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About this poet

Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad on May 24, 1940. He left school at the age of fifteen, taking jobs in a morgue, a mill, a ship's boiler room, and a geological expedition. During this time Brodsky taught himself English and Polish and began writing poetry.

Brodsky was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972 after serving 18 months of a five-year sentence in a labor camp in northern Russia. According to Brodsky, literature turned his life around. "I was a normal Soviet boy," he said. "I could have become a man of the system. But something turned me upside down: [Fyodor Dostoevsky's] Notes from the Underground. I realized what I am. That I am bad."

Before leaving the Soviet Union, Brodsky studied with the beloved Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. After his exile, he moved to America, where he made homes in both Brooklyn and Massachusetts. There, according to fellow poet Seamus Heaney, he lived "frugally, industriously, and in a certain amount of solitude."

Celebrated as the greatest Russian poet of his generation, Brodsky authored nine volumes of poetry, as well as several collections of essays, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. His first book of poetry in English translation appeared in 1973.

In addition to teaching positions at Columbia University and Mount Holyoke College, where he taught for fifteen years, Brodsky served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1991 to 1992. In 1993, he joined with Andrew Carroll to found the American Poetry & Literacy Project, a not-for-profit organization devoted to making poetry a more central part of American culture, "as ubiquitous," in Brodsky's words, "as the nature that surrounds us, and from which poetry derives many of its similes; or as ubiquitous as gas stations, if not as cars themselves." Joseph Brodsky died on January 28, 1996, of a heart attack in his Brooklyn apartment.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Part of Speech (1980)
Collected Poems in English (2000)
Elegy for John Donne and Other Poems (1967)
Selected Poems (1992)
So Forth (1996)
To Urania (1988)

Prose

Less Than One (1986)
On Grief and Reason (1995)
Watermark (1992)

Drama

Marbles (1989)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Odysseus to Telemachus

Joseph Brodsky, 1940 - 1996
My dear Telemachus,
                   The Trojan War 
is over now; I don't recall who won it. 
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland. 
But still, my homeward way has proved too long. 
While we were wasting time there, old Poseidon, 
it almost seems, stretched and extended space.

I don't know where I am or what this place 
can be. It would appear some filthy island, 
with bushes, buildings, and great grunting pigs. 
A garden choked with weeds; some queen or other. 
Grass and huge stones . . . Telemachus, my son! 
To a wanderer the faces of all islands 
resemble one another. And the mind 
trips, numbering waves; eyes, sore from sea horizons, 
run; and the flesh of water stuffs the ears. 
I can't remember how the war came out; 
even how old you are--I can't remember.

Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong. 
Only the gods know if we'll see each other 
again. You've long since ceased to be that babe 
before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks. 
Had it not been for Palamedes' trick 
we two would still be living in one household. 
But maybe he was right; away from me 
you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions, 
and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.

From A Part of Speech by Joseph Brodsky. Translation copyright © 1980 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

From A Part of Speech by Joseph Brodsky. Translation copyright © 1980 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad on May 24, 1940. He left

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