whole being that evening. It was so visible and so surprising that after the curtain fell and the last applause and shouts died away, I felt it would be crass and unfeeling to go and see him backstage.

A few days later he went away to Moscow, already ill and when he got back, he took to his bed and never got better.

In his speech about Pushkin exactly six months before he died he had said: “Peace and freedom. These are essential to a poet for the release of harmony. But we are being robbed of peace and freedom. Not outer peace, but creative peace. Not freedom in a childish sense, not license, but creative freedom – the secret freedom. And the Poet is dying because he has nothing left to breathe: his life has lost its meaning.”

Probably the person who first said that Blok suffocated, took the image from this speech. And he was right. Is it not strange that Blok was dying over a period of months, in full view of everyone and under medical care, yet no one knew or could say what was wrong with him? It began with a pain in his leg. Then they said he had a weak heart. Before his death he was in great suffering. But what did he actually die of? No one knows. He died somehow “in general”, because he was ill through and through, and because he could no longer live. He was infected by death.

oOo

My departure from the “Poetry Workshop” did not have repercussions on my personal relationship with Gumilyov. Around then he too moved into the House of Arts and we began to see each other more frequently. He lived an active cheerful life and its end began at roughly the same time as Blok’s.

In the Easter of 1921 a mutual friend of great talent and great irresponsibility moved back to St Petersburg from Moscow. He lived on fresh air, and used to say that all things would come to him from God. Provocateurs and spies came to him too, because he would tell them everything they needed to know about other writers. He brought a new acquaintance with him from Moscow, who was young with pleasant manners and generous with little gifts, like cigarettes and sweets etc. He said he was just starting out as a poet, and anxious to meet everybody. He was brought round to see me but I quickly showed him the door. Gumilyov liked him very much.

The new acquaintance became his frequent visitor. He helped him organise a “House of Poets” (a branch of the Poets’ Union) and boasted about his contacts in the highest Soviet circles. I was not the only one who found him suspect. People tried to warn Gumilyov but to no avail. I cannot say for sure that this person was the one and only agent of Gumilyov’s destruction, but after Gumilyov’s arrest, he immediately vanished without trace. After I emigrated, the writer Maxim Gorky told me that this man’s testimony figured in Gumilyov’s case and that he had been ‘sent’ to befriend him.

At the end of the summer I was getting ready to leave the city for a holiday and on Wednesday 3 August was due to travel. The night before my departure I went to say good-bye to a few of my neighbours in the House of Arts, and it was about 10 o’clock by the time I knocked on Gumilyov’s door. He was at home and relaxing after giving a lecture.

We were on good terms, but there was no closeness between us. Two-and-a-half years ago I had been taken aback by his overly formal reception and now I was at a loss to explain his extraordinary animation and delight at seeing me. He displayed a particular warmth towards me that was absolutely uncharacteristic of him. I still had to go and see Baroness Iskul who lived on the floor below, but every time I rose to go, Gumilyov pressed me to “stay a bit longer”. I never got to the Baroness’, because I stayed with Gumilyov until about 2 o’clock in the morning. He was unusually cheerful for him, and talked a lot about a range of subjects. For some reason I remember only the story about his stay in the army hospital in Tsarskoye Selo, the royal family’s estate outside St Petersburg, and about Her Majesty Alexandra Fyodorovna and the princesses. Then Gumilyov began convincing me that he was destined to live for a long time – “at least until I am ninety”. He kept on repeating:Ninety at least, no less.

Before then he intended to write a stack of books. He reproached me: You see, you and I are the same age but I look ten years younger. It’s because I love young people. I play blindman’s buff with my students, I played it today. And that is why I will live to ninety and you will wither away in five years’ time. Then, laughing, he showed me how I would be shuffling along bent double in five years’ time, while he would be stepping out “like a young man”.

As I said good-bye, I asked his permission to bring round some things next day for safe-keeping. In the morning, when I went to his door with some of my belongings as agreed, no one answered my knock. Yefim, the man in the canteen, told me that Gumilyov had been arrested and taken away in the night. And so I was the last person to see him as a free man. His exaggerated delight at my arrival evidently held some presentiment that I might be the last person he would see.

I went to my room and found the poet Nadezhda Pavlovich there, a mutual friend of Blok and me. She had just run over from seeing Blok, and her face red with the heat and swollen from crying. She told me that Blok’s final agony had started. Naturally, I tried to comfort her and give her some hope. Then in the depths of despair she flung herself at me and sobbed: You know nothing… tell noone…but a few days ago… he went out of his mind!

Some days later when I was on holiday, Andrey Bely told me Blok had died, and on 14 August, a Sunday, we held a funeral service for him in the village church. Young people from the village used to gather round bonfires in the evenings and sing songs. I suddenly wanted to pay a private tribute to Blok and suggested that they sing “The traders”, a song he loved very much. Strangely enough, no one knew it.

At the beginning of September we heard that Gumilyov had been executed. Tragic letters arrived from St Petersburg, full of hints and tactical silences. When I got back to the city, people had still not recovered from these deaths.

In early 1922, a theatre that Gumilyov had done a great deal to help before his arrest put on his play “Gondla”. At the dress rehearsal and at the first night, the audience began chanting in unison for: The author!

An order was given to withdraw the play from the repertoire.

Paris 1931.