Editor: Ilya Bernstein
Poetry | $5
Saddle-stitched. 28 pp, 6 x 7 in.
Publication Date: January 1, 2006
A selection of new translations of poems by the great Russian Modernist poet Osip Mandelstam, edited by Ilya Bernstein, with translations by: Ilya Bernstein, Ian Dreiblatt, Lev Fridman, Andrey Gritsman, Alex Halberstadt, Christian Hawkey, John High, Kevin Kinsella, Eugene Ostashevsky, Luba Ostashevsky, Ian Probstein, Natasha Randall, Alan Shaw, Val Vinokur, Seth Zimmerman
Eastern European Poets Series #13.
Born in January, 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' (Stone) in 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 program that included Nikolay Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova. His second book, Tristia (1922), secured his reputation, and both it and Stone were released a year later in new editions. The poet published three more books in 1928—Poems, a collection of criticism entitled On Poetry, and The Egyptian Stamp, a book of prose.
During the 1920s and early 1930s Mandelstam's attitude toward the Russian Revolution and the new Soviet regime was one of indifference. He had little faith in the Marxist view of history as progress. He deplored the popularization of culture at the expense of true cultural achievement. His poetry of these years is marked by a quiet diction, striving for balance and tension. Many of his poems celebrate architectural monuments that embody this balance and tension, such as Notre Dame in Paris and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In his critical essays and artistic prose Mandelstam makes use of the classics of Western culture to show that the level of culture attained is not necessarily the result of societal or industrial achievements. He was saddened by the bleakness of Soviet life in comparison with the brilliance of his beloved city, St. Petersburg. He viewed the new mass audience of Soviet literature as detrimental to the creation of good literature and directed his own writings toward a future, enlightened audience.
In the 1930s Mandelstam's apolitical attitude and the outspoken quality of his writings brought him into direct conflict with the government. He was arrested in 1934 for writing an unflattering epigram on Stalin and exiled from the major Russian capitals for 3 years. Upon his return to Moscow from exile in 1937, Mandelstam found life extremely difficult. He was arrested again in May 1938, charged with counterrevolutionary activity, and sentenced to 5 years in a labor camp in the Far East. He died in transit to the camp in winter of 1938.