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The Twelve by Alexander Blok

My favorite poem is “The Twelve” by Russian poet Alexander Blok. His work had a lot of symbolism in it and although he died without ever explaining this poem, critics have tried to interpret its meaning (and generally disagreeing with each other). The poem was written and published in 1918 and is extremely important because it was right after the Russian Revolution of 1917-not long after it came out the new regime started to censor literature. The setting for the poem is evening in the city and there is a huge snowstorm. There are twelve Red Guards walking the street and they encounter various situations as they make their way through the storm. The only colors in the poem are red, black, and white and this in itself is interesting-black signifying the old regime, red the new one. Of course the white snowstorm is purifying the city-violent wind sweeping away old thoughts and ways. There is a scruffy dog that keeps following the  men-another symbol of the old world? And the fat priests probably stand for the people’s disgust with the wealthy state church that continued to balloon while its parishioners starved. At the end of the poem, the revelation is made that the leader for the 12 guards is Jesus Christ which brings up other questions-was Blok trying to say that the revolution was the second coming of Jesus Christ? What is the significance of the Red Guards numbering twelve? You can read this poem just for enjoyment or if you have an interest in Russian history you can pore over it trying to interpret the meaning of it. “The Twelve” can be found at Tippecanoe County Public Library in “20th Century Russian Poetry”.

Stacy W.

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