Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) was a Russian poet and essayist. Born in Leningrad, Brodsky moved to the United States when he was exiled from Russia in 1972. His poetry collections include A Part of Speech andTo Urania; his essay collections include Less Than One, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Watermark. In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He served as US Poet Laureate from 1991 to 1992.

On Mark Strand (1934–2014)

Mark Strand, New York City, 2013
The poet Mark Strand, a contributor to these pages, died on November 29. JOSEPH BRODSKY The following was given by Joseph Brodsky as an introduction to a reading by Mark Strand at the American Academy of Poets in New York City on November 4, 1986. It’s a …

With a View of the Sea

October, and the sea this morning rests its cheek against the quays; the pattering upon the awning’s seeds of the acacia trees, keeping a beat. The blazing sun is hoisting up out of the sea a piercing stare that doesn’t burn, just as …

January 1, 1965

The following poem was written by Joseph Brodsky while in internal exile in Norenskaia, in the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia. In the Soviet Union, New Year’s celebrations came to be seen as a substitute for Christmas. This translation was found among his papers. The kings will lose your old …

Cabbage and Carrot

One afternoon Cabbage visited Carrot and found Carrot wearing something transparent. “Oh, that looks quite fancy, that looks like fun. But where are you off to in this cellophane?” “You really think so?” blushed Carrot. “Well, I’ve… Well, I’ve been invited tonight by …

At the City Dump in Nantucket

To Stephen White The perishable devours the perishable in broad daylight, moribund in its turn in late November, and the seagulls attacking the dump are trying to outnumber the snow, or have it at least delayed. Here’s the primordial alphabet shooting pell-mell, crisscross.

The Russian Academy: Preliminary Notes

In the fall of 1995, Joseph Brodsky put forward a plan to found an Academy in Rome where Russian scholars and artists could resume a longstanding tradition of Russian study in Italy. He submitted the following proposal to Francesco Ruttelli, the mayor of Rome, who expressed his enthusiasm for the …

Via Funari

Ugly gargoyles peek out of your well-lit window, the Gaetani palace exhales turpentine and varnish, and Gino’s where the coffee was good and I used to pick up the keys, has vanished. In Gino’s stead came a boutique; it sells socks and neckties, more indispensable …

Kolo

MCMXCIV KOLO[^*] In march the soldiers with rifles on their shoulders. Out run through brambles the locals with their bundles. Off fly the envoys contemplating new ways of creating symmetry in a future cemetery. Up go the …

Two Poems by Joseph Brodsky

Lousy times: nothing to steal and no one to steal from. The legions return empty-handed from their faraway expeditions. A sybil confuses the past with the future as if she were a tree. And actors whom nobody now applauds forget the great lines. Forgetting, however, is …

Infinitive

To Ulf Linde Dear savages, though I’ve never mastered your tongue, free of pronouns and gerunds, I’ve learned to bake mackerel wrapped in palm leaves and favor raw turtle legs, with their flavor of slowness. Gastronomically, I must admit, these years since …

Achilles. Penthesilea

When Achilles with his short sword pierced the breast of Penthesilea and as usual twisted the blade thrice in the wound, he noticed that the queen of the Amazons was lovely. He laid her carefully on the sand, took off her heavy helmet, unclasped her hair, …

Daedalus in Sicily

All his life he was building something, inventing something. Now, for a Cretan queen, an artificial heifer, so as to cuckold the king. Then a labyrinth, this time for the king himself, to hide from bewildered glances an unbearable offspring. Or a flying contraption, when …

In the Light of Venice

The winter light in this city! It has the extraordinary property of enhancing your eye’s power of resolution to the point of microscopic precision—the pupil humbles any Hasselblad lens and develops your subsequent memories to National Geographic sharpness. The sky is brisk blue, the sun, escaping its golden likeness beneath …

Isaiah Berlin at Eighty

It is almost a rule that the more complex a man is, the simpler his billing. A person with a retrospective ability gone rampant often would be called an historian. Similarly, one to whom reality doesn’t seem to make sense gets dubbed a philosopher. Social critic or ethical thinker are …

Exeter Revisited

Playing chess on the oil tablecloth at Sparky’s Cafe, with half & half for whites, against your specter at noon, two flights down from that mattress, and seven years later. Scarcely a gambit, by any standard. The fan’s dust-plagued shamrock still hums in your window—seven …

Two Poems by Joseph Brodsky

NORTH BALTIC When a blizzard powders the harbor, when the creaking pine leaves in the air an imprint deeper than a sled’s steel runner, what degree of blueness can be gained by an eye? What sign language can sprout from a chary manner? Falling out of …

The Condition We Call Exile

The following was written for a conference on exiles held by the Wheatland Foundation in Vienna in December. As we gather here, in this attractive and well-lit room, on this cold December evening, to discuss the plight of the writer in exile, let us pause for a minute and imagine …

Acceptance Speech

I was born and grew up on the other shore of the Baltic, practically on its opposite gray, rustling page. Sometimes on clear days, especially in autumn, standing on a beach somewhere in Kellomäki, a friend would point his finger northwest across the sheet of water and say: See that …

‘Slave, Come to My Service!’

Dialogue between a master and his slave; tenth century BC. Translated from the Sumerian I. “Slave, come to my service!” “Yes, my master. Yes?” “Quick, fetch my chariot, hitch up the horses: I’ll drive to the palace!””Drive to the palace, my master. Drive to the palace. The …

The Bust of Tiberius

All hail to you, two thousand years too late. I too once took a whore in marriage. We have some things in common. Plus, all round, your city. Bustle, shrieking traffic. Damp alleyways with hypodermic youths. Also, the ruins. I, a standard stranger, salute …

In a Room and a Half

(To L.K.) The room and a half (if such a unit of space makes any sense in English) in which the three of us lived had a parquet floor, and my mother strongly objected to the men in her family, me in particular, walking around with our socks on. She …

A Commencement Address

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 1984: No matter how daring or cautious you may choose to be, in the course of your life you are bound to come into direct physical contact with what’s known as Evil. I mean here not a property of the gothic novel but, …

Near Alexandria

For Carl Proffer The concrete needle is shooting its heroin into cumulous wintry muscle. From a trash can, a spy plucks the crumpled morsel, blueprint of ruins, and glances East. Ubiquitous figures on horseback; all four hooves glued to their marble bracket. The …

On Derek Walcott

Because civilizations are finite, in the life of each of them there comes a moment when the center ceases to hold. What keeps them at such times from disintegration is not legions but language. Such was the case of Rome, and before that, of Hellenic Greece. The job of holding …

A Martial Law Carol

Nations learn the rules like a naughty boy as the tyrant drools manacles in joy. One pen-stroke apiece, minus edits plus helping the police to subtract a class. From a stubborn brow something scarlet drops on the Christmas …