(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A Cloud in Pants was Mayakovsky’s first important poem, and it was immediately recognized by critics, especially Maxim Gorky, as a new direction in Russian poetry. The speaker, style, and structure were very different from traditional Russian poetry.

The poem begins with a prologue that announces the theme and presents the hero—the speaker of the poem—who is a “handsome,/ twenty-two year old.” The celebration of self in that description comes directly out of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” The speaker has a divided nature; he shifts and changes throughout the poem. He can be “furious” or “extraordinarily gentle.” He is not a man but rather a cloud in pants.

Part 1 of the poem deals with the speaker’s unrequited love for Maria, whom he met “in Odessa.” He stresses the “fact” of that meeting; the relationship is not poetic fantasy. She was to meet him at four but failed to come and so he is thrown into despair. In an unusual metaphor, his “nerve” dances so madly that the ceiling crashes down. Maria enters only to announce that she is getting married. The marriage is one of convenience, not love; she has been bought or stolen. He then compares himself to a volcano. Like a volcano, he is most dangerous when he is “absolutely calm.” In a last exaggerated metaphor, his heart is a building that is on fire; firefighters are called to extinguish the blaze but have little effect. At the end of the...

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(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.