He was a Russian poet, prose writer, dramatist, translator, critic and historian. He was one of the principal members of the Russian Symbolist movement.
Valery Bryusov was born on December 13, 1873 (recorded December 1, according to the old Julian calendar) into a merchant's family in Moscow. His parents had little do with his upbringing, and as a boy Bryusov was largely left to himself. He spent a great deal of time reading "everything that fell into [his] hands," including the works of Charles Darwin and Jules Verne, as well as various materialistic and scientific essays. The future poet received an excellent education, studying in two Moscow gymnasiums between 1885 and 1893.
Bryusov began his literary career in the early 1890s while still a student at Moscow State University with his translations of the poetry of the French Symbolists (Paul Verlaine, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Stéphane Mallarmé) as well at that of Edgar Allan Poe. Bryusov also began to publish his own poems, which were very much influence by the Decadent and Symbolist movements of his contemporary Europe.
At the time, Russian Symbolism was still mainly a set of theories and had few notable practitioners. Therefore, in order to represent Symbolism as a movement of formidable following, Bryusov adopted numerous pen names and published three volumes of his own verse, entitled Russian Symbolists. An Anthology (1894–95). Bryusov's mystification proved successful - several young poets were attracted to Symbolism as the latest fashion in Russian letters.
With the appearance of Tertia Vigilia in 1900, he came to be revered by other Symbolists as an authority in matters of art. In 1904 he became the editor of the influential literary magazine Vesy (The Balance), which consolidated his position in the Russian literary world. Bryusov's mature works were notable for their celebration of sensual pleasures as well as their mastery of a wide range of poetic forms, from the acrostic to the carmina figurata.
By the 1910s, Bryusov's poetry had begun to seem cold and strained to many of his contemporaries. As a result, his reputation gradually declined and, with it, his power in the Russian literary world. He was adamantly opposed to the efforts of Georgy Chulkov and Vyacheslav Ivanov to move Symbolism in the direction of Mystical Anarchism.
Though many of his fellow Symbolists fled Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bryusov remained until his death in 1924. He supported the Bolshevik government and received a position in the cultural ministry of the new Soviet state. Of his activities at this time, Clarence Brown writes:
Bryusov's review [of Osip Mandelstam's Second Book, 1923] is not so much a review as it is a subtle donos, an act of political informing. When one considers his infinitely superior gift as a poet, Bryusov is an even more distasteful personality than Sergey Gorodetsky. His embrace of Bolshevism and the new order of things was more fervent by far than that of Mayakovsky, the unofficial poet-laureate of the Revolution, and his personality incomparably more devious. ... He invents the name 'Neo-Acmeist' for 'certain circles' (not further specified) by whom Mandelstam had been made 'exceedingly famous,' and designates him as their teacher. ... No one without access to a large research library today could possibly discover the identity of these utterly unknown people, Mandelstam's 'disciples.' According to Nadezhda Yakovlevna, however, they were 'the most compromising people he could think of.' It was to be understood that Mandelstam was not an isolated antagonist of the 'new reality' - he stood at the head of a concerted effort. What Gumilyov [who had been executed for alleged participation in an anti-Soviet plot in 1921] had been, Mandelstam now was.
Bryusov most famous prose works are the historical novels The Altar of Victory (depicting life in Ancient Rome) and The Fiery Angel (depicting the psychological climate of 16th century Germany).
The latter tells the story of a scholar and his attempts to win the love of a young woman whose spiritual integrity is seriously undermined by her participation in occult practices and her dealings with unclean forces. It served as the basis for Sergei Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel.
As a translator, Bryusov was the first to render the works of the Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren accessible to Russian readers, and he was one of the major translators of Paul Verlaine's poetry.
His most famous translations are of Edgar Allan Poe, Romain Rolland, Maurice Maeterlinck, Victor Hugo, Jean Racine, Ausonius, Molière, Byron, and Oscar Wilde. Bryusov also translated Johann Goethe's Faust and Virgil's Aeneid.