Authors: Osip Mandelstam

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian poet

Identity: Jewish

Author Works


Kamen, 1913 (Stone, 1981)

Tristia, 1922 (English translation, 1973)

Stikhotvoreniya, 1928 (Poems, 1973)

Complete Poetry of Osip Emilievich Mandelstam, 1973

Voronezhskiye tetradi, 1980

The Voronezh Notebooks: Poems, 1935-1937, 1996

Short Fiction:

Yegipetskaya marka, 1928 (The Egyptian Stamp, 1965)


O prirode slova, 1922 (About the Nature of the Word, 1977)

Shum vremeni, 1925 (autobiography; The Noise of Time, 1965)

Feodosiya, 1925 (autobiography; Theodosia, 1965)

O poezii, 1928 (About Poetry, 1977)

Chetvertaia proza, wr. 1930 or 1931, pb. 1966 (Fourth Prose, 1970)

Puteshestviye v Armeniyu, 1933 (travel sketch; Journey to Armenia, 1973)

Razgovor o Dante, 1967 (Conversation About Dante, 1965)

Selected Essays, 1977

Slovo i kul’tura: Stat’i, 1987

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Dva tramvaya, 1925

Primus, 1925

Shary, 1926

Kukhnya, 1926


Sobranie sochinenii, 1955, 1964-1971, 1981 (Collected Works, 1967-1969)

The Complete Critical Prose and Letters, 1979


Although during his lifetime the reputation of Osip Emilievich Mandelstam (muhn-dyihl-SHTAHM) was subject to attack that was later, for some time, followed by official silence and suppression of his works in his native country, his stature as a leading Russian poet of the twentieth century subsequently came to be acknowledged by many writers and specialists. Mandelstam’s father, Emil Veniaminovich Mandelstam, was a leather merchant, and his mother was a pianist and came from a family that included members of the intelligentsia. A problematical attitude toward his Jewish background was reflected in some of the author’s works, and impressions of St. Petersburg, where the family moved shortly after his birth, were recorded in later writings. Along with his two brothers, Mandelstam spent much of his early life in the imperial capital. He was educated at the Tenishev Commercial School, which he attended between 1899 and 1907, and he also traveled widely in Europe; in 1909 and 1910 he enrolled for two semesters at the University of Heidelberg. Upon his return to Russia, Mandelstam entered the University of St. Petersburg, but he did not apparently receive a degree. Far more than academic pursuits, poetry and other forms of creative writing began to command his attention; by 1908 he had composed some verse, and in 1913 the collection Stone appeared. Critical essays from this period manifested his affiliation with the Acmeist movement, and, in keeping with the tenets of that group, he upheld the aesthetic integrity of the word as a means of achieving in a precise manner the direct evocation of emotional experience. In stating his opposition to the rival Symbolist school, he maintained that semantic and philological consciousness lay at the center of their differences. Mandelstam’s views on literature led to a prolonged friendship with the distinguished poet Anna Akhmatova. At the outset of his career, his poetry displayed lilting optimistic qualities that celebrated the possibilities for lyrical achievement he had discovered.{$I[AN]9810000968}{$I[A]Mandelstam, Osip}{$I[geo]POLAND;Mandelstam, Osip}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Mandelstam, Osip}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Mandelstam, Osip}{$I[tim]1891;Mandelstam, Osip}

Osip Mandelstam

For medical reasons Mandelstam was excused from military service during World War I. After working for a public relief organization, he traveled for some time in the Crimea, where he came to know the writer Marina Tsvetayeva. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 he was in Petrograd, and he became employed in the Soviet commissariat of education; by 1918 he had moved to Moscow, still working for the government. In southern Russia he was arrested briefly by Soviet and then by White officials. While in Kiev he had met Nadezhda Yakovlevna Khazina, and in 1922 they were married in Moscow. In addition to creative endeavors of various sorts, Mandelstam worked at times as a translator, as well as writing for newspapers; one of his contributions to the journalism of his day was an interview with the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Nguyen Ai Quoc (later known as Ho Chi Minh).

Despite the unsettling vicissitudes of Mandelstam’s existence, he produced major collections of poetry such as Tristia and Poems. In its mature phase Mandelstam’s verse demonstrated careful, delicate craftsmanship, which yielded unusual resonance in the juxtaposition of letters and sounds. Closely conjoined expressions created alliterative effects that reverberated delicately in accordance with distinctively personal patterns of usage. Images of a specific and definite sort often would appear alongside highly abstract terms; more immediate points of reference were set off by phrases which raised much more general cultural connotations. Classical motifs drawn from ancient mythology and thematic evocation of cities and sites that were important for Christian and Jewish beliefs were suggested in passages that raised brooding questions of power, eternity, and human frailty; musings upon universal issues were posed alongside openly subjective considerations. Although, apart from children’s verse, Mandelstam ceased to write poetry for five years or so, as of about 1925 some characteristic traits appeared also in his prose works. The autobiographical sketch The Noise of Time presents whimsical and exquisitely detailed recollections of the author’s early years which may be considered notable more for their descriptive quality than as a record of events in his life. The short novel The Egyptian Stamp represented an odd foray into narrative fiction, where events are recounted in a bewildering but beguiling series of impressions; some experiments with narration in the third person take place before it is concluded that the author’s own point of view would be preferable. After a disquieting episode when he was unjustly accused of plagiarism by a minor literary figure, Mandelstam found solace in a prolonged visit to lands in the Caucasus; the inspiration afforded by remote and exotic peoples and cultures was reflected in Journey to Armenia.

