Articles, PR 10 (2007)

"Light Breathing": Osip Mandelstam's "First" Poems, Pushkin, and the Poetics of Influence

Andrew Reynolds*


After 1837, blood and poetry both rang
differently in the ears.
—Osip Mandel´shtam, The Noise of Time

How (even with all hindsight) can we
know the true ephebe, the potentially strong
poet, from the mass of ocean’s nurslings
around him? By hearing in his first voices
what is most central in the precursors’
voices, rendered with a directness, clarity, even
a sweetness that they do not often
give to us.
—Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading


     In her memoir of Mandel´stam, Anna Akhmatova famously and perhaps hyperbolically claimed that

Mandelstam has no teacher. That is something worth thinking about. I don’t know of a similar case in all of world poetry. We know Pushkin’s and Blok’s sources, but who can show us the source of this divine new harmony, which we call the poetry of Osip Mandelstam?[1]

Akhmatova’s emphasis on the importance of establishing a poet’s geneal­ogy closely resembles Mandel´shtam’s own views on literary criticism, as expressed both as a general theoretical assumption and with respect to specific poets. For example, in his essay on Blok, “Barsuch´ia nora,” Man­del´shtam asserted that

Establishing the literary genesis of the poet, his literary sources, his ancestry and origin, brings us at once to solid ground. A critic does not have to answer the question: what did the poet want to say, but he is obliged to answer the question: where did the poet come from…[2]

To be fair to Akhmatova, the problem facing the reader of Mandel´shtam is more complex than his advice to the literary critic might suggest, since his verse is so rich in allusions to and traces of other texts. A considerable amount of excellent scholarship exists on the various possible sources of Mandel´shtam’s “divine harmony”: it is generally accepted, for example, that there are a number of important Russian symbolist influences on Mandel´shtam’s formation as a poet.[3] But there are other important sources too, including non-Russian influences; and the relative importance of certain influences can change at different stages—as Mandel´shtam himself suggested with reference to one of his elective affinities, Chénier, a poet may perhaps have various poetic systems at different stages of his career.[4] Increasingly, though, critics and readers alike have decided that, although it is clear that Mandel´shtam was influenced by many poets and learned from or at least quoted many more, and that the discovery of sources does not in and of itself identify a “teacher” or “teachers,” Pushkin was Mandel´shtam’s “ultimate reference.”[5] The past few years in particu­lar have seen the appearance of a number of valuable specialized studies of Pushkin and Mandel´shtam,[6] and the best subtextual studies have long since noted many allusions to Pushkin in Mandel´shtam’s oeuvre. More­over, for many of these studies it is not simply a matter of linking Man­del´shtam to Pushkin, as all Russian writers are indeed or can be con­nected, naturally, with “nashe vse” (“our everything,” the best simple definition of Pushkin), as noted mordantly by Nadezhda Mandel´shtam in her overeagerness to dismiss Akhmatova’s own credentials as a Pushkin­ian poet (and thereby, presumably, increase Mandel´shtam’s chances of being accepted as such).[7] Instead, one witnesses the almost blasphemous near-equating by Russian readers, critics, and above all writers of the two poets.[8]

     These various studies of the relationship between Pushkin and Man­del´shtam notwithstanding, Anna Akhmatova’s statement that Mandel´­shtam had no teacher[9] might still seem to be a powerful obstacle to any at­tempt to see Pushkin as Mandel´shtam’s poetic father; at the very least, it suggests that the widely practiced, indeed, “canonical” subtextual ap­proach to Mandel´shtam may not resolve this question of origins on its own. Akhmatova’s poetic systemis almost as “subtextual” (citational, in­tertextual, allusive) as Mandelstam’s, yet she obviously did not feel that the most important question of the identity of Mandel´shtam’s teacher could be solved through an analysis of subtexts. Moreover, as Akhmatova’s important critical studies of Pushkin are broadly subtextual,[10] she surely would have been the ideal person to find subtextual clues in Mandel´­shtam’s work identifying Pushkin as Mandel´shtam’s poetic teacher. In­deed, the subtextual method or something like it may have helped her solve this problem later in life, though it has to be said that her later confidence in identifying Mandel´shtam’s “precursor” sits somewhat un­easily alongside her earlier statement.

     Her changed perspective on the source of Mandel´shtam’s divine har­mony is reported by Joseph Brodsky, in a fascinating and wide-ranging interview from 1981 (published only in 1991). Though in this interview Brodsky comes close to saying that there are few or no real examples of the direct and benevolent influence of Russia’s greatest poet on any other of her poets, he finally acknowledges:

For all that, I don’t consider that Pushkin is a myth. Pushkin is a tonality. And a tonality isn’t a myth, For example, the most Push­kinian of 20th-century Russian poets in terms of tonality is Man­delstam. That’s perfectly obvious. It’s simply that we all to a cer­tain degree in one way or another (perhaps it’s in order to free ourselves from this tonality) continue to write Eugene Onegin. Mandelstam, for example, has the poem “Above the yellowness of the government buildings.” And generally, in Mandelstam, partic­ularly the period of Stone and even Tristia, Pushkin is very clearly audible. Akhmatova and I talked about this once. She asked: “Joseph, who do you think is Mandelstam’s precursor?” I had no doubts at all on that score. I said that, in my opinion, it was Push­kin. And she replied: “Absolutely correct.”[11]

     If Brodsky and Akhmatova are correct in their identification of Man­del´shtam’s precursor (and one may note that the word predtecha with its Christological connotations, has a transumptive dimension, implying that Pushkin prepared the way for Mandel´shtam’s greater glory and greater sacrifice), and if Akhmatova’s earlier blindness to this possibility is signifi­cant, then it is appropriate to establish not only what it may mean to ex­perience what Mandel´shtam termed “priamoe, kanonicheskoe vliianie Pushkina,”[12] (the direct, canonical influence of Pushkin) or the most ap­propriate ways to study it, but also to consider how best to study less obvious cases of influence.

     Of course, it is possible to argue that it is no surprise that Mandel´­shtam’s poetic precursor is Pushkin: just as all Russian prose is believed to have come out of Gogol’s overcoat, is it not a universally acknowledged fact that Pushkin is the father of all Russian poetry? David Bethea, for example, notes how Pushkin is “an ever-emerging cultural myth and point of origin to which other writers have had to return, almost hypnotically, in order to resolve the ‘anxiety of [his] influence.’”[13] Still, notwithstanding the apparent aptness of Harold Bloom’s concept to what one could more broadly term, again after Bloom, Pushkin’s “facticity” in Russian culture (by analogy with Shakespeare’s in English-language cultures),[14] there has been a reluctance to admit that Bloom’s work as a whole might be of as­sistance in studying Pushkin’s influence on other writers. But in the case of Mandel´shtam, who wrote that he “did not want the historical Pushkin,” the possibility that a Bloomian approach might have something to offer should not be ignored.[15]

     Central to Bloom’s theory is the necessity for the would-be “strong” writer to become his poetic father by revisionary rereading and repression of that inescapable paternal presence. And a culture in which, for exam­ple, the relations between Pushkin, Baratynskii, and Batiushkov seem to be Bloomian avant la lettre, and in which two of Pushkin’s dramatic mas­terpieces concern impostureship in poetry and life and perhaps the most deadly response of a would-be strong artist to a stronger creator ever imagined respectively, might indeed seem to welcome a Bloomian ap­proach. It is striking, for example, that when Mandel´shtam writes about how “Batiushkov – zapisnaia knizhka nerozhdennogo Pushkina” (Batiush­kov is the notebook of the unborn Pushkin)[16] he is himself echoing Tur­genev’s uncanny anticipation, in his 1880 Pushkin speech, of the essence of the successful apophrades: “Batiushkov dimly sensed that some of his poems and turns of speech would be called Pushkinian, even though they appeared before Pushkin”[17]—that essence being the quasi-Borgesian and anti-Eliot hyperbole that “the uncanny effect is that the new poem’s achievement makes it seem to us, not as though the precursor were writ­ing it, but as though the later poet himself had written the precursor’s characteristic work.”[18] This is not to suggest, however, that Pushkin in his greatest lyrics is struggling with Batiushkov (even if a number of them are surprisingly dependent on Batiushkov’s language, images, conceits[19]); his agon is ultimately with many of the central writers and texts of West­ern Culture—Voltaire, Goethe, Dante, Shakespeare, Ovid, Byron, the Old and New Testaments.

