Last reviewed: June 2017
Russian poet and playwright
July 19, 1893
Bagdadi, Georgia, Russian Empire
April 14, 1930
Moscow, Soviet Union (now in Russia)
Vladimir Mayakovsky (muh-yih-KAWF-skee) was born on July 19, 1893, in the village of Bagdadi in the Kutais province of Georgia. He was the third child and only son of an impoverished nobleman who held the post of forest ranger in the Caucasus. Although the Mayakovskys had lived in Georgia for several generations, they were Russians, and following the father’s death the family moved to Moscow in 1906.
School bored Mayakovsky. He had been enthusiastic for the Revolution of 1905, and at the age of twelve, he dropped out of school to devote all his time to revolutionary activities. In 1908 he joined the Bolshevik faction and spread underground propaganda. This early association with the Bolsheviks led to three arrests and eleven months in prison. It was in prison that Mayakovsky got his first opportunity to read extensively; he especially enjoyed Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, and Leo Tolstoy. Mayakovsky began to write his first poems. Vladimir Mayakovsky, Soviet poet
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Soviet poet
Released because of his youth, Mayakovsky entered a school of fine arts in 1910. David Bualiuk, a painter who immigrated to the United States in 1922, brought him into the Futurist movement, introducing him as “my friend Mayakovsky, a genius.” At nineteen Mayakovsky emerged as the most militant of the Cubo-Futurists. He assaulted “the academy and decrepit old literature” and demanded a revolution in the arts. In 1912 he helped write the Futurist manifesto, A Slap in the Face of Public Taste, one of the more mildly phrased injunctions of which was, “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc. overboard from the steamship of modernity.” With his autobiographical tragedy, Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy, he shocked the public with his comparisons of his own life to the life of Jesus Christ.
In 1915 he published one of his best poems, A Cloud in Pants (also translated as The Cloud in Trousers). Two years later appeared his “War and Peace” poems, in which he opposed World War I and vigorously welcomed the Revolution of 1917. He took his part in the fighting and turned out at least three thousand different revolutionary posters.
After the Revolution, Mayakovsky organized the LEF (Left Front), the equivalent of “Futurism at the service of the Revolution.” In this spirit he composed such revolutionary works asMystery-bouffe, 150,000,000, and Vladimir Ilich Lenin, as well as a multitude of satires, parodies, and antipoems and the satirical plays The Bedbug and The Bathhouse. Although he managed to find time for a trip to the United States in 1925, Mayakovsky gave all his energy and talent to the cause of the Soviet revolution. He also visited France, Germany, and Spain. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of his poems deal with life abroad. Mayakovsky admired the high level of technology he saw in the United States, but he denounced American capitalist ideology and social injustice.
In 1930, Mayakovsky committed suicide. His death was both a loss and a tremendous shock to Soviet literary circles. He is remembered as the “poet of revolution” who tried to bring the Soviet people confidence and happiness with his original, sometimes brilliant poems and plays.