Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531
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 section, he utters: “My last cry/ you, at least,/ shriek through the ages that I’m ablaze.”
In part 2 of the poem, he defines his poetry as rooted in the street; he rejects the romantic language and pose of the usual poet. The nail in his boot has more meaning to him than all the books in the world. He then portrays his own history as a Futurist who was rejected by the people. He becomes a crucified Jesus. If poetry has failed him, he will “tear out my soul for you,/ to make it big/ stamp on it!/ and hand it to you, bloodstained as a banner.” The banner is the banner of revolution, which Mayakovsky predicted would come in 1916. He later cut this only slightly incorrect forecast out of the poem.
Part 3 of the poem deals with that revolution. First, he rejects love and the poetry that celebrates it and, for a moment, is in harmony with the universe. The world is soon disrupted, however, by repressive murderers, such as Galliffet, who killed the supporters of the Paris Commune. A revolutionary future will follow these and other deaths, and the poet’s verses will become sacred symbols that will be used to christen children.
The last part of the poem returns to Maria; the speaker fruitlessly asks her for love and refuge. If she cannot love him, is God love? No, he is “only an illiterate puny little godlet.” His challenge to God is met only with silence. “The universe sleeps/ resting on its paws,/ with ticks of stars, an enormous ear.” The metaphor deflates the infinite to a mangy and flea-bitten dog that can neither frighten nor help anyone.