Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam
Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam,1914
Born January 15 [O.S. January 3] 1891
Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Died December 27, 1938(1938-12-27) (aged 47)
transit camp "Vtoraya Rechka" (near Vladivostok), USSR
Occupation poet, essayist
Ethnicity Jewish
Literary movement Acmeist poetry

Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (also spelled Osip Mandelshtam, Ossip Mandelstamm) (Russian: О́сип Эми́льевич Мандельшта́м) (January 15 [O.S. January 3] 1891 – December 27, 1938) was a Russian poet and essayist who lived in Russia during and after its revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. He was one of the foremost members of the Acmeist school of poets. He was arrested by Joseph Stalin's government during the repression of the 1930s and sent into internal exile with his wife Nadezhda. Given a reprieve of sorts, they moved to Voronezh in southwestern Russia. In 1938 Mandelstam was arrested again and sentenced to a camp in Siberia. He died that year at a transit camp.


Life and work

Mandelstam was born in Warsaw (then part of the Russian Empire) to a wealthy Polish Jewish family. His father, a leather merchant by trade, was able to receive a dispensation freeing the family from the pale of settlement and, soon after Osip's birth, they moved to Saint Petersburg. In 1900, Mandelstam entered the prestigious Tenishevsky School. The writer Vladimir Nabokov and other significant figures of Russian and Soviet culture have been among its alumni. His first poems were printed in 1907 in the school's almanac.

In April 1908, Mandelstam decided to enter the Sorbonne in Paris to study literature and philosophy, but he left the following year to attend the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1911, to continue his education at the University of Saint Petersburg, from which Jews were excluded, he converted to Methodism and entered the university the same year.[1] He did not complete a formal degree.[2]

Mandelstam's poetry, acutely populist in spirit after the first Russian revolution in 1905, became closely associated with symbolist imagery. In 1911, he and several other young Russian poets formed the "Poets' Guild" (Russian: Цех Поэтов, Tsekh Poetov), under the formal leadership of Nikolai Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky. The nucleus of this group became known as Acmeists. Mandelstam wrote the manifesto for the new movement: The Morning Of Acmeism (1913, published in 1919).[3] In 1913 he published his first collection of poems, The Stone (Russian: Камень, Kamyen); it was reissued in 1916 under the same title, but with additional poems included.

Marriage and family

Mandelstam was said to have had an affair with the poet Anna Akhmatova. She insisted throughout her life that their relationship had always been a very deep friendship, rather than a sexual affair.[4] In 1922, Mandelstam married Nadezhda Khazina in Kiev, Ukraine, where she lived with her family.[5] He continued to be attracted to other women, sometimes seriously. Their marriage was threatened by his falling in love with other women, notably Olga Vaksel in 1924-25 and Mariya Petrovykh in 1933-34.[6]


In 1922, Mandelstam and Nadezhda moved to Moscow. At this time, his second book of poems, Tristia, was published in Berlin. For several years after that, he almost completely abandoned poetry, concentrating on essays, literary criticism, memoirs (The Noise Of Time, Russian: Шум времени, Shum vremeni; Феодосия, Feodosiya - both 1925; Noise of Time (1993 in English) and small-format prose (The Egyptian Stamp, Russian: Египетская марка, Yegipetskaya marka - 1928). As a day job, he translated literature into Russian (19 books in 6 years), then worked as a correspondent for the newspaper.

Silver Age poets Mandelstam, Chukovsky, Livshits and Annenkov in 1914

Mandelstam's non-conformist, anti-establishment tendencies were not heavily disguised. He opposed the increasingly totalitarian government under Joseph Stalin. In the autumn of 1933, he composed the poem "Stalin Epigram", which he read at a number of small gatherings in Moscow. The poem was a sharp criticism of the "Kremlin highlander" (or, in some translations, the "Kremlin mountaineer".) It was likely inspired by Mandelstam's having seen the effects of the Great Famine that year, during his vacation in the Crimea. This was the result of Stalin's collectivisation in the USSR and his drive to exterminate the "kulaks".

Six months later, Mandelstam was arrested. But, after the customary pro forma inquest, he was sentenced not to death or the Gulag, but to exile in Cherdyn in the Northern Ural with his wife. It was considered nearly a miraculous event, usually explained by historians as owing to Stalin's personal interest in the poet's fate. After he attempted suicide, and following an intercession by Nikolai Bukharin, the sentence was lessened to banishment from the largest cities.[7] Otherwise allowed to choose his new place of residence, Mandelstam and his wife chose Voronezh.

