Konstantin Balmont


Konstantin Balmont : biography

1867 – 23 December 1942

The less exotic, alternative version of this has been suggested by the poet’s second wife Yekaterina Andreeva. According to her Memoirs, Balmont’s grand-grandfather on his father’s side Ivan Andreyevich Balamut (the Ukrainian surname, meaning "trouble-maker", "rabble-rouser") served as a cavalry sergeant in Catherine the Great’s Imperial Guard regiment (Andreyeva insisted she saw the proof in the original parchment-written document that’s been kept in the family archives). A landowner in Kherson, Southern Ukraine, Ivan Balamut has got his name somehow modified into Balmont. This second version has its own detractors, though. According to Tatyana Alexandrova, an authority on Mirra Lokhvitskaya and Balmont, "It would have been logical that a foreign name should be transformed by common people of rural area into a folkish, recognizable version, but certainly not vice versa."

Dmitry Konstantinovich, Vera Nikolayevna and all of their relatives pronounced the surname as Ba?lmont, first syllable stressed. The poet insisted that he personally (and officially) changed his surname into Balmo?nt and asked everybody to pronounce it accordingly. He cited "a certain woman’s whimsy" as the only reason for his decision to make this change.

Private life

In 1889 Balmont married Larisa Mikhaylovna Garelina, the daughter of a factory-owner in Shuya, described as "a Botticellian beauty (with the Birth of Venus serving here apparently for a point of reference). The poet’s mother who initially assisted young people’s getting to know each other, subsequently forbade her son to marry the girl. Balmont was adamant and had to sever all ties with his family to implement his decision.Balmont, K.D. Autobiographical prose. Volga. P. 541. This marriage was doomed from the very start. Garelina was described as a neurasthenic who "was giving [the poet] love of a truly demonic nature", sympathized with neither his literary ambitions nor revolutionary inclinations, was suffering from bouts of violent jealousy and was responsible for his well-publicized alcohol-related excesses (this last idea has been propagated by Balmont himself, notably in the autobiographical poem Forest Fires). The poet’s first suicidal attempt on March 13, 1890, was believed to have been the direct result of the catastrophe that his marriage proved to be. The couple’s first son died in infancy; the second, Nikolai, was known to have suffered from mental illness. Later some critics warned against demonizing Larisa Garelina’s character, pointing at the fact that years later she married well-known Russian journalist and literature historian Nikolai Engelgardt and enjoyed perfectly normal family life with him. Their daughter Anna Engelgardt became the second wife of poet Nikolai Gumilyov.

Yekaterina Alekseyevna Andreyeva (1967–1952), the poet’s second wife, came from rich merchants’ family, related to Sabashikovs, the well-known Moscow-based publishers’ clan. She was (as friends remembered her) an exceptionally well-educated woman, tall, elegant and slender, somewhat aloof, strong-minded and attractive. Andreyeva was (according to her Memoirs) passionately (and unrequitedly) in love with Prince Alexander Urusov and for a while was leaving infatuated Balmont’s passes without notice. The latter prevailed, finally she fell for him and on September 27, 1896, the couple married and instantly left for France (one reason being the fact that the husband was still not officially divorced at the time). Andreyeva and Balmont had much in common: they even formed a translational tandem working together on the works of Gerhart Hauptmann, Oscar Wilde and others. Andreyeva, according to Boris Zaitsev, was a leading force in the family. Under her control the poet was "in strong, healthy and loving hands", well disciplined and leading a working man’s life. In 1901, daughter Nina Balmont (later Bruni, died in Moscow in 1989 году) was born; it was for her that the poet wrote A Fairy’s Tale, the 1905 book of children’s verses.