Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (also spelled Mandelshtam) (О́сип Эми́льевич Мандельшта́м) (January 15, 1891 – December 27, 1938) was a Russian poet and essayist, one of the foremost members of the Acmeist school of poets.
In April 1908, Mandelstam decided to enter the Sorbonne to study literature and philosophy, but he left the following year to attend the University of Heidelberg. In 1911, in order to continue his education at the University of Saint Petersburg, he converted to Methodism (which he did not practice) and entered the university the same year
Mandelstam's poetry, acutely populist in spirit after the first Russian revolution in 1905, became closely associated with symbolist imagery, and 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 would then become known as Acmeists. Mandelstam had authored the manifesto for the new movement - The Morning Of Acmeism (1913, published in 1919). 1913 also saw the publication of his first collection of poems, The Stone (Russian: Камень, Kamyen), to be reissued in 1916 in a greatly expanded format, but under the same title.
In 1922, Mandelstam arrived in Moscow with his newly-wed wife Nadezhda. 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 Din Of Time, Russian: Шум времени, Shum vremeni; Феодосия, Feodosiya - both 1925) and small-format prose (The Egyptian Stamp, Russian: Египетская марка, Yegipetskaya marka - 1928). As a day job, he translated (19 books in 6 years), then worked as a correspondent for the newspaper The Irish Times.
Mandelstam's non-conformist, anti-establishment tendencies were not heavily disguised, and in the autumn of 1933, they broke through in form of the famous "Stalin Epigram". The poem, sharply criticizing the "Kremlin highlander", was described elsewhere as a "sixteen line death sentence," likely prompted by Mandelstam's seeing (in the summer of that year, while vacationing in Crimea) the effects of the Great Famine, a result of Stalin's collectivisation in the USSR and his drive to exterminate the "kulaks". Six months later, Mandelstam was arrested.
However, after the customary pro forma inquest, he not only was spared his life, but the sentence did not even include being sent to the Gulag - a miraculous event, usually explained by historians as owing to Stalin's personal interest in his fate. Mandelstam was "only" exiled to Cherdyn in Northern Ural with his wife. After his attempt to commit suicide, the sentence was softened, and he was banished from the largest cities, but otherwise allowed to choose his new place of residence. He and his wife chose Voronezh.
This proved a temporary reprieve. In the coming years, Mandelstam would (as was expected of him) write several poems which seemed to glorify Stalin (including Ode To Stalin), but in 1937, at the outset of the Great Purge, the literary establishment began a systematic assault on him in print - first locally, and soon after that from Moscow - accusing him of harboring 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 promptly arrested again the 5th May (ref. camp document of 12. October 1938, signed by Mandelstam) and charged with "counter-revolutionary activities".
Four months later, the 2nd August 1938 (ref. extract from court protocol No. 19390/Ts), Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in correction camps. He arrived at a transit camp in Vladivostok at the Second River and managed to pass a note to his wife back home with a request for warm clothes; he never received them. The official cause of his death is an unspecified illness.
Mandelstam's own prophecy was fulfilled:
After the end of the Stalin era, Mandelstam was rehabilitated in 1956, when he was exonerated from the charges brought against him in 1938. On October 28, 1987, he was also exonerated from the 1934 charges and thus fully rehabilitated.