Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The main theme in “10 January 1934” is the role and fate of a poet. By writing this requiem to Bely, Mandelstam writes not only an apotheosis of him but also a sad commentary on his difficult and even tragic fate in the society. By enumerating Bely’s great achievements, he makes the forlorn appearance of his funeral stand out all the more. In this eulogy of a man who was among the leading poets of the beginning of the twentieth century, only to be neglected and hounded out of existence after the Bolshevik Revolution, Mandelstam sums up the callousness of a system that frivolously throws away its best people. Thus, the fate of a talented, independently minded poet is decided by the indifference and callous practicality of the modern age. Indeed, the poem is, in effect, “the effigy of the dying age,” as Omry Ronen observes in An Approach to Mandelstam (1983). There are a number of poems in which Mandelstam addresses this theme: “The Age,” “Wolf,” and “Ariosto” come readily to mind. In all fairness, he was interested in this theme before he became the target of persecution, as attested in his book of prose, Shum vremeni (1925; The Noise of Time, 1965). He was also concerned with the impact of the modern age on the development of Judeo-Christian civilization, primarily on the spiritual plane and independent of political factors. In “10 January 1934,” however, his preoccupation with the age syndrome culminated after he...

(The entire section is 496 words.)