Expansive Poetics – (Osip Mandelstam)

Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

AG: Another funny little poem, 1920, by (Osip) Mandelstam, who looked like this as a young man…[Allen shows photograph of Mandelstam] –   Let’s see.. where am I? I’ve got these people mixed up. No, no…

Student: (Nikolay) Gumilev?

AG: (Osip) Mandelstam now. I’m interleaving them. (Mandelstam and Gumilev). This, being Mandelstam now as a young man

Student: Let’s see that picture.


AG: Very elegant, with big, big, satin cravat. Already Mandelstam had begun digging that it was going to be death to all the poets. Mandelstam himself died in a prison camp in 1937. (He was) a friend of (Anna) Akhmatova – Akhmatova was actually there when Mandelstam was arrested – Several times he was arrested, but (for) the first big arrest, in (19)34, she was right (there) in the room. Already Mandelstam, by 1920, was nostalgic for the Stray Dog Cafe. So there’s a kind of interesting little poem…

[Allen reads Osip Mandelstam’s poem “B Петербурге мы сойдемся снова”, (“We shall gather again in St. Petersburg”)]
“We shall gather again in St. Petersburg/ As though we’d buried the sun there/And newly speak the blissful meaningless word./ In black velvet Soviet night,/ the velvet of universal Emptiness/ they sing of kindred eyes/ Of blessed, blissful matrons./ And deathless flowers bloom./ The city humps its catback bridges/where centuries come to a halt/ And a single angry motorcar/ goes cuckooing into the gloom./ I have no need of a night pass/ For I’m not afraid of the sentries./ I’ll bless the Soviet night, the meaningless, blissful word./ At the theater I hear/ A gentle rustling and a girlish “oh!”/ And Venus holds an armful of deathless roses./ Bored, we warm ourselves by the bonfire./ Perhaps the centuries will pass/ And blessed matrons’ kindred hands/ Will gather in the gentle ash./ Somewhere sweet choirs of Orpheus sound./ The singers’ kindred pupils shine darkly./Playbill doves come fluttering down/From the galleries to the stalls./ So go ahead/ And snuff our candles out/ In the world’s black velvet emptiness,/ blissful matrons’ sloping shoulders sing,/ And the night’s sun glows unnoticed.”
– So it’s already a nostalgic recollection of the old days of the theatre – “Playbill doves come fluttering down/From the galleries to the stalls./ So go ahead/ And snuff candles out.. – He’s talking to the political people.

B Петербурге мы сойдемся снова,/ Словно солнце мы похоронили в нем,/ И блаженное, бессмысленное слово/ В первый раз произнесем./ B черном бархате советской ночи,/ В бархате всемирной пустоты,/Все поют блаженных жен родные очи,/ Bсе цветут бессмертные цветы.
Дикой кошкой горбится столица,/На мосту патруль стоит,/ Только злой мотор во мгле промчится/ И кукушкой прокричит./ Мне не надо пропуска ночного,/ Часовых я не боюсь: /За блаженное, бессмысленное слово/ Я в ночи советской помолюсь.
Слышу легкий театральный шорох/ И девическое “ах”- /И бессмертных роз огромный ворох/ У Киприды на руках./ У костра мы греемся от скуки,/ Может быть, века пройдут,/И блаженных жен родные руки/Легкий пепел соберут./
Где-то грядки красные партера,/ Пышно взбиты шифоньерки лож,/ Заводная кукла офицера/Не для черных дум и низменных святош/ B черном бархате всемирной пустоты,/ Все поют блаженных жен крутые плечи,/ И ночного солнца не заметишь ты.

That motif of “We’ll gather again in St. Petersburg” is, actually,  one of the most haunting to all (the) later Soviet (poets). And there are some of the exiled poets in Paris in the (19)30’s, who wrote poems looking back to 1920 and to Mandelstam’s “We’ll gather together in Petersburg”, knowing that it’s not going to happen again. It was really totally decimated and torn apart and reduced to ashes. So that line, “We’ll gather again in St. Petersburg”  is a slogan, or a key line, to all of the artists and poets in Russia since 1920 – of a lost paradise, a lost revolution, or betrayed revolution, or betrayed hope, or, actually, finally, beyond the politics of it, as William Carlos Williams wrote, that “not one leaf will rise from the ground and attach itself to the branch again”, when Williams was old – “And you may be assured that not one leaf will rise from the ground and attach itself to the branch again” – [editorial note – the actual quote – “And you may be sure/not one leaf will lift itself/from the ground/and become fast to a twig again” (from the poem “The Hunter” in Sour Grapes, published, relatively early, in 1921)] –  (“We’ll gather together in St. Petetrsburg”. There are other poems by later poets, which we’ll come to, that repeat that motif.

(Audio for the above can be heard here at approximately twenty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in)<

Addenda: Osip Mandelstam may be heard reading his own poems, “Gypsy Girl” (“Цыганка. В исполнении автора”) and “No, I was never anyone’s contemporary” (“Нет, никогда ничей я не был современник. В исполнении автора”)  (from a recording circa  1927) –  here and here

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