Authors: Joseph Brodsky

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian-born American poet

Author Works


Stikhotvoreniya i poemy, 1965

Elegy to John Donne, and Other Poems, 1967

Ostanovka v pustyne: Stikhotvoreniya i poemy, 1970

Debut, 1973

Selected Poems, 1973

Konets prekrasnoi epokhi: Stikhotvoreniya, 1964-1971, 1977

Chast’rechi: Stikhotvoreniya, 1972-1976, 1977

V Anglii, 1977

Verses on the Winter Campaign 1980, 1980

A Part of Speech, 1980

Rimskie elegii, 1982

Novye stansy k Avguste: Stichi k M.B., 1962-1982, 1983

Uraniia: Novaya kniga stikhov, 1987

To Urania: Selected Poems, 1965-1985, 1988

Chast’ rechi: Izbrannye stikhi, 1962-1989, 1990

Bog sokhraniaet vse, 1991

Forma vremeni, 1992 (2 volumes; volume 2 includes essays and plays)

Rozhdestvenskie stikhi, 1992, 2d edition 1996 (Nativity Poems, 2001)

Izbrannye stikhotvoreniya, 1957-1992, 1994

So Forth, 1996

Collected Poems in English, 2000 (Ann Kjellberg, editor)


Mramor, pb. 1984 (Marbles, 1985)


Less than One: Selected Essays, 1986

Watermark, 1992

Vspominaia Akhmatova, 1992

On Grief and Reason: Essays, 1995

Homage to Robert Frost, 1996 (with Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott)


Born in Leningrad in 1940, Joseph Aleksandrovich Brodsky (BRAHD-skee) experienced the horrors of life at a very early age, for he was one of the few survivors of the nine-hundred-day siege of Leningrad (1941-1944). Throughout his childhood, he endured the hardships not only of postwar Russia but also of being Jewish in an anti-Semitic society. After dropping out of school at the age of fifteen, he worked at a variety of jobs while educating himself in Russian and comparative literature, the history of religion, philosophy, and foreign languages. Polish was among the first languages he learned, and in Polish he first read the works of Franz Kafka and William Faulkner. Brodsky began writing poetry in 1958 and soon found a place for himself in the literary circles of Leningrad. There he became a very close friend of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, who declared him to be “the most gifted poet of his generation.”{$I[AN]9810001353}{$I[A]Brodsky, Joseph}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Brodsky, Joseph}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Brodsky, Joseph}{$I[tim]1940;Brodsky, Joseph}

Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1987.

(© The Nobel Foundation)

If he was the most gifted, however, he quickly became one of the most oppressed. Throughout the early 1960’s, the authorities denounced his poetry as pornographic and anti-Soviet. When Soviet officials refused to publish his poems, he began reciting them on street corners in his liturgical style and distributing his own copies of them. In January, 1964, he was arrested on charges of social parasitism and sentenced to five years of hard labor in the Arkhangelsk region. While serving his sentence, he took up a study of English and American poets and was particularly drawn to the works of Robert Frost. Thanks to pressure exerted on the Soviet authorities by intellectuals at home and abroad, Brodsky was released from the labor camp in November, 1965, after serving twenty months of his sentence. He returned to Leningrad and continued writing and translating poetry in his native city until June, 1972, when he was “invited” to leave the Soviet Union. After leaving his homeland, Brodsky went to the United States, where he held academic positions at the University of Michigan, Queens College in New York, Ohio State University, Mount Holyoke College, and Columbia University.

Akhmatova and Frost were not the only modern poets to leave their mark on Brodsky; among his other favorites were Osip Mandelstam, W. H. Auden, and Czesław Miłosz. Beginning with his first collection, Stikhotvoreniya i poemy (poems and narrative verse), Brodsky pursued the traditional forms of the short lyric and the longer poem. His poetry reflects not only a consciousness of classical motifs involving figures from Western myth and religion but also an awareness of his debt to those great poets who lived before him. Examples of that awareness may be found in his “Elegy to John Donne” and “Verses on the Death of T. S. Eliot,” which appears in the volume Ostanovka v pustyne (a halt in the wilderness). Experimenting with meter, free verse, and rhyme schemes, Brodsky explores the themes of love, art, language, death–all the dimensions of human life–often making use of irony, humor, and puns but always with a serious end.

