Osip Emilievich Mandelshtam was Russian poet, prose writer, essayist, translator.
Son of a leather merchant with a passion for German philosophy, Emil Veniaminovich Mandelshtam, and a gifted piano teacher, FloraFlora Osipovna Verblovskaya. Osip Emilievich Mandelshtam was born in Warsaw, but raised with his two brothers in the cultural milieu of St. Petersburg's bourgeois intelligentsia. He attended the Tenishev Commercial School, whose director, Vladimir Vasilievich Gippius, poet, member of the Poets' Guild (Tsekh poetov), and author of ingenious critical essays, Mandelshtam revered as a unique influence on his formative years. After graduation in 1907, he travelled abroad, first to Paris (1907-08) and, following an interim year in St. Petersburg, to Germany (1909-10), to study Old French literature at the University of Heidelberg. In St. Petersburg, he attended both Vyacheslav Ivanov's Tower and meetings of the St. Petersburg Society of Philosophy. His first published poems appeared in August 1910 in Apollon. In 1911, he was baptized in the Vyborg Methodist Church, enrolled in the Department of History and Philology at the University of St. Petersburg, and joined Gumilyov's Poets' Guild, becoming an active member of the future Acmeist nucleus. Although Mandelshtam's initial poetic efforts were sent to Ivanov for comment and approval, by 1910 his essay, "Francois Villon" already expressed his basic Acmeist orientation. Stone (Kamen'), his first book of poems, appeared in 1913, concurrently with the publication of "Francois Villon" and the Acmeist manifestoes and programmatic verse in Apollon. Stone brought Mandelshtam instant recognition as one of Russia's finest young talents. Technically elegant, full of original perceptions and striking details, his earliest poetry concerned the precise depletion of human culture, from the human body to the choreography of a tennis match, from the music of Bach and Beethoven to the comparison of "silence" and "muteness" ("Silentium"), from Hagia Sophia to Notre Dame. His programmatic poem, 'Notre Dame', elucidates his manifesto, 'Morning of Acmeism'. Mandelshtam's poetry divides easily into two major periods, the published collections (poems of 1908-25) and the unpublished notebooks (poems of 1930-37), preserved by his wife, Nadezhda Mandelshtam, until they could be printed abroad. The published poetry includes Stone (Kamen', 1913, second, enlarged edition 1916, third edition as Pervaya kniga stikhov, 1923), Tristia (1922, republished as Vtoraya kniga, 1923), and Poems (Stikhotvoreniya, 1928) Poems contains the early poetry plus twenty new poems, "1921-1925 "
The last five collections, which comprise over two-thirds of Mandelshtam's poetry, assure his reputation as the finest Russian poet of the 20th century. As the early poetry is illuminated by the manifestoes and prose essays of the 1910s and early 1920s, so the later poetry reflects the prose of the later 1920s and 1930s. A trip to Armenia in 1930, Nadezhda Mandelshtam claims, returned the gift of poetry to Osip Mandelshtam. Armenia, the image of promise and hope, figures in Fourth Prose and Journey to Armenia.
During the 1930s, the poet's life became his basic lyric material, as distinct from the monuments of human culture represented in the early volumes and the predominantly Man-centered meditations of the 1920s. The poet's personal life unites the five Notebooks, combining Mandelshtam's tragic vision-prescience of his own death and the death of culture-with his inimitable spirit of love and defiance. The Notebooks record the signs in the universe signaling that all is not lost and the imperatives demanded by the human soul that cannot be denied. They contain direct, impetuous, poignant utterances, mutterings. and expressions of feeling which do not merely record, describe or evoke, but overwhelm the reader in their immediacy: delight in the unexpected, joy at being alive, intimate revelations of this world's warmth and beauty as well as intimations and declarations of fortitude and courage in the face of Soviet reality and Time itself. The distance of unambiguous self-confidence, the ambiguity of the meditative thinker, and the outrage of the polemicist are tempered by the seeming simplicity of direct involvement or the intimacy of genuine conversation. The voice of the friend, companion, lover, or eyewitness reflects, despairs, fears, rages, rejoices, and judges. The poetry of the Notebooks is defined by a verbal texture richer and denser than the poetry of any previous Russian poet. A limpid precision, sharpness of focus, and vivid, dynamic inner mobility endow these lyrics with a kind of grandeur or elegance rarely encountered in the 20th century. While The First Voronezh Notebook, although composed in exile, radiates the energy and joy of life in such poems as: "The Black Earth" (Chernozern), "What Street is This/Mandelshtam Street," or "I must live, even though I died twice," the later poetry also expresses the poet's uncanny sensitivity to mood changes, his inimitable perspicacity of the mystery of movement, and his awesome need to affirm conscience, consciousness, and the process of becoming.
"Francois Villon," which may be regarded as Mandelshtam's first printed Acmeist manifesto, contains in embryonic form many thematic and stylistic elements of his future poetry and prose, including the intellectual and aesthetic dilemmas confronting him between 1910 and the early 1920s: (1) the image and role of the poet, (2) the nature and source of poetry and the poetic impulse, (3) the relationship of art to society or, on a more cosmic scale, to history or Time, and (4) the relationship between the poet and the reader. Mandelshtam's essay "Pushkin and Scriabin" (begun in 1915, but completed only in the early 1920s), asserts that the poet's "consciousness of being right" is a fundamental characteristic of the "Christian artist," defined as a free spirit, absolutely unburdened by questions of "necessity." In direct contrast, his essays on Chaadaev and Chenier (also dating from 1914-15) indicate the young poet's profound concern with intellectual and moral issues, his abiding interest in the problem of freedom and morality, and his serious concern over the question of the relationship of the artist to society. These essays provide an extraordinary insight into his self-image, foreshadowing the metaphor of the raznochinets-pisatel' (intellectual-author or "philological nihilist") which he applies to himself in his autobiographical The Noise of Time (1922-23) and, again in 1933, to Dante, Pushkin, and himself. The official date given on Mandelshtam's death certificate is 27th December 1938. As of his second arrest, 1st May 1938, he became a non-person. Only with the death of Stalin was the official "rehabilitation" begun in August 1956 conceivable. The commission appointed in 1957 by the Writers Union to oversee the poet's remains included the poet's widow, Nadezhda, her brother, Evgeny Yakovievich Khazin, the poet, Anna Akhmatova, the writer Ilya Erenburg, and the critics, Z. S. Paperny, A. A. Surkov and N. I. Khardzhiev. Not until 1973, however, did a large selection of his poetry appear in Russia in the Poet's Library series.