Osip Mandelshtam - biography
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 Josef 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 (which he did not practice) and entered the university the same year. He did not complete a formal degree.
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). 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. In 1922, Mandelstam married Nadezhda Yakovlevna in Kiev, Ukraine, where she lived with her family. 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.
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.
Mandelstam's non-conformist, anti-establishment tendencies were not heavily disguised. He opposed the increasingly totalitarian government under Josef Stalin. In the autumn of 1933, he published the poem "Stalin Epigram". The poem, sharply criticizing the "Kremlin highlander", was described elsewhere as a "sixteen line death sentence." 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, the sentence was lessened to banishment from the largest cities. Otherwise allowed to choose his new place of residence, Mandelstam and his wife chose Voronezh.
This proved a temporary reprieve. In the next years, Mandelstam wrote several poems that seemed to glorify Stalin (including "Ode To Stalin"). 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; 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".Four months later, 2 August 1938 , Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in correction camps. He arrived at a transit camp in Vladivostok, Siberia at the Second River. He 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) and Hope Abandoned
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. 1977, a minor planet 3461 Mandelshtam, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh, was named after him.