After his exile in 1972, Brodsky’s poetry took on a particular concern for the theme of exile, or separation, in all of its aspects: the separation of one person from another, of the poet from his native tongue, of words from their meanings. Torn from a familiar existence, individuals must acquire what Brodsky calls “the art of estrangement” and forge their own existence through their own consciousness; such is the general issue addressed in his collection of essays Less than One. As a poet in exile, Brodsky became a poet of exile, a role especially reflected in Konets prekrasnoi epokhi (the end of a beautiful epoch) and his next two collections. For Brodsky, silence was the place of exile, and his task was to fetch the poetic word from silence, not only to declare but also to overcome the condition of exile. Like the death that accentuates life, silence calls forth the poet’s word, which may bridge the gap between what has been torn asunder. While the poet here announces the nature of human exile, he also turns his reader’s gaze toward that sky which spans the exile and the kingdom, revealing that “within” and “above” are synonyms.

Many of his poems and other works appeared in various magazines, including The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. Brodsky won the MacArthur Award in 1981 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986. The world’s acknowledgment of the importance of Brodsky’s place in the history of literature came on October 22, 1987, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In 1991, the United States named Brodsky poet laureate. During this time, he continued to write poetry in both English and Russian while teaching; he taught as the Andrew Mellon Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College at South Hadley, Massachusetts, for fifteen years. In continual bad health and with a third open-heart surgery a possibility, he continued to drink coffee and to smoke cigarettes in prodigious amounts, one time stating, “I am dying for cigarettes.” Brodsky died in January, 1996, survived by his wife, Maria, and daughter, Anna.

Although Brodsky was a Russian poet divorced from his Russian public, his testimony on life captured the attention of audiences worldwide. As Auden once described him, Brodsky was a poet who had “an unusual capacity to envision material objects as sacramental signs, messengers from the unseen.” His readers continue to receive his message in a vision of what is hale, whole, and holy in life.

BibliographyBethea, David M. Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. A critical analysis that compares and contrasts Brodsky to the poet’s favorite models–John Donne, W. H. Auden, Osip Mandelstam, and Marina Tsvetayeva–and analyzes his fundamental differences with Vladimir Nabokov. Various critical paradigms are used throughout the study as foils to Brodsky’s thinking. Includes a bibliography and index.Loseff, Lev, and Valentina Polukhina, eds. Brodsky’s Poetics and Aesthetics. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. In this collection of essays, various authors discuss such topics as politics and poetics, affinities between Brodsky and Osip Mandelstam, the theme of exile, and individual aspects of Brodsky’s poetics and poems.Loseff, Lev, and Valentina Polukhina, eds. Joseph Brodsky: The Art of a Poem. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. In the second collection of essays on Brodsky the editors concentrate on individual poems and on purely aesthetic aspects of his poetry. The essays, written in both Russian and English, analyze in depth the most significant of Brodsky’s poems, using citations in Russian and English.MacFadyen, David. Joseph Brodsky and the Baroque. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998. A thorough analysis of the baroque elements in Brodsky’s poetry and of the affinities with, and influence of, philosophers Søren Kirkegaard and Lev Shestov and the poet John Donne. The comparison of Brodsky’s poetry before and after exile is especially poignant.MacFadyen, David. Joseph Brodsky and the Soviet Muse. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. An assessment of Brodsky’s significance as a shaper and remaker of Soviet poetry in his early years. The contact with, and influence of, the writings of James Joyce, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Boris Pasternak, and Marina Tsvetayeva are chronicled, with suitable citations, in Russian and English, from Brodsky’s poetry. Very useful for the understanding of Brodsky’s development as a poet.Polukhina, Valentina. Joseph Brodsky: A Poet for Our Time. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. An encompassing study of essential aspects of Brodsky’s poetry by a leading Russian expert. Using examples of poems in Russian and English, the author follows the gradual emergence of Brodsky as a poet of his generation and his contribution to modern world poetry. The chapter on his struggle with the Soviet “empire” is of special interest.Rigsbee, David. Styles of Ruin: Joseph Brodsky and the Postmodernist Elegy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Rigsbee examines Brodsky’s contribution to postmodernist poetry, particularly through his pronounced trend toward elegy. A poet himself and a translator of Brodsky, the author adds to his analyses a personal touch as well as that of an expert of the craft.Taylor, John. “On the Ledge: Joseph Brodsky in English.” Michigan Quarterly Review 40, no. 3 (Summer, 2001): 594. Critical analysis of some of Brodsky’s poetry from Collected Poems in English.Volkov, Solomon. Conversations with Joseph Brodsky: A Poet’s Journey Through the Twentieth Century. New York: Free Press, 1998. This translation of a book of conversations with Brodsky by his New York friend offers a microscopic glimpse into his inner and aesthetic world. Wide-ranging interviews explore poetry in general and Russian culture through Brodsky’s experience, as well as his relationship to poetic figures in the West.
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