Osip Mandelstam was one of the great Russian poets of the 20th century, with a prophetic understanding of its suffering, which he transformed into luminous poetry. Born in 1891, he grew up in St Petersburg. With Akhmatova and Gumilyov he formed the Acmeist movement. Childish and wise, joyous and angry, at once complex and simple, he was sustained for 20 years by his wife and memoirist Nadezhda Mandelstam, who became, with Anna Akhmatova, the saviour of his poetry. His last poems, preserved in his notebooks, were translated by Richard and Elizabeth McKane as The Moscow & Voronezh Notebooks (Bloodaxe Books, 2003). In 1934, Mandlestam was arrested for writing an unflattering poem about Stalin, and subjected to gruelling interrogations and torture before being exiled to Voronezh. Nadezhda’s Mandlestam's memoir Hope Against Hope includes a moving account of their time in Voronezh, and Anna Akhmatova’s poem ‘Voronezh’ describes her visit there. In 1938 he was re-arrested and sentenced to five years' hard labour for 'counter-revolutionary activities', and died that winter, of 'heart failure', in a freezing transit camp in Siberia.
The photographs opposite, taken in 1934, are from his NKVD security file.
Books by Osip Mandelstam