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The Voronezh Notebooks: Poems 1935-1937

Overview

Osip Mandelstam was one of the great poets of the twentieth century, with a prophetic understanding of its suffering, which he transformed into luminous poetry. Childish and wise, joyous and angry, at once complex and simple, he was sustained for 20 years by his wife and memoirist Nadezhda Mandelstam, who became, with Anna Akhmatova, the saviour of his poetry.

In May 1934, after years of persecution, Mandelstam was arrested for writing an unflattering poem about Stalin, and ...

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Overview

Osip Mandelstam was one of the great poets of the twentieth century, with a prophetic understanding of its suffering, which he transformed into luminous poetry. Childish and wise, joyous and angry, at once complex and simple, he was sustained for 20 years by his wife and memoirist Nadezhda Mandelstam, who became, with Anna Akhmatova, the saviour of his poetry.

In May 1934, after years of persecution, Mandelstam was arrested for writing an unflattering poem about Stalin, and subjected to gruelling interrogations and torture. He attempted suicide twice, slashing his wrists in prison, and jumping from a hospital window in Cherdyn. Exiled to Voronezh, he seemed crushed. A friend described him then as 'in a state of numbness. His eyes were glassy. His eyelids were inflamed, and this condition never went away. His eyelashes had fallen out. His arm was in a sling.'

But it was to be four more years before Mandelstam was completely beaten. In Voronezh he broke a silence of 18 months after a concert by the young violinist Galina Barinova. Her music released him into the most fertile phase of his writing, his last two years in exile, when he wrote the ninety poems of the three Voronezh Notebooks. Nadezhda's memoir Hope Against Hope includes a moving account of their time in Voronezh, and Anna Akhmatova's poem 'Voronezh' describes her visit there in 1936, when 'in the room of the exiled poet / fear and the Muse stand duty in turn / and the night is endless / and knows no dawn.'

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nearly comatose after the horrors of repeated interrogations by Stalin's regime, Mandelstam (1891-1938) literally wrote himself back into a semblance of life while exiled 300 miles from Moscow in Voronezh: "There are still plenty of martlets and swallows./ The comet has not yet given us the plague,/ and the sensible purple inks/ write with tails that carry stars." While associated with the compressed, lyrical images of Anna Akhmatova and the Acmeist movement of the Russian modernist avant-garde, Mandelstam presents visions of the future, his own and his country's, that are steeped in necessarily coded foreboding: "death will fall asleep like an owl in daytime./ The glass of Moscow burns between cut-glass ribs." Any relief that the past might provide is empty and unavailable: "Wave after wave runs on, breaking the wave's back,/ throwing itself at the moon with a prisoner's longing." Although some of the layers of word-meaning and soundplay that so influenced Paul Celan, another Jewish-born exile who struggled to forge a present out of poetry, are inevitably lost in translation, it is a great gift to be able to read these 90 poems together and complete in English for the first time, with explanatory notes provided for each. They form a wrenching diary of "iron tenderness" and doomed, penetrative brilliance. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781852242053
  • Publisher: Bloodaxe Books
  • Publication date: 9/4/1996
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Table of Contents

Translator's Preface 11
Introduction 15
'Black candle' 31
Black Earth 32
'In strangers' homes' 33
'I must live' 33
'Voronezh' 34
'My earphones' 34
'Red Square' 35
'Mandelstam Street' 36
Children at the Barber's 37
'The Kama' 38
Stanzas 40
'The day was five-headed' 42
'Chapayev' 43
'Having deprived me' 43
'To praise a dead woman' 44
'St Isaac's' 45
'Rome nights' 46
The Violinist 47
'Wave after wave' 48
'I shall perform a smoky ceremony' 48
'The Airmen' 49
'No, it's not a migraine' 50
'Sadko' 52
Birth of the Smile 52
'I'll wonder at the world' 53
'The Goldfinch' 53
'The Cage' 54
'Today is a little yellow' 54
'I am at the heart of the age' 55
'They, not you nor I' 55
'The Idol' 55
'The master gunsmith' 56
'The family sound' 56
'Zadonsk' 57
'This region is in dark water' 58
'A train of sledges' 59
'This winter touches me' 59
'The Cat' 60
'Let it be blessed' 60
'The Angry Lamb' 61
'The Sorcerer' 61
'Like a ringed hawk' 62
'Yeast of the world' 63
'Little devil' 63
'The Beggar Woman' 64
'Into the face of the frost' 64
'Oh, this slow asthmatic vastness' 65
'The deadliness of the plains' 65
'Don't make comparisons' 66
'Feminine silver burns' 66
'Mount Elbrus' 67
'Meteorite' 67
'Human heads' 67
'The early ice' 68
'I love the frosty breath' 68
'This January' 69
'Tragedies' 70
'Like Rembrandt' 70
'The breaches of circular bays' 71
'Wedding in the Caucasus' 71
'Eyesight of Wasps' 72
'Eyes sharper than a honed scythe' 72
'The worn grandeur of my soles' 73
'The words from the Kremlin' 73
'On stations and piers' 74
'The engraver's soaring art' 75
'Buried in the lion's den' 76
'The sleepy, sleigh-tracked town' 78
'If our enemies captured me' 78
Rheims-Laon 79
'France' 80
Rome 81
Poem to the Unknown Soldier 82
'I will whisper this' 85
The Last Supper 86
'Lost in the sky' 86
'What can I do, lost as I am in the sky' 87
'Perhaps this is the point of madness' 87
'Little Star' 88
Winejug 89
'Joyful Crete' 89
'My Nereids' 90
'Flutes' 90
'The state shame' 91
'Some wife searches' 92
'The buds cling with a sticky promise' 92
'I present the green promise' 94
'The pear and the cherry blossom' 94
'To Natasha Shtempel' 95
Texts 99
Notes 101
Envoi 123
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