Nikolay Gumilyov

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Nikolai Gumilyov during his senior years in gymnasium Ngumil.jpg
Nikolai Gumilyov during his senior years in gymnasium

Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (Russian :Никола́й Степа́нович Гумилёв,IPA:  [nʲɪkɐˈlaj sʲtʲɪˈpanəvʲɪtɕ ɡʊmʲɪˈlʲɵf] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); April 15 NS 1886 – August 26, 1921) was an influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He was a cofounder of the Acmeist movement. He was husband of Anna Akhmatova and father of Lev Gumilev. Nikolay Gumilev was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Acmeism, or the Guild of Poets, was a transient poetic school, which emerged in 1912 in Russia under the leadership of Nikolay Gumilev and Sergei Gorodetsky. Their ideals were compactness of form and clarity of expression. The term was coined after the Greek word άκμη (ákmē), i.e., "the best age of man".

Anna Akhmatova Russian poet

Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, better known by the pen name Anna Akhmatova, was one of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1965 and received second-most (three) nominations for the award the following year.


Early life and poems

Nikolay was born in the town of Kronstadt on Kotlin Island, into the family of Stepan Yakovlevich Gumilyov (1836–1920), a naval physician, and Anna Ivanovna L'vova (1854–1942). His childhood nickname was "Montigomo," the Hawk's Claw. [1] He studied at the gymnasium of Tsarskoe Selo, where the Symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky was his teacher. Later, Gumilyov admitted that it was Annensky's influence that turned his mind to writing poetry.

Kronstadt Municipal town in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Kronstadt, also spelled Kronshtadt, Cronstadt or Kronštádt is an early 18th-century foundation which became an important international centre of commerce whose trade role was eclipsed by the growth of its strategic significance in the ensuing centuries as the primary maritime defence outpost of the former Russian capital. It is now the port city in Kronshtadtsky District of the federal city of Saint Petersburg, Russia, located on Kotlin Island, 30 kilometers (19 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, near the head of the Gulf of Finland. It is linked to the former Russian capital by a combination levee-causeway-seagate, the St Petersburg Dam, part of the city's flood defences, which also acts as road access to Kotlin island from the mainland. In March 1921, the island city was the site of the Kronstadt rebellion.

Kotlin Island island

Kotlin (Котлин), is a Russian island, located near the head of the Gulf of Finland, 32 kilometres (20 mi) west of Saint Petersburg in the Baltic Sea. Kotlin separates the Neva Bay from the rest of the gulf. The fortified city of Kronstadt is located on the island. The island serves as a gateway to Saint Petersburg and as such has been the site of several military engagements.

Innokenty Annensky poet, critic and translator

Innokentiy Fyodorovich Annensky was a poet, critic and translator, representative of the first wave of Russian Symbolism. Sometimes cited as a Slavic counterpart to the poètes maudits, Annensky managed to render into Russian the essential intonations of Baudelaire and Verlaine, while the subtle music, ominous allusions, arcane vocabulary, the spell of minutely changing colours and odours were all his own. His influence on the first post-Symbolist generation of poets was paramount.

Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913 Akhmatova N.Gumilev L.Gumilev.jpg
Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913

His first publication were verses I ran from cities into the forest (Я в лес бежал из городов) on September 8, 1902. In 1905 he published his first book of lyrics entitled The Way of Conquistadors. It comprised poems on most exotic subjects imaginable, from Lake Chad giraffes to Caracalla's crocodiles. Although Gumilyov was proud of the book, most critics found his technique sloppy; later he would refer to that collection as apprentice's work.

Lake Chad lake in Africa

Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, which has varied in size over the centuries. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank by as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998, but "the 2007 (satellite) image shows significant improvement over previous years." Lake Chad is economically important, providing water to more than 30 million people living in the four countries surrounding it on the edge of the Sahara. It is the largest lake in the Chad Basin.

Giraffe Tall African ungulate

The giraffe (Giraffa) is a genus of African even-toed ungulate mammals, the tallest living terrestrial animals and the largest ruminants. Taxonomic classifications of one to eight extant giraffe species have been described, based upon research into the mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, as well as morphological measurements of Giraffa, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature currently recognises only one species, Giraffa camelopardalis, the type species, with nine subspecies. Seven other species are extinct, prehistoric species known from fossils.

