Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938) was born and raised in St. Petersburg, where he attended the prestigious Tenishev School, before studying at the universities of St. Petersburg and Heidelberg and at the Sorbonne. Mandelstam first published his poems in Apollyon, an avant-garde magazine, in 1910, then banded together with Anna Akhmatova and Nicholas Gumilev to form the Acmeist group, which advocated an aesthetic of exact description and chiseled form, as suggested by the title of Mandelstam’s first book, Stone (1913). During the Russian Revolution, Mandelstam left Leningrad for the Crimea and Georgia, and he settled in Moscow in 1922, where his second collection of poems, Tristia, appeared. Unpopular with the Soviet authorities, Mandelstam found it increasingly difficult to publish his poetry, though an edition of collected poems did come out in 1928. In 1934, after reading an epigram denouncing Stalin to friends, Mandelstam was arrested and sent into exile. He wrote furiously during these years, and his wife, Nadezhda, memorized his work in case his notebooks were destroyed or lost. (Nadezhda Mandelstam’s extraordinary memoirs of life with her husband, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, published in the 1970s, later helped to bring Mandelstam a worldwide audience.)
Clarence Brown is the author of a prize-winning biography of Mandelstam and is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton.
W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Portugal, and Majorca. He has since lived in many parts of the world, most recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. He is the author of many books of poems, prose, and translations and has received both the Pulitzer and the Bollingen Prizes for poetry, among numerous other awards.