Mandelshtam, Osip Emilievich

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(18911938), Modernist poet and political martyr.

One of Russia's greatest twentieth-century poets, Osip Mandelshtam died en route to the gulag after writing a poem critical of Josef V. Stalin. Born to a cultured Jewish family in Warsaw, Mandelshtam spent his childhood in St. Petersburg, traveled in Europe, and, in 1909, began to frequent the literary salon of the Symbolist poet Vyacheslav Ivanov. In 1911, while enrolled at St. Petersburg University, he joined the Guild of Poets headed by Nikolai Gumilev and Sergei Gorodetsky and subsequently became a leading figure in a new poetic school called Acmeism. His collections Kamen (Stone, 1913), Tristia (1922), and Stikhotvoreniia (Poems, 1928) show a poet steeped in world culture and focused on themes such as language and time, concepts also addressed in his prose works. In 1922 Mandelshtam married Nadezhda Khazina, who later wrote memoirs of their life together.

Mandelshtam recognized that the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 threatened the cultural values he held dear, and in his poetry and essays of the 1920s he attempted to define the relationship of the poet to the age. Literary prose such as Shum vremeni (The Noise of Time, 1925) and Egipetskaia marka (The Egyptian Stamp, 1928) included autobiographical themes. By the late 1920s, Mandelshtam's lack of adherence to Soviet norms led to increasing difficulties in getting published. A trip to the Caucasus and Armenia in 1930 provided new inspiration for creativity. But in 1934, after writing a poem critical of Stalin, Mandelshtam was arrested in Moscow and sent to Voronezh for a three-year exile. During this period he wrote Voronezhskie tetradi (Voronezh Notebooks ), preserved by his wife. In May 1938, Mandelshtam was arrested once again, sentenced to a Siberian labor camp, and considered a non-person by the Soviet government. He died the same year. In 1956 his rehabilitation began, and in the 1970s a collection of his poetry was published in the Soviet Union.

See also: gulag; mandelshtam, nadezhda yakovlevna; purges, the great


Brown, Clarence. (1973). Mandelstam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cavanagh, Clare. (1995). Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Freidin, Gregory. (1987). A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and His Mythologies of Self-Presentation. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Shentalinskii, Vitalii. (1996). Arrested Voices: Resurrecting the Disappeared Writers of the Soviet Regime. New York: Free Press.

Judith E. Kalb