History of Literature

Осип Мандельштам




Osip Mandelshtam



Osip Mandelstam 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (also spelled Mandelshtam) (Russian: О́сип Эми́льевич Мандельшта́м) (January 15 [O.S. January 3] 1891 – December 27, 1938) was a Russian poet and essayist, one of the foremost members of the Acmeist school of poets.

Life and work
Mandelstam was born in Warsaw to a wealthy Jewish family. His father, a tanner by trade, was able to receive a dispensation freeing the family from the pale of settlement, and soon after Osip's birth, they moved to Saint Petersburg. In 1900, Mandelstam entered the prestigious Tenishevsky school, which also counts Vladimir Nabokov and other significant figures of Russian (and Soviet) culture among its alumni. His first poems were printed in the school's almanac in 1907. In April 1908, Mandelstam decided to enter the Sorbonne to study literature and philosophy, but he left the following year to attend the University of Heidelberg. In 1911, in order to continue his education at the University of Saint Petersburg, he converted to Methodism (which he did not practice) and entered the university the same year.
Mandelstam's poetry, acutely populist in spirit after the first Russian revolution, became closely associated with symbolist imagery, and in 1911, he and several other young Russian poets formed the "Poets' Guild" (Russian: Цех Поэтов, Tsekh Poetov), under the formal leadership of Nikolai Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky. The nucleus of this group would then become known as Acmeists. Mandelstam had authored the manifesto for the new movement - The Morning Of Acmeism (1913, published in 1919). 1913 also saw the publication of his first collection of poems, The Stone (Russian: Камень, Kamyen), to be reissued in 1916 in a greatly expanded format, but under the same title.

Nadezhda Mandelstam

In 1922, Mandelstam arrived in Moscow with his newly-wed wife Nadezhda. At this time, his second book of poems, Tristia, was published in Berlin. For several years after that, he almost completely abandoned poetry, concentrating on essays, literary criticism, memoirs (The Din Of Time, Russian: Шум времени, Shum vremeni; Феодосия, Feodosiya - both 1925) and small-format prose (The Egyptian Stamp, Russian: Египетская марка, Yegipetskaya marka - 1928). As a day job, he translated (19 books in 6 years), then worked as a correspondent for the newspaper The Irish Times. Mandelstam's non-conformist, anti-establishment tendencies always simmered not far from the surface, and in the autumn of 1933, they broke through in form of the famous "Stalin Epigram". The poem, sharply criticizing the "Kremlin highlander", was described elsewhere as a "sixteen line death sentence," likely prompted by Mandelstam's seeing (in the summer of that year, while vacationing in Crimea) the effects of the Great Famine, a result of Stalin's collectivisation in the USSR and his drive to exterminate the "kulaks". Six months later, Mandelstam was arrested.

Georgy Chulkov, Mariya Petrovykh, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam


Osip Mandelstam
by Lev Bruni. 1916


For Osip Mandelstam

And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s there are poplars, crows
there’s a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge

                                   Anna Akhmatova


Mandelstam and Achmatova, 1934

However, after the customary pro forma inquest, he not only was spared his life, but the sentence did not even include labor camps - a miraculous event, usually explained by historians as owing to Stalin's personal interest in his fate. Mandelstam was "only" exiled to Cherdyn in Northern Ural with his wife. After his attempt to commit suicide, the sentence was softened, and he was banished from the largest cities, but otherwise allowed to choose his new place of residence. He and his wife chose Voronezh.

NKVD photo after the first arrest, 1934

NKVD photo after the second arrest, 1938



Osip Mandelstam

Stalin Epigram


Мы живем, под собою не чуя страны,
Наши речи за десять шагов не слышны,
А где хватит на полразговорца,
Там припомнят кремлёвского горца.

Его толстые пальцы, как черви, жирны,
А слова, как пудовые гири, верны,
Тараканьи смеются усища,
И сияют его голенища.

А вокруг него сброд тонкошеих вождей,
Он играет услугами полулюдей.
Кто свистит, кто мяучит, кто хнычет,
Он один лишь бабачит и тычет,

Как подкову, кует за указом указ:
Кому в пах, кому в лоб, кому в бровь, кому в глаз.
Что ни казнь у него - то малина
И широкая грудь осетина.

