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This review is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

A TALE WORTH TELLING FOR ITS OWN SAKE Avril Pyman, The Life of Aleksandr Blok. Volume I: 'The Distant Thunder 1880-1908'; Volume II: 'The Release of Harmony 1908-1924' (Oxford University Press, 1978, 1980) £12.50 and £16.50 respectively.

It would be idle to pretend that Blok's impact in England has been of the kind one might expect of the poet whom Russians traditionally consider as second only to Pushkin. The reaction to Pushkin has of course been much more half-hearted than his greatness warrants, although-now that the dust raised by Nabokov has effectively settled-the Penguinization of Charles Johnston's translation of Onegin and the monograph of the Warton Professor of English have provided compelling stimulus towards more widespread reappraisal. And the case for Blok is now immeasurably strengthened by the fullest biography yet to appear in any language, an enterprise which has been carried out in a spirit to satisfy the most exacting scholar without in any way alienating the general intelligent reader through whom Blok must, if he is to be accorded a just estimate in global terms, make his way. No one who reads these two imposing volumes could fail to be impressed by the scrupulous and restrained manner in which the forty traumatic years of Blok's life are related, and deeply moved by the human drama which they provide such compelling access to. But at the same time it would be possible to reach the end of this narrative without being one whit the wiser as to why-as poet-Blok's name will always command the affection, respect and sheer astonishment that are inseparable in posterity's response to genius. This is because of Avril Pyman's deliberate decision to stay as close as possible to the rhyme-schemes and ...

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