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Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam Paperback – Deckle Edge, March 27, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Original edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062099426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062099426
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #551,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

A new selection and translation of the work of Osip Mandelstam, perhaps the most important Russian poet of the twentieth century

Political nonconformist Osip Mandelstam's opposition to Stalin's totalitarian government made him a target of the communist state. The public recitation of his 1933 poem known in English as "The Stalin Epigram" led to his arrest, exile, and eventual imprisonment in a Siberian transit camp, where he died, presumably in 1938. Mandelstam's work—much of it written under extreme duress—is an extraordinary testament to the enduring power of art in the face of oppression and terror.

Stolen Air spans Mandelstam's entire poetic career, from his early highly formal poems in which he reacted against Russian Symbolism to the poems of anguish and defiant abundance written in exile, when Mandelstam became a truly great poet. Aside from the famous early poems, which have a sharp new vitality in Wiman's versions, Stolen Air includes large selections from The Moscow Notebooks and The Voronezh Notebooks.

Going beyond previous translators who did not try to reproduce Mandelstam's music, Christian Wiman has captured in English—for the first time—something of Mandelstam's enticing, turbulent, and utterly heartbreaking sounds.

About the Author

Christian Wiman was born and raised in West Texas. He is the editor of Poetry and the author of three collections of poems, Every Riven Thing, Hard Night, and The Long Home, and one collection of prose, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.



Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) was born and raised in St. Petersburg. Along with Anna Akhmatova and Nicholas Gumilev, Mandelstam formed the Acmeist group, which advocated an aesthetic of exact description and chiseled form, as suggested by the title of Mandelstam's first book, Stone (1913). He settled in Moscow in 1922, where his second collection of poems, Tristia, appeared. In 1934 Mandelstam was arrested and sent into exile. He wrote furiously during these years, and his wife, Nadezhda, and friends memorized his work in an effort to preserve it in case it was destroyed or lost. (Her memoirs, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, later helped to bring Mandelstam a worldwide audience.) He died on December 27, 1938, in the Gulag Archipelago.


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Maconpoet on May 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mandelstam is one of the greatest poets of the 20th century and, unfortunately, little known by general readers in the US. Among the virtues of this book is Ilya Kaminsky's introduction, which is not only informative, but lyrical and poetic itself. As other reviewers have noted, Wiman's poetry captures (I trust, not reading Russian) a muscular musical sound to Mandelstam's poetry that is lacking in other translations. I appreciate, for example, Wiman's assertive use of alliteration, assonance, and internal and slant rhyme. Some of the poems virtually punch one from the page. Among my favorites are "Bring Me To The Brink" ("The pain that sings in me does not sing, and is true") ; "Leningrad"; "Gown of Iron"; Faith ("Mother of maple, mother of snow"); "To Natasha Schtempel" ("Because the soul of brokenness is the soul") and the sublime poem "The Necklace." In the latter case, though, I find the translation by W.S. Merwin and Clarence Brown more forthright and simpler, in a positve way. Compare these two translations:

"Love, what's left for us, and of us, is this
Living remnant, loving revenant, brief kiss
Like a bee flying completed hiveless" (Wiman)

"For us, all that's left is kisses
tattered as the little bees
that die when they leave the hive" (Merwin)

Of course, this is purely subjective, but I find Merwin's translation, without the verbal tricks, more effective in capturing the melancholy sense of ending, with the bittersweet solace of love, than Wiman's.

Occasionally, Wiman's translations of Mandelstam (and Wiman is very upfront and honest that these are ultimately his poems, not Mandelstam's, because of the nature of translation) read too contemporary to me, too much like Wiman's own poetry or the poetry of Franz Wright.

Nevertheless, this is certainly a book that contemporary poets and readers of poetry should own.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Dillingham VINE VOICE on May 14, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been reading the poems of Osip Mandelstam in translation since I first encountered him through Nadezhda Mandelstam's magnificent memoir, Hope Against Hope, in 1970. Many very fine poets have produced fine versions in English of the poems and prose of the most amazing Russian poet of modern times--one is tempted to say, certainly one of the most amazing poets, period. W.S. Merwin and Clarence Brown, James Green, Sidney Monas, Bernard Meares, and others have helped make him available to those of us with limited or no Russian.

Now we have Christian Wiman and Ilya Kaminsky's magnificent Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam. I do not mean in any way to denigrate the achievements of the other poets and translators, but only to say that Wiman and Kaminsky have created a truly great book, a work of power and poetry that brings Mandelstam to us (that in itself is a great achievement), offering him to us in the form of English poems that stand with the best of modern poetry--not just of translations (of which we are privileged in our time to have many that achieve greatness as translation--from Daniel Mendelsohn, John Ashbery, Richard Howard, to name only a few) but great poetry. For anyone who values Mandelstam, for anyone who cares at all about poetry, Wiman's volume is essential. Read it however you can, buy it if you can. You will treasure it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Richardson VINE VOICE on April 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
Wiman has captured Mandelstam's voice and music brilliantly in his marvelously evocative translations of the works of one of the most challenging and important Russian poets. The collection spans the entirety of Mandelstam's career and includes many works not elsewhere translated.

As reviewed in Russian Life
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By no name on January 24, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These translations are beautiful and memorable. I have no idea how faithful they are to the original. But the mind for images and sounds is definitely not missing. Its also good (though disturbing) to read some of Mandelstam's later poems, right before his untimely death at the hands of the criminally insane.
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