(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The prologue suggests the theme of the poem—love. Mayakovsky insisted on writing on what was an unpopular theme in Russia in 1923. He describes the theme as a universal one; it will “erupt in a fury—having dared to repress it.” He never uses the word “love,” however, to identify the theme; it remains an ellipsis that the reader has to fill in.

Section 1 is titled “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” The speaker of the poem is imprisoned in his apartment in Moscow as Oscar Wilde was in Reading Gaol. The first reference is not to imprisonment but to saving the man on the bridge over the Neva. The man is about to commit suicide. The poem then shifts to the speaker’s unsuccessful attempt to contact Lili Brik on the telephone. This unrequited love turns him into an animal, a polar bear who is howling. In his cold room, he becomes even more isolated; he is “Clambering on the ice-floe,/ a white polar-bear,/ on my ice-flow pillow I float by.” He returns to the man on the Neva. The man is clearly the poet himself, who is crying for help. The next section is called “Xmas Eve,” and it portrays the speaker wandering around Moscow and being insulted by passersby. A “Savior” appears in the form of a member of the Young Communist League, but he too is caught up with “the gypsy love song” and contemplates suicide, so he is of no help to the beleaguered poet.

The poem then shifts to the poet’s family; they welcome him, but they...

(The entire section is 479 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brown, Edward J. Mayakovsky: A Poet in the Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Obolensky, Dimitri, ed. The Penguin Book of Russian Verse. New York: Penguin Books, 1962.

Porter, Robert, ed. Seven Soviet Poets. 2d ed. London: Bristol Classical, 2002.

Shklovsky, Viktor. Mayakovsky and His Circle. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972.

Stahlberger, Lawrence L. The Symbolic System of Mayakovski. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1964.

Triolet, Elsa. Mayakovsky, Russian Poet: A Memoir. Translated by Susan de Muth. London: Hearing Eye, 2002.