Joseph Brodsky is generally recognized as one of the most gifted poets writing in Russian in the twentieth century; for many, there is little question of his having any rivals. Perhaps Brodsky’s most remarkable achievement was his ability to continue writing poems in Russian despite the hardships of political persecution within the Soviet Union and, later, the alienation from the everyday rhythms of the Russian language imposed by his exile to the United States. Brodsky matured as a poet in a Leningrad devoid of poetic movements; indeed, the sense of being alone as a poet pervades his work to an unusual degree. It is difficult to assess Brodsky’s generation of poets. The work of contemporaries whom he has praised, poets such as Evgeni Rein and Anatol’ Naiman, is available only sporadically in the West, and then in the limited distribution of the émigré presses.
Brodsky’s poems have been translated into many languages, including French, German, Italian, Swedish, Czech, and Hebrew, but it is the English translations that won him high regard and a rather wide audience in the West. Brodsky’s participation in the translation process, given his own fine skills as a translator, ensured high-quality versions that sound like anything but adaptations from another language. Brodsky was accorded many honors, including Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, an honorary doctorate from Yale University, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987. He served as the United States poet laureate consultant in poetry in 1991-1992.