Stikhotvoreniya i poemy, 1965
Elegy to John Donne, and Other Poems, 1967
Ostanovka v pustyne: Stikhotvoreniya i poemy, 1970
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
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.”
Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1987.
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.