Caracalla 3rd-century Emperor of Ancient Rome

Caracalla, formally known as Antoninus, ruled as Roman emperor from 198 to 217 AD. He was a member of the Severan dynasty, the elder son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. Co-ruler with his father from 198, he continued to rule with his brother Geta, emperor from 209, after their father's death in 211. He had his brother killed later that year, and reigned afterwards as sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Caracalla's reign featured domestic instability and external invasions by the Germanic peoples.

From 1907 and on, Nikolai Gumilyov traveled extensively in Europe, notably in Italy and France. In 1908 his new collection Romantic Flowers appeared. While in Paris, he published the literary magazine Sirius, but only three issues were produced. On returning to Russia, he edited and contributed to the artistic periodical Apollon . At that period, he fell in love with a non-existent woman Cherubina de Gabriak. It turned out that Cherubina de Gabriak was the literary pseudonym for two people: Elisaveta Ivanovna Dmitrieva  [ ru ] and Maximilian Voloshin. On November 22, 1909 he had a duel with Voloshin over the affair.

Cherubina de Gabriak Russian poet

Elisaveta Ivanovna Dmitrieva, more famously known by her literary pseudonym Cherubina de Gabriak.

Maximilian Voloshin Russian poet

Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin, commonly known as Max Voloshin, was a Russian poet of Ukrainian-German origin. He was one of the significant representatives of the Symbolist movement in Russian culture and literature. He became famous as a poet and a critic of literature and the arts, being published in many contemporary magazines of the early 20th century, including Vesy, Zolotoye runo, and Apollon. He was known for his brilliant translations of a number of French poetic and prose works into Russian.

Gumilev married Anna Akhmatova in April 25, 1910. He dedicated some of his poems to her. [2] On September 18, 1912, their child Lev was born. He would eventually become an influential and controversial historian.

Travel to Africa

Portrait of Gumilev at African background by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, 1909 N.Gumilev by O.Della-Vos-Kardovskaya (1909, Tretyakov gallery).jpg
Portrait of Gumilev at African background by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, 1909

Like Flaubert and Rimbaud before him, but inspired by exploits of Alexander Bulatovich and Nikolay Leontiev, Gumilyov was fascinated with Africa and travelled there almost each year. He explored, helping development of Ethiopia, sometime hunted lions, and brought to the Saint Petersburg museum of anthropology and ethnography a large collection of African artifacts. His landmark collection The Tent (1921) collected the best of his poems on African themes, one of them "Giraffe". [3]

Gustave Flaubert French writer

Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist. Highly influential, he has been considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country. He is known especially for his debut novel Madame Bovary (1857), his Correspondence, and his scrupulous devotion to his style and aesthetics. The celebrated short story writer Guy de Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert.

Arthur Rimbaud French Decadent and Symbolist poet

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was a French poet who is known for his influence on modern literature and arts, which prefigured surrealism. Born in Charleville-Mézières, he started writing at a very young age and excelled as a student, but abandoned his formal education in his teenage years to run away from home to Paris amidst the Franco-Prussian War. During his late adolescence and early adulthood he began the bulk of his literary output, then completely stopped writing at the age of 21, after assembling one of his major works, Illuminations.

Alexander Bulatovich Russian army officer, explorer and writer

Alexander Ksaverievich Bulatovich tonsured Father Antony was a Russian military officer, explorer of Africa, writer, hieromonk and the leader of the imiaslavie movement in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Guild of Poets

In 1910, Gumilyov fell under the spell of the Symbolist poet and philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanov and absorbed his views on poetry at the evenings held by Ivanov in his celebrated "Turreted House". His wife Akhmatova accompanied him to Ivanov's parties as well.

Dissatisfied with the vague mysticism of Russian Symbolism, then prevalent in the Russian poetry, Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky established the so-called Guild of Poets, which was modeled after medieval guilds of Western Europe. They advocated a view that poetry needs craftsmanship just like architecture needs it. Writing a good poem they compared to building a cathedral. To illustrate their ideals, Gumilev published two collections, The Pearls in 1910 and the Alien Sky in 1912. It was Osip Mandelstam, however, who produced the movement's most distinctive and durable monument, the collection of poems entitled Stone (1912).

