Literature also provided a mirror for the tumultuous events of 1917. In 1918, the poet Aleksandr Blok published his poem Dvenadtsat’ (The twelve). It tells the story of twelve Bolshevik soldiers walking through St Petersburg in a night-time blizzard. The copy on display is a third edition but also published in 1918, by the Alkonost publishing house, famous in particular for its publications of Symbolist work.
Blok’s poem was highly controversial at the time and attracted negative reviews from both sides. The soldiers show dedication to the revolutionary cause but also demonstrate vicious violence. The poem ends with them marching further into the blizzard, led by a figure named as Jesus Christ. The addition of illustrations by Iurii Annenkov makes these early copies of Dvenadtsat’ particularly striking items. Annenkov, a member of the World of Art group, shows the unsettling drama of the poem in his drawings. In the example on display, we see the soldiers against a backdrop of destruction, buildings surrounded by flames.
The city is referred to on the title page as “Peterburg”; on the next page, where the printing details are listed, it is “Petrograd”. The latter had become the official name in 1914, in an act of de-Germanisation in reaction to the outbreak of World War I, and remained so until 1924 when it was renamed Leningrad after Lenin’s death.
Dvienadt︠s︡atʹ / Aleksandr Blok ; risunki IU. Annenkova (Peterburg : Alkonost, 1918). S756.a.91.1