Ilya Glazunov. Unknown Woman.
Mysterious Lady (at the restaurant).
1980. Paper, black oiled chalk, pastels.
Illustration to a poem of Alexander Blok.
As a young man, Glazunov numbered Aleksander Blok among his favorite poets, after Pushkin and Lermontov. Once again we have mysterious St. Petersburg, only now it is Blok’s creation, and not Dostoyevsky’s, Pushkin’s or Gogol’s. Many critics consider Glazunov’s illustrations of Blok’s “Verses about the Beautiful Lady” to be the finest illustrations of the works of the great and tragic voice of the “Silver Age of Russian Poetry.”
24 April 1906, Ozerki
Above the restaurants in the evenings
The sultry air is wild and still,
And the decaying breath of spring
Drives drunken shouting.
Above the dusty distant lanes
The boredom of summer homes,
The baker's gold sign barely shines
And a child's crying rings out.
Each night, beyond the crossing gates,
With bowler hats tipped rakishly,
The practiced wits stroll with
Among the drainage ditches.
Out on the lake, oarlocks creak
And a woman starts to squeal,
While up in the sky, inured to it all,
The moon's disk senselessly leers.
Each night my solitary friend
Is reflected in my glass,
Made meek and reeling, like myself,
By the mysterious, astringent liquid.
And drowsy lackeys lounge about
Beside the adjacent tables
While drunks with rabbit eyes cry out
"In vino veritas!"
And each night at a certain hour
(Or am I only dreaming it?),
A girl's figure, swathed in silk,
Moves across the misty window.
And slowly passing among the drunks,
Always alone and unescorted,
Wafting a breath of perfume and mist,
She takes a table by the window.
And an air of ancient legend
Wreaths her resilient silks,
Her hat with its funereal plumes,
And her slender ringed hand.
And entranced by this strange nearness,
I look through her dark veil,
And see an enchanted shore
And a horizon enchanted.
Deep secrets are entrusted to me,
Someone's sun is in my care,
And at every turn, astringent wine
Pierces my soul.
And drooping ostrich plumes
Waver in my brain,
And fathomless blue eyes
Bloom on the distant shore.
A treasure lies in my soul,
And the key belongs to me alone!
You are correct, you drunken fiend!
I know it: wine brings truth.
A. Wachtel, I. Kutik and M. Denner
Glazunov was born and raised in the blocks of the so-called Petrogradskaya Storona (Petrograd Side) of the city, which is inseparably linked with the work of the symbolist poet. “As much as I love and understand Blok’s pre-revolutionary work, I am unable to understand how he could go to Smolny (headquarters of the October Revolution) with that ruffian Mayakovsky and propose to his fellow-countrymen that they ‘listen to the music of the revolution.’ Now”, says the artist, “reading through Blok’s works once again, I find theosophical influences that are foreign to me, and I simply cannot agree with the proposition that we Russians are Scythians – Asians with slanted, greedy eyes.” Nonetheless, Glazunov’s illustrations of Aleksander Blok are just as complex, mysterious and beautiful as the famous poet’s verses which gave birth to an epoch in Russian literature.
January 30 1918
You are millions. We are hordes and hordes
Try and take us on!
Yes, we are Scythians! Yes, we are Asians -
With slanted and greedy eyes!
For you, the ages, for us a single hour.
We, like obedient slaves,
Held up a shield between two enemy races -
The Tatars and Europe!
For ages and ages your old furnace raged
And drowned out the roar of avalanches,
And Lisbon and Messina's fall
To you was but a monstrous fairy tale!
For hundreds of years you gazed at the East,
Storing up and melting down our jewels,
And, jeering, you merely counted the days
Until your cannons you could point at us!
The time is come. Trouble beats its wings -
And every day our grudges grow,
And the day will come when every trace
Of your Paestums may vanish!
O, old world! While you still survive,
While you still suffer your sweet torture,
Come to a halt, sage as Oedipus,
Before the ancient riddle of the Sphinx!..
Russia is a Sphinx. Rejoicing, grieving,
And drenched in black blood,
It gazes, gazes, gazes at you,
With hatred and with love!..
It has been ages since you've loved
As our blood still loves!
You have forgotten that there is a love
That can destroy and burn!
We love all- the heat of cold numbers,
The gift of divine visions,
We understand all- sharp Gallic sense
And gloomy Teutonic genius...
We remember all- the hell of Parisian streets,
And Venetian chills,
The distant aroma of lemon groves
And the smoky towers of Cologne...
We love the flesh - its flavor and its color,
And the stifling, mortal scent of flesh...
Is it our fault if your skeleton cracks
In our heavy, tender paws?
When pulling back on the reins
Of playful, high-spirited horses,
It is our custom to break their heavy backs
And tame the stubborn slave girls...
Come to us! Leave the horrors of war,
And come to our peaceful embrace!
Before it's too late - sheathe your old sword,
Comrades! We shall be brothers!
But if not - we have nothing to lose,
And we are not above treachery!
For ages and ages you will be cursed
By your sickly, belated offspring!
Throughout the woods and thickets
In front of pretty Europe
We will spread out! We'll turn to you
With our Asian muzzles.
Come everyone, come to the Urals!
We're clearing a battlefield there
Between steel machines breathing integrals
And the wild Tatar Horde!
But we are no longer your shield,
Henceforth we'll not do battle!
As mortal battles rages we'll watch
With our narrow eyes!
We will not lift a finger when the cruel Huns
Rummage the pockets of corpses,
Burn cities, drive cattle into churches,
And roast the meat of our white brothers!..
Come to your senses for the last time, old world!
Our barbaric lyre is calling you
One final time, to a joyous brotherly feast
To a brotherly feast of labor and of peace!
A. Wachtel, I. Kutik and M. Denner