- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; 1st edition (August 31, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1590170911
- ISBN-13: 978-1590170915
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #619,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 31, 2004
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"One of the century’s greatest lyric poets…Osip Mandelstam has tempted a formidable array of English poets. Through them we can perceive a glittering poetry, at once allusive, hardeyed, amd uncompromising. We see Leningrad black and shining, sitting like a hunched wildcat or transformed into 'transparent Petropolis/ where Proserpina rules over us;' Moscow, threatening Asiatic barbarity; the Crimea’s sensual richness. Much of this recorded over the years of Stalin’s murderous cat-and-mouse game."
— Elaine Feinstein, The Sunday Times
"In the thirty years that have passed since the Brown/Merwin versions appeared none of the many attempts to indicate Mandelstam’s vitality, to draw out his multitude of textile warps, have come anywhere near what they achieved. Seemingly understated, these translations have the tension and memorability of art. With intensity, precision, and immediacy, Brown and Merwin give us a great poet, whose work, like that of Yeats, takes place, dramatically, on the stage of history. Mandelstam is the crucial poet of 'our wolfhound age', our 'tyrant century'.”
— Mark Rudman
"[Brown’s] introduction to this book of Mandelstam’s poems is balanced, informative and personal."
— Columbus Dispatch
About the Author
Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938) was born and raised in St. Petersburg, where he attended the prestigious Tenishev School, before studying at the universities of St. Petersburg and Heidelberg and at the Sorbonne. Mandelstam first published his poems in Apollyon, an avant-garde magazine, in 1910, then banded together with Anna Akhmatova and Nicholas Gumilev to form 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). During the Russian Revolution, Mandelstam left Leningrad for the Crimea and Georgia, and he settled in Moscow in 1922, where his second collection of poems, Tristia, appeared. Unpopular with the Soviet authorities, Mandelstam found it increasingly difficult to publish his poetry, though an edition of collected poems did come out in 1928. In 1934, after reading an epigram denouncing Stalin to friends, Mandelstam was arrested and sent into exile. He wrote furiously during these years, and his wife, Nadezhda, memorized his work in case his notebooks were destroyed or lost. (Nadezhda Mandelstam’s extraordinary memoirs of life with her husband, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, published in the 1970s, later helped to bring Mandelstam a worldwide audience.)
Clarence Brown is the author of a prize-winning biography of Mandelstam and is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton.
W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Portugal, and Majorca. He has since lived in many parts of the world, most recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. He is the author of many books of poems, prose, and translations and has received both the Pulitzer and the Bollingen Prizes for poetry, among numerous other awards.
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Poetic speech is a crossbred process, and it consists of two sonorities.
The first of these is the change that we hear and sense in the very
instruments of poetic speech, which arise in the process of its impulse.
The second sonority is the speech proper . . . . (103)
Understood thus, poetry is not a part of nature . . . . Still less is it
a reflection of nature, . . . but it is something that . . . settles down
in a new extraspatial field of action, not so much narrating nature as
acting it out by means of its instruments, which are commonly called
In poetry only the executory understanding has any importance, and not
the passive, the reproducing, the paraphrasing understanding. (104)
External explanatory imagery is incompatible with the practice of
I hope these few quotes give you some idea of what Mandelstam was doing or trying to do when he created poems and will inspire you to want to read more of what he had to say in this essay. I will leave you with one last tidbit, which Mandelstam applied to Dante, but which I will apply to Mandelstam: "The labor of reading [Mandelstam] is above all endless, and the more we succeed at it the farther we are from our goal." (107)
The heaven of the supper fell in love with the wall.
It filled it with cracks. It fills them with light.
It fell into the wall. It shines out there
in the form of 13 heads. (Merwin/Browm)
Supper-sky adoring the wall--
wounded, scar-bright sky--
falling into her, flaring,
turned into 13 heads. (Raffel/Burago)
This is just the first stanza of the poem. I am happy indeed to have the COMPLETE MANDELSTAM from Raffel/Burago but I find the literal short lines too crowded; like fruitcake, enough's enough---although as I say these sharp-cut lines may be closer to the original. And the WHY of why did Mandelstam write this poem may come through more strongly in these brilliant little facets rather than in the longer lyrical line of Merwin/Brown. Take your choice!--although it's grand to have both. And let me end on one last note: Nadezha Mandelstam, who admireed Solzynitsin's IVAN DENISOVICH thought the death camp described in this work (drawn from Solzynitsin's imprisonment in the middle forties) is a day at the beach beside the camp Mandelstam was sent to in the late thirties.
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