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Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam Paperback – Deckle Edge, March 27, 2012
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
"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.
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.
As reviewed in Russian Life