NKVD photo after the second arrest, 1938

This proved a temporary reprieve. In the next years, Mandelstam wrote a collection of poems known as the Voronezh Notebooks, which included the cycle Verses on the Unknown Soldier. He also wrote several poems that seemed to glorify Stalin (including "Ode To Stalin"). However, in 1937, at the outset of the Great Purge, the literary establishment began to attack him in print, first locally, and soon after from Moscow, accusing him of harbouring anti-Soviet views. Early the following year, Mandelstam and his wife received a government voucher for a vacation not far from Moscow;[citation needed] upon their arrival in May 1938, he was arrested on the 5th May (ref. camp document of 12. October 1938, signed by Mandelstam) and charged with "counter-revolutionary activities".[8] Four months later, 2 August 1938,[9] Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in correction camps. He arrived at the Vtoraya Rechka (Second River) transit camp near Vladivostok in Russia's Far East and managed to get a note out to his wife asking for warm clothes; he never received them. The official cause of his death is an unspecified illness.

Mandelstam's own prophecy was fulfilled: "Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?" Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote memoirs about her life with her husband and the times in Hope against Hope (1970) [10] and Hope Abandoned [11] She also managed to preserve a significant part of Mandelstam's unpublished work.[7]

In 1956, during the Khrushchev thaw, Osip Mandelstam was rehabilitated and declared exonerated from the charges brought against him in 1938. On October 28, 1987, during the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev, Mandelstam was exonerated from the 1934 charges as well and thus fully rehabilitated.[12] 1977, a minor planet 3461 Mandelshtam, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh, was named after him.[13]

Selected poetry and prose collections

  • 1913 Kamen (Stone)
  • 1922 Tristia
  • 1923 Vtoraia kniga (Book Two)
  • 1925 Shum vremeni (The Din Of Time) Prose
  • 1928 Stikhotvoreniya 1921–1925 (Poems 1921-1925)
  • 1928 Stikhotvoreniya (Poems)
  • 1928 O poesii (On Poetry)
  • 1928 Egipetskaya marka (The Egyptian Stamp)
  • 1930 Chetvertaya proza, (The Fourth Prose). Not published in Russia until 1989
  • 1930-34 Moskovskiye tetradi (Moskow Notebooks)
  • 1933 Puteshestviye v Armeniyu (Journey to Armenia)
  • 1933 Razgovor o Dante, (Conversation about Dante); published in 1967[14]
  • Voronezhskiye tetradi (Voronezh Notebooks), publ. 1980 (ed. by V. Shveitser)

Selected translations

  • Mandelstam, Osip and Struve, Gleb (1955) Sobranie sočinenij (Collected works). New York OCLC 65905828
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1980) Poems. Edited and translated by James Greene. (1977) Elek Books, revised and enlarged edition, Granada/Elek, 1980.
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1973) Selected Poems, translated by David McDuff, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (New York) and, with minor corrections, Rivers Press (Cambridge)
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1977) 50 Poems, translated by Bernard Meares with an Introductory Essay by Joseph Brodsky. Persea Books (New York)
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1973) The Complete Poetry of Osip Emilevich Mandelstam, translated by Burton Raffel and Alla Burago. State University of New York Press (USA)
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1981) Stone, translated by Robert Tracy. Princeton University Press (USA)
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1976) Octets 66-76, translated by Donald Davie, Agenda vol. 14, no. 2, 1976.
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1973) The Goldfinch. Introduction and translations by Donald Rayfield. The Menard Press
  • Mandelstam, Osip (1993, 2002) The Noise of Time: Selected Prose, translated by Clarence Brown, Northwestern University Press; Reprint edition ISBN 0810119285

Further reading

  • Coetzee, J.M. "Osip Mandelstam and the Stalin Ode", Representations, No.35, Special Issue: Monumental Histories. (Summer, 1991), pp.72–83.
  • Davie, Donald (1977) In the Stopping Train Carcanet (Manchester)
  • Freidin, Gregory (1987) A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and His Mythologies of Self-Presentation. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London
  • MacKay, John (2006) Inscription and Modernity: From Wordsworth to Mandelstam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press ISBN 0253347491
  • Nilsson N. A. (1974) Osip Mandel’štam: Five Poems. (Stockholm)
  • Platt, Kevin, editor (2008) Modernist Archaist: Selected Poems by Osip Mandelstam [15]
  • Riley, John (1980) The Collected Works. Grossteste (Derbyshire)
  • Ronen O. (1983) An Аpproach to Mandelstam. (Jerusalem)