According to the principles of acmeism (as the movement came to be dubbed by art historians), every person, irrespective of his talent, may learn to produce high-quality poems if only he follows the guild's masters, i.e., Gumilyov and Gorodetsky. Their own model was Théophile Gautier, and they borrowed much of their basic tenets from the French Parnasse. Such a program, combined with colourful and exotic subject matter of Gumilev's poems, attracted to the Guild a large number of adolescents. Several major poets, notably Georgy Ivanov and Vladimir Nabokov, passed the school of Gumilev, albeit informally.

War experience

When World War I started, Gumilyov hastened to Russia and enthusiastically joined a corps of elite cavalry. He fought in battles in East Prussia and Macedonia. [4] For his bravery he was invested with two St. George crosses (December 24, 1914 and January 5, 1915).

His war poems were assembled in the collection The Quiver (1916). In 1916 he wrote a verse play, Gondla, which was published the following year; set in ninth-century Iceland, torn between its native paganism and Irish Christianity, it is also clearly autobiographical, Gumilev putting much of himself into the hero Gondla (an Irishman chosen as king but rejected by the jarls, he kills himself to ensure the triumph of Christianity) and basing Gondla's wild bride Lera on Gumilev's wife Akhmatova (or maybe Larissa Reysner). The play was performed in Rostov na Donu in 1920 and, even after the author's execution by the Cheka, in Petrograd in January 1922: "The play, despite its crowd scenes being enacted on a tiny stage, was a major success. Yet when the Petrograd audience called for the author, who was now officially an executed counter-revolutionary traitor, the play was removed from the repertoire and the theatre disbanded." [5] (In February 1934, as they walked along a Moscow street, Osip Mandelstam quoted Gondla's words "I am ready to die" to Akhmatova, and she repeated them in her "Poem without a Hero." [6] )

During the Russian Revolution, Gumilyov served in the Russian Expedition Corps in Paris. Despite advice to the contrary, he rapidly returned to Petrograd. There he published several new collections, Tabernacle and Bonfire, and finally divorced Akhmatova (August 5, 1918), whom he had left for another woman several years prior. The following year he married Anna Nikolaevna Engelhardt, a noblewoman and daughter of a well-known historian.


In 1920 Gumilyov co-founded the All-Russia Union of Writers. Gumilev made no secret of his anti-communist views. He also crossed himself in public and didn't care to hide his contempt for half-literate Bolsheviks. On August 3, 1921 he was arrested by the Cheka on charges of participation in a nonexistent monarchist conspiracy known as the "Petrograd military organization". [7] On August 24, the Petrograd Cheka decreed execution of 61 participants of the case, including Nikolai Gumilev. They were shot on August 26 in the Kovalevsky Forest (the actual date was established only in 2014; previously it was thought he died on August 25). [8] [9] Maxim Gorky, his friend and fellow writer, hurried to Moscow and appealed to Lenin, but was unable to save Gumilev.

The execution placed a stigma on Anna Akhmatova and her son with Nikolai, Lev Gumilev. Lev was arrested later in the purges of the 1930s. [10]

Cultural influence

Although banned in the Soviet times, Gumilev was loved for his adolescent longing for travel and giraffes and hippos, for his dreams of a fifteen-year-old captain" [1] His "The Tram That Lost Its Way" is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century. [1]

See also

Russian people in Ethiopia


  1. 1 2 3 "Gumilyov's Magic Wand". Mikhail Sinelnikov. Moscow News (Russia). CULTURE; No. 15. April 18, 1996.
  2. "From Dragon's Nest" on YouTube Poem by Gumilyov about Akhmatova, music and performance by Larisa Novoseltseva
  3. Giraffe on YouTube, poem by Gumilyov, with English translation, music and performance by Larisa Novoseltseva
  4. Mirsky, D. Svyatopolk (June 1922). "Obituary: N.S. Gumilev". Slavonic Review. v. 1 (1).
  5. Donald Rayfield, "Gondla," in Neil Cornwell and Nicole Christian (eds), Reference Guide to Russian Literature (Taylor & Francis, 1998: ISBN   1-884964-10-9), pp. 375-76.
  6. Omry Ronen, An Approach to Mandel'štam (Jerusalem, 1983), pp. 302-03.
  7. Shentalinsky, "Crime Without Punishment", p. 286.
  8. На Ржевском полигоне почтили память жертв «красного террора»
  9. Poems of Akhmatova, 1973, Staney Kunitz and Max Hayward, pub. Houghton Mifflin, pp. 15, 16.
  10. 1 2
  12. Review: An Áit Eile, 30 August 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2018

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