     Yet the difficulty of applying Bloomian ideas directly to Pushkin and his precursors, in particular Shakespeare, has been convincingly argued by David Bethea, Catherine O’Neil and Sarah Pratt among others.[20] The sheer number of poets wishing to follow Pushkin's example might seem to suggest that there is no “anxiety of influence” in Russian literature, at least in the twentieth century. Sergei Davydov, having noted that Pushkin seems to have “departed without establishing a literary school, without leaving behind a single direct disciple,” points out how

not finding a worthy sobesednik in his own century, Pushkin had to wait for a dalekii potomok in the next. It is the poets of the Sil­ver Age who should be credited with bringing the first genuine re­flection of Pushkin's sun buried in the black January night of 1837.[21]

As Davydov observes, “Merezhkovskii, Solov´ev, Briusov, Blok, Belyi, Ivanov, Khodasevich, Akhmatova, Mandel´shtam, Tsvetaeva one after an­other adopted Pushkin as moi Pushkin.[22] However, for a Russian Mod­ernist poet, and particularly for an Acmeist, Mandel´shtam made surpris­ingly few overt allusions to Pushkin in his poetry. Mandel´shtam’s critical prose, with the significant if problematic exception of “Skriabin i khristi­anstvo,” also has surprisingly little to say about him. The most unusual feature of all, though, is Mandel´shtam’s silence concerning Pushkin in his everyday life, though arguably it is the near absence of works with explicit links to Pushkin in Mandel´shtam’s oeuvre that is most striking:

For instance, he never said how he arrived at the associations in his poetry—which, indeed, he never commented on in any way—and always had very little to say about things and people dear to him—his mother, for instance, or Pushkin.[23]

Or, as Akhmatova observed, “Mandel´shtam’s attitude to Pushkin was ex­tremely unusual, almost awed—it seemed to me to possess some sort of halo of superhuman chastity.”[24]

     It is, however, worth bearing in mind Bloom’s warning:

No strong poem merely alludes to another, and what look like overt allusions and even echoes in strong poems are disguises for darker relationships. A strong authentic allusion to another strong poem can be only by and in what the later poem does not say, by what it represses.[25]

Indeed, even though many writers believed that they were called to be Pushkinian poets, few were chosen to become Pushkin’s successor. For in the Russian tradition, to be heir to a writer like Pushkin entails far more than writing critical works about him, alluding to him in one’s poetry or repeating his meters and themes. Indeed, if Mandel´shtam is a represen­tative case, the importance of Pushkin for a poet, and the degree to which the poet overcomes Pushkin’s influence successfully, may well be in in­verse proportion to the explicitness of that poet’s interest in or desire to be like Pushkin. This is true both of what Monika Greenleaf terms “‘poets’ poet’ studies”[26]—such as Khodasevich’s “Koleblemyi trenozhnik” and “Poeticheskoe khoziaistvo Pushkina,” Akhmatova’s Zametki o Pushkine and Tsvetaeva’s Moi Pushkin—and of the poetry itself. The explicitness of Pushkinian themes and allusions in various poets’ articles and poetry, and the stylistic and generic similarities their works have with Pushkin’s—Tsvetaeva’s Stikhi k Pushkinu and Pasternak’s Temy i variatsii in the former case, to give just two examples that come readily to mind, and cer­tain formal, stylistic, metrical and thematic resemblances to Pushkin’s art and the explicit allusions to his life and works one can find in the work of Akhmatova, Khodasevich and others in the latter case—are indeed fea­tures to which scholars searching for evidence of Pushkin’s influence would turn. Whether these features are proof of a deep transformation of the essential Pushkin, of an original life-creationist poetics based on Push­kinian origins, is perhaps another matter.

     Building on much recent excellent scholarship on Russian Modernism, in particular the essays in the volume Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism: from the Golden Age to the Silver Age,[27] a number of recent studies of the Pushkin-Mandelstam dialogue, combining as they do a sub­textual approach with an analysis of cultural and personal mythologies, talk of Mandel´shtam’s creative path, and in particular his relation to Pushkin, in ways that suggest that something far more mystical, personal, risky is taking place than a simple use of existing texts as raw material for his own works. True, Vladimir Musatov, who admits that in the Arme­nia cycle in particular there are important signs of how Mandel´shtam compares his fate to Pushkin’s,[28] still seems, like so many, to be in the grip of the same taboo when it comes to the period where we find the most significant parallels between Mandel´shtam and Pushkin, the Voronezh poems. “Did Mandel´shtam recall how Pushkin in his day attempted to come to terms with state power, losing neither his social dignity nor his inner freedom? Difficult to tell.”[29] Mikhail Gasparov is less cautious, and rightly so, noting that if in some earlier poems “Mandel´shtam projected his fate and behavior onto Ovid and Augustus,” then the “Pushkin celebra­tion also recalled (once again after ‘Stanzas’ of 1935) the fate and behavior of Pushkin,”[30] though unfortunately he does not specify exactly what might be involved in such a projection, other than to place it within the same all-embracing (and one-sided) reading of a loyalist Mandel´shtam contained in his book. Boris Gasparov writes that “one of the basic themes of late Mandelstam is the poet’s awareness of the unavoidability of his own death—an unavoidability evoked not so much by external circum­stances, as by the essence of his poetic mission, understood as a redemp­tive sacrifice.”[31] This would seem to suggest a direct connection on Man­del´shtam’s part with Pushkin’s death, even though Gasparov is ostensibly emphasizing Mandel´shtam’s identification with Lermontov, the author of the 1837 “Smert´ poeta,” rather than with Pushkin, its subject.

     In the most recent and detailed study of the theme of Mandel´shtam and Pushkin, Irina Surat has made explicit what was implicit in Nikita Struve’s christological reading of Mandel´shtam’s fate and argues first that one is dealing with a conflation of the figures of Christ and Pushkin in much of Mandel´shtam’s work and, second, that there is some sort of a mystical connection between Mandel´shtam and Pushkin which appar­ently underlies and even causes the parallels between their lives and works.[32] Surat is correct in observing that there appears to be an act of “self-identification” (samoidentifikatsiia) with Pushkin, as evidenced by Mandel´shtam’s chaste attitude towards him and the apparent taboo to­ward his name;[33] she further points out that this reverence and fear represent “a deep, intimate secret of the soul,” one that suggests an elec­tive affinity between Mandel´shtam’s fate and Pushkin’s.[34] As literary scholarship, however, this is somewhat less than satisfactory: even if there are some secrets before which we should indeed lay down our arms, it is not clear that we are at that point yet with regard to this topic; moreover, it is implied that the mystery can be solved, but only within the frame­work of the larger mystery (of the Incarnation). It should in fact be possi­ble to place the relationship between the poets in a less reductive context than that created by Surat. The problem is not that in such a reading Pushkin is merely a surrogate for Christ, so that Mandel´shtam’s identifi­cation is really an imitatio Christi, for it is in fact not uncommon for Rus­sian poets to equate Pushkin with Christ. But when a detailed analysis of exactly how either Pushkin or Mandel´shtam imitates Christ is missing from a critic’s account, or when it is not made clear exactly when and how the imitation of Pushkin turns into being an imitation of Christ, and above all when the main implicit or explicit explanation for how these poets be­came what they certainly were—culture heroes and symbolically redemp­tive sacrifices—seems to be the direct intervention of Providence, then we do have a problem. It is one thing to imply or even show that a poet may have believed his ends were shaped in a particular way by some higher force; but it is an act of faith rather than of literary criticism to say that this was indeed the case. It would seem to be more reasonable to posit some psychopoetic mechanisms that might explain any uncanny parallels.

