Osip Mandelshtam

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mandel’shtam, Osip Emil’evich


(also Osip Emilevich Mandelstam). Born Jan. 3 (15), 1891, in Warsaw; died Dec. 27, 1938. Soviet Russian poet.

Mandel’shtam was the son of a merchant. He studied in the department of Romance and Germanic languages at St. Petersburg University. He began to publish in 1910. Mandel’shtam’s first book of poems was Stone (1913; 2nd enlarged edition, 1916); his second book was Tristia (1922). His early poems were influenced by symbolist poetry.

In 1912, Mandel’shtam became one of the founders of acmeism. Mandel’shtam opposed to the surrounding chaos the world of cultural and historical phenomena and of images from literature and art (particularly architecture) that express the shaping activity of the intellect and defy the elemental forces of nature. For the poet the word is the sum of meanings accumulated and sanctified by cultural tradition (see Mandel’shtam’s articles “The Word and Culture” and “On the Nature of the Word” in his collection On Poetry, 1928). Mandel’shtam’s personal, lyric themes are not expressed directly (the realistic, concrete connections among words are frequently broken) but rather through the prism of complex word associations. Mandel’shtam’s poems prophesy catastrophe, the death of the old “Hellene-Christian” (in his definition) culture and its “last” bearers.

Mandel’shtam’s postrevolutionary verse contains, alongside his acceptance of the Revolution in a general democratic spirit (“January 1, 1924”), the ever-louder personal theme of “withdrawal,” the “ailing son of the age,” and so on, which brought about the gradual social and literary isolation of the poet. At-tempts to draw closer to the “age” in his poems of the 1930’s gave rise to themes that were new for Mandel’shtam (“Chernozem” and “Verses on the Unknown Soldier”), but Mandel’-shtam’s poetic language became increasingly irrational, and there were signs that his precise verse structure was disintegrating.

Mandel’shtam’s prose works include The Noise of Time (1925), a book of autobiographical stories; The Egyptian Stamp (1928), a novella about the spiritual crisis of an intellectual who had lived on “cultural income” before the Revolution; and Conversation About Dante (1933), an essay of literary criticism.


Stikhotvoreniia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928.
“Puteshestvie v Armeniiu.” Zvezda, 1933, no. 5.
[Unpublished poems]. Moskva, 1964, no. 8; Prostor, 1965, no. 4; Pod”em, 1966, no. 1.
Razgovor o Dante. Moscow, 1967.
“Zapisnye knizhki.” Voprosy literatury, 1968, no. 4.
Stikhotvoreniia. Introductory article by A. L. Dymshits; text compiled and prepared by N. I. Khardzhiev. Leningrad, 1973.


Blok, A. Sobr. soch., vol. 7. Moscow-Leningrad, 1963. Page 371.
Tynianov, Iu. “Promezhutok.” In Arkhaisty i novatory. Leningrad, 1929. Pages 568-73.
Berkovskii, N. “O proze Mandel’shtama.” In Tekushchaia literatura. Moscow, 1930.
Dymshits, A. “‘Ia v mir vkhozhu … ’: Zametki o tvorchestve O. Mandel’shtama.” Voprosy literatury, 1972, no. 3.
Ginzburg, L. Ia. “Poetika Osipa Mandel’shtama.” Izv. AN SSSR: Ser. literatury i iazyka, 1972, vol. 31, no. 4.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
James Greene, 17); In the Russian original the poem reads: "Stikhiinyi labirint, nepostizhimyi les, / dushi goticheskoi rassudochnaya propasf " Mandelstam, Osip Mandelshtam: Stikhotvorenia, Proza, 38.
(31) Mandelstam, Te Complete Critical Prose and Letters, 63; Mandelstam, Osip Mandelshtam: Stikhotvorenia, Proza, 504.
turned his back on them."(42) Osip Mandelshtam's voice was
the country."(44) By the power of his verse, Osip Mandelshtam
fact, Osip Mandelshtam, whose final days are described in a fictional
But in Russia, "mainstream" poetry, as Ilya uses the term, means the great tradition, including the work of the "Great Four" (Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelshtam, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva), whose work (especially that of the latter three) was seen as very difficult in its time, but nevertheless taught readers how to look for much more in the language of poetry than they had seen before.
(5.) Quoted in Osip Mandelshtam, The Noise of Time.
(6.) Nikita Struve, Osip Mandelshtam. Tomsk: Vodolei, 1992.
(12.) Osip Mandelshtam, Sobranie Sochinenii ("Collected Writings").
WRITING ABOUT OSIP MANDELSHTAM, Joseph Brodsky says, "A song is a form of linguistic disobedience." I have found that in Brodsky's essays, collected in two volumes (Less Than One, 1986, and On Grief and Reason, 1995), there are many passing comments about how poetry is written in Russian, and collecting these has guided me to an understanding of rhyme that I had not gained from reading poetry in English, even though I think that I can see in English, here and there, something like the most idiomatically Russian way of using rhyme--and even though I don't know Russian.
And if Russian poetry at its linguistic height works this way (Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelshtam), then we can understand how extremely difficult it has been to translate into English, not only because English can't do many of the things that the Russian language does, but also because a translation of such a poem would have to give the reader the sense that the words of the translation, too, were looking for each other, and finding each other, as rhymes do in the original.
He was thus a member of what Professor Smith characterizes as "the most talented and tragic generation in Russian history"--the generation which included what he calls "a sainted quartet of poets": Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelshtam, and Marina Tsvetaeva.