The Faces of Florence in Aleksandr Blok’s Italian Poems
This article examines the first two poems in Aleksandr Blok’s cycle Florence, which describe two opposite images of the city. The poet visited Italy in 1909, and his impressions are reflected in these poems. In the first poem, the city is compared to “Judas”: the poet maintains that Florence has betrayed its glorious past for the sake of the benefits accruing from civilization. Blok’s curses are reminiscent of his argument with V. V. Rozanov about the earthquake in Messina. Rozanov perceived the tragedy sympathetically, as a person capable of perceiving the smallest details of life. Rozanov accused Blok of indifference because the poet considered the earthquake a prologue to future disasters in the life of mankind. The second poem of the cycle compares the city to “a delicate iris”. The tone of denial in the first poem forced the editor of the Apollon magazine to refuse to publish the poem, though Blok explained in a letter that the image had been achieved through suffering. Blok’s perception of Florence was formed by signs of modern life, by Dante’s story (who was expelled from his hometown and found shelter in Ravenna), and by an episode where Blok witnessed the transportation of a dead man. The second image is connected with the poet moving to another part of the city by the Cascine Park, where there were many irises. The image of the flower made Blok remember Shakhmatovo, where he had looked after irises. A description of Florentine irises can also be found in a book by A. N. Beketov, the poet’s grandfather. The image of irises creates a different impression of Florence. The combination of the two visible impressions is connected with the “special optics” of the poet. He found Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre similar to his perception of the air, as “black”. The colour inversion when something transparent looks black, like when someone sees another person’s pupils, gives the poet the ability to see the world “from the outside” in its integrity. Such a vision also gives Blok the opportunity to combine the two images of one city.
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