  1. ^ http://aalto.vbgcity.ru/node/72
  2. ^ Vitaly Charny, "Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam (1889-1938) Russian Poet"
  3. ^ Brown, C.; Mandelshtam, O. (1965). "Mandelshtam's Acmeist Manifesto". Russian Review 24 (1): 46–51. JSTOR 126351. 
  4. ^ Feinstein, Elaine. Anna of All the Russias, New York: Vintage Press, 2007.
  5. ^ Morley, David (1991) Mandelstam Variations Littlewood Press p75 ISBN 978-0946407606
  6. ^ Clarence Brown, Mandelstam, Cambridge University Press, 1973
  7. ^ a b Ronen, O. (2007). "Mandelshtam, Osip Emilyevich.". In M. Berenbaum and F. Skolnik. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Detroit (2 ed.). Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 462–464. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?&id=GALE%7CCX2587513147&v=2.1&u=imcpl1111&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w. 
  8. ^ N.N.: Osip Emilevich Mandelstam, PoemHunter.com. URL last accessed 20 October 2007.
  9. ^ Extract from court protocol No. 19390/Ts
  10. ^ Nadezhda Mandelstam (1970, 1999) Hope against Hope ISBN 1860466354
  11. ^ Nadezhda Mandelstam Hope Abandoned ISBN 0689105495
  12. ^ Kuvaldin, Y. (Юрий Кувалдин): Улицa Мандельштамa, повести. Издательство "Московский рабочий", 1989, 304 p. In Russian. URL last accessed 20 October 2007.
  13. ^ Dictionary of Minor Planet Names, p. 290
  14. ^ Freidin, G.: Osip Mandelstam, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2001. Accessed 20 October 2007.
  15. ^ Modern Archaist: Selected Poems by Mandelstam

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  • Osip Mandelstam — noun Russian poet who died in a prison camp (1891 1938) • Syn: ↑Mandelstam, ↑Osip Emilevich Mandelstam, ↑Mandelshtam • Instance Hypernyms: ↑poet …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mandelstam — or Mandelshtam (Russian: Мандельштам) is a Russian[dubious – discuss] Jewish surname which may refer to: Leonid Mandelstam (1879–1944), Russian theoretical physicist Mandel shtam (crater), lunar crater named for Leonid Mandelstam Nadezhda… …   Wikipedia

  • Osip — Gender male Origin Word/Name Hebrew Other names Related names Iosif Osip (Russian Осип) is a Russian male given name, a variant of t …   Wikipedia

  • Mandelstam — noun Russian poet who died in a prison camp (1891 1938) • Syn: ↑Osip Mandelstam, ↑Osip Emilevich Mandelstam, ↑Mandelshtam • Instance Hypernyms: ↑poet …   Useful english dictionary

  • Osip Emilevich Mandelstam — noun Russian poet who died in a prison camp (1891 1938) • Syn: ↑Mandelstam, ↑Osip Mandelstam, ↑Mandelshtam • Instance Hypernyms: ↑poet …   Useful english dictionary

  • Ósip Mandelshtam — Nombre completo Ósip Emílievich Mandelshtám Nacimiento 15 de enero de 1891 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Mandelstam — [man′dəl stam΄; ] Russ [ mun΄dyil shtäm′] Osip [ôs′yip] 1891 1938; Russ. poet * * * …   Universalium

  • Mandelstam — [man′dəl stam΄; ] Russ [ mun΄dyil shtäm′] Osip [ôs′yip] 1891 1938; Russ. poet …   English World dictionary

  • Mandelstam,Osip Emilyevich — Man·del·stam (mänʹdəl stəm, mən dyĭl shtâmʹ), Osip Emilyevich. 1892 1938?. Russian poet, translator, and critic. Although his early works were highly regarded, he went unpublished in the Soviet Union after 1933, when he denounced Stalin and… …   Universalium

  • Mandelstam, Osip Emilyevich — (1891–c.1938)    Russian poet. As a young poet, Polish born Mandelstam belonged to the group that revolted against the fashionable symbolism and reverted to a purer and simpler style. His first volume of poetry, Kamen (‘Stone’), was published in… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

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