The Voronezh Notebooks: Poems 1935-1937by Osip Mandelstam, Richard McKane, Elizabeth McKane
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.'
- Bloodaxe Books
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