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This article is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

A Note on Mandelstam Andrew Kahn
The poetry of Stone (1910), Osip Mandelstam’s first collection, was about poetic craft and self-discovery. In Tristia (1923), his second collection, Mandelstam became a full-fledged Modernist. Like Eliot, he was a poet of retrieved culture, allusive and layered, and like Yeats he was under the spell of the Golden Bough. The tumult of history does not register in these books. Yet Mandelstam and History had one another in view. He faced the new reality of the Russian Revolution head on in the great historical poems he published separately in the early Soviet press. Inspired by a fin-de-siècle and Nietzschean vision of destruction and renewal, he made his poetry new by writing on a larger scale about the perishability and survival of culture and the dawning of new poetic consciousness. ‘The Age (1918) confronts the violence needed to kill off the old. The ‘Slate Ode’ (1922) takes civilization back to a primitive state to refashion the consciousness of a nation. ‘Paris’ (1923) interrogates the laws of history to see whether the French Revolution had already scripted Russia’s destiny. Who could see far enough into the future or into the past to predict the outcome? The vatic speaker has a new song to sing. The reader experiences Orphic-sounding mystery, hidden and found objects, talismanic words, incantatory song

Mandelstam is by and large a stanzaic poet. ‘The Horseshoe Finder’ consists of unrhymed blank verse, and its blocks of lines are demarcated by rhetorical questions, exclamations, and repetition. Its sudden shifts, collapse of horizontal and vertical planes and prominent first-person give ...


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