January 17, 1994
Blok’s “The Stranger”
Alexander Blok’s poem “The Stranger” tests veritas, or reality. It is concerned with reality and peoples’ perceptions of it. These people, or more apropos to the poem, these drunkards, attest “In vino veritas.” Blok’s narrator is convinced by the poem’s end that this subjectivity is his preferred reality.
In the world of “reality,” the “putrid breath of spring” is stifling to the narrator; his evenings are filled with the wails of children, the screeching of women, and the distasteful leer of the moon. These images attest to the bleak outlook that life holds for the narrator and people of his “sort.” Therefore, every evening in the midst of “somnolent waiters” at the “appointed time,” i.e. probably after a few shots of vodka, a marvelous vision is had by the narrator. Only now, in a state of intoxication, can this reality be grasped in lieu of the one that he has just escaped.
It could be argued, especially by the en masse religious, that drinking and drug use are only means of escape from the real world that we all must be strong and confront. Perhaps for a pragmatic existence this is good advice, yet for the artist this has never held true. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of England’s greatest poets, was an opium addict who would have visions of pleasure domes and immortal men who make love with demons — a much more livable reality on opium than one of a bedridden invalid, or an unfortunate peasant in Russia at the start of the twentieth century. Yet, I digress.
Another point is made about reality when the narrator ambiguously suggests that his perfumed nymph might be a dream. Whether she is a dream, a drug-induced vision, or an actual girl in a diaphanous robe (unlikely at night wafting through a bar containing a bunch of drunk men), is irrelevant; the only relevant thing is that this vision is reality for the narrator. This reality is able to set the narrator free of the confines of a world of anguish and misery so that he can grasp at “an enchanted shore.” In his revelry, the narrator realizes that he is the creator of his own reality, “the sun is suddenly mine,” and he become intoxicated by the ineffable vision itself. Although he must return to the other reality on “the distant shore,” the narrator is now aware of a diamond of reality that exists for him in his soul. His counter-reality lies locked within his soul, and the key is wine.
While alcohol is the key for many to release their fantasies into reality, we all, I believe, must have, and hold, our own keys to our own created realities. And while this escape is looked at in a positive light in Blok’s poem, I also believe that anything in excess is detrimental to a healthy life. Many of the world’s great poets might not agree with the last statement, indeed the world would not have had those great works if they did; however, for me it is part of my key to life.