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review 2016-09-07 14:36
Book Review: The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam
The Selected Poems - Osip Mandelstam,Clarence Brown,W.S. Merwin

Some brilliant poems (#223; #344;#351;#388 to name a few), but overall I couldn't connect with the poet's voice on any deep level. Perhaps the dense classical allusions, which forced me to rack my brain for my long ago Classical Culture studies, stopped me from being drawn into this volume.

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review 2016-06-11 15:24
I would probably follow Mandel’stam on Twitter
Die Reise nach Armenien - Ralph Dutli,Osip Mandelstam

For no particular reason, I have always tried to avoid reading Osip Mandel’stam in the past. This week I thought, that it is time to give it a try, so here we go: Journey to Armenia by Osip Mandel’stam.


The language was incredibly beautiful (no wonder, for Mandel’stam was a famous poet), also his style is quite outstanding! But now comes the downside - for the whole time I struggled to find any meaning in it. While reading, I felt like I was basically scrolling through my twitter timeline - just unconnected sentences strung together, no particular order, sequence or development to be found.


Don't get me wrong now, it was a beautiful book to read, some sentences I read 5 or 6 times, just because they were so gorgeous, but in the end, I simply don't know what to do with it.

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review 2015-03-25 02:17
Poetry by Osip Mandelstam
The Selected Poems - Osip Mandelstam,Clarence Brown,W.S. Merwin


Osip Mandelstam in the eyes of the NKVD



The people need poetry that will be their own secret

to keep them awake forever,

and bathe them in the bright-haired wave

of its breathing.



Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) was born in Warsaw to a wealthy Jewish family that was sufficiently well connected to be allowed residence in St. Petersburg and to enroll young Osip in the elite Tenishev School (in which the very aristocratic Vladimir Nabokov would matriculate a decade later). Like most Russian intellectuals Mandelstam welcomed the Revolution, but earlier than most he distrusted and then despised the Bolsheviks who purged their way to the levers of power. His friend and fellow Acmeist (an "ism" in which the Imagists could have recognized themselves), Nikolay Gumilev, was placed before a firing squad already in 1921, so Mandelstam would have been in trouble even if he didn't openly detest the new regime. His travails in the gulag and in provincial exile are well known due to his wife's, Nadezhda's, famous memoir Hope Against Hope and need not be rehearsed here.


Mandelstam and Alexander Blok are regarded by some experts as the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century. I know little about Russian poetry, and I certainly wouldn't try to choose "greatest" poets when they write in a language I do not read. But I do know that one of the greatest poets of the 20th century in the German language - the Romanian born Paul Celan - was deeply moved and influenced by Mandelstam's poems, which is more than enough recommendation for me. In fact, Celan apparently published the first book length selection of translations of Mandelstam's poetry into a European language in 1959. This book I have finally read,(*) along with English language translations of Mandelstam's poetry by a collaboration of the Mandelstam specialist, Clarence Brown, with the well known American poet, W.S. Merwin.(**)


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review 2015-01-09 22:35
Journey to Armenia , by Osip Mandelstam
Journey to Armenia - Osip Mandelstam


Sevanavank monastery on an island in Sevan Lake, Armenia



In 1930 Osip Mandelstam was deep in the bouillabaisse - only Bukharin's protection held the Soviet authorities off of him, a vindictive bureaucrat was taxing him for plagiarism, and his internal sources of poetic inspiration had been dry for five years already. To put some food on his plate and to get him out of Moscow and away from his enemies, Bukharin arranged a trip to Armenia for Mandelstam and his infinitely loyal wife, Nadezhda. He was supposed to produce a text demonstrating how socialist progress had made great strides in that particular backwater.(*)


Well, he didn't write that text. Instead, he fabricated an episodic and impressionistic poem in prose, Journey to Armenia (1933), in which the ancient land of Armenia - outpost of Hellenism, first Christian state, vassal of Byzantium, occasional independent kingdom - helps Mandelstam find his place in time. Certainly, he found what he had needed, because after he wrote this text, his poetic sources flowed freely again, and he recommenced his true calling until Bukharin could protect him no longer.