     When Mandel´shtam alludes to the death of Pushkin or Lermontov or Gumilev, is he merely making a literary allusion, is he prophesying his fu­ture poetic fate in the light of what poetic history tells him is the usual “uchast´ russkikh poetov,” or is he somehow predetermining that fate? If the poems do somehow predetermine the fate, then how? If they indicate that something else is predetermining Mandel´shtam’s fate—as Surat would seem to imply—then what is that something? Can it only be Provi­dence? How far does life in Russia imitate art, and why? Is it simply that, in Michael Wachtel’s phrase, the “underlying belief in the interconnected­ness of one’s own literature and life with that of past writers”[35] formed an important part of zhiznetvorchestvo? Or might there be something else at work and something more at stake? If it is necessary for the Russian poet to lead the life and die the death of his great precursor(s), it seems prob­able that the subtextual approach (as usually practiced) to such relation­ships is too text-centered, too removed from the poet’s life, to provide a completely satisfactory explanation of what the relationships might entail. It would of course be possible to see Mandel´shtam’s relation to Pushkin as involving a special type of “life-creation,” a “life-creation” using a Push­kinian model, as described by Paperno in her article “Pushkin v zhizni cheloveka Serebrianogo veka.”[36] However, if zhiznetvorchestvo is to be understood, in Svetlana Boym’s words, as the “imposition of an ideal or idealized grid upon everyday behavior in an attempt to achieve a perfect aesthetic organization of life,”[37] and given that the study of zhiznetvor­chestvo tends to focus on the “highly stylized organization of everyday be­havior that contributes to the literary image,” it too is probably not the ideal paradigm for the study of such a serious attempt to fuse one’s art and life as one finds in Mandel´shtam.[38] In contrast, the alternative put forward by Khodasevich as the essential fact of Pushkin’s life, namely, Pushkin’s fusion of life and art, seems closer to the ideal to which Mandel´shtam seems to have aspired, as expressed most eloquently in the article “Pamiati Gogolia.”[39]

     In what ways might a revised version of Harold Bloom’s account of poetic origins assist in approaching these problems?[40] Bloom has always argued that poets do not choose their precursors, but are chosen by the precursor. The poet, in effect, undergoes Election, and if he or she is to be­come a strong poet, it will be as a result of the agon with the original po­etic precursor, and not with any later “substitute.” The poet has no choice in the matter, and cannot escape this fixation; his destiny is to try and be­come his own father. In the English and American traditions this poetic Odyssey, this attempt to return to one’s origins, is not likely to be life-threatening in the literal sense; but for a Blok or a Maiakovskii, as for Mandel´shtam and Brodsky, the realization may have been that the iden­tification with Pushkin would probably lead to one’s having to repeat Pushkin’s fate, though it is more likely that, even more so than the purely poetic anxiety of influence, this force operates unconsciously.  

     Thus, while, for example, Gregory Freidin’s superb analysis of the influence of the wider cult of the heroic writer on writers such as Mandel´­shtam is most convincing and valuable in understanding elements of Man­del´shtam’s embracing of his martyrdom,[41] I would argue that for an understanding of Mandel´shtam’s work (and most probably for the work of other strong, would-be Pushkinian poets too), his identification with Push­kin should be at the center of critical attention. There is, of course, a con­scious element to Mandel´shtam’s choice of a Pushkinian destiny: the poet who had identified with Pushkin poetically at the start of his career would have been aware that in so doing he had committed himself to an imitatio Pushkin which applied not only to poetry and life, but to death too. The specific ways in which his poems reveal this destiny, however, suggest that although one may indeed be dealing with some of the most complex allusive techniques yet practiced by a poet, one may also treat those Push­kinian traces that are probably too elusive to justify the term allusion or even echo as in fact more likely to be traces of evidence of poetry’s appa­ratus of repression.[42]

     Poets like Mandel´shtam or Brodsky, in making an intertextual cove­nant with Pushkin, with the Russian tradition, not only assert the desire to be like Pushkin, but also accept the likely cost of achieving poetic im­mortality in the Russian tradition. Bloom would of course argue that am­bivalence enters into any such poetic relationship; the difference is that the chief human source of ambivalence comes from the knowledge that to achieve Pushkinian strength one may have to die a “Pushkinian” death. Bloom argues that great poets fear premature death, “premature” mean­ing before their greatest poems have been written.[43] But the problem for the Russian poet is that death follows so fast on the last great work, is so intimately bound up with it, that anyone following this path will fear that death will indeed be untimely, and at the same time have to run the risk of poetic weakness, dying prematurely, if they are to achieve sublimity. Mandel´shtam is trying to make into an act of will or election or an amor fati something that is a predestined—or so he also wants to believe—situation. Poetic power in Russia is not simply caused by the willingness of the State to kill people for it; the poet has to be willing to die for it too. For better or worse, the most reliable way of achieving is via the “flinty path” of martyrdom, through what one may call the “imitatio Pushkin.”

     Certainly by the time of writing “Skriabin i khristianstvo” Mandel´­shtam is divided between his fear of his destiny—“Ia ne khochu moei sud´by”[44]—and his sense that he must embark on the first stages of its emplotment. If Bloom is correct and poetic repetition repeats a Primal re­pression, a repression that is itself a fixation upon the precursor as teacher and savior, or on the poetic father as mortal god, then clearly his­tory does not give the Russian poet many career options. Bloom also refers to “the compulsion to repeat the precursor’s patterns.”[45] To repeat a poet’s personal mythologies may be to see in their lives the first partner of what David Bethea terms an “ontological rhyme.”[46] “To be me but not be me”—the double-bind of the anxiety of influence—suggests that the would-be strong poet has to be original and to provide unexpected but also inevitable rhymes in his life and art—and death. Thus Pushkin’s life and art were not simply something that provided raw material for Mandel´­shtam’s poetry: they served as a model for Mandel´shtam’s life and art; as a challenge; and, perhaps, as his destiny—tragic, inescapable, perhaps hated at times. Pushkin had shown that a unity of life and art was re­quired: Mandel´shtam’s corrective to the idea of zhiznetvorchestvo is based on the realization that the “unity” he seeks between his life and art is un­derwritten by Pushkin’s example. The paradox of the anxiety of influence, in other words, is surely manifested in the life-and-art unity apparently demanded of the strongest Russian writers: Mandel´shtam’s poetry, his fate, his myth, his death, all have to be like Pushkin’s but not immediately recognizable as such.

     If Mandel´shtam is a representative case, the importance of Pushkin for a poet, and the degree to which the poet overcomes Pushkin’s influence successfully, may well be in inverse proportion to the explicitness of that poet’s interest in or desire to be like Pushkin. In any event, one suspects that Mandel´shtam’s earlier, more trivial instances of imitating Pushkin (as described by and commented on by Ralph Dutli and Irina Surat[47]) probably led him later in his life to a superstitious fear that he would now have to either exorcise the fatal pattern of impersonation or live and die with the consequences of the initial identification. Moreover, there is strong evidence that the sense that Pushkin would be his “fate-mate” is present from the start of Mandel´shtam’s career, and some of the evidence from a few early and indeed late poems will be examined here. Our anal­ysis of two of these early poems will reveal elements containing not merely a fatidic significance but what would appear to be actual causal power over the poet’s fate. It is well known that Mandel´shtam believed that po­ems could make things happen on levels ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, so it would not be surprising if the alignment with Pushkin’s poems led (or was believed to lead, was feared to lead) to more serious consequences for the poet’s life.

     If, as Bloom claims, there is an “intimate alliance between poetic ori­gins and poetic final phases,” and “the poet-in-a-poet is as desperately ob­sessed with poetic origins, generally despite himself,” then first and last poems may be a good place to look for signs of the main precursor or precursors:

Poets, as poets, and particularly the strongest poets, return to ori­gins at the end, or whenever they sense the imminence of the end.[48]

If this is correct, it follows that the true precursor will be present at the birth of the younger poet’s “first” poems, and again at the end of his career. Although it may not be a straightforward matter to exclude all but one of the many possible Russian and foreign poetic fathers in this way, none of the more obvious influences on Mandel´shtam’s early poems—Ivanov, Sologub, Annenskii, Blok, Tiutchev, Nekrasov, Nadson, to name just a few—seem to be vital presences in Mandel´shtam’s “last” poems, whether last is understood narrowly or more broadly.[49] (Even in the nar­rower sense, this is true both of the “last” poem of the Tret´ia voronezh­skaia tetrad´, “K pustoi zemle nevol´no pripadaia,” which I shall examine in a subsequent article, and of the more problematic poems written after Voronezh, in Savelovo.[50]) It might seem, therefore, to be a convenient strategy to compare Mandel´shtam’s “first” and “last” poems: there is a good chance that the poet(s) with a significant presence in both will be the most significant poetic precursor(s). (This is not to say, of course, that other extremely important precursors—notably Villon and Dante—are not present at the beginning and/or the end of Mandel´shtam’s career.)

     Criticism has normally decided, and with good reason, that the poem to N. E. Shtempel´ “K pustoi zemle nevol´no pripadaia,”[51] qualifies as such a last will and testament.[52] The poem to Shtempel´ has been noted, by the present author and others, to have some explicitly Pushkinian features (most notably, in Struve’s words, it is graced with a Pushkinian harmoni­ousness),[53] and is even perhaps Mandel´shtam’s most Pushkinian work, and as such is a symbol of his “propusk” into not only his poetic immor­tality, but also into the “Pushkin House” of Russian culture. The second article in this series (to be published in the next volume of Pushkin Re­view) will analyze the myriad ways in which the poem does indeed under­line Mandel´shtam’s right to be seen as Pushkin’s heir. Here, however, I wish to focus on poetic origins and the deep structures (and fears) peculiar to the experiencing of the canonical influence of Pushkin; in particular, how apparently innocent poems already contain in ovo not merely Man­del´shtam’s main themes or stylistic features, but also foresee and set in motion the poet’s progress from “toy-like lot” (igrushechnyi udel) to heroic, kenotic destiny.[54]

     It is perhaps even more difficult, however, to identify with certainty Mandel´shtam’s “first” poem. Is it the first one written? The first one that has survived? The first published? The earliest poems show clearly the influence of Nekrasov and Nadson; this fact should not be treated lightly, as the importance of both for Mandel´shtam has rarely been appreciated. Nevertheless, it seems preferable to say that the first poems of the adult Mandel´shtam are the ones with which he chose to open his first book. Even then, though, there are two “first” poems: the poem “Zvuk ostorozh­nyi i glukhoi” and the poem “Dano mne telo – chto mne sdelat´ s nim,” also called “Dykhan´e”; this situation arises because Mandel´shtam’s first book Kamen´ exists in different versions.[55]

     Although the poem “Zvuk ostorozhnyi i glukhoi” was not the first poem in the first Kamen´, it eventually came to occupy the position of “first poem” in Mandel´shtam’s later volumes of his verse.[56] The main sub­texts of “Zvuk ostorozhnyi i glukhoi” would appear to be Pushkin’s 1830-1831 poems “Ekho” and “Chto v imeni tebe moem?”[57] The first verse of the latter poem contains the lines most important for understanding Mandel´­shtam’s poem:

Звук осторожный и глухой
Плода, сорвавшегося с древа,
Среди немолчного напева
Глубокой тишины лесной…[58]

The cautious, muffled sound
Of fruit falling from a tree
Amid incessant melody
Of forest silence so profound…


Что в имени тебе моем?
Оно умрет, как шум печальный
Волны, плеснувшей в берег дальный,
Как звук ночной в лесу глухом.[59]

What’s in a name? My name too soon will die
If inscribed in your album, like the sad roar
Of distant wave’s splash on deserted shore,
Like in wood’s darkling heart a midnight cry.

As Omry Ronen notes,

[T]he haiku-like vividness and immediacy of the opening poem from this poem (2nd and 3rd editions) does not prevent it from having an easily identifiable subtext (Pushkin’s line “Kak zvuk nochnoi v lesu glukhom”) that expands and completely transforms the meaning of this four-liner.[60]

In more ways than one, then, the “zvuk,” the first word of Mandel´shtam’s poetic career, comes to be an echo of the empty sound which Pushkin claims his name is, and an echo of the empty, stuttering,[61] un-Russian sound which Mandel´shtam fears his name is. The poem asks whether Pushkin’s name can be made to symbolize Mandel´shtam’s name, to give his blessing to Mandel´shtam’s fall into poetry; the answer is given by the way in which Mandel´shtam’s name is actually spelt out in the poem, as shown by Nancy Pollak:

Nevertheless we must hear the “fruit” that falls in “zvuk ostorož­nyj i gluxoj” in terms of this particular poet, whose name means “rod of almond” or, less bookishly, “almond stem” or “root” […] We find Mandel´-štam spelled out in the second line: Ploda, sorvav­šegosja s dreva.” Here, quite literally, Mandel´-štam answers Puš­kin, spelling out, in rebus fashion, what is “in” his name.[62]

Even though some might disagree with the extent to which the second line is really a coded version of the poet’s name, it is surely the case that the poem does announce the poet’s fall into creative life and his desire to be Adam early in the morning, able to have the power of originality that comes with granting names. In contrast to Pushkin’s belief that no one will hear the “zvuk nochnoi v lesu glukhom,” Mandel´shtam appears to be­lieve that his sound, his name, will be heard; that his is the answering voice Pushkin had sought in vain in the poem “Echo.” Pollak argues that Mandel´shtam’s “faith in the rightness of his word” leads to an “absolute certainty that it will be heard.”[63] Yet even the strongest of poets must surely have some doubts as to his chosen path at the beginning, even if Mandel´shtam seems to claim that the “silence” in the forest has been broken by a would-be successor to Pushkin. One senses that the paradoxi­cal sound of silences in Mandel´shtam’s poem here refers to the incessant but ultimately meaningless chatter masquerading as harmony (the “ne­molchnogo napeva”) of a host of Symbolist poets as opposed to this new voice in the “forest” of Russian poetry.[64]

     “Zvuk ostorozhnyi i glukhoi” is arguably a modest beginning, but it both expresses the desire and enacts how (albeit primarily on the less es­sential level of what Bloom would categorize as the anxiety of style)[65] it might be possible for Mandel´shtam to make the smallest of swerves away from Pushkin as he falls into his poetic life.[66] But if indeed the “apple” stayed so close to the tree, as Tsvetaeva implied,[67] would one not expect the signs in Mandel´shtam’s last poems of Pushkin’s presence to be more prominent, more obvious than they actually are? Would not the type of poetic descendent described by Tsvetaeva find the air and space to be the new Pushkin, or would he be overshadowed by being too close to his pro­genitor? Or should one instead look for signs of how the Pushkinian poetic stance is revised or repressed, as a Bloomian reading would imply? More­over, is the need to branch out from one’s precursor simply the result of the poetic demand for linguistic and thematic “originality” (to be achieved by obscuring one’s origins), as claimed by Bloom?

     That Mandel´shtam is aware of dangers of quite a different order even as he asserts his poetic dependence on and independence from Pushkin is confirmed by his other “first” poem:

Дано мне тело – что мне делать с ним,
Таким единым и таким моим?

За радость тихую дышать и жить
Кого, скажите, мне благодарить?

Я и садовник, я же и цветок,
В темнице мира я не одинок.

На стекла вечности уже легло
Мое дыхание, мое тепло.

Запечатлеется на нем узор,
Неузнаваемый с недавних пор.

Пускай мгновения стекает муть –
Узора милого не зачеркнуть.[68]

A body is given me—what shall I do with it,
So whole and so mine?

For the quiet joy of breathing and living,
Whom, tell me, should I thank?

I am both a gardener and a flower I am, too;
In the prison of the world, I am not alone.

On the window panes of eternity, settled
My breathing, my warmth.

A design shall be imprinted on them,
Unrecognizable since not long ago.

Let the dregs of the moment drip down—
The sweet design cannot be crossed out.[69]

Mandel´shtam’s stress on his achievement and uniqueness here are not to­tally convincing attempts at the arrogance one would expect of a poet who has elsewhere already staked his claim to immortality. He protests too much: “mne,” “mne,” “edinym,” “moim,” “mne,” “ia,” “ia,” “ia,” “moë,” “moë.” The poem may seem precious, but underlying it is an anguish aris­ing from Mandel´shtam’s awareness of a belatedness that the poem hides only imperfectly. The second version of the first line states the dilemma more harshly than the original version, which began “Imeiu telo”: if the poet’s identity is unique and his own, then who or what gave it to him? If one assumes that breathing here means poetry, as it invariably does in Mandel´shtam’s work, then the poet’s need to thank someone surely re­flects the fact that his art depends on inspiration and influence: the breathing is his and yet not his. By line five Mandel´shtam has totally de­stroyed the illusion he needs to keep writing: though the surface meaning claims that he is self-begotten, creator and creation alike, the tensions in the poem may suggest something different. At some level he fears that he is only the flower, and not the gardener as well, or that his poem, his flower, is the work of another gardener. Moreover, what would appear to be a positive statement—that he is not alone—is arguably something of a two-edged sword for the would-be strong artist.

     Like “Zvuk ostorozhnyi i glukhoi,” this early and apparently compara­tively straightforward poem contains subtle transumptive allusions, con­firming that even here the problem of the anxiety of influence is acute. For instance, the clue to the identity of the person Mandel´shtam must thank would seem to lie in the word “uzor”: the fact that “uzor” is arguably the most important word in the Pushkin poem alluded to by “Zvuk ostorozhnyi i glukhoi” offers indirect confirmation of this. It is as if Mandel´shtam thought of his name, and of his family’s kosnoiazychie (tongue-tiedness) when reading the second stanza of “Chto v imeni tebe moem?”:

Оно на памятном листке
Оставит мертвый след, подобный
Узору надписи надгробной
На непонятном языке.[70]

If the repeated “uzor” in “Dykhan´e” perhaps hints that one needs to seek two subtexts, it is worth noting that some of the sounds and images of “Dykhan´e” come directly from a passage from Evgenii Onegin that was of profound symbolic significance to Mandelstam and Pushkin alike. Chapter Five of EvgeniiOnegin contains Tat´iana’s prophetic dream of Lenskii’s death, and is therefore in turn prophetic of Pushkin’s death, as estab­lished by Lermontov’s “Smert´ Poeta,” and perhaps, to a certain extent, even by Pushkin himself. The first stanza of Chapter Five contains, as Omry Ronen was the first to note,[71] Pushkin’s prophetic naming of Man­del´shtam’s birthday, a prophecy to which Mandel´shtam alluded in the closing lines of “Stikhi o neizvestnom soldate.” Mandel´shtam could not have wished for a better or more dangerous sign of election. Pushkin’s prophecy of Mandel´shtam’s birth must have seemed evidence of election to the role of his successor, but in a context which implied that such an honor would have to be paid for by a Pushkinian death:

В тот год осенняя погода
Стояла долго на дворе,
Зимы ждала, ждала природа.
Снег выпал только в январе
На третье в ночь. Проснувшись рано,
В окно увидела Татьяна
Поутру побелевший двор,
Куртины, кровли и забор,
На стеклах легкие узоры,
Деревья в зимнем серебре,
Сорок веселых на дворе
И мягко устланные горы
Зимы блистательным ковром.
Всё ярко, всё бело кругом.

That year the season was belated
and autumn lingered, long and slow;
expecting winter, nature waited—
only in January the snow,
night of the second, started flaking.
Next day Tatyana, early waking,
saw through the window, morning-bright,
roofs, flowerbeds, fences, all in white,
panes patterned by the finest printer,
with trees decked in their silvery kit,
and jolly magpies on the flit,
and hills that delicately winter
had with its brilliant mantle crowned—
and glittering whiteness all around.[72]

– Я рожден в ночь с второго на третье
Января в девяносто одном
Ненадежном году – и столетья
Окружают меня огнем.[73]

I was born on night second to third
January of some uncertain, dire
Eighteen-ninety odd year, and centuries gird
My brow with fire.

Pushkin’s line “na steklakh legkie uzory” becomes, in Mandel´shtam’s poem, “Na stekla vechnosti uzhe leglo,” “Zapechatleetsia na nem uzor,” and “Uzora milogo ne zacherknyt´.” The patterns on the glass in Evgenii Onegin, and in all likelihood in Mandel´shtam’s poem too, are those made by the frost; indeed, Gregory Freidin has argued convincingly that the un­derlying narrative of “Dykhan´e” comes from Andersen’s The Snow Queen. If this is so, then Mandel´shtam’s window mirrors Pushkin’s famous rhyme of “morozy”/“rozy” (frosts/roses): the frost creates the rose which is recreated as a phonetic reflection: “uzor,” “uzora,” “roza.”[74]

     As Leon Burnett notes in his analysis of “Dykhan´e,” Joseph Brodsky commented on this connection at the London Mandelstam Centenary Con­ference in 1991—a good example of a poet noticing the private language that other poets use.[75] Indeed, Mandel´shtam may also have had in mind another passage from Onegin that could, at a stretch, be seen as a mirror-image of the other evidence he had already “collected” that he was Push­kin’s heir (a handwritten О and Е surely being close enough to О and Э, especially viewed from the other side of the glass!):

Смеркалось; на столе блистая
Шипел вечерний самовар,
Китайский чайник нагревая;
Под ним клубился легкий пар.
Разлитый Ольгиной рукою,
По чашкам темною струею
Уже душистый чай бежал,
И сливки мальчик подавал;
Татьяна пред окном стояла,
На стекла хладные дыша,
Задумавшись, моя душа,
Прелестным пальчиком писала
На отуманенном стекле
Заветный вензель О да Е.

Day faded; on the table, glowing,
the samovar of evening boiled,
and warmed the Chinese teapot; flowing
beneath it, vapour wreathed and coiled.
Already Olga’s hand was gripping
the urn of perfumed tea, and tipping
into the cups its darkling stream—
meanwhile a hallboy handed cream;
before the window taking station,
plunged in reflection’s deepest train,
Tatyana breathed on the cold pane,
and in the misted condensation
with charming forefinger she traced
“OE” devotedly inlaced.[76]

     Evidence supporting the claim that there is indeed an allusion here to Evgenii Onegin, an allusion which has to resolve the poet’s or the poem’s conflicting desires—to disguise any signs of Pushkinian influence and to reveal signs of Pushkinian favor—seems to be scattered throughout Mandel´shtam’s work.[77]

     In 1937 in particular, Mandel´shtam seems to have been very careful indeed about how he made his claims to the Pushkinian heritage. In some ways, of course, being marginalized helped him: his apparent silence re­garding Pushkin was far more likely to have been an act of poetic rather than political self-censorship, one enabling him to recreate himself as Pushkin’s successor. Pasternak, for example, had to put up with the type of negative comparisons between himself and Pushkin that would have put paid to any attempt he might have wished to make to provide a fitting tribute to the dead master. As Pasternak wrote to his parents in February 1937:

Thank you for your wishes on my birthday, I always remember the 29th, because that’s the day of Pushkin’s death. And this year it is also, in addition, the centenary of his death. In connection with this event there are some large-scale celebrations being held here. I’m ashamed not to be participating in them, but there have re­cently been several misunderstandings—that is, the way I speak and think is not always properly understood. I find commonplaces physically intolerable, and it is possible to say something of one’s own only at a time of calm. Were it not for Pushkin, the possibility of misinterpretations might not have restrained me. But against the background of that name, any roughness or slips of the tongue would strike me as unbearably vulgar and indecent.[78]

Mandel´shtam, free of such attention, but symbolically nonetheless at the heart of his age, had no such worries. Yet the struggle to both be and not be Pushkin was the central concern of his poems of 1937, as if he sensed that he was experiencing what Pasternak had termed in Safe Conduct the phenomenon of the “last year of the poet.”[79]

     As early as 1974 Simon Karlinsky noted how “a few brave voices” were suggesting that “in Mandel´shtam Russian poetry at last had a poet com­parable in stature to Pushkin.”[80] For Mandel´shtam, I believe, the “first poetic meeting” was with Pushkin, and it held irreversible consequences. From it Mandel´shtam understood one thing above all: that the heroic character of Russian literature was indeed a matter of life and death, how­ever much he might indulge in irony, partly in proleptic self-defense, at Vengerov’s expense:

Semyon Afanasich Vengerov, a relative of mine on my mother’s side (the family in Vilno and school memories), understood nothing in Russian literature and studied Pushkin as a professional task, but “one thing” he understood. His “one thing” was: the heroic character of Russian literature. He was a fine one with his heroic character when he would drag slowly along Zagorodny Prospekt from his apartment to the card catalog, hanging on the elbow of his aging wife and smirking into his dense ant beard![81]

In the first chapter of A Map of Misreading, “Poetic Origins and Final Phases,” Harold Bloom describes the successful wrestling with the dead of both Hardy and Stevens in the words of a Stevens poem which he implies is relevant not only to both but, presumably, to many other poets who fear that they are too much in the sun:

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.[82]

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, but, for the Russian poet, the encounter with Pushkin is, poetically at least, a fortu­nate fall. The extent to which Mandel´shtam succeeded in making his poetic testament, his “last poem,” no less than his first poems, Pushkinian in both letter and spirit, and the poetic and personal consequences of this imitatio, will be the subject of my forthcoming article.


University of Wisconsin, Madison



Reynolds, Andrew. "'Light Breathing': Osip Mandel'stam's 'First' Poems, Pushkin, and the Poetics of Influence." Pushkin Review 10 (2007): 103 - 27.

* This is the first of two articles by Andrew Reynolds about Pushkin’s presence in Mandel´shtam’s work. The present essay introduces the theoretical approach and investigates Mandel´shtam’s “first” poems, and the second one, to appear in the next volume of the Pushkin Review, will analyze Pushkin in Mandel´shtam’s “last” poem.—Editors

[1] Anna Akhmatova, “Mandelstam,” in Anna Akhmatova, My Half Century: Se­lected Prose, trans. Ronald Meyer (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997), 107. Russian original: Anna Akhmatova, Sobranie sochinenii v shesti tomakh, ed. S. A. Kovalenko (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 2001), 5: 50.

[2] Osip Mandel´shtam, The Complete Critical Prose and Letters, ed. and trans. Jane Gary Harris and Constance Link (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1979; repr., London: Col­lins Harvill, 1991), 133. Russian original: Osip Mandel´shtam, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh, ed. P. Nerler and A. Nikitaev (Moscow: Art-Biznes-Tsentr, 1993), 2: 252.

[3] Such as Ivanov, Annenskii, Sologub, Blok, and others. See, for example, the arti­cles by V. V. Musatov, “K probleme poeticheskogo genezisa Mandel´shtama,” in Zhizn´ i tvorchestvo O. E. Mandel´shtama, ed. O. G. Lasunskii et al. (Voronezh: Izd. Voronezhskogo universiteta, 1990), 438–52; “‘Logizm vselenskoi idei’ (K pro­bleme tvorcheskogo samoopredeleniia rannego Mandel´shtama),” in Slovo i sud´ba: Osip Mandel´shtam. Issledovaniia i materialy, ed. Z. S. Paperny et al.(Moscow: Nauka, 1991), 321–30; “Ranniaia lirika Osipa Mandel´shtama,” Izvestiia AN SSSR: Seriia literatury i iazyka, vol. 50, no. 3 (1991): 236–47. Also see S. S. Aver­intsev, “Rannii Mandel´shtam,” Znamia, no. 4 (1990): 207–12; S. N. Broitman, “Rannii O. Mandel´shtam i F. Sologub,” Izvestiia Akademii Nauk: Seriia literatury i iazyka, vol. 55, no. 2 (1996): 27–35; and E. A. Toddes, “Zametki o rannei poezii Mandel´shtama,” in Temy i variatsii – Themes and Variations: Sbornik statei i materialov k 50-letiiu Lazaria Fleishmana (Stanford, CA: Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Stanford University, 1994), 283–92.

[4] Mandel´shtam, “Zametki o Shen´e,” in Sobranie sochinenii, 2: 281; “Remarks on Chénier,” inMandel´shtam, Complete Critical Prose, 79.

[5] Jane Gary Harris, “Notes,” in Mandel´shtam, Complete Critical Prose, 586.

[6] Significant works on the theme of “Mandel´shtam and Pushkin” include: V. V. Musatov, Pushkinskaia traditsiia v russkoi poezii pervoi poloviny XX veka (Mos­cow: RGGU, 1998); Irina Surat, Opyty o Mandel´shtame (Moscow: Intrata, 2005) (a collection of three previously published articles on the theme); S. F. Kuz´mina, V poiskakh traditsii: Pushkin, Mandel´shtam, Nabokov: Monograficheskii tsikl statei (Minsk: Institut sovremennykh znanii, 2000); Mikhail Epshtein, “Tema i varia­tsiia: K probleme poeticheskoi traditsii. Pushkin i Mandel´shtam,” in Tselostnost´ literaturnogo proizvedeniia kak problema istoricheskoi poetiki: Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Kemerovo: Kemerovskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1986), 8–23; Ralph Dutli, “‘Wunderbarer Stoff’ – Osip Mandelstam und Alexander Puschkin,” in Zeit­schrift für Kulturaustausch 1: All das Lob, das du verdient. Eine deutsche Pusch­kin-Ehrung zur 150. Wiederkehr seines Todestages (Stuttgart: Institut für Aus­landsbeziehungen, 1987), 161–71; Pavel Nerler, “Osip Mandel´shtam – chitatel´ Pushkina,” Literaturnaia ucheba, no. 3 (1987): 141–50; E. A. Toddes, “K teme: Mandel´shtam i Pushkin,” in Philologia (Riga, 1994), vyp. 1, 74–109; Irina Mess-Baehr, “Mandel´shtam i Pushkin: Uroki svobody,” Russian Language Journal = Russkii iazyk = Etudes de russe 53: 174–76 (Winter–Spring–Fall 1999): 275–328. There are arguably even more valuable insights in books and articles not specifi­cally devoted to this subject, the most important guide to Pushkinian subtexts and themes in Mandelstam’s work being Omry Ronen’s An Approach to Mandel´stam (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983).

[7] Nadezhda Mandel´shtam, Vtoraia kniga, ed. Vladimir Kochetov (Moscow: So­glasie, 1999), 429–30; Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned: A Memoir, trans. Max Hayward (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1976), 476–77.

[8] As Sergei Averintsev noted apropos the recent cult of Mandel´shtam, “kanoniza­tsiia eta imeet (pri vsekh razgovorakh o bol´shoi chetvertke) tendentsiiu k iskliu­chitel´nosti. O. M. – riadom s Pushkinym. O. M. i Pushkin.” S. S. Averintsev, “Tak pochemu vse-taki Mandel´shtam?” Novyi mir,no. 6 (1998): 216.

