Oct. 16, 2009 Tischman Auditorium, New York CityFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Born on January 15, 1891, in Warsaw, Poland, Osip Emilievich Mandelstam was raised in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg, Russia. His father was a prominent leather merchant and his mother a teacher of music. Mandelstam attended the renowned Tenishev School and later studied at the Sorbonne, the University of Heidelberg, and the University of St. Petersburg, though he left off his studies to pursue writing. He published his first collection, Kamen, or Stone (1913), when Russian Symbolism was the dominant persuasion. Like Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov, who cleared the ground for Russian Futurism, Mandelstam departed from this old mode of expression in favor of a more direct treatment of thoughts, feelings, and observations under the aegis of Acmeism, a programme that included Nikolay Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova. As translator Clarence Brown observes, Mandelstam's variant of Acmeism was a mixture of poetics and moral doctrine, the former based on an "intuitive and purely verbal logic of inner association" and the latter on a kind of "democratic humanism." His second book, Tristia (1922), secured his reputation, and both it and Stone were released a year later in new editions.

Yet the Bolsheviks had begun to exert an ever increasing amount of control over Russian artists, and Mandelstam, though he had initially supported the Revolution, was absolutuely unwilling to yield to the political doctrine of a regime that had executed Gumilev in 1921. The poet published three more books in 1928—Poems, a collection of criticism entitled On Poetry, and The Egyptian Stamp, a book of prose—as the state closed in on him. Mandelstam spent his later years in exile, serving sentences for counter-revolutionary activities in various work camps, until his death on December 27, 1938, in the Gulag Archipelago.

[Toward the empty earth]

Osip Mandelstam, 1891 - 1938

 

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Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam

Born in January, 1891, in Warsaw, Poland, Osip Emilievich Mandelstam was raised

by this poet

poem
Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed