by Osip Mandelstam, translated from the Russian and with an introduction by Andrew Davis
Osip Mandelstam is one of the greatest of twentieth-century poets and Voronezh Notebooks, a sequence of poems composed between 1935 and 1937 when he was living in internal exile in the Soviet city of Voronezh, is his last and most exploratory work. Meditating on death and survival, on power and poetry, on marriage, madness, friendship, and memory, challenging Stalin between lines that are full of the sights and sounds of the steppes, blue sky and black earth, the roads, winter breath, spring with its birds and flowers and bees, the notebooks are a continual improvisation and an unapologetic affirmation of poetry as life.
andrew davis osip mandelstam
Throughout Voronezh Notebooks, Mandelstam seems energized by an uncontainable joy in his dangerous disobedience. "Fear makes it beautiful," he says of his frozen surroundings. "Something terrible might occur."...Andrew Davis’s translation is vibrant and densely lyrical. More than his predecessors, he brings out a playful, gnomic quality in Mandelstam’s verse that calls to mind Emily Dickinson. He beautifully evokes a voice unafraid to burn itself out in the passion of creation.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
Mandelstam’s poems are both bold and delicate. His imagery can seem both profoundly startling yet entirely natural. More than any other translator, Andrew Davis succeeds in reproducing all of these qualities.
Mandelstam was a tragic figure. Even while in exile in Voronej, he wrote works of untold beauty and power. And he had no poetic forerunners… In all of world poetry, I know of no other such case. We know the sources of Pushkin and Blok, but who will tell us from where that new, divine harmony, Mandelstam’s poetry, came from?
Russia’s greatest poet in this century.
It is one thing to discover internal unity in a scholar’s quiet career, quite another to find it in the works of a man subjected to years of harassment, terrorization, exile and proscription. In circumstances as hostile as those in the Soviet State, [Mandelstam] was forced to sacrifice everything… in order that this gift survive as it was meant to.
—Sven Birkerts, The Iowa Review