The Voronezh Notebooks: Poems 1935-1937

Osip Mandelstam, Author, Elizabeth McKane, Translator, Richard McKane, Translator
Osip Mandelstam, Author, Elizabeth McKane, Translator, Richard McKane, Translator Bloodaxe Books $17.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-85224-205-3
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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Nearly comatose after the horrors of repeated interrogations by Stalin's regime, Mandelstam (1891-1938) literally wrote himself back into a semblance of life while exiled 300 miles from Moscow in Voronezh: ""There are still plenty of martlets and swallows./ The comet has not yet given us the plague,/ and the sensible purple inks/ write with tails that carry stars."" While associated with the compressed, lyrical images of Anna Akhmatova and the Acmeist movement of the Russian modernist avant-garde, Mandelstam presents visions of the future, his own and his country's, that are steeped in necessarily coded foreboding: ""death will fall asleep like an owl in daytime./ The glass of Moscow burns between cut-glass ribs."" Any relief that the past might provide is empty and unavailable: ""Wave after wave runs on, breaking the wave's back,/ throwing itself at the moon with a prisoner's longing."" Although some of the layers of word-meaning and soundplay that so influenced Paul Celan, another Jewish-born exile who struggled to forge a present out of poetry, are inevitably lost in translation, it is a great gift to be able to read these 90 poems together and complete in English for the first time, with explanatory notes provided for each. They form a wrenching diary of ""iron tenderness"" and doomed, penetrative brilliance. (Sept.)
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