Osip Mandelstam was the son of cultivated Jewish parents. Like other intellectuals, he greeted the revolution of 1917 with excitement and hope. Along with Anna Akhmatova, he belonged by then to the literary movement called Acmeism, which was the first wave of Russian Modernism. Mandelstam described this later on as "a longing for world culture", but how the wind was blowing was demonstrated in 1921 by the execution of Gumilev, the leader of the movement, for counter-revolutionary plotting. In 1934, Mandelstam rashly composed a lampoon of Stalin, which he used to recite at parties of friends. Not surprisingly, he was arrested, tortured and sent to a remote spot in the Urals, where he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a hospital window. Strangely, he was then released, though exiled in a series of provincial towns far from Moscow and Leningrad. In 1938, he was arrested again and this time disappeared. His wife Nadezhda wrote an account of their exile, which itself is among the classics of Russian literature.
Published 14/02/2010 | 05:00
I've come back to my city. These are my own old tears, My own little veins, the swollen glands of my childhood.
So you're back. Open wide. Swallow The fish oil from the river lamps of Leningrad.
Open your eyes. Do you know this December day, The egg-yolk with the deadly tar beaten into it?
Petersburg! I don't want to die yet! You know my telephone numbers.
Petersburg! I've still got the addresses: I can look up dead voices.
I live on back stairs, and the bell, Torn out nerves and all, jangles in my temples.
And I wait till morning for guests that I love, And rattle the door in its chains.