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review 2014-06-17 00:00
Selected Poems
Selected Poems - Osip Mandelstam Selected Poems - Osip Mandelstam Foreword, by Nadezhda Mandelshtam
Foreword, by Donald Davie
Translator's Preface
Introduction, by Donald Rayfield

from Stone (1913, 1916, 1923 and 1928)
--The careful muffled sound
--Suddenly, from the dimly lit hall
--To read only children's books
--On pale-blue enamel
--What shall I do with the body I've been given
--A sadness beyond words
--Words are unnecessary
--Ear-drums stretch their sensitive sail
--Like the shadow of sudden clouds
--I grew, rustling like a reed
--Sultry dusk covers the couch
--How slowly the horses move
--Light sows a meagre beam
--The sea-shell
--I hate the light
--In the haze your image
--No, not the moon, but a bright clock-face
--The traveller
--The casino
--The Lutheran
--Hagia Sophia
--Notre Dame
--Poisoned bread, satiated air
--Horses' hooves ... The clatter
--There are orioles in the woods
--Nature is Roman, and mirrored in Rome
--Sleeplessness. Homer. Taut sails
--Herds of horses gaily neigh or graze

Unpublished in the Struve/Filippov editions
--Newly reaped ears

Two poems first published by Struve/Filippov, 1964
--The hunters have trapped you
--The old men of Euripides, an abject throng

from Tristia (1922)
--How the splendour of these veils and of this dress
--We shall die in transparent Petropolis
--This night is irredeemable
--Disbelieving the miracle of resurrection
--Out of the bottle the stream of golden honey poured so slowly
--Spring's transparent-grey asphodels
--Sisters: heaviness and tenderness bear the same insignia
--Return to the incestuous lap
--When Psyche -- life -- descends among shades
--I have forgotten the word I wanted to say
--For the sake of delight
--Here is the pyx, like a golden sun
--Because I had to let go of your arms
--When the city moon looks out on the streets
--When, on my lips a singing name, I stepped
--I like the grey silences under the arches

from Poems (1928)
--I was washing at night in the courtyard
--To some, winter is arrack and a blue-eyed punch
--Rosy foam of fatigue on his sensual lips
--As the leaven swells
--I climbed into the tousled hayloft
--My time
--Whoever finds a horseshoe
--1 January 1924

Two poems published in Novy Mir (1931 and 1932)

Poems published posthumously
--I was only in a childish way connected with the established order
--Help me, O Lord, to get through this night
--For the resounding glory of eras to come
--I drink to the blossoming epaulette
--We exist, without sensing our country beneath us
--The body of King Arshak is unwashed
--Your narrow shoulders are to redden under scourges
--Black earth
--Yes, I'm lying in the earth, moving my lips
--You took away my seas and running jumps and sky
--My country conversed with me
--For those hundred-carat ingots, Roman nights
--A wave advances -- one wave breaking another's backbone
--I shall perform a smoky rite
--I shall not return my borrowed dust
--I can't make sense of today
--Like a belated present
--I would sing of him who shifted the axis of the world
--You still haven't died, you're still not alone
--I look the frost in the face, alone
--Oh, these suffocating, asthmatic spaces of the steppes
--Plagued by their miraculous and all-engulfing hunger
--Don't compare: anyone alive is matchless
--What has contended with oxide and alloys
--The mounds of human heads disappear into the distance
--Listening, listening to the early ice
--A little boy, his red face shining like a lamp
--Where can I put myself this January?
--Like Rembrandt, martyr of light and dark
--Breaks of the rounded bays, shingle, blue
--I sing when my throat is damp, my soul dry
--Eyes once keener than a sharpened scythe
--Armed with the eyesight of narrow wasps
--I am plunged into a lion's den, a fort
--If our enemies take me
--Life's reticulations loosen, madness looms
--This is what I want most of all
--This azure island was exalted by its potters
--As if words were not enough
--I raise this greenness to my lips
--With her delightful uneven way of walking

Notes and Acknowledgements
Further Reading

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