Monday, June 20, 2016

Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam (1891—1938) is a Russian poet, described by Ilya Kaminsky as "Russian poetry's central figure in the twentieth century." In 1911 he converted to Lutheranism, some would argue because Jews were excluded from entering the University of Saint Petersburg. Translator Christian Wiman argues that it would have been far more advantageous for him to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, if his conversion had merely been a matter of convenience.

Mandelstam himself writes that:
-----"[Christian art] is an 'imitation of Christ' infinitely various in its
-----manifestations, an eternal return to the single creative act that
-----began our historical era. Christian art is free. It is, in the full
-----meaning of the phrase, 'Art for art's sake.' No necessity of any
-----kind, even the highest, clouds its bright inner freedom, for its
-----prototype, that which it imitates, is the very redemption of the
-----world by Christ. And so, not sacrifice, not redemption in art,
-----but the free and joyful imitation of Christ—that is the keystone
-----of Christian esthetics."

In the 1930s, he and his wife Nadezhda were arrested by Stalin's government and sent into internal exile. In 1938 he was arrested again, and sent into exile in Siberia, which led to his death.

The following poems are from Wiman's translations - Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam.

Cathedral, Empty

When light, failing,

Through stained glass,

The long grass
At the feet of christ,

I crawl diabolical
To the foot of the cross

To sip the infinite

From destroyed

An air of thriving

Like a lone cypress

Holding on
To some airless

Annihilating height.


Help me, Lord, this night my life to save.
Hold me, Lord, your servant, your slave.
Hear me, O Lord, alive in Petersburg, my grave.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.