Ноябрь 1933

Osip Mandelstam

Stalin Epigram

translation by Darran Anderson

We live, not feeling the earth beneath us
At ten paces our words evaporate.
But when there’s the will to crack open our mouths
our words orbit the Kremlin mountain man.
Murderer, peasant killer.

His fingers plump as grubs.
His words drop like lead weights.
His laughing cockroach whiskers.
The gleam of his boot rims.

Around him a circle of chicken-skinned bosses
sycophantic half-beings for him to toy with.
One whines, another purrs, a third snivels
as he babbles and points.

He forges decrees to be flung
like horseshoes
at the groin, the face, the eyes.

He rolls the liquidations on his tongue like berries
delicacies for the barrel-chested Georgian.


This proved a temporary reprieve. In the coming years, Mandelstam would (as was expected of him) write several poems which seemed to glorify Stalin (including Ode To Stalin), but in 1937, at the outset of the Great Purge, the literary establishment began a systematic assault on him in print -- first locally, and soon after that from Moscow -- accusing him of harboring anti-Soviet views. Early the following year, Mandelstam and his wife received a government voucher for a vacation not far from Moscow; upon their arrival in May 1938, he was promptly arrested again and charged with "counter-revolutionary activities".
Four months later, Mandelstam was sentenced to hard labor. He arrived at a transit camp near Vladivostok and managed to pass a note to his wife back home with a request for warm clothes; he never received them. The official cause of his death is an unspecified illness.

Mandelstam's own prophecy was fulfilled:

"Only in Russia is poetry respected – it gets people killed.

Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?"


Alone I stare into the frost’s white face.
It’s going nowhere, and I—from nowhere.
Everything ironed flat, pleated without a wrinkle:
Miraculous, the breathing plain.

Meanwhile the sun squints at this starched poverty—
The squint itself consoled, at ease . . .
The ten-fold forest almost the same . . .
And snow crunches in the eyes, innocent, like clean bread.

Osip Mandelstam. January 16, 1937

Yet to die. Unalone still.
For now your pauper-friend is with you.
Together you delight in the grandeur of the plains,
And the dark, the cold, the storms of snow.

Live quiet and consoled
In gaudy poverty, in powerful destitution.
Blessed are those days and nights.
The work of this sweet voice is without sin.

Misery is he whom, like a shadow,
A dog’s barking frightens, the wind cuts down.
Poor is he who, half-alive himself
Begs his shade for pittance.

Osip Mandelstam. January 15-16, 1937

Nadezhda Mandelstam presented her account of the events surrounding her husband's life in "Hope against Hope" and later continued with Hope Abandoned.


Nadezhda Mandelstam

(Russian: Надежда Яковлевна Мандельштам, née Hazin; 31 October 1899 — 29 December 1980) was a Russian writer and a wife of poet Osip Mandelstam.

Born in Saratov into a middle-class Jewish family, she spent her early years in Kiev. After the gymnasium she studied art.

After their marriage in 1921, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam lived in Ukraine, Petrograd, Moscow, and Georgia. Osip was arrested in 1934 for his Stalin Epigram and exiled with Nadezhda to Cherdyn, in the Perm region and later to Voronezh.

After Osip Mandelstam's second arrest and his subsequent death at a transit camp "Vtoraya Rechka" near Vladivostok in 1938, Nadezhda Mandelstam led an almost nomadic way of life, dodging her expected arrest and frequently changing places of residence and temporary jobs. On at least one occasion, in Kalinin, the NKVD came for her the next day after she fled.

As her mission in life, she set to preserve and publish her husband's poetic heritage. She managed to keep most of it memorized because she didn't trust paper.

After the death of Stalin, Nadezhda Mandelstam completed her dissertation (1956) and was allowed to return to Moscow (1958).

In her memoirs, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, first published in the West, she gives an epic analysis of her life and criticizes the moral and cultural degradation of the Soviet Union of the 1920s and later. The titles of her memoirs are puns, Nadezhda in Russian meaning 'hope'.

In 1979 she gave her archives to Princeton University. Nadezhda Mandelstam died in 1980 in Moscow, aged 81.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (1899-1980)


Varlam Shalamov's short story "Sherry Brandy" was written as a fictional description of Mandelstam's death in a Soviet Union GULAG transit camp near Vladivostok.

Varlam Shalamov


Russian writer best known for a series of short stories about imprisonment in Soviet labour camps.

