Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam

Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam

[man-dl-stahm; Russ. muhn-dyil-shtahm]
Mandelstam, Osip Emilyevich, 1892-1938, Russian poet. Mandelstam was a leader of the Acmeist school. He wrote impersonal, fatalistic, meticulously constructed poems, the best of which are collected in Kamen [stone] (1913) and Tristia (1922). Although he opposed the Bolsheviks, he remained in Russia after the revolution but published no poetry after 1925. He was arrested in 1934 and died in a concentration camp. His widow preserved a large number of poems from the early period of his exile.

See his complete works, tr. by B. Raffel and A. Burago (1973); memoirs by N. Mandelstam (2 vol., 1970 and 1974); study by C. Brown (1973).

Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (also spelled Mandelshtam) (О́сип Эми́льевич Мандельшта́м) (January 15, 1891December 27, 1938) was a Russian poet and essayist, one of the foremost members of the Acmeist school of poets.

Life and work

Mandelstam was born in Warsaw to a wealthy Jewish family. His father, a tanner 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, which also counts Vladimir Nabokov and other significant figures of Russian (and Soviet) culture among its alumni. His first poems were printed in the school's almanac in 1907.

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:

"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 presented her account of the events surrounding her husband's life in Hope against Hope (ISBN 1-86046-635-4) and later continued with Hope Abandoned (ISBN 0-689-10549-5).

In Literature

Varlam Shalamov's short story "Sherry Brandy" was written as a fictional description of Mandelstam's death in a Soviet Union GULAG transit camp near Vladivostok.


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.


A minor planet 3461 Mandelshtam discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1977 is named after him.

Selected works

  • Kamen – Stone, 1913
  • Tristia, 1922
  • Shum vremeniThe Din Of Time, 1925 – The Prose of Osip Mandelstam
  • Stikhotvoreniya 1921 – 1925 – Poems, publ. 1928
  • Stikhotvoreniya, 1928
  • O poesii – On Poetry, 1928
  • Egipetskaya marka 1928 – The Egyptian Stamp
  • Chetvertaya proza, 1930 – The Fourth Prose
  • Moskovskiye tetradi, 1930 – 1934 – Moskow Notebooks
  • Puteshestviye v Armeniyu, 1933 – Journey to Armenia
  • Razgovor o Dante, 1933 – Conversation about Dante; published in 1967
  • Voronezhskiye tetradi – Voronezh Notebooks, publ. 1980 (ed. by V. Shveitser)
  • Modern Archaist: Selected Poems by Osip Mandelstam, 2008 (ed. by Whale and Star)


  • Osip Mandelstam, Gleb Struve: "Sobranie sočinenij" (Collected works). New York, 1955.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "Poems", chosen and translated by James Greene. Elek Books, 1977; revised and enlarged edition, Granada/Elek, 1980.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "Selected Poems", translated by David McDuff. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (New York) and, with minor corrections, Rivers Press (Cambridge), 1973.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "50 Poems", translated by Bernard Meares with an Introductory Essay by Joseph Brodsky. Persea Books (New York), 1977.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "The Complete Poetry of Osip Emilevich Mandelstam", translated by Burton Raffel and Alla Burago. State University of New York Press (USA), 1973.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "Stone", translated by Robert Tracy. Princeton University Press (USA), 1981.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "Octets" 66-76, translated by Donald Davie, "Agenda", vol. 14, no. 2, 1976.
  • Osip Mandelstam: "The Goldfinch". Introduction and translations by Donald Rayfield. The Menard Press, 1973.
  • Osip Mandelstam: The Noise of Time: Selected Prose (European Classics) (Paperback), translated byClarence Brown Northwestern University Press; Reprint edition, 2002. ISBN 0-8101-1928-5
  • Gregory FREIDIN: A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and His Mythologies of Self-Presentation. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1987.
  • Gregory FREIDIN: ["Сидя на санях: Осип Мандельштам и харизматическая традиция русского модернизма] ," Вопросы литературы (Moscow) 1 (1992).
  • John RILEY: "The Collected Works". Grossteste (Derbyshire), 1980.
  • Donald DAVIE: "In the Stopping Train". Carcanet (Manchester), 1977.
  • Dutli R. Meine Zeit, mein Tier. Ossip Mandelstam. Eine Biographie. Zürich, 2003.
  • Nilsson N. A. Osip Mandel’štam: Five Poems. Stockholm, 1974.
  • Ronen O. An Аpproach to Mandelstam. Jerusalem, 1983.
  • Coetzee, J.M. "Osip Mandelstam and the Stalin Ode", Representations, No. 35, Special Issue: Monumental Histories. (Summer, 1991), pp. 72–83.


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