Mandelstam -- A Biography

Mandelstam -- A Biography

(Researcher’s Notes #3)

Original Text

Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam, ed. Allan Briesmaster (Hamilton, Ontario: Seraphim Editions, 2006): 19.

1Do not begin with a date of birth. Remember we are discussing
2the man who smashed the glass of the hall clock so that the
3hands stopped in 1938. Then the minute hand and the hour
4hand bent themselves into another form -- a compass or a
5navigational instrument -- so that his words sailed on to another
7Now spread the years apart so that the facts fall free of the man
8as he strides to the podium, the poems opening like a room
9among the ruins, the light crawling out of the veins of rock and
10onto the altar, the artifacts and the large squares, those
11mysteries where you placed your thoughts and returned to
12watch them be blessed or beheaded by a power that propelled
13the darkness through the day.
14Then remember his breath was a flame and a fountain, the
15secret police were tortured by what they could not catch or kill,
16the poems were free and stalking the country, the peasants
17harvesting nouns when there was no wheat.
18Death. All we can say for certain is no one ever saw him dead,
19there is no grave or marker, the poet’s words continued to work,
20mingling with the common language, hammering at the knee of
21an idol.
22Second last sighting: January 1990. After fifty-two years of living
23in faded notebooks and whispers that circled through
24immigrant cafés his voice was officially heard in Moscow.
25Last sighting: two nights ago. The streets were dark and
26deserted. The storm pounded my windows. I gripped the wheel
27and saw a man without an umbrella or a hat. His pace was
28unhurried and he did not delude himself by holding a jacket or
29a newspaper over his head. He did not stop or take notice of
30me. He just kept walking.


6] Joseph Stalin's government arrested Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (1891-1938), a Russian poet, during the 1930s and exiled him and his wife Nadezhdato Cherdyn in the Northern Ural. After being allowed to move to Voronezh in southwestern Russia, he was re-arrested in 1938 and sentenced to the Vtoraya Rechka (Second River) transit camp near Vladivostok, where he died. See The Complete Poetry of Osip Emilevich Mandelstam, trans. Burton Raffel and Alla Burago (State University of New York Press, 1973). Back to Line
Publication Start Year
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Special Copyright

Copyright © Rafi Aaron 2006. Published by permission of the poet and Seraphim Editions.