Toward the end of that journey Mandelstam returned to the composition of lyrical works, and indeed his later poetry, which in time came to constitute about two-thirds of his collected verse, was assembled in notebooks from the cities, Moscow and Voronezh, where much of his later writing was done; such collections did not appear until long after his death. Poems that treated deeply personal concerns dealt alternately with simple and fundamental sources of life’s hopes and with dark visions of the suffering and havoc wrought by the Soviet political dictatorship. The poet conveyed his moral ideas and his defiance of established authority on matters of self-expression and individual integrity in verses that are remarkable for their semantic acuity and sound quality. He alternately evoked the hopes stemming from unchanging natural seasons and cycles and haunting and mordant speculation about his country’s fate. In critical writings Mandelstam attempted to elucidate the relationship between poetry and life, and in an essay on Dante, which was published posthumously in an English translation before it appeared in Mandelstam’s native language, he declared his spiritual kinship with the classical Italian poet. When a poem he had written that disparaged the Soviet premier Joseph Stalin came to light, Mandelstam was arrested on political charges on May 13, 1934. In Cherdyn, where he was first sent, Mandelstam attempted suicide, but after the intercession of Nikolai Bukharin, the terms of his exile were mitigated. In Voronezh, despite bouts of severe depression and anxiety, Mandelstam wrote some of his finest lyrical poetry. He later moved back closer to the capital; after Bukharin was executed following a celebrated purge trial, Mandelstam faced further accusations arising from the political content of his writings. On May 2, 1938, he was arrested once more and sentenced to five years at hard labor. As official Soviet sources eventually disclosed, Mandelstam died in a transit camp near Vladivostok, in the Far East, on or about December 27, 1938.

BibliographyBaines, Jennifer. Mandelstam: The Later Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Scholarly treatment of Mandelstam’s poems written in Moscow and Voronezh in the 1930’s, the study of which has been somewhat neglected because of their enigmatic nature.Brown, Clarence. Mandelstam. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973. The best authority on Mandelstam in the English-speaking world presents his seminal work, covering all aspects of Mandelstam’s life and work. Brown’s analyses of Mandelstam’s poems are particularly valuable.Broyde, Steven. Osip Mandelstam and His Age: A Commentary on the Themes of War and Revolution in the Poetry, 1913-1923. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975. A detailed analysis of Mandelstam’s poems inspired by, and centered on, war and revolution. There are many citations of poems, in Russian and in English.Cavanagh, Clare. Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995. Places Mandelstam within the modernist tradition of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound of reflecting a “world culture” divorced from strict national or ethnic identity.Glazov-Corrigan, Elena. Mandel’shtam’s Poetics: A Challenge to Postmodernism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000. Analyses Mandelstam’s thoughts on poetry and art in the context of the major postmodern literary debates and traces their development throughout his writings. Describes Mandelstam’s intellectual world and its effect on his evolution as a thinker, specifically, on differences in his attitude toward language.Mandelstam, Nadezhda. Hope Against Hope: A Memoir. New York: Atheneum, 1970.Mandelstam, Nadezhda. Hope Abandoned. New York: Atheneum, 1974. The two-volume memoirs of Mandelstam’s wife deal mostly with biographical details, but also with the genesis of many of Mandelstam’s poems.Pollack, Nancy. Mandelstam the Reader. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. A study of Mandelstam’s late verse and prose. The two genres receive approximately equal treatment, but the analyses of poems tend to be deeper.Prsybylski, Ryszard. An Essay on the Poetry of Osip Mandelstam: God’s Grateful Guest. Translated by Madeline G. Levine. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1987. A noted Polish scholar treats Mandelstam’s attraction to, and reflection of, Greek and Roman classicism, the musical quality of his poetry, his affinity to architecture and archaeology, and other features of the poetry. The author places Mandelstam in the framework of world literature.Zeeman, Peter. The Later Poetry of Osip Mandelstam: Text and Context. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988. Detailed interpretations and analyses of Mandelstam’s poems written in the 1930’s. Zeeman uses primarily contextualization and historical reconstruction in his discussion of the poems, some of which are among the most difficult of all Mandelstam’s poems.
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