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 Nikolai Gumilyov

Born:   April 15, 1886
Deceased:   August 1921

Russian Silver Age poet


Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (also spelled as Gumilev, or Goumilov) was born on 15 April into the family of a ship doctor in Kronstadt. He wrote poems from the age of 12, and had his first public performance at 16. He spent his childhood in Tsarskoe Selo, where in 1903 he entered a classical school under the directorship of the famous poet Innokenty Annensky. After finishing school he left for Paris to study in Sorbonne. By that time Gumilyov was already the author of the book The Way of Conquistadors, noticed by Valery Bryusov, one of the trendsetters of Russian symbolism. In Paris he published the journal Sirius (in which Anna Akhmatova debuted), visited exhibitions, made acquaintances with French and Russian writer, kept intense correspondence with Valery Bryusov, whom he sent his poems, articles and stories.

In those years he visited Africa twice, and later went there a few times more.

The year 1908 saw the publication of the poet’s second book Romantic Flowers dedicated to his future wife Anna Akhmatova (then Anna Gorenko). Upon his return to Russia he settled in Tsarskoe Selo and entered St. Petersburg University, where he studied at the Faculty of Law, then shifted to the Faculty of History and Literature, but did not graduate. Entering the literary life of the capital, Gumilyov got acquainted with Voloshin, Kuzmin, and other poets, and had his poems published in various journals. From 1909 he became one of the main members of the Apollo journal, where he was in charge of the column Letters About Russian Poetry.

In autumn 1908 he started off to another journey in Africa and upon returning to Russia in 1910 he published a book of poetry The Pearls that made him a famous poet. On April 25 the same year he married Anna Gorenko (Anna Akhmatova). In summer the young married couple visited Paris, and in autumn he went to Africa once more, finally reaching the continent’s centre – Abyssinia, where he recorded local folklore, mixed with the aborigines and studied their living and arts.

The years 1911 - 1912 were marked with a range of important events in Gumilyov’s literary biography: together with Gorodetsky he established the so-called Guild of Poets, in the bosom of which a program of the new literary school – acmeism – was born. He diverged from symbolism, the fact fixed with the article Heritage of Symbolism and Acmeism.

The 1914 brought about drastic changes in Nikolay Gumilyov’s life. Though overslaughed from the army service forever, in the very first days of the world war he volunteered to the front and joined the Leib-guard lancer regiment. By the beginning of 1915 he had been already awarded with two Crosses of St. George, and later in March 1916 he was shifted to the 5th Hussar Alexandrine regiment in the rank of a warrant officer.

In May 1917 he was sent to France to join Russian Expeditionary Corps, but did not get there, being stopped in Paris. In January 1918 upon disbandment of the headquarters of his military commissar who Gumilyov was attached to, the poet went to London and then returned to Russia. During the war years he did not stop his literary activity: he published a collection of poems The Quiver (Kolchan), wrote some plays, and the cycle of essays A Cavalryman’s Notes sharing his impressions of war, and so on.

In 1918 - 1921 Gumilyov was one of the most notable figures in literary life of Petrograd (Petersburg). He was published on a large scale, worked in the publishing house Vsemirnaya literature (World Literature) and delivered lectures. In 1921 he headed the Petrograd section of the Poets’ Union and was an advisor of young poets at the studio Zvuzhashaya rakovina (Sounding Shell). Poems of that period make up the book of poems The Pillar of Fire, published with one thousand copies in Berlin after the poet’s death (1921).

On 3 August 1921 he was arrested on charge of an anti-Soviet plot. Later, in the 1950s, the pretext came to light: “for his not reporting to the Soviet authorities on the fact that he had been offered to join a conspiratorial officers’ organization, which he had given a flat denial to”.

The exact date of Gumilyov’s execution is unknown. According to Anna Akhmatova, the execution took place near Berngardovka village under Petrograd.

The name of Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov was treated as one of the most odious ones in the official history of Russian literature throughout the entire Soviet period.

Tags: Russian literature Russian poets Nikolai Gumilyov   

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