Konstantin Balmont : biography
Konstantin Dmitriyevich Balmont ( 3 June (15 June) 1867 – 23 December 1942) was a Russian symbolist poet, translator, one of the major figures of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry.
Konstantin Balmont has been characterized variously as theatrical, pretentious and outright egotistical, his behaviour was on more than one occasion described as erratic and irrational. He could sprawl himself on a cobbled street of Paris to make an upcoming fiacre stop abruptly, or, dressed in a coat and hat, enter a pond at night so as "to experience something new and express this in poetry." What fans saw as whimsies of a genius, others treated as cheap posturing aiming to impress. Boris Zaitsev remembered how his wife became duly appalled when Balmont (who was a neighbour) once asked her: "Vera, would you prefer a poet coming to Boris’ room by air, by-passing banal trails of the real world?" - We were aware of one of his earlier attempts of the kind and would rather prefer his visits performed in the most banal, natural ways," Zaitsev added. Ridiculing good-humouredly his neighbour’s vain eccentricities, he remembered episodes when Balmont "could be altogether different person: very sad and very simple".
There's been certainly more to the poet’s real personality than drunken escapades or impulsive follies he gained notoriety for. Poet Andrey Bely spoke of Balmont as of a lonely and vulnerable man, totally out of touch with the real world. Inconsistency marred his creativity too: "He’s failed to connect and harmonize those riches he’s been given by nature, aimlessly spending his spiritual treasures," Bely argued. Duality was intrinsic to the way Balmont acted and even looked. According to Bely, "Balmont was a poseur and reasons for this were obvious. Ever crowded by worshippers, he was trying to bear himself in a manner he saw as befitting a great poet, head cast back, brow furrowed... It was laughter that gave him away… This childish laughter could say a lot of the nature of those ridiculous shenanigans of his. Just like a child, he was always moved by a momentary impulse," wrote Teffi. Close friend Valery Bryusov explained quirks and deviations in Balmont’s ways by "the deep poetic nature of his self". "He lives in a poet's way finding in life’s every moment it’s full richness. That is why one shouldn’t judge him by common criteria," Bryusov wrote.Pertsov, P.P., Literary memoirs (Literatutnyie vospominaniya). Moscow-Leningrad, 1993, p. 260
Many remembered Balmont as an extraordinary warm and humane person. Piotr Pertsov who knew him from teenage years, characterized Balmont as "very nice, friendly and considerate young man". Marina Tsvetayeva, Balmont’s close friend at the times of hardship, insisted that the poet was "a kind of man who’d give a needy one his last piece of bread, his last log of wood". Mark Talov, a Soviet translator who in the 1920s found himself penniless in Paris, remembered how often, after having left Balmont’s house he would find money in a pocket; the poet (who was very poor himself) preferred the anonymous way of help so as not to confuse a visitor.
Some dismissed Balmont’s childishness as an affectation, others saw it as something genuine. Boris Zaitsev thought Valentin Serov with his portrait came closest to depicting Balmont's brisk, belligerent character. "Cheerful, easy to burst out, ready to retort sharply or effusively. To make a parallel with the world of birds, he'd be a colourful chantecler, greeting daylight and life itself," Zaitsev wrote.
Bohemian habits notwithstanding, Balmont was a hard worker, highly proficient and prolific. Wherever he went, he never stopped learning, seeping in myriads of facts concerning the place’s history and culture. Eccentric to many, he seemed rational and logical to some. Publisher Sergey Sabashnikov remembered the poet as "accurate, punctual, pedantic and never slovenly… Such accuracy made Balmont a very welcome client," Sabashnikov added.
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