Gumilev, Nikolai Stepanovich

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(18861921), poet executed by the Bolsheviks.

Born in Kronstadt and educated at the Tsarskoye Selo Gymnasium, Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilev was a major Silver Age poet and a victim of Bolshevik repression. Gumilev, his first wife, Anna Akhmatova, and Osip Mandelstam were the fore-most representatives of acmeism, a movement emphasizing concrete personal experience that arose in response to the dominant symbolist school of poetry during the 1910s. Gumilev also played a central role in the St. Petersburgbased Guild of Poets, a literary organization intermittently active between 1910 and 1921.

As a monarchist and self-styled "poet-warrior," Gumilev volunteered to serve in the Russian army in August 1914. In 1918 he returned to Petrograd, where he worked as an editor and translator for the World Literature series.

Gumilev was arrested by the Bolsheviks in August 1921 for his alleged part in an anti-Soviet plot. Although the charges were almost certainly fabricated, Gumilev and sixty others were executed within weeks, over the protest of many writers. His execution was part of a sustained campaign against intellectuals by the Bolsheviks, who hoped to stifle potential dissent while loosening economic and social controls during the New Economic Policy. Gumilev's execution is frequently cited as evidence that the systematic use of state terror was an integral part of communist rule, not an aberration associated with Stalinism. Many contemporaries viewed the deaths of Gumilev and the poet Alexander Blok, just twelve days apart, as symbolic of the destruction of the prerevolutionary intelligentsia.

Gumilev's work was banned in the Soviet Union from 1923 until 1986. His poetry has become very popular in Russia since that time, with more than forty editions of his works appearing. Major collections included Romantic Flowers (1908), Alien Sky (1912), Quiver (1916), and The Pillar of Fire (1921). Gumilev also wrote several plays.

See also: akhmatova, anna andreyevna; blok, alexander alexandrovich; mandelshtam, osip emilievich; silver age


Gumilev, Nikolai. (1999). The Pillar of Fire and Other Poems, trans. Richard McKane, intro. by Michael Basker. London: Anvil Poetry Press.

Sampson, Earl D. (1970). "Nikolay Gumilev: Towards a Reevaluation." Russian Review 29(3):301311.

Brian Kassof

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Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilev

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