[9] One could of course argue that Akhmatova might have meant different things by “teacher” and “precursor,” with the former perhaps referring to where he learned his craft and the latter to his identity as a poet. In any event, it is the more pro­found category of precursor that concerns us here.

[10] Indeed, it was Acmeist poetry that inspired much of the most significant work in subtextual studies and semantic poetics, for example Iu. I. Levin et al., “Russkaia semanticheskaia poeziia kak potentsial´naia kul´turnaia paradigma,” Russian Lit­erature 7–8 (1974): 47–82; and Kiril Taranovsky, Essays on Mandel´stam (Cam­bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976). On the subtextual method, see Elaine Rusinko, “Intertextuality: The Soviet Approach to Subtext,” Dispositio, 4: 11–12 (1979): 213–35.

[11] Iosif Brodskii, interview, “Evropeiskii vozdukh nad Rossiei,” Strannik (1991): 40–41. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from Russian are my own.

[12] Mandel´shtam, “Barsuch´ia nora,” Sobranie sochinenii,2: 255.

[13] David M. Bethea, “Introduction,” in Puškin Today, ed. Bethea (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 1.

[14] See Bloom’s article “Criticism, Canon-Formation, and Prophecy: The Sorrows of Facticity,” in Poetics of Influence: New and Selected Criticism, ed. John Hollander (New Haven: H. R. Schwab, 1988); and Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998).

[15] For a more detailed account of the possibilities provided by a Bloomian ap­proach to Russian poetry, and also of the difficulties and problems inherent in such an approach, see in particular David M. Bethea, Realizing Metaphors: Alex­ander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); Sarah Pratt, “Garol´d Blum i ‘Strakh vliiania,’” Novoe literaturnoe obo­zrenie, no. 20 (1997): 5–16; Stuart Goldberg, “‘Pripodnimaiu plenku voshchenoi bumagi…’: Osip Mandelstam and the Boundaries of Mythopoetic Symbolism” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2001).

[16] O. Mandel´shtam, Razgovor o Dante (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1967), 75. Mandel´­shtam’s article “Buria i natisk” contains a revealing back-handed compliment: “Togda prikhodit poet, voskreshaiushchii devstvennuiu silu logicheskogo stroia predlozheniia. Imenno etomu udivlialsia v Batiushkove Pushkin i svoego Pushkina zhdet Pasternak” (Then a poet arrives who resurrects the virginal force of the sen­tence’s logical structure. It is this that astonished Pushkin in Batiushkov, and Pasternak too awaits his own Pushkin). Mandel´shtam, Sobranie sochinenii, 2: 298.

[17] I. S. Turgenev, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v 28 tomakh (Moscow: Aka­demiia nauk SSSR), 15: 68.

[18] Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence. A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Uni­versity Press, 1973), 16.

[19] On Batiushkov’s influence on Pushkin, see for example Oleg Proskurin, Poeziia Pushkina, ili podvizhnyi palimpsest (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1999).

[20] Catherine O’Neil, With Shakespeare’s Eyes: Pushkin’s Creative Appropriation of Shakespeare (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003); Bethea, Realizing Metaphors; Pratt, “Garol´d Blum i ‘Strakh vliiania.’"

[21] Sergei Davydov, “Weighing Nabokov’s Gift on Pushkin’s Scales,” in Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism: From the Golden to the Silver Age, ed. Boris Gasparov, Robert P. Hughes, and Irina Paperno, California Slavic Studies 15 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 415.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope, trans. Max Hayward (Harmonds­worth, UK: Penguin, 1975), 76. Russian original: Nadezhda Mandel´shtam, Vos­pominaniia (New York: Izd. imeni Chekhova, 1970), 70.

[24] “K Pushkinu u Mandel´shtama bylo kakoe-to nebyvaloe, pochti groznoe otno­shenie – v nem mne chuditsia kakoi-to venets sverkhchelovecheskogo tselomu­driia.” Akhmatova, Sobranie sochinenii, 5: 37; Akhmatova, My Half Century, 95. 

[25] Harold Bloom, “The Breaking of Form,” in Deconstruction and Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom et al.(New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 15.

[26] Monika Frenkel Greenleaf, “Tynianov, Pushkin and the Fragment: Through the Lens of Montage,” in Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism, 265.

[27] Boris Gasparov et al., Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism: From the Golden to the Silver Age, California Slavic Studies 15 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

[28] Musatov, Pushkinskaia traditsiia, 312. For a fine reading of the affinities be­tween Mandel´shtam’s Journey to Armenia and Pushkin’s Journey to Arzrum, see Andrew Wachtel, “Voyages of Escape, Voyages of Discovery: Transformations of the Travelogue,” in Gasparov et al., Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism, 128–49.

[29] Musatov, Pushkinskaia traditsiia, 310.

[30] M. L. Gasparov, O. Mandel´shtam: Grazhdanskaia lirika 1937 goda, Chteniia po istorii i teorii kul´tury, vyp. 17 (Moscow: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi gumanitarnyi universitet, Institut vysshikh gumanitarnykh issledovanii, 1996), 110.

[31] B. M. Gasparov, “Smert´ v vozdukhe (K interpretatsii ‘Stikhov o neizvestnom soldate’),” in Literaturnye leitmotivy: Ocherki russkoi literatury XX veka (Moscow: Vostochnaia literatura, 1994), 213.

[32] Surat, Opyty o Mandel´shtame; Nikita Struve, Osip Mandel´shtam (London: Overseas Publications Interchange, 1988). Curiously, Surat does not refer to Struve’s book.

[33] On this taboo, see Irina Paperno, “On the Nature of the Word: Theological Sources of Mandel´shtam’s Dialogue with the Symbolists,” in Christianity and the Eastern Slavs, vol. 2, Russian Culture in Modern Times, ed. Robert P. Hughes and Irina Paperno, California Slavic Studies 17 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 287–310.

[34] Surat, Opyty o Mandel´shtame, 13.

[35] Michael Wachtel, Russian Symbolism and Literary Tradition: Goethe, Novalis, and the Poetics of Vyacheslav Ivanov (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), 37.

[36] Irina Paperno, “Pushkin v zhizni cheloveka Serebrianogo veka,” in Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism, 19–51.

[37] Svetlana Boym, Death in Quotation Marks: Cultural Myths of the Modern Poet (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 5.

[38] Ibid. On the parallels between semiotic studies of Russian zhiznetvorchestvo and new historicist analyses of self-fashioning, see, for example Boym, Death in Quotation Marks; David Powelstock, Becoming Mikhail Lermontov: The Ironies of Romantic Individualism in Nicholas I’s Russia (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Uni­versity Press, 2006);and my “Living is an Art: Some Recent Books on Russian Modernism,” Journal of European Studies 26 (1996): 195–208.

[39] Vladislav Khodasevich, “Pamiati Gogolia,” in Vladislav Khodasevich, Koleblemyi trenozhnik: Izbrannoe, ed. V. G. Perel´muter (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel´, 1991), 240. This implies the need for a “stereoscopic” approach to life-in-art and art-in-life, the one indeed practiced by Khodasevich on Pushkin and David Bethea on Khodasevich. See Bethea, Khodasevich: His Life and Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).

[40] See, for example, my “The Burden of Memories and Death and the Poets: Osip Mandelstam, Alexander Pushkin, and the Poetics of Influence” (UW-Press, forth­coming), chaps. 2 and 3.

[41] Gregory Freidin, A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and his Mythologies of Self-Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), esp. chap. 1, and his article “Sidia na saniakh: Osip Mandel´shtam i kharizmaticheskaia traditsiia russkogo modernizma,” Voprosy literatury,no. 1 (1991): 9–31.

