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
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
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.
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.