The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I Have Forgotten the Word I Wanted to Say” is a poem of six stanzas, each composed of four lines. Its rhythm is created by the placement of a regular number of accented syllables before and after the caesura, the pause in the middle of the line. This style of tonic verse is called dolniki in Russian and was the verse form preferred by some innovative Russian poets of the early twentieth century.

The poem, as is frequently the case in Russian lyric poetry, depends very much on its form to convey the poetic content. By writing in dolniki instead of a stricter accentual-syllabic meter, Osip Mandelstam enjoyed greater flexibility in the number of unaccented syllables he could use in a line. As a result, the lines vary in length from nine to thirteen syllables while echoing consistently in four beats. This irregularity in the line length allows the poem to assume a more individual nature where shorter lines add tension and longer lines develop the thought. The caesura, while helping to organize the sound pattern by dividing the lines into two sound groups with two accents each, also inserts a pause into the often rather long line. Since the poem is philosophical and laden with profuse symbolism, the caesura gives the reader/listener some extra time to visualize or reflect on the poem’s meaning.

The persona begins relating his experience using a phrase very much like one used by everyone at some time: “I have forgotten the...

(The entire section is 482 words.)