[42] See Harold Bloom, Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976); and Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982) for accounts of how one might uncover the significant absence of the other. On transumptive allusion as a revisionary technique, see Bloom’s A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford Uni­versity Press, 1975). On “echo” as a distinctive form of intertextual relation, see John Hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).  

[43] Bloom, Poetry and Repression, 80.

[44] O. Mandel´shtam, Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii, ed. A. G. Mets (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1995), 312 (“Neobkhodimost´ ili razum…”).

[45] Bloom, Map of Misreading, 59.

[46] Bethea, Realizing Metaphors, 44.

[47] On this, see also Chukovskii’s admittedly unreliable memoirs: Nikolai Chukov­skii, Pravda i poeziia: Iz vospominanii, Biblioteka “Ogonek,” no. 12 (Moscow: Pravda, 1987), 47.

[48] Bloom, Map of Misreading, 17–18.

[49] See Musatov, “K probleme poeticheskogo genezisa Mandel´shtama,” 438–52.

[50] On these poems, see Viktoriia Shveitser, “Mandel´shtam posle Voronezha,” Sin­taksis, no. 25 (1989): 69–91. One understands why Averintsev says that they leave a sad impression, but it is possible (without going overboard with Aesopian mean­ings) that there is more to them than meets the eye, as revealed for example in the fine analysis of the “Charlie Chaplin” poems in Clare Cavanagh’s book. Clare Cavanagh, Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 286–303.

[51] Cavanagh, Osip Mandelstam, 281–83.

[52] Cavanagh argues that, given Mandel´shtam’s tragic fate, one cannot call any of his last poems a last poem (in the sense that a last poem should be a summation of a life’s work). She is right to note that some readings of “K pustoi zemle nevol´no pripadaia” too readily use it to serve an unambiguously “Christological” reading of Mandelstam’s life, art, and death. In more strictly poetic terms, however, if the poems of 1936–37 are not a lyric “Harmonium” in the sense understood by Lawrence Lipking in The Life of the Poet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), then it is hard to imagine what could be one in our day and age.

[53] See Struve, Osip Mandel´shtam, 269–71 and 170–72; Toddes, “K teme: Mandel´shtam i Pushkin,” 82–84.

[54] On this central element of Acmeist poetic practice, see Ronen’s eloquent anal­­ysis, Approach to Mandel´stam, xv.

[55] See the edition of Kamen´, ed. L. Ia. Ginzburg, A. G. Mets, S. V. Vasilenko, and Iu. L. Freidin (Leningrad: Nauka, 1990).

[56] Nancy Pollak, “Mandel´štam’s ‘First’ Poem,” Slavic and East European Journal 32: 1 (1988): 98–109.

[57] A. S. Pushkin, “Ekho,” Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, ed. D. D. Blagoi et al. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1959), 2: 344; “Chto v imeni tebe moem?” Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, 2: 285.

[58] Mandel´shtam, Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii, 89.

[59] A. S. Pushkin, Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, 2: 285.

[60] Omry Ronen, “A Beam Upon the Axe: Some Antecedents of Osip Mandelstam’s ‘Umyvalsja noch´ju na dvore…,’” Slavica Hierosolymitana 1 (1977): 159.

[61] Pollak, “Mandel´štam’s ‘First’ Poem,” 98–109. See also Cavanagh, Osip Mandel­stam, 34–36,

[62] Pollak, “Mandel´štam’s ‘First’ Poem,” 101 (emphasis in original).

[63] Ibid.

[64] Mandel´shtam’s link of poetry and woods in part builds on Greek and Latin tra­dition, but also seems to depend on the image of Pushkin as the oak of the “les prekrasnyi” that is Russian poetry (as established by Pushkin himself, Lermontov, Kol´tsov, and others). See Boris Gasparov, “Son o russkoi poezii (O. Mandel´shtam, ‘Stikhi o russkoi poezii,’ 1–2),” Stanford Slavic Studies 1 (1987): 259–306.

[65] See Bloom, Anxiety of Influence, 148.

[66] A probable subtext of the poem is Baratynskii’s “Blagosloven sviatoe vozvestiv­shii!” (E. A. Baratynskii, Stikhotvoreniia, ed. S. Bocharov [Moscow: Khudozhest­vennaia literatura, 1986], 275), making Mandel´shtam’s apple both the apple of Eden and Newton’s apple.

[67] Marina Tsvetaeva, “Poety s istoriei i poety bez istorii,” in Marina Tsvetaeva, Sochineniia v dvukh tomakh, ed. Anna Saakiants (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1984), 2: 406–07.

[68] Mandel´shtam, Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii. Analyses of this poem may be found in: Leon Burnett, “The Guests of Reality: Osip Mandelstam and Anamnesis,” in Mandelstam Centenary Conference (Tenafly, NJ: Ermitazh, 1994), 155–72; Cavanagh, Osip Mandelstam, 36–38; Freidin, Coat of Many Colors, 34–37.

[69] Freidin’s translation, A Coat of Many Colors, 34.

[70] A. S. Pushkin, “Chto v imeni tebe moem?” Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, 2: 285. 

[71] Omry Ronen, “K siuzhetu ‘Stikhov o neizvestnom soldate,’” Slavica Hierosolymi­tana 4 (1979): 222.

[72] A. S. Pushkin, Evgenii Onegin, Chapter Five, I, Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, Vol. IV, 94. Translation from Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, trans­lated by Charles Johnson (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1977), 132.

[73] Mandel´shtam, Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii, 275. My translation.

[74] This is not to say that other subtexts are not present too—a major influence here seems to be Bal´mont’s “Moroznye uzory.”

[75] Burnett, “The Guests of Reality: Osip Mandelstam and Anamnesis,” 166.

[76] A. S. Pushkin, Evgenii Onegin, Chapter III, Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, Vol. IV, 72; Eugene Onegin, trans. Charles Johnson, 105.

[77] Mandel´shtam’s Pushkinian date of birth was probably one of those coincidences in which Mandel´shtam read his destiny; the other most important piece of evi­dence suggesting to Mandel´shtam the existence of poetic predestination was that Pushkin’s ring, the sign of poetic continuity featured in the poem “Dai Tiutchevu strekozu,” had the name “Joseph, of blessed memory” inscribed on it. On this, see Ronen, Approach to Mandelstam, 88. Two of the most important instances of the use made by Mandel´shtam of the central section of Evgenii Onegin are as follows: one of the key subtexts of “Stikhi o russkoi poezii,” as Boris Gasparov has shown, is Tat´iana’s dream;M. L. Gasparov has noted that the same is true of the Stalin “epigram.” Boris Gasparov, “Son o russkoi poezii”; M. L. Gasparov, “Poet i kul´tura: Tri poetiki Osipa Mandel´shtama,” De Visu, no. 10 (11) (1993): 63.

[78] Second half of translation taken from Christopher Barnes, Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 2: 140. (Rus­sian original in Boris Pasternak, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 11-tomakh, vol. 9, ed. and with a commentary by E. B. Pasternak and M. A. Rashkova [Moscow: Slovo, 2004], 109.)

[79] Boris Pasternak, A Safe-Conduct, in Selected Writings and Letters (Moscow: Pro­gress Publishers, 1990), 187.

[80] Simon Karlinsky, “An Emerging Reputation Comparable to Pushkin’s,” (Review of Mandelstam: Selected Poems, Complete Poetry of Osip Emilievich Mandelstam and Hope Abandoned by Nadezhda Mandelstam), in New York Times Review of Books (20 January 1974), 1.

[81] Mandel´shtam, The Noise of Time and Other Prose Pieces, trans. Clarence Brown (London: Quartet Books, 1988), 81 (“The Noise of Time,” IV: “The Book­case”). Mandel´shtam, “Knizhnyi shkaf,” Shum vremeni, in Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh, 2: 358.

[82] Bloom, Map of Misreading, 26.


We have 113 guests and no members online