Osip Mandelstam

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NKVD photo after the second arrest, 1938

Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (also spelled Mandelshtam; Russian: 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.


  • Only in Russia poetry is respected – it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?

Quotes about Mandelstam[edit]

  • The story of Mandelstam's final years, thanks to his widow... is now widely known. He was arrested in 1934 for having composed a poem in which he made grim fun of Stalin, the 'Kremlin Mountaineer', and his relish for torture and execution... Someone informed on him and he was immediately clapped into prison, where he underwent intensive interrogation and psychological and physical torment. Friends intervened in so far as they dared or were able—his protector Bukharin was to be among Stalin's purge later in the decade—and by some miracle the intervention worked. The poet was not shot, as... expected... but exiled, first to a small town in the Urals (where, half insane from the prison experience, he attempted to kill himself...)... His wife was at his side from the moment he was put on the train into exile... The term of exile expired in May, 1937, and the Mandelstams returned to Moscow only to find that they had lost the right to 'living-space... Homeless and unable to find work, the following twelve month[s] is a nightmare of wandering and terror: the wave of second arrests... was under way. Mandelstam's condition worsened. He had two heart attacks. Finally in May 1938, they received Mandelstam's sentence 'for counter-revolutionary activities'... five years of hard labor (he had been seized at a rural sanatorium where he was recuperating). Held for a while in prison, he was put... on one of the prisoner trains [to] remote eastern regions. He seems to have been quite insane at times, though there were lucid intervals. ...[H]e wrote a last letter in October, 1938... saying that he was being held at a transit camp pending shipment to a permanent one. Alexander Mandelstam received notice that his brother had died—of 'heart failure'—on 27 December 1938.
    • Clarence Brown, Introduction, Osip Mandelstam, Selected Poems (1973) pp. xii-xiv, Tr. Clarence Brown & W. S. Merwin.

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