Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938) is regarded alongside Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Anna Akhmatova as one of the greatest voices of 20th Century Russian poetry. He was born in Warsaw, grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was educated in France and Germany. He first gained fame with the collection, Kamen (Stone), which appeared in 1913. It was followed by Tristia, 1922 and Stikhotvorenia, 1921–25, which confirmed his position in Russian letters. In the ’20s and early ’30s Mandelstam supported himself by working as a journalist, writing children’s books, and publishing translations of Upton Sinclair, Jules Romains, Charles de Coster and others. He was arrested for the first time in 1934 for an epigram he had written on Joseph Stalin in Journey to Armenia, 1933. “And every killing is a treat / For the broad-chested Ossete.” He was exiled to Cherdyn, then Voronezh after a failed suicide attempt in 1937. Mandelstam was arrested again in May 1938 for “counter-revolutionary activities” and sentenced to five years of hard labor. After excessive interrogations in the transit camp, he died in the Gulag Archipelago in Vtoraia rechka near Vladivostok, on December 27, 1938. His body was thrown in a common grave. Mandelstam also wrote a wide range of essays, including Converstions About Dante, which has been considered a masterpiece of modern criticism. In the 1970’s he began to receive international acclaim after two memoirs appeared, written by his widow, Nabezhda. Subsequent translations in America followed: Selected Poems (1973), Complete Poetry (1974), Octets (1976), 50 Poems (1977), Journey to Armenia (1977), Selected Essays (1978), and The Complete Critical Prose and Letters (1979).

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