Osip Mandelstam is a central figure not only in modern Russian but in world poetry, the author of some of the most haunting and memorable poems of the twentieth century. A contemporary of Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Boris Pasternak, a touchstone for later masters such as Paul Celan and Robert Lowell, Mandelstam was a crucial instigator of the “revolution of the word” that took place in St. Petersburg, only to be crushed by the Bolshevik Revolution. Mandelstam’s last poems, written in the interval between his exile to the provinces by Stalin and his death in the Gulag, are an extraordinary testament to the endurance of art in the presence of terror.
This book represents a collaboration between the scholar Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin, one of contemporary America’s finest poets and translators. It also includes Mandelstam’s “Conversation on Dante,” an uncategorizable work of genius containing the poet’s deepest reflections on the nature of the poetic process.
One of the century’s greatest lyric poets…Osip Mandelstam has tempted a formidable array of English poets. Through them we can perceive a glittering poetry, at once allusive, hardeyed, amd uncompromising. We see Leningrad black and shining, sitting like a hunched wildcat or transformed into “transparent Petropolis/ where Proserpina rules over us;” Moscow, threatening Asiatic barbarity; the Crimea’s sensual richness. Much of this recorded over the years of Stalin’s murderous cat-and-mouse game.
— Elaine Feinstein, The Sunday Times
In the thirty years that have passed since the Brown/Merwin versions appeared none of the many attempts to indicate Mandelstam’s vitality, to draw out his multitude of textile warps, have come anywhere near what they achieved. Seemingly understated, these translations have the tension and memorability of art. With intensity, precision, and immediacy, Brown and Merwin give us a great poet, whose work, like that of Yeats, takes place, dramatically, on the stage of history. Mandelstam is the crucial poet of “our wolfhound age,” our “tyrant century.”
— Mark Rudman
[Brown’s] introduction to this book of Mandelstam’s poems is balanced, informative and personal.
— Columbus Dispatch