Tuesday, April 22, 2008

О́сип Эми́льевич Мандельшта́м and his Midnight Birds

"Midnight Birds" isn't the title of the poem, but I like the image they conjure up so that's the title of my post.  Deal with it.

This poem is by Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), a brilliant Russian poet who, like all the other truly brilliant Russian poets, had a fairly miserable sounding life.  Rule of thumb seems to be that if they've at least attempted suicide at some point, their poetry is good stuff (must be part of the whole dark, brooding/romantic, human-existence-is-some-kind-of-beautiful-suffering, soulful thing).

Anyway, to give you an abbreviated life story, he was born a wealthy Jew, had some fabulous literary-based education, and then in 1933 wrote "a sixteen line death sentence" (aka, The Stalin Epigram) which was very anti-establishment and led to his arrest (what a surprise...the Soviet Union was so widely renowned for it's freedom of speech).  Amazingly enough he was not killed outright, but was spared in order to wind up writing a bunch of life-saving works that glorified Stalin, including the aptly named Ode to Stalin.  However, this reprieve didn't last too long, as he was eventually charged with "anti-Soviet views" and "counter -revolutionary activities", sentenced to hard labor and died of an unspecified illness.

Osip was from the Acmeist school of poetry (look it up, very interesting...puts me in mind of a poetry-based Illuminati or something).  Basically, this just means he was pretty bloody brilliant.  Dr Denner went over this particular poem of his with us in class yesterday, and I liked it a lot, so I thought I'd post it here with a photo I found online (thank you Flickr!)

This image doesn't really accurately illustrate the poem, (if that's even possible given that poetry, especially this style, is so open to interpretation)...for one thing, there's only one bird, which is not exactly a choir of them)...but for me it captures at least some of the feeling of it.

***Ok, so what was going to be a fabulous post is ruined by the fact that I for some reason cannot copy and paste the poem into it....Why does blogspot hate me?  Urgh.

To read the poem, go to this link.  Then admire this picture.  :-)

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