Authors: Vladimir Mayakovsky

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Russian poet and playwright

July 19, 1893

Bagdadi, Georgia, Russian Empire

April 14, 1930

Moscow, Soviet Union (now in Russia)

Biography

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

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By Photographer unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Author Works Poetry: Ya, 1913 Oblako v shtanakh, 1915 (A Cloud in Trousers, 1945) Chelovek, 1916 Fleita-pozvonochnik, 1916 (Backbone Flute, 1960) 150,000,000, 1920 (English translation, 1949) Pro eto, 1923 (About That, 1965) Vladimir Ilich Lenin, 1924 (English translation, 1939) Khorosho!, 1927 (Fine!, 1939) Vo ves’golos, 1930 (At the Top of My Voice, 1940) Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 1955–61 (13 volumes) Mayakovsky: Poems, 1965 Poems, 1972 My Discovery of America, 2005 Volodya: Selected Works, 2016 Drama: Vladimir Mayakovsky: Tragediya, pr. 1913 (Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy, 1968) Misteriya-buff, pr., pb. 1918, revised pr., pb. 1921 (Mystery-bouffe, 1933) Chempionat vsemirnoy klassovoy borby, pr. 1920 (The Championship of the Universal Class, 1973) A chto y esli?Pervomayskiye grezy v burzhuaznom kresle, pr. 1920 Pyeska pro popov, koi ne pobnimayut, prazdnik chto takoye, pr. 1921 Kak kto provodit vremya, prazdniki prazdnuya, pr. 1922 Radio-Oktyabr, pr. 1926 (with Osip Brik) Klop, pr., pb. 1929 (The Bedbug, 1931) Banya, pr., pb. 1930 (The Bathhouse, 1963) Moskva gorit, pr. 1930 (Moscow Is Burning, 1973) The Complete Plays, pb. 1968 Screenplays: Ne dlya deneg rodivshiisya, 1918 (adaptation of Jack London’s novel Martin Eden) Baryyshyna i khuligan, 1918 Serdtse kino, 1926 Dekadyuvkov i Oktyabryukhov, 1928 Nonfiction: “Kak rabotaet respublika demokraticheskaya,” 1922 “Kak delat’ stikhi?,” 1926 (How Are Verses Made?, 1970) Bibliography Aizlewood, Robin. Two Essays on Maiakovskii’s Verse. London: University College London Press, 2000. Two short studies of selected poetic works by Mayakovsky. Brown, Edward J. Mayakovsky: A Poet in the Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973. Discussion of Mayakovsky in his times and in relationship to artists, poets, critics, and revolutionaries including Vladimir Ilich Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Shows how Mayakovsky’s work was shaped by events of his life and discusses his relationship to the Soviet state and Communist Party. Cavanaugh, Clare. “Whitman, Mayakovsky, and the Body Politic.” In Rereading Russian Poetry, edited by Stephanie Sandler. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. Discusses the influence of the American poet Walt Whitman on Mayakovsky and the ways in which Mayakovsky sought to overcome this influence or to displace Whitman as a poet of the people and of self-celebration. This fresh, postmodern perspective emphasizes the body and sexuality in the work of Mayakovsky, in terms both literal and symbolic. Payne, Robert. Introduction to Mayakovsky: Plays. Reprint. Translated by Guy Daniels. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1995. The introduction to this translation of the major plays of Mayakovsky provides some critical analysis and a description of his life. Bibliography. Russell, Robert. “Mayakovsky’s The Bedbug and The Bathhouse.” In Russian Drama of the Revolutionary Period. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1988. This chapter discusses the plays The Bedbug and The Bathhouse as satiric pictures of Soviet life but also explores the way they illustrate Mayakovsky’s characteristic obsession with the future, especially in terms of utopian images. Sees the plays as an important contribution to world drama. Stapanian, Juliette R. Mayakovsky’s Cubo-Futurist Vision. Houston: Rice University, 1986. Examines Mayakovsky from the perspective of the artistic movements of cubism and futurism. Places Mayakovsky not simply within the social and political revolutionary movements of his day but also within the aesthetics of literary and artistic modernism. Woroszylski, Wiktor. The Life of Mayakovsky. New York: Orion Press, 1970. Life of Mayakovsky as told through a variety of records, testimonies, and recollections, which are then arranged in accordance with the author’s understanding of their place in Mayakovsky’s life. Recollections include that of Boris Pasternak, Ilya Ehrenberg, Lily Brik, and Ivan Bunin. Includes copious illustrations and passages from Mayakovsky’s poetry.

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