In 1922 Shalamov went to Moscow and worked in a factory. Accused of counterrevolutionary activities while a law student at Moscow State University, Shalamov served two years at hard labour in the Urals. He returned to Moscow in 1932 and became a published writer, journalist, and critic. Rearrested in 1937, supposedly in part because of his public approval of Soviet émigré writer and 1933 Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin, Shalamov spent the next 17 years in the extremely harsh labour camps of the Kolyma River basin in the Soviet Far East. He was released in the 1950s and was allowed to publish some of his poetry, including the collections Ognivo (1961; “Flint”), Doroga i sudba (1967; “Journey and Destiny”), and Moskovskiye oblaka (1972; “Moscow Clouds”). In the early 1970s Shalamov, by then broken, ill, and dependent on the Soviet Writers’ Union for publication and money, was forced to write a public letter denouncing publication of his work abroad.

In 1978 a Russian edition of Shalamov’s Kolymskiye rasskazy (1978; “Kolyma Stories”) was published in England. This collection of 103 brief sketches, vignettes, and short stories chronicles the degradation and dehumanization of prison-camp life. Written in understated and straightforward documentary style, the tales contain almost no philosophical or political nuances. Publication was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.

Among the collections of his poetry that were posthumously published are Stikhotvoreniya (1988; “Poems”) and Kolymskiye tetradi (1994; “The Kolyma Notebooks”). Complete editions of Shalamov’s works were released in Moscow in 1992. Selected tales from the collection were published in English in two volumes, Kolyma Tales (1980) and Graphite (1981).

Encyclopaedia Britannica



After the end of the Stalin era, Mandelstam was rehabilitated in 1956, when he was exonerated from the charges brought against him in 1938. On October 28, 1987, he was also exonerated from the 1934 charges and thus fully rehabilitated.



Silver age poets Mandelstam, Chukovsky, Livshits and Annenkov in 1914



Timeline for Osip Mandelshtam

Born in Warsaw to father who was a Latvian Jewish leather merchant whose first language was German and a Russified Latvian mother who taught piano

Graduates Tenishev Commercial School in Saint Petersburg (where Nabokov also attended), where he studied with Vladimir Gippius and fell in love with both European and Hellenic culture



Travels to Paris and studies with Henri Bergson at the Sorbonne

Studies Old French Literature at University of Heidelberg,

Begins attending meetings at Vyacheslav Ivanov's tower St. Petersburg Society of Philosophy

Writes early Acmeist manifesto, the essay "Francois Villon," which also creates a model of the poet as a victim of the state

First poems appear in journal Apollon


Baptized in Vyborg Methodist Church and enrolls in Dept. of History and Philology at University of St. Petersburg

Joins Gumilev's Poet's Guild and becomes active member of nascent Acmeist movement which also includes Akhmatova and Annensky



Publishes Stone, a turn away from the ephemera of Symbolist poetry and towards a more architectural, dense, solid, and neo-classical poetic criteria


Enlarged edition of Stone appears

Meets Nadezhda Khazin (picture to the right) whom he marries two years later; she would become the curator of his life's work, memorizing and transcribing numerous works that would otherwise have been lost


Travels from Black Sea to Georgia three times over

Publishes Tristia a collection of poems whose title is taken from Ovid, reaffirming Mandelstam's classical leanings and also displaying his facility in composing sensuous love lyrics

Writes Nature of the Word

Writes Noise of Time, a dense "anti-memoir"



Tristia republished as The Second Book (Vtoraya kniga)

Writes the novella The Egyptian Stamp a semi-autobiographical, dreamlike vision of revolution


Unable to gain access to publishers in Petersburg, he is forced to move to Moscow

Writes Fourth Prose


Travels to Armenia, a trip that his wife Nadezhda claims renewed his poetry

Writes First Moscow Notebook, the first of five unpublished poetry cycles which establish Mandelstam as one of the greatest poets of the century


Publishes Journey to Armenia which reflects in it's a language a more Asiatic influence

Writes Second Moscow Notebook


Writes Conversations about Dante


Arrested for the first time and exiled to Voronezh; this after a suicide attempt and his blisteringly satirical poem about Stalin ("His fat fingers slimy as worms," "He forges his decrees like horseshoes")



Writes First Voronezh Notebook


Writes Second Voronezh Notebook

Writes Third Voronezh Notebook

Denounced publicly as a Trotskyist as his exile came to an end



May, arrested for the second time

December 27, dies in a prison transit camp in Siberia




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